David defeated Goliath last night. Goliath wasn’t at full strength. It was down 3 of its 4 best players.
But that doesn’t really matter right now. Not for the Wolves. It was a good day.
Ricky Rubio showed why people are all jazzed, and always have been all jazzed, about Ricky Rubio.
Ricky being Ricky
That GIF says a 1,000 words. Rubio was great. He f*cked around and got a triple-double. Ice Cube would’ve been proud. Punch-Drunk Wolves sure was.
Tonight, the Wolves play Indiana. They’re real good. Real good. And unlike the Spurs, Indy isn’t sitting three of their top players. Frank Vogel would be happy to eat your heart and mine.
What to know about the Pacers game tonight? Andy G and I break down a few key factors in this INBOX post.
UPDATE (3/12, 12:24 PM): Dan McCarney is reporting that Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard didn’t make the trip to Minneapolis.
Spurs @ Wolves. 7 PM. FSN, 830-AM. Boo-yeah.
The Wolves take on the Spurs tonight at Target Center. On paper, it looks to be a lopsided affair. The Wolves are 21-39. They have lost consecutive games by over 20 points. The Spurs are 49-15. They just beat OKC by 12. Two games before that, they beat Chicago by 18.
The ray of hope for this one is that SAS is not invincible. Dame Lillard & co beat them 136-106 in San Antonio on March 8th in the worst loss of the extremely long Tim Duncan era. Can the Wolves shock the world tonight? If I knew the answer, I’d be on a flight to Vegas, not writing this.
That said, things look grim. The Blazers are fighting for the 8th seed in the West. The Wolves are, well – depending on how you judge incentives – fighting for a respectable finish or a higher lottery pick. One thing they’re decidedly not fighting for is a playoff spot.
Which isn’t to say that they aren’t playing hard.
Anyone who’s been watching knows Ricky Rubio is setting an example that good players on bad teams ought to be required to follow. The energy and leadership Rubio displays nightly is a model for other NBAers to follow (even if his jump shot isn’t).
It has come to this.
Wolves @ Portland. 9 PM CST. CH. 29 (830-AM). Kaboom.
Coming off a 116-94 beating in LaLa on Thursday night, the Wolves close out their West Coast tour tonight at the Rose Garden as guests of the Portland Trailblazers and VULCAN INC. [Has there ever been a more evil-sounding company backing a pro sports franchise? Seriously, just hearing VULCAN(!) gives me shivers, especially when I then think about Paul Allen terminating GMs like they're Al Qaeda's #3. VULCAN!]
The Blazers haven’t been winning. Since beating the Wolves on February 4th, they went on a seven game losing streak before getting a win last Sunday against Boston. In all, they’ve lost eight of their last nine. But like the Lakers, the Blazers are fighting for a playoff slot in the West. Another thing they share in common with the Laker is that they ALWAYS beat the Wolves – Portland has won 20 of the last 22 contests versus the Wolves. So despite the dry spell, the Blazers should be ready to go tonight.
The Wolves? Maybe, maybe not. Continue reading
This was the takeaway from last night’s game. Everything else was about as expected. Lopsided loss (21st consecutive to LaLa), another injury to a key player (Pek) and an all around look of hopelessness. I’ll have more tomorrow.
Sometimes the simple game flow image tells 90 percent of the game story. Last night the Thunder built an early lead — 10 points after the first quarter — and never looked back. The Wolves almost had the lead cut to 5 at half, but Luke Ridnour blasted Russell Westbrook as he attempted a desperation trey at the horn, sending him to the foul line for a gratuitous three points. The 8-point halftime deficit was as close as the game would get from that point forward, with much of the second half showing the Thunder ready to blow the game completely open. They led by as many as 17 points at different moments and ultimately won by 16. It was not a close game, nor was it a particularly interesting game to dissect. But there were some sub plots.
The Thunder are good.
