With Ricky on the mend (surgery this Wednesday), the season hitting the homestretch, and the Wolves’ playoff hopes looking dimmer by the day (now 2.5 games behind Houston for the 8 seed), there is less and less to add to the discussion with these game wraps. With that in mind, I’ll share a few brief observations about each Wolves player from this disappointing loss that may not come through in the newspaper: Continue reading
Monthly Archives: March 2012
Royce White burst onto the national scene last night with an eye-opening performance against the NCAA Tournament-favorite Kentucky Wildcats. White and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who matched up against each other for much of the game, were the two best players of the floor. White ended the night with 23 pts on 9-12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block. He did have 3 turnovers, but had the ball in his hands almost constantly during the 34 minutes he played.
On Iowa State’s first possession of the game, White showed what kind of night it was going to be, taking Davis to the left block, receiving the entry, and making a strong hop move into the middle of the lane and curling in a lefty flip beyond Davis’ outstretched arms. White outmuscled UK’s entire front line several times, using a variety of drop steps and nifty moves to create space and score the ball. Davis was no slouch either, putting up 15, 12, and 5 blocks, but Royce White was the story.
The question is, why hasn’t Royce White been the story– or, at least, a story–all season long?
When Paul Millsap missed a wide-open layup as the regulation buzzer sounded, it looked like the Wolves might actually steal this one from the Jazz. They had trailed Utah 92-80 with only 4 minutes to go before pulling off a miraculous comeback to force overtime. After a Pekovic basket tied the game with 0.7 seconds left, the Jazz ran a brilliant out of bounds play that nearly ended the Wolves hopes with a heroic shot. Instead, Paul’s heroics would come from steals in overtime (8 total for the game!) that sealed a win that Utah probably deserved all along.
Things were actually looking good for the first part of overtime. Wes Johnson (after a HORRENDOUS first four quarters of action) hit a pair of jumpers and pulled down a tough rebound, and had the Wolves leading 105-103 with 1:31 to go. But, the next Wolves possessions were as follows:
* With game tied, Luke Ridnour pass stolen by Paul Millsap.
* With Wolves down by 2, Martell Webster misses wide-f***ing-open corner trey.
* With Wolves down by 4, Paul Millsap steals ball from Kevin Love.
Each blunder was followed by Jazz points. Each blunder was inexcusable. So it goes.
A whole bunch of bullets:
* Ridnour, that last turnover notwithstanding, made A LOT of nifty assists in this game. He seemed to look for Pekovic frequently and found him rolling or sealing at the right times. Luke finished the game with 13 assists.
* Anthony Randolph Sighting! AR15 had 5 points and 3 steals in 12 minutes off the bench. He took the ball hard to the basket twice in the second half, each time not getting a call that could have been made. His biggest weakness right now is the rotation of big men that lie in front of him on the depth chart. All things considered, his play isn’t that bad. Those that incessantly rip on this guy are off base to some extent. Sure, his decision making will leave you shaking your head at times. But that happens with every player. Every other player doesn’t get you 17 & 8 per 36 on 50 percent shooting and hyperactive defense.
* Speaking of AR15 getting minutes, Coach went 10 deep tonight despite Mike Beasley being out with a sore toe. This cut deep into D-Thrill’s minutes. The rook played 16 total, while Randolph and Tolliver each played 12.
* This was Kevin Love’s best game of the year against Paul Millsap and the Jazz. But that isn’t necessary saying much. He took 23 shots to get his 25 points, numbers not befitting of his renowned efficiency. In three games versus Utah, he’s shooting just 29 percent from the field. Still, he did plenty of good things in this game (like pull down 16 rebounds) and can hardly be blamed for the result.
I’ll wrap this up with a brief take on the trade deadline (in)activity. The rumor mill had me and everyone else convinced that Mike Beasley was headed to Tinseltown in a three-teamer that would bring back two-guard chucker, Jamal Crawford. Jamal has plenty in common with Beasley as a jumpshooting player. One notable difference is that while Beasley at times seems conflicted about gunning, Jamal is unapologetic and perhaps unaware. He just chucks. And chucks. Would he have helped this team? Maybe. Maybe not. I have no idea.
