Shabazz Muhammad Likes It On The Block

Because we’re not making the playoffs, and we haven’t gotten to see this all season.

Yes, this is Shabazz having his best offensive game of the season, outside of his brief D-League stint.

Methinks Shabazz is a load on the block.

More to come by way of analysis of the game itself.

Until then.

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INBOX: The Pelican(s) Brief, Plus Tonight’s Game against PDX

Last Night’s Game

Andy G: So, last night. The Wolves lost a game they needed to win. The Pelicans have talent (Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon) but they aren’t very good yet (22-27 after the win) and they are without point guard Jrue Holiday and shooter Ryan Anderson. (The Pellies miss Jrue Holiday more than any other player, losing to opponents by 3.6 points per 100 poss. when he’s out.)

If you can believe this, the Wolves got destroyed in the fourth quarter, giving up 37 points and scoring just 20.

Their season in a nutshell, in other words.

With the loss, the Timberwolves fall to 2 games below .500 and 5.5 games outside the playoff picture. And Memphis is between the Wolves and the playoff teams.

In short, the Wolves are not going to make the playoffs, barring something unforeseen in the trade and/or injury scene.

Anything you feel like adding about that game, specifically?

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A Look at the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Participants

John Wall gets high.

John Wall gets high. Will he win the 2014 Slam-Dunk Contest?

It was announced today that the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest participants will include Paul George, Damian Lillard, John Wall, and defending champion Terrence Ross, according to ESPN. Ben McLemore and Harrison Barnes are mentioned as the two others who are expected to round out the six-man field.

All are firmly in BMF territory as dunkers. But who’s the best?

The point of this post isn’t to pontificate about who’s the best dunker. That’s a matter of personal aesthetic preference: The dunk, like other special types of basketball shots, is more an art than a science.

That said, it’s fun to see what each participant has in his arsenal – and then to watch the contest to see if they have anything new up their sleeves.

Without further ado, here’s a video compilation of each participant. Enjoy.

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No Bruises, No Win

Wolves lost at Oklahoma City, 106-97.

Five points about the game:

* Kevin Love didn’t play. This meant a few things, but most significantly, it meant that the entire Bruise Brothers front line was missing. That’s 43.6 points, 22.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, gone. The Wolves don’t have a good bench to begin with. A starting front line of Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf — jokingly referred to by me as the Snooze Brothers, before the game — is not going to win against the Thunder. Earlier in the day I was surprised to see the Wolves set as 9.5-point underdogs. Maybe the gamblers knew that Love wouldn’t play.

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Wolves at Oklahoma City (The Iceberg Slim Edition)

Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder

Coming off a big win last night at home in Minneapolis, the Wolves are in Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. It can be seen on FSOK or League Pass or heard on WCCO 830.

The Wolves, now 24-24 on the season, are 4-8 on the second night of back-to-backs. And tonight’s will be among the most difficult of them all. The Thunder (39-11), as we know, are one of the best teams in basketball – with or without superstar guard Russell Westbrook, who will again be out tonight for the Thunder. The Thunder lead the season series against the Wolves 2-1.

Some keys to tonight’s game are below the fold.

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Wolves Report Card (WOLVES 109, Lakers 99)

We’re not really creatures of habit here and I try to mix up game wrap formats.

So I’ll borrow one from the excellent Knickerblogger site and do this one Report Card style.

Starters

Ricky Rubio: B+
Ricky had 13 assists and just 2 turnovers. Combine those stats with his 6 boards and +5 plus-minus and he deserves a positive grade even when he scored only 4 points on 1-4 shooting.

Coach Adelman yanked Rubio after an unnecessarily fancy pass in the 3rd Quarter, when the lead was shrinking. After the game, Britt Robson asked Coach if the flashy mistake was the reason for the immediate hook. Adelman replied, “We’ve been talking to him all the time about there’s a time and a place to attack the basket. And I think we were up 15 or 16 points up at that point, got the ball, and it’s one on five. And the chances are that nothing good’s gonna come out of that. Make them guard us for 20 seconds. Know the time. Know the score. And that’s just something he’s got to learn; when to pull it back. I was gonna take him out anyway for a blow, but that sealed it.”

It has become clear that Adelman and Rubio are not always on the same page. Ricky handles his late-game benchings with class, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. And tonight, I should add, Ricky played down the stretch over Barea. But there are both stylistic and substantive reasons for the times Adelman chooses JJ in crucial situations and the quick hook after the turnover tonight was yet another message, even if a more subtle one.

But all things considered, Ricky played well tonight in his 31 minutes of action. Continue reading

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Lakers vs. Wolves (The Late Show Edition)

Nick "Swaggy P" Young and Kendall Marshall will be in Minneapolis tonight to take on the Wolves.

Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Kendall Marshall will be in Minneapolis tonight to take on the Wolves.

Look again, that IS NOT Steve Blake on the right. That’s the red hot Kendall Marshall, who’ll be manning the point for Los Angeles tonight in Minneapolis.

That’s right – the Lakers are in Minneapolis to play the Timberwolves tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST.  Most of you can see the game on FSN. If you’re not local, you can see it on League Pass. If you prefer to listen, tune in to WCCO 830.

A quick rundown of things to look for is below the fold.

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INBOX: Questions Looking Back, Questions Looking Forward

Could Kyrie Irving be a Timberwolves trade target? (Artwork courtesy of Holly Grimsrud: http://www.hollygrimsrudart.com/hollygrimsrudart.com/Welcome.html

Could Kyrie Irving be a Timberwolves trade target? (Artwork courtesy of Holly Grimsrud: http://www.hollygrimsrudart.com/hollygrimsrudart.com/Welcome.html)

Okay, so there’s a bunch of stuff to review. Let’s cover it by way of an INBOX to flesh out some of the ideas and knowns and unknowns.

First, let’s briefly cover last night’s game. I’ll pass the torch to you for first reactions.

Last night’s game at Atlanta

Andy G: First reaction would be that last night’s game is a microcosm of the Kevin Love Era of Timberwolves basketball. Love put up Chamberlainian NUMB#RS in a losing effort to a “decent” team. No exaggeration here: Love dropped 43 and 19. In a loss. To the Hawks.

I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not a good movie.

So yeah, #fml.

The Wolves aren’t very good defensively. (Duh.) Yeah, they’re smart about not fouling too much and their efficiency stats are pretty decent. (They remain 11th ranked in the league.) I tried to think of a way to capture what I feel like is the truth (the Wolves stink on defense, despite the overall efficiency metric that says otherwise). The best I could come up with is to filter by 4th Quarter defense in losses. The Wolves have too many blowout wins (and almost no close wins) to make their fourth quarter performance a reliable measure of anything. But they have 24 losses in 47 games, and a great deal of those were games that the Wolves *could’ve* (should’ve?) won.

By that measure (fourth quarter defense in losses) the Wolves rank 23rd in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114.5. (In those 24 games, their fourth quarter offensive rating is 100.0.)

Last night, the Wolves scored a ton in the fourth quarter. 38 points. That should’ve been enough to come back and win, but they allowed the Hawks — THE HAWKS! — to score 34 in the same period.

I don’t have it in me to dig into more detail than that. The roster just isn’t built very well, right now. There are too many one-way players. I’m not even sure there’s a single “two-way” player on the team. That makes it hard to win against good teams, or build anything resembling a sustainable formula for success.

So, there’s more to it than that – what of the Adelman-Rubio-Barea dynamic that’s been overshadowing backcourt rotations lately?

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Wolves vs. Hawks (The Uncertainty Edition)

Paul Millsap leads the Hawks against the Timberwolves tonight in Atlanta.

Paul Millsap leads the Hawks against the Timberwolves tonight in Atlanta.

Coming off of last night’s disappointing 94-90 loss to Memphis at home, the Wolves take on the Atlanta Hawks tonight in Atlanta in the second game of a back-to-back.

The Wolves had won five of six before falling to Memphis, but despite their stronger record as of late, at least three things still feel very off.

The first and most obvious is how the loss of center Nikola Pekovic has impacted the Wolves offense.

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A Great Comeback & A Bad Coaching Job (Grizzlies 94, WOLVES 90)

A lot of things happened in last night’s game that led to the Grizzlies winning by 4 at Target Center: Memphis played its patented Grit & Grind defense, smothering many Timberwolves possessions and holding them to just 90 points. Zach Randolph, aka Z-Bo, commanded double teams on the low block, and put up an easy 26, 12 and 4. Courtney Lee made shots.

On the Wolves end, Kevin Love played a great game; particularly in the third quarter with Ricky Rubio. Dante Cunningham broke out of his Elbow Jumpers Only shell to crash the offensive boards and and had a big two-hand flush off the dribble, in traffic. The Wolves also struggled for long stretches of this game. Especially in the first half. Chase Budinger shot just 1-5 from the field and missed a pair of wide open threes down the stretch. Alexey Shved was ineffective and played just 6 minutes. Gorgui Dieng was disruptive on defense, but was out of control just about every time the ball was passed to him.

But the big takeaway from the game was Rick Adelman’s decision to play J.J. Barea instead of Ricky Rubio for the entire fourth quarter.

