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10 Questions & Answers About Shabazz (Wolves 110, SUNS 101)

Flea

Question 1: How’d Shabazz do tonight?
Answer 1: Bazz was unreal. Had his best game as a pro. 20 points and 6 boards. TOUGH boards. Crunch-time, sky-up-in-a-crowd boards. For shits and giggles, he also had an assist and 2 steals. By far his best game.

Question 2: Yeah, but did he help the team?
Answer 2: Yep. Wolves won at Phoenix, despite Martin and Pek sitting out. Shabazz’s plus/minus was +8 in 24:20 of action.

Question 3: What are Shabazz’s strengths?
Answer 3: Physicality, positioning, and touch around the basket. That spinning lefty hook.

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Five Friday Questions

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 12.10.22 AM

1. Is Gorgui Dieng an exaggerated plus on defense, and exaggerated minus on offense?

After learning the nature and extent of the Pekovic injury, I wrote a little bit about Gorgui Dieng. Specifically, I wrote about the question marks surrounding the Timberwolves offense when Gorgui takes the floor, and also the fact that he blocks a lot of shots and crashes the boards.

Well, in 6.4 meaningful minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans, he continued his reputation. With Gorgui on the floor, the defense was really good and the offense was really bad. In a game like tomorrow’s versus Memphis, maybe he will fit right in?

I wonder how Adelman feels about muddying the game up in the paint and trying to win in the low 90s. Gorgui seems like a one-way player in the extreme sense.

2. Now that he’s finally playing well, why is Alexey Shved removed from the rotation?

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Pek Goes Too

All-Star reserves are announced tonight on TNT.

The Timberwolves made a super funny video to promote Nikola Pekovic, a candidate for one of the slots.

They get extra points for including some Punch-Drunk Wolves art at the 0:25 mark.

Great stuff, and good luck to Pek.

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Finding Defense in Chicago (Wolves 95, BULLS 86)

chicagostyle

That was an unusual Timberwolves game.

They won, but that’s not the weird part. It happens half the time, after all. The strange thing about tonight’s win over the Chicago Bulls was how the Wolves won.

They scored 95 points, which doesn’t seem so odd until you consider that the Wolves average 114.1 points per game in wins (a stat that includes tonight’s game bringing it down). They won by 9, which is just a titch more than half of their average victory margin of 17.0 (again, including this game). The Wolves are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding and second-chance points teams, but tonight they pulled down only 5 boards on their own end.

Most importantly, the game’s outcome seemed to turn when the Wolves upped their defensive intensity.

That never happens.

Let’s quickly rewind to the beginning of the game.

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Bull Fight (The Wolves-Bulls Edition)

It is Nikola Pekovic's job - it's his vocation - to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah's from opposing centers' faces.

It is Nikola Pekovic’s job – it’s his vocation – to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah’s from opposing centers’ faces.

Following a disappointing loss in Portland on Saturday evening, the Wolves (21-22) continue their four-game road trip tonight in Chicago (22-21). Tip is at 7:00 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on NBATV and heard on WCCO 830.

Derrick Rose won’t be walking through that door. (Eds. Note: He might limp to that bench, I’m not sure. Key thing is, he isn’t playing tonight or for a long time.) Neither will Luol Deng, or even Kirk Hinrich.

But beating the Bulls tonight will require the Wolves  to play top-level basketball. The Wolves haven’t beaten the Bulls in a very long time. Last season, Chicago swept the season series against the Wolves for the fourth straight year. They’ve now won seven straight against Minnesota.

And despite being decimated by injuries, the Bulls are perhaps the NBA’s hottest team that no one really cares about.

The Bulls are tied for the League lead in January wins so far, going 10-3 in 2014. They’re 8-3 since trading  Luol Deng earlier this month in what appeared a clear towel-throwing move.

But the Bulls keep winning. Because Tom Thibodeau.

Remember when I said Derrick Rose, Lu Deng, and Kirk Hinrich won’t be walking through that door? That doesn’t  matter. Thibs keeps the engine running on overdrive no matter what lineup he can put on the floor.