But the reason that the deal did not happen is that one version had Portland requiring Luke Ridnour to come their way. If you have watched Luke play this year, you realize that this would not be a good thing. The other version had us taking on Derek Fisher’s contract, adding over $3 million to next year’s payroll. No thanks. There are legitimately-good wing players available in this coming free agency. Ray Allen, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Nic Batum. I don’t know which the Wolves prefer most, but I have to believe they’ve got eyes on those guys and want as much dough as possible to toss their way. With Ricky out for this season, a rash decision to run at the 8-seed–particularly one that might not even be an upgrade over what Beasley provides–would have been a mistake. No trade was fine with me.
Season Record: 22-22
Was it a coincidence that the first seven quarters of Wolves ball that I missed in weeks were the first seven quarters of Ricky-less ball? Yes, actually. Saturday’s TV coverage was FUBAR’d by the NBA, with reciprocal blackouts for paying customers of NBA TV and paying customers of NBA League Pass. I actually thanked the NBA (to myself, at least) for this blunder. It sounds like I missed a wretched display by the home team. Tonight’s contest mostly conflicted with my men’s league game (we won, thanks for caring) so I was only able to listen to the 3rd Quarter on the drive home and watch the 4th on FSN.
Based on the box score, radio commentary, and my text inbox, it sounds like Mike Beasley, Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic collectively carried the Wolves through the first half as K-Love struggled with his shot. Beasley in particular (15 points on 6-7 shooting in 16 minutes, (tied for) team-high +8) must have been crucial to the 7-point halftime lead.
The radio broadcast of the third quarter sounded like Suns matchups of recent past. Al Horton repeatedly described Suns action begun by Steve Nash and finished by an open jump shooter. The Wolves 7-point lead quickly became a deficit. But then, as is happening more and more often, K-Love came to the rescue by bombing from outside. Love hit 5 threes in the second half (5-9 total for the game) en route to another 30-point game for the superstar.
Now, the part I was actually able to watch: the fourth quarter. Or as Magic Johnson and Roger Dodger call it, Winning Time.
The Key Players of #winningtime, in reverse order:
5. Derrick Williams – The rookie was on the court for the first 7:42 of the fourth and seemed to be involved in every play. He aggressively and stupidly goaltended a floating shot that had no chance of going in (sound familiar?) BUT–he got away with it, somehow. On offense, he hit a pair of square-up J’s, one from downtown, and converted his own backcourt steal into a dunk. Defense was another story. His “defense” on Channing Frye reminded of recent Kevin Love efforts against Magic stretch four, Ryan Anderson. Put simply, Williams does not want to guard out to 24 feet. You know why? He’s a power forward. (This dilemma of the stretch four is exactly why I want K-Love to embrace his own shooting talent, as he is doing of late.)
4. Channing Frye – As I just mentioned, Frye’s shooting was a problem. He entered the game with 8:26 to go with his team down by 2. He quickly hit a pair of 3’s, each giving his team the lead. While the Wolves were ultimately able to hold off the Suns, Frye’s sniping was nearly a deciding factor in the other direction.
3. Sebastian Telfair – Bassy played well in the last Wolves-Suns tilt, too. He must have it out for his old team or something. In the early part of this 4th Quarter he was pretty dominant, even if in ways that are UNSUSTAINABLE. When JJ went under a ball screen, Bassy buried the jumper. A moment later on another ball-screen sequence, he hit a three and D-Thrill fouled him for good measure and a fourth point. RIGHT AFTER THAT, he ripped Luke on a careless dribble and converted a layup. 8 quick points in the 4th Quarter.
2. Kevin Love – The MVP candidate had 13 points in the 4th Quarter, despite resting from 8:26 to 4:18. Not much else to say.