If ya don’t know, now ya know — Oklahoma City has a great pro basketball team. Here’s something interesting about that: OKC’s winning percentage is .727 — obviously great — which if the season ended today would mean improvement for the FIFTH consecutive season. Coach Scott Brooks takes an undue amount of heat (Bill Simmons took his umpteenth jab at him during ESPN’s pregame show, not-so-subtly suggesting that Russell Westbrook’s temper tantrums are somehow on Brooks) for a coach who inherited an incredibly young, 1-12 team and has molded them into a steadily-improving Western Conference superpower. Obviously the talent of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant — on full display last night — is the overriding factor in the Thunder’s success. But there’s so little to criticize about such a successful team that it seems discussion for discussion’s sake leads to Brooks getting ripped way more than he should.
In any case, the Thunder are awesome and reminded everyone of this last night. Durant was his usual studly self. He poured in 27 smooth points along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists. When standing near the Wolves sideline during free throws, he took a moment to extend well wishes to Rick Adelman and family, dealing with a scary medical situation. Dude is true class. Russell Westbrook, whose volatility perhaps makes him less endearing to fans, was the better of the two superstars on Friday night. Russ had 37 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds. When he’s hitting that mid-range pull up he’s just a half-click below LeBron James on the Unstoppable Scale. His historically-ridiculous explosiveness was on display when he was isolated one-on-one with Alexey Shved. Shved is very good at staying in front of dribble penetration, erring on the side of backing off too far. But Westbrook made him look knee-deep in quicksand, cruising past back-pedaling Shved for an easy two.
So yeah, the Thunder are good. This isn’t news, but it is the primary piece of information gleaned from last night’s loss at Oklahoma City.
Not my favorite backcourt tandem.
1 – Johnson & Gelabale
Nobody quite knew what to expect from the 10 Day Wonders now that Rick Adelman was back with the team. He hadn’t coached them, as each guy joined the team after Adelman’s departure. Tonight, with Nikola Pekovic also returning to the lineup, there was no time for Chris Johnson. Pek was revealing his new bear tattoo (I haven’t seen it yet, I’m just trusting @steventurous on this one) and earned all of his 37 minutes of action. He put up a 17 & 12 line. Greg Stiemsma played the other 11 center minutes. Eventful ones. He took a flagrant-two cheapshot from Matt Barnes, prompting an ejection. A moment later, he knocked over one Clipper (flagrant-one) and was shoved in the back by Caron Butler. Technical foul. Stiemer was mixing it up and played okay. In any case, no Chris Johnson tonight. In some ways, he was missed. The Clips have a ridiculously athletic front court pairing in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and crucial rebounds were lost; often times the “high in the air” variety.
Mickael Gelabale played a solid 16 minutes of action — solid defensively. He shot a forgettable 0 for 2 from the floor, but was noticeably disruptive on defense. He had 3 steals. I suspect his minutes will stay as long as Budinger is out. The Wolves wing defense is suspect and Gelabale is quite obviously a solid defensive player who frustrates the basic things like a post entry pass. He was a +4 in tonight’s game.
Andy G: Wolves host Clips tonight. CP3 isn’t playing. He has a bruised kneecap. The Clippers have lost 3 of their last 4 games played without their MVP. On our side of things, disaster relief is on the way. Nik Pekovic is back. Alexey Shved is back. And most importantly, Coach Rick Adelman is back. The Wolves should be able to trot out some semblance of a starting NBA lineup tonight, perhaps the only eye sore being Luke Ridnour at the starting off-guard, should Adelman choose to move Shved to 6th Man. Personally, I’d just as soon start GELABALE next to a creator like Ricky, but there’s no chance of that happening so I’ll stop right there. In any case, the way I see it the equation goes something like:
Adelman + Pek + Shved – CP3 = Automatic Wolves Win
Tell me why I’m wrong.
