“The Best Part of My Day” (Raptors 111, WOLVES 104)

(Not safe for work, language)

@PDWolves: See, for me, it’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting. You guys have seen that, right?

@brianjacobson: Yeah.

@bobs219 (nods)

@GymRatInParis (doing something on phone, not paying attention)

@PDWolves: Ben Affleck’s like, “One day I just wanna pull up to your house to pick you up, and you’re not there. You’re just gone.” And for me, one day I wanna just turn on a Wolves game, and Ricky’s shot just LOOKS DIFFERENT. Rather than that weird sequencing and wind up, he just pops up and fires it. With way more arc. I don’t even care if it goes in, I just want it to look different.

You know what I mean?

@bobs219: (seems a little confused) Yeah.

@brianjacobson: (incredulous look on face) That’s a pretty loose ‘Will Hunting’ tie-in.

@PDWolves: But you got it.

@brianjacobson: I’m not sure that even makes sense.

@PDWolves: Whatever, you’re right with me.

@bobs219: Grimmy, do you have any other super popular movies you wanna force comparisons to? Maybe something from Shawshank?

@PDWolves: Well, let’s see.

I know that hope is a good thing; maybe even the best of things. And with tonight’s loss the Wolves’ playoff hopes are shot. And that really sucks.

How’s that?

The Timberwolves lost to the Raptors on Sunday night.

Kevin Love played a great game, scoring 26 points and almost notching a triple double. Nikola Pekovic was solid, chipping in 17 of his own and fighting hard all night for the deepest, choice real estate possible and cashing in on baby hooks near the rim and off the glass. Corey Brewer played like a slightly-crazier-than-usual Corey Brewer with a surprising level of success. He had 17 points and 6 steals and was a best-among-all-starters +10 in 44 minutes of action. Say what you want about Brewer, but it’s damn impressive that a person can play that hard for almost an entire game.

But the Raptors were just better. DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points despite battling some foul trouble. Steve Novak came off the bench to shoot 6 three-pointers and make 5 of them. Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Chuck Hayes set bruising screen after bruising screen for Kyle Lowry, who posted a triple double with 20 points and a pair of steals.

When Shabazz Muhammad scored three times in a short fourth-quarter sequence, and Ricky Rubio was gesturing for the crowd to get excited, the Raptors responded with sweet perimeter shooting and extra hustle on the offensive boards to fend off any possibility of a dramatic finish.

The Wolves’ most blameworthy stretch came at the beginning of the second quarter when a 33-33 first-quarter score quickly became a 13-point Raptors lead. Kevin Love, who ended up playing 41 minutes, had to check back in a little bit early to keep the ship from sinking. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who took back some first-half minutes from Muhammad (who did not play until the second half) was extremely ineffective, dropping the ball for turnovers and doing nothing to limit Raptors points. LRMAM somehow ended the game with a plus/minus of -18, despite only playing 4, middle-of-the-game minutes.

But credit goes to the Raptors and former Timberwolves coaches Dwane Casey and Bill Bayno. They have an impressive team that includes skill and grit at point guard, length, athleticism and shooting strokes on the wings, and punishing size up front. They earned this win.

Next up are the Milwaukee Bucks, who come to Target Center on Tuesday night. Milwaukee has the worst record in the NBA and the Wolves will probably win that game.

Until then.

Season Record: 31-31

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The Tense Disconnect Between Adelman and Rubio

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?

(sighs)

When we’re 28 or 25 points up, we don’t need to score quick. I mean, we don’t have to make HERO PLAYS. We threw the ball away in the third quarter and even the last possession with a minute to go, we steal it, and Ricky throws that pass out of bounds trying to get it to Kevin–WHY?

Sooner or later that’s gonna cost you the game! We have to have more discipline in what we do. I don’t care what the score is, and that’s what we have to learn. It’s hurt us in the past and it will hurt us again.”

A leading question about Ricky Rubio’s good performance was posed to Rick Adelman.

It was supposed to elicit praise.

Instead, he got worked up.

Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.

Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.

If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision. The tension is manifested in three ways:

First is the offense itself.

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A Retrospective on the Knicks, A Prospective on the Pistons

Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Wolves lost to New York on Wednesday night 118-106. The Knicks seized the initiative right away, and the game was only really close after an  8-0 run in the third-quarter brought the Wolves to within three, with the ball.

On the ensuing possession, Kevin Love  got the ball on the block against Tyson Chandler and shot an ill-advised jump hook airball. It was a look Love has made plenty this season, including against solid defenders who are longer than he is.

But on Wednesday it was emblematic of his struggles to establish himself as the purveyor of the game. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler instead did that.