1. Luke Ridnour – Notwithstanding the turnover to Bassy, Luke was huge down the stretch. He made a layup with 4:35 to go, and a long 2 with 3:55 to go. With 1:50 to go he made a sick little hesitation move on Frye (I think) and an even-crazier layup in traffic with the shot clock winding down. He collected an offensive board with 1:15 to go and a key defensive board with 0:54 to go. With 17 seconds left and a 1-point lead, he calmly went to the line to extend it to 3 and help seal the win. Great Winning Time performance for Luke.
Nice to get a win. It’ll be interesting to see if any moves are made before the trade deadline on Thursday. Also on that day is the next game, a nationally televised (EXCEPT MAYBE IN MINNEAPOLIS!) contest against the Utah Jazz, a key rival for the 8-seed. Big Al scored 33 tonight on 14-18 shooting in an easy Jazz win, so we’ll have to have our interior defense ready to roll. Until then.
Season Record: 22-21
Our worst fears have been confirmed: Ricky tore his ACL and will undergo season-ending surgery. NBA stars from LeBron James to Kevin Durant are expressing their condolences and support via Twitter, and Bethlehem Shoals has already waxed poetic on the topic in ways that nobody else should even try. But since it’s a huge Wolves story and season development, it should be acknowledged and discussed here.
If you know people that are or were athletes, then you know people who have torn their anterior cruciate knee ligament. It happens. A lot. In my life experience, it seems to happen to soccer players the most, perhaps then followed by football players. Cutting on grassy surfaces with spikes under your shoes tends to produce this unfortunate result. Two of my best friends in high school played soccer and both had torn ACL’s on their resume’ before graduation. My sophomore-year college team had just secured the school’s first postseason bid in years when our point guard and emotional leader went down in a heap. ACL torn. This injury happens a lot, yet its news still carries a certain zap with it that makes it seem more devastating than it really is. I assume that there are different reasons for this. The reconstructive surgery, as far as I understand, has become fairly routine and successful in building back a functional knee. But it wasn’t always this way. Remember when William Gates tore his knee up, and it ruined his whole career? That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Corey Brewer went through it, was making posters in no time. Al Jefferson seemed to struggle a bit more after his surgery, but eventually he’s come around and even learned the benefits of passing out of a double team. In short, the surgery seems to work and Ricky will be just fine. Eventually.
Well for starters, the proverbial show must go on. The Wolves tip off against the Hornets about two hours after I publish this post. At 21-20, they’re a half game out of the playoffs, barely behind the free-falling Houston Rockets. As much as the Wolves would (understandably) like to sulk about this news, there isn’t any time. The two big questions are:
1) Will they acquire a point guard before Thursday’s trade deadline?
2) How will they generate any offense without their playmaker?
The first question is difficult — impossible, actually — for me to answer. My guess is that nothing drastic will be done before the deadline by way of a point guard acquisition. If they did trade for a point guard, it would have to be one with an expiring contract (I think?) so as not to clog up cap space that will be needed this summer. Are there any free agents out there? I guess there is this guy. And this guy. Crazy as it sounds, a phone call to Iverson or Arenas might not be the dumbest idea in the world.
The second question is more troubling. Along with a sensible NBA offense installed by Rick Adelman, Rubio’s ingenuity as a dribbler and passer has led to the marked improvement in the team’s offense from a season ago. Assuming no major roster changes, how does this team generate offense? In my opinion, Ridnour-Love ball screens are not going to cut it. This has less to do with Love than it used to; I just don’t think Luke delivers those passes very well. He’s too little and not nearly the wizard that Ricky is in compensating for seeming shortcomings. Does Mike Beasley need to play more minutes? (He was pretty awesome last night, as a scorer for 16 minutes.) I don’t know. It’s the million dollar question. I guess we’ll get a sneak preview of an answer in tonight’s contest.
