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Last night, Corey Brewer and Derrick Williams put on a defensive clinic, stopping Thunder superstar Kevin Durant at times, frustrating him at other times and making him work hard all night. They were the key to the T’Wolves’ 100-81 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. Kevin Love led all scorers with 24 points. Nikola Pekovic added 15 points and 10 rebounds while Ricky Rubio scored 14 points to go with his 10 assists and 5 steals.

The night belonged to Corey Brewer and Derrick Williams, though, with Brewer frustrating Durant into a sub-par 13 point performance. Brewer chased Durant through screen after screen, refusing to let Durant get clean looks at the hoop. The key to the matchup was Brewer’s height, athleticism and tenacity.

When Brewer wasn’t chasing Durant around, Derrick Williams played the role of Durant’s shadow. Williams isn’t as talented or tenacious defensively as Brewer but he’s as athletic as his teammate.

Telling, too, was the fact that the T’Wolves turned 21 Thunder turnovers into 25 points. Finally, the T’Wolves outscored the Thunder 19-2 on fast breaks.

The game wasn’t as close as the final score showed, which should frighten Scottie Brooks, the Thunder’s coach. The T’Wolves’ largest lead was 100-69. That meant Oak City scored the last 12 points to pull within 20 of the T’Wolves.

It’s much too soon to make predictions on where the T’Wolves will finish but it isn’t too early to say that this is the most talented team in franchise history other than the team that went to the Western Conference Finals. Love is healthy again. Nikola Pekovic just signed a new contract so he’ll be around for a few years. Ricky Rubio has played like an All-Star thus far, playing sterling defense while dazzling fans with his great passing skills. Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin round out the starting five, followed by subs J.J. Barea, Alexey Schved, Derrick Williams and Rony Turiaf.

Kevin Martin is a talented wingman offensively while Brewer is the defensive stopper and energy guy. They’re significant upgrades over last year’s players, partially because of their professionalism, partially because of their skill sets. They’re great additions to the T’Wolves’ big three of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio.

How far they’ll go is still a mystery at this point in the season. What’s plenty knowable, though, is that this team is talented, talented enough to make the playoffs.

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I’ve occasionally taken time from writing about politics on LFR to write about great athletes in Minnesota sports. This is another of those times. I won’t write about Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the NFL, though he’s certainly deserving of all the praise he gets.

I’m not writing this post about Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio, either. Once Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio get back into game shape, the T’Wolves will be a formidable NBA team. It’s quite possible they’ll make the NBA playoffs with that dynamic duo.

I can’t wait to see newly acquired Alex Meyer, a flamethrowing righthander that the Twins acquired from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Denard Span. That isn’t likely to happen this season but it’s likely he’ll be part of the Twins rotation in 2014.

The player I’m focusing on tonight is possibly Minnesota’s best kept secret. It’s time T’Wolves fans got to know more about Alexey Shved. Quite a few years ago, then-T’Wolves Kevin McHale passed on Manu Ginobli late in the 2nd round. T’Wolves never let McHale live that down.

This past summer, T’Wolves VP of Basketball Operations David Kahn signed undrafted free agent Alexey Shved prior to the Olympics. He’s been quietly turning heads in Rubio’s absence with his shooting, his ability to play the point and his lights out performances in the fourth quarter.

Friday night was a perfect example of a ‘typical’ Shved game. Shortly after entering the game, Shved hit a pair of 3-pointers. Then he went silent the rest of the half and the entire third quarter, at least in terms of scoring. He still played smart defense, limiting Monta Ellis’ offensive production after he’d gotten off to a fast start.

Then came the fourth quarter and what a performance Alexey put on. He played the entire quarter, ran the point, distributing the ball to the open player while hitting shot after shot. Granted, he didn’t turn into a Kevin Durant- or LeBron James-like scoring machine. Still, he hit some key shots like his 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left on the shot clock.

Columnists have given him the nickname of the ‘Russian Rubio’ because his court vision and instincts are extraordinary. He’s great at pushing tempo. He’s what fantasy hoops players talk about as a stat sheet stocking stuffer. In a year or two, it won’t be surprising when he scores 18, grabs 5-8 rebounds, dishes off 7-8 assists with 2 steals and a block.

What I haven’t talked about yet is what’s most important. What’s most impressive is the fact that he isn’t overwhelmed by the situation. He’s played in the Olympics. He’s hit big shots at crucial moments. Like Rubio, the game doesn’t get too big for them.

Minnesota T’Wolves fans, I hope you take the time to get to know Alexey. He’ll be putting smiles on T’Wolves fans for the next decade.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly said that putting Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Frankie Viola, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris made him a smarter manager. It won’t be long before Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved will be making T’Wolves coach Rick Adelman a smarter coach, too.

According to this Strib article, the T’Wolves have fired Randy Wittman as their head coach. Kevin McHale is replacing him. Here’s what the Strib’s Jerry Zgoda is reporting:

The Timberwolves fired head coach Randy Wittman this morning and replaced him with Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale, but the big news out of Target Center is that McHale will relinquish his front-office duties to concentrate on coaching. Owner Glen Taylor and McHale will announce the changes at a 2 p.m. Target Center press conference today.

It is not yet known if assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg, who was being groomed as McHale’s successor, will take over the team’s basketball operations on a permanent basis.

I’d doubt if this is the end of the shakeup. Since the T’Wolves made the Western Conference Finals, they’ve been a team without a clue. They’ve missed the playoffs every year since then. They’ve made God-awful trades that drained them of talent. They’ve made poor use of their draft picks. in fact, they’ve shown an indifference to improving through the draft.

They’ve given outrageous contracts to such players as Troy Hudson, Marko Jaric & Trenton Hassell. In fact, they traded Sam Cassell & a first round pick to the LA Clippers for Jaric. When I first heard about the trade, I thought for sure the T’Wolves were getting the pick. When I read the details of the trade, I was furious.

In short, they’re the opposite of the Twins, who’ve remained highly competitive by drafting well & by making smart trades.

I suspect that McHale’s career with the T’Wolves will end when the regular season ends. He’s a HoF player but he’s been terrible as the T’Wolves’ GM. It’s time for the T’Wolves to right their ship. I’m convinced that that can’t happen with the current front office.

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