The Wolves are at home for tonight’s tilt against the Cavaliers. The tip is at 7 P.M. CST. You can watch it on FSN (most of you) or League Pass (me).
The Wolves will try to undo some of the damage witnessed in their horrific first-three quarters performance on November 4, which presaged a Wolves run in the fourth quarter that fell a Kevin Love buzzerbeater away from a huge comeback win. (Eds. Note: Andy G and Patrick J attended the November 4 game in Cleveland. A photo diary of the festivities can be seen here.)
The starting lineups should look like this.
Several interesting matchups stand out.
Ricky Rubio vs. Kyrie Irving
Rubio-Irving is the marquee matchup. Ricky is a flashy point guard who’s leading the league in steals and is one of the best defensive point guards in the business. As Wolves watchers know too well, Ricky has his problems shooting the ball, and with scoring more generally. Irving is Rubio’s mirror opposite in many ways, excepting the flashiness part: Kyrie is arguably the best pure-shooting point guard in the League not named Stephen Curry, but he struggles mightily on defense.
Ironically, Mike Brown executed perhaps the best in-game strategy of any opposing coach this year to exploit Ricky’s shooting ineptitude, daring Rubio to take open shots and doubling down hard on Wolves post players, who struggled to get any interior offense going against the Cavs’ collapsed, outsized defensive trio of Anderson Verejao, Tristan Thompson (!), and Andrew Bynum, the last of whom has been moved into the starting lineup in place of Verejao.
The Wolves might consider executing a similar strategy by trying to bait Dion Waiters into taking long jumpers whilst shading Kevin Martin to help against Cleveland’s bigs.
At any rate, Irving struggled mightily against the Wolves in the game at Cleveland, turning the ball over 9 times, several of which came down the stretch as the Wolves mounted their comeback. So far, Irving doesn’t look suited to playing the LeBron James role in Mike Brown’s one-on-five (non) offensive system.
This was certainly true in Cleveland, as Andy G and I heard on Cleveland’s post-game radio show, prompting this tweet:
Last Cleveland radio tweet: Best caller continually referred to "Same old Mike Brown stank leg offense." (!)—
Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) November 05, 2013
Does Size Matter?
If you watched the Wolves’ loss in Cleveland, you’s definitely say “yes.” The Cavaliers’ size was a “huge” problem for the Wolves in the Wolves’ loss at Cleveland two Mondays ago. (Eds. Note: Yes, all of that was intentional. Sorry.)
First thing’s first: It feels odd to note this, but in the loss to Cleveland, Anderson Verejao’s size, strength, and lateral quickness gave the Wolves’ Paul Bunyan-esque center Nikola Pekovic absolute fits, and effectively rendered Zod completely ineffective on both ends.
Look for Cavs coach Mike Brown to give Verejao heavy minutes tonight when Pekovic is in the game, especially if Zod gets off to a quick start and is scoring around the rim on the Cavs’ (still) out-of-shape starting center Andrew Bynum.
Second: Tristan Thompson, who’s much larger in real life than he appears on television (but just as ambidextrous) , did a very nice job defending Kevin Love in Cleveland. Love wasn’t making three-pointers that night, and Thompson’s length and strength took Love out of his usual interior battle rhythm of making easy jump hooks and baiting defenders into fouls. Love finished with 17 points on 8-20 shooting–a subpar night by his usual MVP-candidate standards.
Third: Even though Andrew Bynum didn’t put up particularly impressive box score numbers against Minnesota in the game at Cleveland, no one–including Pekovic–was strong enough to keep him from getting good looks very close to the basket. Bynum is simply a massive, massive human being. And he has fairly good touch around the hoop. Gorgui Dieng collected three fouls in three minutes, and if memory serves, they all came in trying to do something–anything–to stop Bynum. Michael Olowakandi–a human-being (former) basketball player almost Bynum’s size won’t be walking through that door (Eds. Note: Thank god.)–
so keep a close eye on how the Wolves try to counter Bynum’s presence if he’s playing aggressively tonight.
(Eds. Note: Bynum reportedly will not play tonight against the Wolves, due to “a family medical matter.”)
three two counts, adjustments will need to be made tonight for the Wolves to give themselves a good shot at winning.
Will a Better Alexey Shved Please Stand Up?
Cavaliers reserve C.J. Miles was made to look like a combination of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in the Wolves loss in Cleveland, scoring 19 points in 19 minutes, on 8-13 shooting. He was also beating our reserves to the boards, grabbing 5 rebounds from the off-guard position. I couldn’t find a good video clip of Miles’ outburst against the Wolves–Youtube might’ve censored it for the explicit violence done to the Wolves–but this clip might as well be a replay of it. (Eds. Note: Miles is a surprisingly cool player to watch, so check it out even though it’s him torching the Nets, not the Wolves.)
Most of the damage came in the second quarter, at Alexey Shved’s expense, prompting Wolves POBO Flip Saunders, who was in attendance that night, to post this embarrassing in-game tweet.
I’ve been a card-carrying Shved fan since before he played his first game as a Timberwolf, but I can be counted among the many who now agree that Alexey needs to sit. Rick Adelman should never, ever, allow Shved to guard C.J. Miles again. The carnage was devastating. I’d prefer to see Shabazz Muhammad given a chance in Shved’s place, and if he’s a step slow defending burst guards like Miles, then I’d put J.J. Barea on him (if for no other reason than that J.J.’s mind games might throw off his rhythm), while A.J. Price would match up against the opposing team’s point guard. Tonight, that would be Jarrett Jack, whom J.J. defended well in Cleveland despite a substantial height differential.
Whenever Shved gets his head right and deserves to rejoin the second team, it should be as the point guard, with J.J. free to roam and shoot as he pleases from the two.
1. Shabazztastic Birthday: I saw this on the Twitterz and wanted to wish a happy bday to Punch-Drunk Wolves’ favorite Wolves non-rotation player, Shabazz Muhammad.
We can’t be entirely sure how old he is today, nor do we care, but we’re confident he’s younger than 27 so he still has time to grow into an NBA role.
2. Hazing: Shabazz is probably also breathing a sigh of relief since new rules should prevent his teammates from hazing him.
3. Budinger goes to the doctor: Injured small forward Chase Budinger is reportedly seeing a doctor today for a checkup on his injured knee. There’s still no definitive timetable for his return. But whenever it is that that return happens, the Wolves’ bench should improve markedly.
That’s all folks. Enjoy the tilt.