This has to be a quick one, so I will sum up a few things to watch for in bullet/dash form while the Wolves spend the next couple of days in Florida.
-Pek vs. Vucevic. The Nikolas have had their ups and downs to start the season but Vucevic has generally been a destructive force, averaging 17.8 points and 13 rebounds. The other night against Brooklyn, Pek was able to man-handle the finesse-oriented giant Brook Lopez into a terrible performance, and will have another tough test against his countryman and friend Mr. Vucevic. If Pek can beat him physically and wear him down inside it could be the key to the game. The difference with Vucevic is he has extended his shooting range and done so quite well. Per Basketball Reference, he has attempted 38% of his shots outside of 10 feet this season and he is shooting 47% from 10-16 ft and 41% from the Flip sweet spot of 16 ft. to 3 point land. These are both good percentages. It will be a far tougher cover for Pekovic, who can struggle contesting jump shooting centers (and players in general during zone sets).
-Like the Wolves, the 1-4 Magic don’t shoot many 3’s. Both teams are bottom 5 in the league in attempts (Wolves 12.8 per game/30th overall, Magic at 16.0/25th). They generate offense from a variety of players across the floor and the Wolves will have to work hard to defend the appropriate spots on the floor. Future star Victor Oladipo will not play tonight.
-Yesterday, Flip spoke on the Barreiro show about the bench not playing within his offense in the Brooklyn game, an under-performance that caused the team to lose some of its footing in the second half. He called out Muhammad specifically who, from a fan’s perspective, may have been finding his rhythm early but in reality was not in his spots offensively or helping his teammates. This explains in part why the starters all played nearly 40 minutes per game. This says a couple of things: 1. Flip is holding all players on this team accountable, 2. Flip is unlikely to ride the starters the way Adelman did for the long haul. A shorter leash is apparent for learning reasons but should only be temporary or situational. There are pros and cons to expecting starter-level play and execution from bench players, but overall this approach is a good one. We don’t need to jump into the lack of accountability for JJ Barea et. al. last season, but do consider the impact the lack of chemistry from the bench last season had on the Wolves’ final record (hint: a lot). It is good to see Flip putting value and developmental emphasis on all players from top to bottom.
Needless to say, the Wolves will need a contribution resembling the first pair of games from the bench in order to get through their lone visit to Florida this season successfully. Bennett….please keep the 20 foot fadeaways and left handed hook shots to a minimum.
-Miami (3-2) will be the tougher contest. They are big on free throws (5th in attempts) and 3 pointers (8th in attempts and shooting 37%) and are still establishing an identity without LeBron. If you recall in April of last season, the last time the Wolves were in Miami, the game went into double overtime with the Wolves coming away with a late season win in a thriller. ’14-’15 afterthought Chase Budinger had 24 points and he-who- must-not-be-named had 28 and 11. The Heat win the matchup in terms of star power but have few others, aside from Luol Deng on occasion, who pose a major threat offensively. The Wolves could scrap to this win with a well-rounded team performance and emerge from the weekend 4-2 if things go well.