Weekend Split: A Friday Win & Saturday Loss
The Timberwolves won on Friday against the Nets and lost on Saturday against the Rockets, continuing an early season trend of winning at home and losing on the road. (The Wolves are currently 6-2 at home and 2-5 on the road.) The weekend split also reinforced a growing body of evidence suggesting that the Wolves will end the season very close to the cut line of Western Conference Playoffs inclusion. As things stand, the Grizzlies are 8th in the West; the Wolves 9th.
Friday’s game seems like a great win because the Wolves won by 30 points against a team that had Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett playing. But it wasn’t a great win as much as it was a terrible loss by the Nets who turned in such an embarrassingly unprofessional effort. Any of the league’s other 28 teams would’ve defeated Brooklyn on Friday.
Saturday’s game seems like a bad loss because Houston was without superstar guard James Harden, yet controlled the game from start to finish. There weren’t many moments when a Wolves win seemed likely, if even possible. But it wasn’t a bad loss as much as a combination of a “schedule loss” (The Rockets were at home and hadn’t played since Wednesday. The Wolves played Friday and obviously had to travel.) and an unlucky night to play against reserve guard, Aaron Brooks. He had barely seen the floor this season, but the Harden injury gave him a rare chance. Brooks made the most of it with 26 points in 25 minutes. He was 6-7 from downtown. If Brooks plays his usual game — whatever that is exactly — the Rockets may still have won, but the game would have been competitive.
Panic spread around the NBA world on Friday night when three marquee players went down with scary injuries. In a matter of minutes, my Twitter feed announced a(nother) possible ACL tear for former MVP Derrick Rose, a non-contact knee injury for Defense Player of the Year Marc Gasol, and a hamstring injury “with a pop sound” to Warriors linchpin Andre Iguodala. If every injury realized its worst-case potential, the 2013-14 season would be damaged beyond comprehension. In the case of Rose and Gasol, they are unquestionably the best players on their teams that are gunning for a title in pure “win now” mode. Iggy is new to the Warriors, but his defensive chops and impeccable fit with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have given the Dubs a title-contending look that doubles as the league’s most watchable brand of ball.
There isn’t much to say about last night’s game other than the Nets — literally — did not look like an NBA team. The Wolves played fine, but were hardly at their best, yet still led by 16 after 1, 20 after 2, and 32 after 3. Nobody aside from maybe Corey Brewer had a hot night by their standards. Ricky made 2 of 3 from downtown, and that is great to see, but the game had a major front-running feel to it where there wasn’t a worry in the world when anybody’s shot went up.
I don’t want to waste my time or yours with too much detail about a game where one team didn’t show up to play. The Nets better hope that the returns of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have a dramatic effect. Jason Kidd’s job might be in jeopardy just one month into his coaching career.
Some scary injury news around the league. I haven’t had a chance to read the stories — and I think the MRIs and whatnot have yet to come back with definitive results — but it sounds like the NBA might be once again without Derrick Rose. Marc Gasol and Andre Iguodala might be out, too. More to come on all this when we have better information.
Always good to get a win, even when the opponent isn’t ready to play.
Season Record: 8-6
Wolves (7-6) host Nets (3-8) tonight. With Brooklyn missing its two best players (Deron Williams & Brook Lopez) it’s absolutely a game that Minnesota should win.
But in terms of reasons to watch, this one’s easy. Kevin Garnett is back in town and in the lineup, possible for the last time ever at Target Center.
If you view an NBA season as a marathon, and each game as 1 micro-sampling not be taken very seriously, go to A.
If you view each NBA game as a meaningful event worthy of dissection and takeaways, go to B.
If you are a pessimist, go to C.
If you are an optimist, go to D.
If you watch Timberwolves and other NBA games for entertainment only, to to E.
J.J. Barea continued his productive play with 12 points (5-10 shooting) and 7 assists (compared to 2 turnovers) in 29 minutes of +9 action off the bench. He was the Wolves best option at point guard tonight, as Washington borrowed whatever game plan Mike Brown used in Cleveland to completely neutralize Ricky Rubio.
Also good: Kevin Love’s early three-point shooting. Love buried 3 jumpers in the first quarter. Had his hot hand continued, or had the Wolves given a reasonable effort on defense — particularly transition defense — they would’ve won tonight’s game. But neither of those things happened. (Love finished the game 4-10 from downtown after a 3-4 start.)
The final good: Robbie Hummel, who made shots (2-3 total, 2-2 from three), collected 6 rebounds, and even drove the lane and dished off an assist for a layup. Hummel made 0 turnovers and had a +3 in 22 minutes. He continues to correlate with positive minutes for the team.
The Wolves play at Washington tonight (6:00 CST, FSN Plus), where former Minnesota coach Randy Wittman has his team off to a more-than-disappointing 2-7 start. Wizards players and fans (and coaches, I suppose) expected this to be the first winning season of the John Wall (or Post Gilbert Arenas, if you prefer) Era. They finished last season strong, they have star talent surrounded by competent role fillers, and they even made a short-term move to trade for Marcin Gortat after Emeka Okafor got hurt.
But the wins haven’t followed, Randy Wittman’s seat is burning hot, and the Wizards are holding players only meetings. I’ve sat through what I thought was Wittman’s Last Stand; his last ever game coaching the Timberwolves. It was a cold, quiet night in Downtown Minneapolis and the only thing breaking the sound of Baron Davis three-point swishes was a steady supply of “FIE-YER WITT-MAN!” from various pockets of Target Center seats. (The few that were filled.)
It’s not a pretty place for a franchise to be. We’ve been there.