Neutralizing Kevin Love

You see, Love typically sets his self apart from the competition each and every night, doing things in quantity and quality that have almost never been seen before. Usually when Love steps on the court, “u alreddy kno” who it is, to paraphrase famed Canis Hoopus commenter MAYNHOLUP!, because of Love’s dizzying barrage of three-point shooting, outlet passing, offensive rebounding, high-low feeds, foul draws, and, yes, jump hooks. There might not be a more unique player in the NBA – including LeBron James and Kevin Durant. 

If in most games, Love stands out like the unique superstar he is, in the New York game, he blended in – in the wrong way – like the role player his critics expected him to be when he came into the League.

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Wolves-Knicks Preview & Why Shabazz is more interesting (to write about) than K-Love

The Opponent

The New York Knickerbockers are in town.

That sounds cooler than it actually is. Despite their rich history and big-market glitz (and luxury-tax qualifying payroll), the Knicks are terrible this year.

New York’s record of 21-40 only tells part of the story. Mike Woodson’s squad went 2-11 in the month of February, when its playoff hopes in the anemic Eastern Conference were on the line. They’re off to an 0-2 start in March. They’ve lost their last 7 games. Three of their last four were blowouts and the other was a double-digit loss at Detroit.

Oh, and Carmelo Anthony — the ray of sunshine reflecting out of this dumpster fire of a roster — is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Oh, and the Knicks first-round draft pick, which promises to be a high one in a loaded draft, will go to Denver as part consideration for the same trade that brought Melo to Manhattan in the first place.

For the best summation of what it means to be a Knicks fan in 2014, see netw3rk’s, The New York Knicks: It’s the Hope That Kills You in the End, written for Grantland on Monday.

Of course nothing is taken for granted here in Minnesota, where the “longest playoffs drought” title belt proudly sits. Carmelo has torched the Timberwolves many times before and unless Adelman wants to dust off Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for some specialized isolation defense (and he very well might) Melo might just go off once again tonight.

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Timberwolves vs. Nuggets Preview (The Rocky Mountain High Edition)

Nikola Pekovic has likely traded in his Phoenix poolside garb for a Denver ski jacket.

Nikola Pekovic has likely traded in his Phoenix poolside garb for a Denver ski jacket.

The Wolves are in Denver to close out their West Coast road trip tonight at 8 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or League Pass, or heard on WCCO 830 AM.

The Wolves have won three of four games on their current road trip, and aim to make it four out of five tonight against the Nuggets. The Wolves should win tonight – they beat Denver by 27 points on February 12 – but it isn’t a gimme, as Denver has demonstrated in two wins over the Wolves this season.

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How to feel about a double-digit road win (Wolves 108, KINGS 97)

30" x 22" mixed media on paper painting by Holly Grimsrud

hollygrimsrudart.com

Timberwolves fan expectations are in a funny place. Heading into last night’s game in Sacramento, the team had a win/loss record of 28-29; under .500 and good for tenth place in the Western Conference. They are far removed from playoff contention. Minnesota’s road record was 12-18, which happened to be the exact same number of wins and losses that the Kings had on their home floor. With these facts taken under consideration, one would think that a victory — any victory — would generate some good feelings.

But when the Wolves did win — by 11 points, no less — it just didn’t seem all that impressive.

There are a few possible explanations for this:

One is that the Timberwolves have underachieved compared to expectations. Wins like last night’s over the Kings feel overdue. According to Basketball Reference, the Wolves have an “Expected W-L” of 37-21; a record that would have them in sixth place and in the thick of the playoff picture. Instead, here we are at 29-29 and most likely looking forward to another draft lottery.

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Wheelman Presents: Punch-Drunk Podcast, Vol. 4

In which we discuss Shabazz Muhammad, Royce White, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Billl Simmons and the future of (sports) journalism.


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Simmons On Kevin Love Trade Ideas

My best guess: I think Love rides it out in Minnesota, then jumps to the Lakers in 2015. But I wouldn’t rule out the Celtics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

–Bill Simmons dishes on Kevin Love trade possibilities over at Grantland. (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-nba-bag-volume-1/)

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by | February 26, 2014 · 2:30 PM

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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Report: Timberwolves Prowling in the House of the Rising Suns

Gerald Green gets high. (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Gerald Green gets high. (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

The Timberwolves take on the playoff-bound Phoenix Suns  tonight in Phoenix. Tip is at 8 P.M. CST. You can see it on FSN or League pass and, as always, hear it on WCCO 830.

I have to drive down to Washington, D.C., later this afternoon, so this will be brief.

A few quick notes, below the fold.