We can live with Tony Parker’s 20 points and 6 assists. Manu Ginobili’s 12 points and 5 dimes. Timmy’s 12, 9 and 5. Hell, even his 3 steals and 7 blocks. But the problem with tonight’s game was that Manu only played 12 minutes because of a pulled hamstring shortly before halftime, and with the Spurs shorthanded, Parker and Duncan were both able to be limited to 29 minutes of action.
That’s because, after Parker and Duncan went to the bench for a rest at the end of the 3rd Quarter (Spurs leading by 7), the Wolves got thumped by San Antonio’s short-handed second unit. The three-headed monster of Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson and Tiago Splitter led a dominant 4th Quarter that the Spurs won 28-17. Parker and Duncan iced their knees on the sidelines (just as we feared might happen), this time without Gregg Popovich’s company. Pop drew a quick double-tech and was sent to the showers with his team leading by 13 early in the fourth. Maybe he had dinner plans and wanted to beat traffic. Who knows. In any case, the Spurs won by 18 and dominated long stretches of this game. A few things that should give fans cause for alarm:
The Wolves had plenty of them. Coach Rick Adelman remained away from the team, for the second consecutive game, for undisclosed personal reasons. Without more (or any, really) information, I won’t comment other than to say I hope everything is okay with the Adelman Family and he comes back soon. Along with Adelman’s absence was the continued loss of Chase Budinger and Kevin Love. Love indeed does need to have surgery and the expected recovery time is 8 to 10 weeks. That means roughly 30 games. That means the Wolves need to figure out an alternative path to the playoffs that they have explicitly labeled as the team’s 2013 destination. J.J. Barea also sat out tonight with back spasms. You might recall that he dominated the 4th Quarter of the Wolves recent win over OKC. Along with absent players and coaches was the simple fact that the Wolves traveled last night and were playing on 0 nights rest. Their opponent, who also happened to be the best team in the conference, had not played since Monday; a night they lost to the lowly Wizards. Oklahoma City was certain to come out looking for blood in tonight’s game.
All of this is to say the Wolves were not favored to win. The excuses were built in.
1. Kevin Love broke his hand. Again.
This was the big news to hit Twitter in the hours leading up to the game. Kevin Love had an MRI exam done on his right hand and it showed that he re-fractured the same bone that he previously broke during the preseason. Given that Love came back earlier than expected from the last fracture injury and never regained his shooting form (or anything remotely close to it) I think it’s fair to expect the team to take better caution this time around. Love’s latest injury could likely be a fatal blow to the Wolves’ playoff chances. Even if the team can hover around the .500 mark, they’ll do so while watching competitors like Houston (20-14), Denver (19-16), and yes, probably the Lakers (15-17) claim ownership of those final spots with records 5 to 10 games over .500. Portland, currently 18-15, could continue to look like a playoff team, but I personally don’t think they’re that good. One high ankle sprain to Nic Batum or LaMarcus Aldridge (or Wes Matthews or Dame Lillard) would probably mean a losing streak for the shallow Blazers roster. In any case, the Western Conference is loaded and Kevin Love playing so few minutes of good basketball this year is going to keep the Wolves out of the playoffs, barring a major surprise.
2. Blazers Shooting
Last night Portland attempted 24 three-point shots and made 16 of them. 48 points from downtown on 66.67 percent shooting is going to mean a win for almost any team against any opponent. Some of them were open, but that happens. The three-point line is never covered perfectly, and certainly not against a team that also has a matchup problem in the post like LaMarcus Aldridge and a capable playmaker like Damian Lillard. In his press conference, Adelman first pointed the finger at his own team’s lack of effort but then conceded that Portland made just about everything. Damian Lillard’s threes (3-5) were tough to stop because they came off the dribble. Wes Matthews’ threes (5-7) were tough to stop because some were ridiculous fade-aways. Nic Batum’s threes (5-6) were tough to stop because he’s 6’8″ and releases the ball high without even a split second of hesitation.