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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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A note about the Pekovic injury

Just a quick note about the unfortunate news that Nikola Pekovic has right ankle bursitis and will miss at least 7 to 10 days before he is re-evaluated. (Given the nature of this injury — apparently a gradual onset of symptoms rather than a simple sprain — he’ll probably be out at least a couple of weeks.)

Pek will obviously be missed. Continue reading

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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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Blazin’ (The Wolves-Trailblazers Rivalries Edition)

Wolves fans will get their first look at Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum in tonight's game at Portland.

Wolves fans will get their first look at Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum in tonight’s game at Portland.

Tonight the Wolves face the Portland Trailblazers in the City of Roses. Tip is at 9:00 P.M CST. You can see it on NBATV.

It’s set to be a *very* interesting game. Find out why below the fold.

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A Meaningful Win (Wolves 121, WARRIORS 120)

There was a game a couple of years ago against the Spurs. It was at home. It was early in the lockout-shortened season on a Friday night. I remember watching it at a sports bar after work, with some friends. We were excited about Ricky Rubio. He was just a rookie and the most popular new player in the league. The Wolves began the season surprisingly competitive, playing almost-.500 ball that stood in stark contrast to the seasons of losing that we had grown accustomed to. But it was too early, and there were too many question marks to know if it was just a lucky start, or whether these winning ways had actual lasting power.

And a strange thing happened.

The Timberwolves won.

They beat the Spurs.

It wasn’t a fluke or anything. And that was the weird part. The Wolves just played well and — for one night — looked like a better team than the world-class San Antonio Spurs.

Fans of other teams — normal teams — wouldn’t understand. The Wolves don’t do that. Not when KG doesn’t play, anyway. Sure, they might beat a good team every now and then, but they never look like the better team. It never feels that legitimate.

It never feels that good.

I was thinking about that game yesterday afternoon, and how it probably marks the highest point of confidence I’ve had in the Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett was traded. Last season’s Thursday TNT win over the Thunder was great, but something about having Ricky Rubio hobbling off the bench made it seem a little bit less meaningful. When Rubio and Kevin Love led their new team to a win over Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, it felt like an arrival; the beginning of something incredible.

My thought was that a road win over the Warriors — a team that some smart people consider a title contender — might evoke feelings similar to the ones that followed that Spurs victory; a moment that feels like an eternity ago when you think about everything that’s happened since:

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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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Caveats, Praise, Concern & Fun Ahead

Some caveats before praising the Timberwolves before acknowledging some (minor?) causes for concern before looking ahead to an exciting weekend of matchups.

Caveats

The Jazz are bad.

It’s nice to see the Wolves win any game, let alone one on the road that begins a winning streak. But Utah is really bad and tonight’s was a game that every fan expected the team to come away from victorious.

You could counter and say that Utah started the season horribly (1-14) and had played .500 ball over their past 26 games before the Wolves home and home.

And you’d be right.

But you’d also be ignoring the significance of Gordon Hayward’s absence from Saturday’s game (he’s their best offensive player) and Derrick Favors’ absence from tonight’s game (he’s their best interior defender).

These were games that the Wolves were supposed to win.

Timberwolves Praise

And they did win!

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SLC Punk’d (The Curse of Salt Lake City Edition)

The Wolves have not won a game in Salt Lake City since 2009.

The Wolves have not won a game in Salt Lake City since 2009.

After rolling over the Utah Jazz (14-28) 98-72 at home on Saturday, the Timberwolves (19-21) are in Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz in the second game of a rare home-and-home involving the Wolves.

On Friday, everything that could’ve gone right did. They got off to a 9-0 start, and led by as many as 36 at one point. Nikola Pekovic carved up Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and any other challengers on Utah’s front line en route to 27 points and a season-high 14 rebounds in just 29 minutes; Good Kevin Martin came to play, tallying 20 points; and Kevin Love had 18 and 13, totals that would’ve been higher had the Wolves needed him to play more minutes. (He played 29.)

On the Jazz side, what was already arguably the worst team in the NBA was without its best player, Gordon Hayward, and the team had a historically-bad shooting night, going a franchise-worst 28.8 percent (21 of 73). With 18 points, Alec Burks was the lone Jazz player in double-figures. For one night at least, the Wolves quieted some of the naysayers who’ve loudly criticized their decision not to select Trey Burke with the ninth pick in last summer’s draft. Ricky Rubio clearly outclassed Burke on Saturday night, holding the rookie to 9 points–almost five below his season average–on 2-10 from the field and two assists. Burke also had three turnovers.

Tonight’s game in Utah figures to be a more difficult win for the Wolves than was Saturday’s laugher for two reasons: Gordon Hayward and the Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena.

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