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Instant Reactions (BLAZERS 108, Wolves 97)

The Wolves lost tonight. The end result isn’t as upsetting to fans as the manner in which it came to be. Since it’s late and tomorrow is Monday morning, I’m doing this rapid-fire style with a few key bullet points:

* The obvious storyline is that Ricky Rubio sat out the entire fourth quarter, despite three major factors suggesting this was a bad idea:

1) He was playing pretty well. He had 11 assists in just 23 minutes of action;

2) A growing body of stats shows that the Wolves play much worse with Barea than with Ricky during fourth quarters; and

3) J.J. Barea, his replacement, lost his cool in a chippy matchup with Blazers reserve guard, Mo Williams. Barea actually won that matchup in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first two periods. But Williams eventually got him fired up (in a bad way — REALLY bad way) and this led to offensive fouls and dumb shots. Long story short: Rick Adelman has fans and analysts perplexed as to why he prefers Barea over Rubio down the stretch of close games. Wolves brilliant color commentator Jim Petersen openly discussed this confusion after the game, and it’s a story that is not going away.

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K-Love’s Good Day, Rookies in Action, Blazers Preview

Kevin Love.

That’s the two-word synopsis of last night’s victory in Salt Lake City. The Wolves power forward continued his even-better-than-usual stretch of dominance against the Jazz. In less than 33 minutes of action, Love put together his first career triple-double stat line. He scored 37 points, rebounded 12 missed shots, and assisted 10 of his teammates baskets. For the third consecutive game, Love attempted at least 10 threes (10). For the third consecutive game, he made at least 5 of them (6). Love connected with Corey Brewer for a few of their patented outlet bombs. He was a game-best +23 and, by far, the biggest reason that the Wolves won easily for the third consecutive game despite the absences of Kevin Martin (thumb) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle).

Rookies

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Wheelman Presents: The Punch-Drunk Podcast, Vol. 3

In which we review the trade deadline, the Wolves’ big win over the Pacers, Al Jefferson’s resurgence in Charlotte, and how Kevin Love might take his game to yet another level.


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Love for Three (WOLVES 104, Pacers 91)

The Wolves beat the Pacers last night. They didn’t just beat the Pacers, but they handled them from start to finish. They led by 20 at one point in the first half, and ended up winning by 13 points. It probably rivals the victory at Oracle as the season’s most impressive.

My subjective reaction is one I’ve had after many Timberwolves wins during the Ricky Rubio Era:

The Wolves are a better team when Kevin Love shoots a ton of threes.

Love played incredible last night, scoring 42 points and pulling down 16 rebounds. My favorite part of his performance was how he hunted three-point shot attempts, realizing how strong the Pacers defense is in the interior. He ended up shooting 10 of them, making 5. When he does that, it removes him from the high post where he is effective at initiating offense, but also serves as an obstacle to Ricky Rubio’s playmaking. Against the Pacers, a freed-up Rubio dished 17 assists, setting a personal record that matched the franchise’s best in history.

My subjective feeling is barely supported by the numbers, this season. In wins, Love shoots 6.5 threes per 36 minutes versus the 5.9 per 36 that he shoots when the Wolves lose. But, to my eye, this season hasn’t properly tested this hypothesis because of the heavy reliance on high-post sets. Instead of Ricky Rubio wheeling around picks, looking to set up shooters and dunkers, we’ve seen much more emphasis on feeding Love behind the elbow to allow him to make a play. According to nba.com’s player-tracking data, Love touches the ball 86.9 times per game, which is more than Ricky Rubio’s 84.1 and much more than any non-point guard in the league.

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Wolves-Pacers Preview (& Ricky’s Shooting…)

Back to basketball tonight. The basketball that counts, I mean.

It’s been a while, as the Wolves last played one week ago; a home victory over the depleted Denver Nuggets. Tonight will be a far different test with the Indiana Pacers in town. Frank Vogel’s boys are 41-12; owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference. (Second best in the NBA, behind Oklahoma City.) Indiana’s recipe success is simple: long, athletic, aggressive, smart defenders working together as a cohesive unit. Together, they take away shots in the lane and behind the three-point line. Instead, the Pacers invite mid-range jumpers that are usually contested. Per nba.com/stats, the Pacers allow the most field goal attempts per game from 15-19 feet (just inside the three-point line) and the second-most per game from 10-14 feet. Taken together, it adds up to, BY FAR, the league’s top defense.

So that’s the challenge tonight. Figuring out ways to score. According to espn.com, the Pacers are 3-point favorites. It should be a competitive game. The playoffs are almost definitely out of the picture for this team, but it’s always fun to take on a challenge like this one against a title contender in front of the home crowd.

In other news, the trade deadline is tomorrow. There are multiple reports suggesting that J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger might be headed to Memphis in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. There are thousands of tweets suggesting that either Kevin Love will be a Laker or that Laker fans are stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s just that time of year. Try to enjoy it.

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Wheelman Presents: The Punch-Drunk Podcast, Vol. 2

In which we review the Wolves performance last week, assess their playoff chances, talk All-Star Weekend, and discuss Hoop Ideas for addressing the NBA age-minimum issue.


