Tonight, after what seemed like a 200 bajillion-year wait, the Wolves open the year at home vs. Sacramento (doesn't it feel like we always open against the Kings?). Finally. No Love or Rubio of course, but Roy and AK47 will be ready for active duty and immediate fan judgement. That being said, since everybody LOVES bullets, here are ten random musings/bullets to look out for as you either trudge to Target Center, or nestle into your carefully hand-crafted, 3-month aged butt groove on the couch with an ice cold IPA/lager/brown ale/O'Doul's etc. and a pizza. And hopefully some company. Also, to tease the palate, there is exactly one Richie Frahm reference below amidst the rubble. Excited yet?
- Pekovic vs. Cousins. This matchup quietly became one of the more interesting battles ever since Pek first set foot (and destroyed) the Target Center Floor as a Rambis project. Cousins, as many know, has a bit of a temper and thus Pekovic is the perfect kahndidate to get under his short-as-a-peppermint-tic-tac fuse. With the starters on the floor for both sides, expect to see a lot of interior and mid-range plays on offense early on as Pekovic and Cousins battle in the post. The two will go at it early and often, and will likely lead their respective teams in scoring. Tonight will be an interior battle and if history repeats itself, expect Pekovic to destroy Cousins as he begins his campaign for Most Improved Player. Cousin’s has more range on his shot so keep an eye on Pek defensively 10-15 feet out.
- Thomas Robinson. The marquee top pick suits up for the Kings and immediately becomes this years’ Enes Kanter/Derrick Williams/Derrick Favors – the player who will be buried behind more talented, crowded front court players and thus will have a tough time making a stamp on the league….probably indefinitely. It will be enjoyable to watch the off-the-ball physical battle between Robinson and the Wolves’ backup bigs Lou Amundson and Greg Stiemsma.
- Alexey Shved’s NBA Debut – I’m predicting a Richie Frahm throwback debut performance from Alexey. 5 or more 3’s and an immediate fan favorite. I doubt it is something that will happen nightly, but Alexsey should hopefully be able to make mincemeat out of Jimmer Fredette off of the dribble and can a couple of threes. Two of my favorite parts of Alexsey’s game is that, 1. He goes left more than he goes right, which is confusing to defenders and, 2. He can shoot threes off of the dribble! Have the Wolves had that in recent memory (Barea just….doesn’t count)? Not all will fall and some will be Barea-esque in their rage-induction throughout the season, but when they drop, he will be a spark. I suspect he starts off strong.
- Brandon Roy as a primary offensive option. With Love out, Roy will likely be doing most of the play-making on offense from the perimeter, relying on his mid-range game to add a scoring boost when needed. But the Roy situation has really been an under-the-radar story this offseason. I think seeing him on the court for the first time in a real game should garner some attention from pundits. With Love out, the Wolves need to get 25 points from somewhere, and Roy seems poised to pick up the slack. It is slightly concerning that Lord Adelman may have to rely on him more than he would like early on in the season, but Brandon will have a chance to prove Kahn’s decision to sign him as right or wrong nearly immediately. The intriguing part is no one has any idea how it will turn out.
- The Triumphant Return to Target Center. One of our writers, Bonk, always loves to chime in on the “in-arena and around Target Center” fan perspective of the game, and it is probably one of the more under-discussed fun parts of following this team. How have the pre-game happy hour spots changed? Did a new bar materialize? If so, do they have a good special, or did they make the idiotic decision to not offer pre-game happy hour deals on game day events and guarantee a closing like Smalley’s and the rest of the forgotten 1st Ave. pre-game (former) watering holes? Do they have boneless wings or the immensely overrated bone-ins? Interesting sauces or just the lame Buffalo or Honey BBQ? Beer selection? Henney for a quick boost before departing to Hubert’s? Do 508 and Brother’s remain the best spots for pre-game merriment? Will SILENT ABABU, a rotund non-English speaking, yelping die-hard fan, make his return and lead eager fans post-game on journeys of the unknown? Is B-Wright still going to be shouting his 90’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-like lingo into the microphone ? Which lucky 3rd grade church choir will have the honor of singing the national anthem? What lame gag will Crunch play on a planted opposing team fan? What will the “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” challenge be? With all of the Caucasians on the team, will the player intro music be a Counting Crows medley? Which Viking’s players will be sitting courtside? Who was spotted darting around Hubert’s before entering in through the tunnel? “Should we high-five all of the players as they enter from the tunnel like we’re in first grade again?” These questions, and their relevant answers, are just some of the thousands of constant amusements that frequent visits into Target Center provide.
- Anyhow, back to the Kings game. Budinger’s Shooting. Remember last year when Wes had an open look, shot it with his overly quick and flat release, and you shielded your eyes in horror as if you were about to prevent yourself from watching a torture scene from the latest addition to the Saw Anthology? Those days are no more. Chase had some huge games in the pre-season offensively from beyond the arc, but proved to be like just about 90% of the league: inconsistent. However, Bud will quietly have a huge role on the team this year (when injuries to the wing guys start to happen :/) and look for him to start off hot as a spark off the bench.
- D-Will. Does he have anything? His time is now. The pecking order is going to be established quickly with Love out, and if Derrick doesn’t ditch his deer-in-the-headlights approach to an NBA offense, he is going to head straight towards DNP-CD territory (along with Wes Johnson in Phoenix). Seriously. I predicted DC would take his minutes very early and if D-Will doesn’t get his head out of his batoot, he is in for another long year.
- Cunningham. Energy, hustle, length, athleticism and an underrated shooting touch. Really a perfect backup big and I suspect he will start opening night. Cunninghamsandwich is a really nice matchup against the sizable Jason Thompson and I would expect an efficient night from Dante’. Like him right away. You should. The Mayans have arrived: Kahn won a trade!
- Kirilenko. Forgot about him until now. I was disappointed with how smiley he seems but, alas, battles must be picked. It is a shame he doesn’t have a tougher matchup than James Johnson on opening night to show his skills, but he will be quite helpful on the help D in the post against Cousins, Thompson, and when Evans breaks Roy’s ankles for the 9th time in the opening quarter (see what I did there?)
- Lord Adelman’s Smile Count. Adelman has been smiling more and more this season, potentially up to 8-10 whole smiles (partial grins excluded). He even made a joke the other day that he would be watching NCIS instead of the opening games that came and passed on Tuesday. If the Wolves win, will Rick be pleased, or will he continue his campaign as the human-version of an Easter Island Statue? Dreadful filler jokes aside, I am super pumped to watch Lord’s squad run a few more of his patented motion sets this year. Expect to see some new creativity as Adelman’s coaching wizardry begins to pay off. Rick seems to have a much better attitude about his squad this year, probably because he has had a full camp and pre-season to fart around with lineups, and I think very soon the nightmares of the Rambis biangle will be forever forgotten.
Prediction: Wolves take opening night and snag the dub.