A few things stand out for tonight’s game.

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The Love-Saunders Friendship: How much does it matter?

“[Michael] Jordan was skilled at verbal blood sport; no one in the league was better at zinging other people. He seemed to know how much to bait [Bulls general manager Jerry] Krause and, when there were danger signals, just when to back off. Jordan might have his own raging emotions, but he was a master at controlling them. He was mature and very tough mentally, and he had a certain high, professional coldness that allowed him to turn on his emotions as he so chose and to use his rage as an instrument. If anything, no one in the league was more skilled at creating artificial rage when needed.

Pippen was different. His emotions were always more raw and closer to the surface, and he had far less control over them. When he got into a situation like this, especially when he had been drinking, he was not nearly as good as Jordan at knowing when to let go. As Jordan began the baiting on the bus, Pippen took it over, berating Krause–When are you going to stop taking credit for drafting me and for my career?–then loudly and angrily demanding that the Bulls either sign him to a new contact or trade him. None of it was being done lightly, and Pippen became louder and angrier on the ride. It was the voice of anger and alcohol. Finally, [Phil] Jackson held up a bottle of beer, as if to tell him that he had been drinking too much and to stop.”

–Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam

Just about everybody was happy when David Kahn was fired was not retained as Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. Kahn made a lot of mistakes. He blew draft choices. He prioritized potential ahead of realized talent (to an unusually high degree). He didn’t know when to shut up to the press (which was awesome for fans, but bad for his team’s reputation, particularly in light of its win/loss record and standing in the league).

But when Kahn was let go, his flaw that fans focused most on was his cancerous relationship with Timberwolves star, Kevin Love. The two got off on a rocky start when Kahn would tell people that Love was the third or fourth best player on a championship team. There are rumors that Kahn was considering trading Love. And most famously, the Timberwolves refused to offer Love a five-year maximum contract; the decision which affects the team now as it might be forced into trading Love at this coming deadline, if the playoffs don’t seem realistic and a message is sent — whether by Love, his agent, or someone else in the know — that he is not going to re-sign with the Timberwolves in 2015. Even though Glen Taylor was apparently the maker of that decision, Kahn was the basketball boss and it seems highly unlikely that his input was not a key factor. When Kahn handed Love a four-year contract — literally, handed it to him — Love crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

So with that background, Flip Saunders was to be a savior. Saunders is a good old boy in a state that treasures Good Old Boys. He might not value advanced stats — they are just “information confirmation,” after all — but the one thing we knew he would get right is Kevin Love.

And to his credit, Saunders seems to be having success in making friends with Love. In his interview with Britt Robson of MinnPost, he lauded Love’s commitment to the organization. He said that they have lunch all the time. He said that Love really does like it here.

I threw out a question on Twitter last night to gauge fan opinions on this issue: Continue reading

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The past month of play

As I’m sure you already know, the Timberwolves beat the Jazz on Saturday. That game was played at Target Center. It was not close. The blowout allowed Coach Adelman to play his first round picks, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, for the final six minutes of the game. (Gorgui actually played a little bit in the first half, too.) Adelman was in a good mood after the game. When his presser closed with some jokes about a ridiculous lob pass Dieng threw from beyond the halfcourt line, it seemed as if Rick wanted to hang out for a while. Suffice it to say, it was a happier mood than the one that followed Wednesday’s loss to the Kings.

The Wolves and Jazz match up again on Tuesday. This one will be in Utah and marks the beginning of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Portland, Oakland/Golden State, and Chicago. As the Wolves are currently 2 games below .500 and 4 games out of the playoffs, they can’t afford a losing streak. Ideally they win at Utah and Chicago — where Luol Deng no longer plays and Derrick Rose is not in uniform — and steal one of the two difficult games on the West Coast. A 3-1 road trip would get the team back to .500 with some momentum after the first impressive win (whether it come at the Rose Garden or Oracle) in ages.

A few points about the recent play of the Wolves during the stretch of games I alluded to in my last post (everything since the 12/18/13 win over Portland at Target Center, which was about one month ago):

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