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Lovely Ambivalence

lovelyambivalence

[Editor's Note: The trade deadline is next Thursday, February 20. What follows is a conversation that many Timberwolves fans are having with themselves, in their own minds. Or at least I am, anyway. Enjoy.]

Mr. Pessimist: K-Love is gone. Just like Simmons predicted. Six straight years and no playoffs? Are you kidding me? And that bullshit with Taylor and Kahn refusing to offer the max? Did you read the Woj interview? He’s gone. They have to trade him, and they will. Before next week’s deadline.

Mr. Optimist: Nah, they can’t. They won’t. He’s their best player. Their FRANCHISE player. Kahn’s gone, ain’t ya heard? Flip Saunders is back. He and Love are tight. They have lunch all the time. And that stuff with the new practice facility? And the Mayo Clinic? Did you miss the part where Love said he’s looking forward — FORWARD — to playing in it and attracting free agents here. He’s looking ahead to the future. Here in Minnesota. Whats’ so hard to understand about that? He took out a full page ad in the Star Trib. What else do you need to see?

Mr. P: Well, some wins would be nice. The most they’ve won in Love’s five years here is 31. That’s not even .500 ball. Not even close. And Love barely even played that season. Oh, you musta forgot when he smashed up his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Or the part where nobody (except you?) believed that he actually hurt himself doing knuckle push-ups. Yeah, that happened.

Look, the team is flat lining and this plateau isn’t even close to where All-NBA players in their primes become satisfied. HE HASN’T EVEN PLAYED IN A PLAYOFF GAME YET! Why am I even having this conversation. Trust me, he’s gone. They’re putting on a happy PR face to keep his trade value and reputation intact. It’s smart business, but face the facts: Love is gone. Early next week, at the latest. You’ll read about it this weekend. Trust me.

Mr. O: But what are they gonna do without him?

Mr. P: Uh, keep losing? Whaddayou mean?

Mr. O: I mean, even assuming you’re right — which I don’t — what could they get for him? If everyone knows he’s a free agent in a year and a half, why would a team pay big for him now?

Mr. P: Because he’s an All-NBA forward and the best scorer-rebounder combination in the world. He could EASILY be the “2004 Sheed” that pushes a playoff team over the edge into a bowl of deep playoff runs and a championship.

Off the top of my head, the Bulls would definitely want him, and they’d send back Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and change. That’s 75 cents on the dollar, which ain’t bad. Chicago’s in an uncomfortable spot with all of these Derrick Rose injuries, but imagine if they could re-load with a Rose-Love-Joakim Noah core? That locks up Tom Thibodeau for the next half dozen seasons and they’ll probably win a championship. They’d certainly contend for a bunch of them. And Love wouldn’t leave Chicago.

Or the Thunder, where his college roommate Russell Westbrook plays. The Thunder are rolling now, but they couldn’t turn down a Love for Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb trade. Shit, they’d probably toss in a couple draft picks. Those are just two possibilities. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. The Wolves would take a step back, but what’s the difference? They’re not cracking this top eight in the West this year, or any other time soon.

Mr. O: Whatever man, I’m not buying it. We haven’t heard a peep about Love being shopped. He’s averaging 26, 13 & 4. Those are numbers from a different era. You don’t trade that for Serge Ibaka or Taj Gibson. You just don’t.

Mr. P: Believe what you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

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Wolves lose at home by a lot of points.

That was a bad game. The final score was Houston 107, Minnesota 89.

It had some nice moments, but more bad ones that lasted much longer than the good. Rick Adelman wasn’t there tonight, due to personal reasons. Terry Porter took his place as chief decision maker on the sidelines.

In the opening minutes, the Wolves couldn’t defend. They started Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger at the wing spots. Corey couldn’t defend James Harden without fouling. Chase couldn’t rotate quickly enough to contest Rockets three-point shots. This theme continued all night as Brewer and Budinger posted defensive ratings for the game of 124.9 and 118.7, respectively.

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Rockets at Timberwolves (The Fearing the Beard Edition)

The NBA should allow James Harden to play with that pick in his beard during All-Star Weekend.

The NBA should allow James Harden to play with that pick in his beard during All-Star Weekend.

The Houston Rockets (34-17) are in town to play the staggering (Punch-Drunk?) Wolves (24-27) tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. Central. Views via FSN and NBATV. Sounds via WCCO 830. James Harden’s beard is traveling with the team and will be in the Rockets’ starting lineup.

We discussed some of the issues heading into this game during our first Punch-Drunk Podcast. (Eds. Note: We’re planning on adding podcasts to our repertoire on a semi-regular basis. More details on that to come.)

A few notes on tonight’s game below the fold.

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Wheelman Presents: The Punch-Drunk Podcast (PDP), Vol. 1

In which we discuss Timberwolves injuries and their implications; the upcoming schedule; and longer term implications (TRADE DEADLINE). (!)

[Recorded 2/9/2014]


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