Minnesota Timberwolves – Andrei Kirilenko Turns the Tide

It’s been rough for the Minnesota Timberwolves lately – injuries to Kevin Love and other players; Ricky Rubio not having the easiest time on his comeback. Andrei Kirilenko has been one of the positives constants this season in Minnesota, and facing a Houston Rockets team in terrible form, along with its struggling superstar James Harden, helped get back to winning ways.

The big surprise was Chris Johnson, a third year player who is on his fourth NBA destination in the middle of his third season. Johnson’s debut couldn’t have gone any better, getting MVP chants from the crowd, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds on a perfect 4-4 from the field, enjoying a much more loose and fluid Ricky Rubio, working around the perimeter.

It’s been a rough ride for Rubio, averaging only 4.1 points since returning from injury, shooting an awful 22.9% from the field. He didn’t do much better against the Rockets, but at least he got the line, helping him score 7 points, while dishing out 6 assists, enjoying a lot of freedom in the 30 minutes he got from his starting role, as the defense provided by Jeremy Lin or anyone else from the fading away Rockets around the perimeter wasn’t really about to stop Rubio.

The key to their first win after five consecutive losses was Andrei Kirilenko. Making his NBA return this season to the most European team in the NBA (although there are a few more contesting for that title), Kirilenko finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds, improving his seasonal averages to 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

For the Rockets? 7 straight losses, and everything that made them one of the more refreshing teams to watch this season has faded away. James Harden, on an awful 5-18 night (0-7 from beyond the arc), finishing with 18 points, has been the main reason their first half of the season has been such a success. Now, it looks like his disappointing ability has taken his team two steps back, losing 7 consecutive games, making only 25% of his field goals over the last three games.

We’re so out of character right now. We have turnovers, when guys are open we’re not hitting them and we take the extra dribble. Right now, we’re really in a funk and we’ve got to get ourselves out of it. That’s the bottom line. And we will.

Harden himself knows this isn’t the way he should be playing, and there’s a lot, maybe too much, riding on him.

I’m not playing to the best of my ability. I’m not making shots, I’m not making plays. I think we’re kind of in a fog right now. We’ve got to find a way to get out of this fog.

Luke Ridnour enjoyed playing next to Rubio in the backcourt, getting more open looks than usual as he wasn’t really the focus of a weak defense anyway, finishing with 16 points, making 6-13 of his field goal attempts.

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