Of course, there are countless other layers to this sad sports story. Ricky won’t play in the Olympics to back up the tough talk he dished at Kobe a while back. (There’s painful irony in how this circumstance came to be.) There’s the Rookie of the Year Award, then can just as soon be FedEx’d to Kyrie Irving’s Cleveland address. Rather than dwell on all the bad, I’ll just wish Ricky good luck in recovery and look forward to his return next season.
Minnesota beat Portland tonight for the second time in five days. The following facts describe the two matchups:
- Three point guards (Rubio, Ridnour, Barea) played a combined 88 minutes in each game. The team was essentially going without a two guard.
- Kevin Love averaged 35.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 assists over the two victories. While he didn’t guard LaMarcus Aldridge all of the time, he certainly outplayed him.
- Wes Johnson played a combined 37 minutes. In that time he scored 25 points on 10-13 shooting. In tonight’s game, he even dribbled and cut a few times.
- Coach Adelman was able to find 56 minutes of playing time for Derrick Williams, despite his playing Kevin Love’s position. The rook averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds over the two games, off the bench.
- The Wolves won both games; the first two victories over Portland since Kevin Garnett was wearing #21 for the good guys. If Saturday was a rite of passage, tonight was a statement game.
- Most importantly, the Wolves combined for 25-46 shooting from downtown. 54 percent shooting from 3 is going to lead to victories for almost any team. Especially in high volume.
What does it mean?
If you haven’t noticed already I am as prone as any NBA rube to making kneejerk reactions. One minute my trade machine has Derrick Williams going to Boston for cap space and the next I’m lauding him as the next Amar’e Stoudemire (that used to be a compliment.) But as more games are played–not just Wolves games but all around the league–what I’m finding more and more is that there is no such thing as a prototype NBA roster. A team with a classic 1-2-3-4-5 is no more likely to be successful than one with some oddities. Dallas won the championship last year with a 50-year old point guard and (for the deciding Game 6 at least) our very own midget, J.J. Barea, playing the two. Miami, the perpetual title favorite for as long as Wade and James are playing, has an offense built around two wings that are almost the exact same offensive player. Chicago built a contender around a single offensive threat who (oh by the way) happens to play point guard.
The Wolves are winning games with a weird team. Not only do they start two point guards, but they bring a third off the bench for big minutes. It is all point guards all the time. And it works. Luke is showing off what a tremendous shooter he is, relieved of primary playmaking duties that he sometimes struggles with. When J.J. comes in and inevitably finds himself defending the post, he draws a charge. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Ricky is versatile on defense, often switching and jumping the passing lanes. On offense, he’s a true point. It seems to work.
On the front line, things were just starting to reek of conventionality when Pekovic went down with a foot injury. Tonight (and Monday versus the Clippers) we saw extended sequences with Williams at the 4 and Love at the 5. I’ve made my feelings clear on this idea.
I write about this because the trade deadline is looming (March 15) and every Wolves fan has their own shooting guard who the team MUST pursue. Some want Kevin Martin while others prefer Jamal Crawford or Monta Ellis. I’ve clamored for Eric Gordon.
Well, the Wolves have now won 8 of their last 11 games and if the season ended right now they would be in the playoffs. Is it really time to deal away a starting player? The Wolves are a weird team. When they’re hot, they chuck away from downtown and shots fall. Kevin Love is the league’s most-productive and stabilizing force. He is our Batman; a constant force. His Robin walks through a revolving door with a new face on, each game. A trade isn’t likely to bring in a star player of real notoriety. Kevin McHale isn’t walkin’ through that door. Neither is, I’m guessing, his current shooting guard, Kevin Martin.
In a Western Conference that looks more wide open by the day, why not just embrace the weirdness of a dual point guard/power forward/Balkan center lineup that has all sorts of personalities and nearly shatters the Likeability Scale?
Of course, after Friday’s Laker game the Wolves play New Orleans and Phoenix. If they drop that pair I promise to write 5,000 words about the need for a veteran wing, balanced roster, go-to hero scorer, and every other adage and convention I can think of.
I hope that doesn’t happen.
Season Record: 21-19 (Currently 8th in Western Conference)