MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, it’s easy to look good when you don’t miss a three-point shot, but take away the Timberwolves’ sizzling percentages and there still was plenty for a sizable preseason audience to go home buzzing about after a 117-96 victory over Milwaukee.
How could you tell?
Well, for one thing: The Target Center public-address announcer informed the many fans still left in their seats late in the game that extra ticket representatives were on hand and ready for them as they headed out of the arena into the good night.
(PHOTO: The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio (9) drives to the basket with the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jon Leuer defending during the first half in preseason action at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Saturday, December 17, 2011. Minnesota won, 117-96.)
For another, those who watched Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and new coach Rick Adelman make successful debuts went home already feeling better about that 2012 first-round pick surrendered for Marko Jaric so long ago and lamenting the lockout-shortened 66-game regular season prohibits their home team from chasing the Chicago Bulls’ all-time victory record of 72.
“Overall, I thought it was a good effort,” Adelman said.
He had just eight practices to teach a significantly reformed team his “corner” offense and try to transform just a little bit a team that led the NBA last season in turnovers and defensive ambivalence.
— The Wolves made 10 of 11 three-point shot attempts in the first half alone and used a 31-12 run that closed the half to grasp command of the game.
— Rubio captivated the crowd from beginning to end, inspiring some to shout for him from the game’s opening seconds — when he watched from the bench — until they oohed and aahed when his hesitation dribble sent Bucks guard Shawn Livingston stumbling and when his simple bounce pass on a fast break led to a J.J. Barea layup.
— They demonstrated that a smallish frontcourt of Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and rookie Derrick Williams — three of their better players whose most natural position each might be power forward — can play together … and perhaps then some.
Love is 25 pounds lighter than last season, but he continues to compile double-double nights in points and rebounds by halftime.
Last season, he did that 16 times. On Saturday, he had 15 points and 11 rebounds by intermission on a night when he and Beasley each scored 21 points despite not playing at all in the fourth quarter.
After suffering through seasons of 15 and 17 victories the past two years, Timberwolves fans went home happy, particularly with finally seeing Rubio after a long two-year wait.
“Yeah, they loved him,” Beasley said. “He made simple bounce passes, and they were in awe.”
Shortly after Rubio lobbed an alley-oop pass that Williams powerfully slammed down in the fourth quarter, that awe turned into audible chants of “Olé, olé, olé,” as soccer fans do back home in Rubio’s native Spain.
“Great. It’s amazing,” Rubio said of his first NBA game, even if it’s preseason. “How all I want to say thank you everybody, thank you for being here, for you supporting the team. I hope we come back with winnings and try to get in the playoffs.
“Who knows? We will try hard. We’re practicing hard. That’s our goal.”