The good news for Wizards fans: It can only get better from here. (Well, unless your next key move is to hire David Kahn to handle personnel decisions.)
It goes without saying that the Wolves view this as a winnable game; much more so than tomorrow’s matchup at home versus a rested, title-contending Clippers team. I don’t cheer for people to get fired from their jobs, but in the case of Wittman’s Wizards, that team should definitely be playing better than it is, and Wittman’s history suggests he’s doing more harm than good.
Enjoy the game.
Minnesota sports fans remember Robbie Hummel from his days as a Purdue Boilermaker who frequently dominated the Gophers. Now on the Timberwolves, he appears to have cracked Rick Adelman’s regular playing rotation.
In forecasting this Timberwolves season, pundits came to a broad consensus about strengths and weaknesses. With the acquisitions made at Flip Saunders’ direction the Wolves would be a team that plays fast, scores a lot of points, but would struggle to defend their own basket. If you asked me before the season to describe what a “typical loss” would look like for this team, my answer would’ve resembled last night’s game at Denver.
The Wolves lost 117-113 to a mediocre Nuggets team that no longer has Andre Iguodala playing or George Karl coaching, and is currently without Danilo Gallinari, who is recovering from knee surgery. But they still have Ty Lawson, who is still incredibly fast with the ball in his hands. They still have Kenneth Faried, whose trampoline-bounce rebounds are much more different in style than substance from our own Kevin Love’s. And they still have Professor Andre Miller, whose skillset seems immune to the normal aging process.
Denver scored 35 in the first quarter, 30 in the third and 31 in the fourth. Had we not seen the absolute best version of the ever-unpredictable J.J. Barea, this game would have been a rout. Barea scored 21 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting and dished out 4 assists for good measure. It’s his second good game in a row, and immediately follows my harshest criticisms of him since he’s been here. (I vented with some player-tracking data in Britt Robson’s comments section the other day about how sick I am of watching J.J. dribble the air out of the ball.) While J.J.’s huge game off the bench helped offset some others’ struggles (Ricky Rubio didn’t score) it did nothing to stop Denver from scoring.
A very late Wolves rally cut the deficit to 2 points after a Kevin Love three. Wilson Chandler was sent to the line where he made the first and missed the crucial second; a miss that gave the Wolves a chance to tie. Only it didn’t, because Andre Miller [illegally] creeped into the lane from behind Chandler to secure the offensive rebound and the win. A little kick to the ribs when we were already down about losing a winnable game. Denver isn’t very good right now and the Wolves had enough things going on offense last night to leave the Pepsi Center 7-3 instead of 6-4. It’s the type of loss that can’t sit well with Coach Adelman who certainly appreciates how difficult it will be to lock up a Western Conference playoff seat.
Some other Wolves jottings:
Robbie Hummel: Positive Correlation Guy
About twenty minutes ago, Matt Barnes and Serge Ibaka were both ejected from a basketball game. Ibaka fouled Blake Griffin under the basket and the two star big men got their arms twisted up. Whether it was aggressive basketball or showy machismo, the interlocking continued. Serge pushed Blake and Barnes quickly dove in and shoved Ibaka back. Serge then balled a fist, a crowd swarmed between them, and — one Ken Mauer video review later — two key players were headed to the showers before the half. The period ended with Russell Westbrook sticking a pull-up trey in Chris Paul’s eye, turning and signaling double holsters to drive the point home:
It was on now.
That game is still being played, now entering the fourth quarter as I write. No matter who wins (Clips lead by 5 at the moment) tomorrow’s game wraps are certain to include a few sports-cliche buzzwords. It was a “playoff atmosphere” out there on the Staples Center floor. The game was “a preview of what’s to come” in the playoffs, next spring. There “will be no love lost” the next time Ibaka and Griffin match up in the post.
I begin with this because it is the polar opposite of what went down at Target Center tonight.
Moral victories feel a little bit better when the team actually has a winning record. The Timberwolves are now 5-3 and last night’s close loss at Staples Center can be filed away as a moral victory for a team with hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
On the tail end of a road back-to-back and facing one of the league’s most talented teams, the Wolves were inches away from forcing overtime. Down by two, out of a timeout, Kevin Martin’s bank shot missed. Then Nikola Pekovic’s bunny from about 5 feet missed. And then Kevin Love’s point-blank tip in missed. The buzzer sounded, the game was over and the Wolves wild comeback effort (they trailed by 11 with under 5 minutes to play) fell just short against long odds and a tough opponent.
But the point stands: This wasn’t a game for the Wolves to hang their heads over. Despite a rocky first-half defensive effort (36 points allowed in the 2nd Quarter, many off of breakdowns leading to open Clipper dunks) the team offense was solid throughout the entire game (with the exception of a stretch or two of JJ-led bench play) and really tightened up the D in the second half. While the Clippers did a nice job of limiting the Love-Brewer outlet bombs, they had no answer for a new wrinkle to Adelman’s offensive attack: the high-low pass from Love to Nikola Pekovic.
I spilled a lot of virtual ink yesterday about the Wolves season to date. They went on to pummel the Lakers, defeating LAL by the most points in franchise history and for the first time in years. Three pointers by the Kevins, Outlet bombs to Brewer, pesky backcourt defense, and a Ricky Rubio triple double all factored into the win. Oh, and Nick Young’s shot selection.
Another big one tonight at the same arena, against a much better Clippers team.
Update (11:05 A.M. CST): It’s a cliche , but we’d be remiss not to honor Ricky’s triple-double (highlights here) by giving it the proper Ice Cube treatment (see 1:18) - Patrick J
It Was A Good Day (NSFW, depending where you W)