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Timberwolves Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Kemba Walker has the (second) meanest crossover in the East.

Kemba Walker has the (second) meanest crossover in the East.

Your Minnesota Timberwolves will be playing basketball tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats at Target Center.  Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. The game can be seen and heard through the usual channels.

The Wolves are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at home. Former Wolf Gerald Green–a longtime Punch-Drunk Wolves favorite–hit the game-winner on a tough baseline jumper with seconds remaining.

One question to ponder after the Phoenix loss is whether the Wolves have chemistry problems. (Eds. Note: No, not the Breaking Bad kind of chemistry problems, at least that we know of.)

Tempers flared on Wednesday after Rick Adelman pulled J.J. Barea with 8:07 to go in the 4th quarter. Barea, a  player whose passion and intensity run so thick that they’re palpably evident even in pre-game warmups–the sideline-to-sideline defensive shuffle-suicides J.J. does each night as part of his pre-game ritual is all you really need to see–was visibly upset and stormed off the court, cursing in at least two languages. (Eds. Note: Barea was in fact cursing in three languages, if you count Spainglish.) The next thing you know, neither Barea nor Dante Cunningham joined the team huddle during a timeout.

Kevin Love, the team’s best player by orders of magnitude and an League-wide MVP candidate, didn’t appreciate Barea and Cunningham’s lack of team spirit. But Love himself was moody, and it doesn’t take a trained psychologist to deduce that Love appeared to be projecting frustration with his own sub-par performance onto Barea and Cunningham.

Love is serious about his image and is protective of his NUMB#RS. This video is by now a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean anything.

Kevin Love’s image took a hit on Wednesday night’s loss. In one of the Wolves’ few nationally-televised games of the season–Love played downright bad basketball and looked nothing like an MVP candidate. In fact, Love’s performance was sub-par on both ends: he shot 4-20 from the field, and got lit up by Suns three-point specialist Channing Frye after repeatedly failing to close out on Frye three-point attempts. Love’s failure to close on active shooters like Frye and Ryan Anderson is not a new phenomenon, and is one of the few aspects of his game for which he can be legitimately criticized and for which he is not called out enough by writers, many of whom give him the benefit of the doubt because they love Love for his fat stats.

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Timberwolves at Grizzlies Preview: A Knockdown, Dragout Kind of Game

marc-gasol-go-kart

Will this man stand between Nik Pek and a 20+-point game?

Andy G: Wolves at Memphis tonight (5:00 CST, My29 for TV; 830 WCCO for radio) where they’ll face a Grizzlies team 13 games over .500. The Wolves? They’re 11 games below. Some big changes going on in Graceland that put the Grizzlies’ lofty standing in question. ESPN’s NUMB#RS guru, John Hollinger, joined the front office. Guess who’s no longer walkin’ through that door? That’d be you, Rudy Gay. Memphis now has Tayshawn Prince, whose extended, post-Aughts-dynasty stint in Detroit was the NBA’s version of an indefinite Gitmo detentionI. Seriously, what took so long for Dumars to find Prince a suitable home for a quality vet? In any case, he’s on a fringe Kahntender in Memphis now. He’s not exactly lighting the world on fire (9.3/3.3/3.5 in last 4 games) but we know he can play and he’s a gap-filler between a quick and feisty backcourt and big and bruising frountcourt.

Enough beating around the bush: Do the Wolves stand a chance of winning this game?

Patrick J: The Wolves stand a chance, but it’ll be a tough-fought win if it’s gonna come out in the Wolves’ favor. The big thing, to me, is the Gasol-Pekovic matchup. The Wolves have been able to rely – and need to rely – on Pek as their one consistent scoring threat throughout this tough stretch. But tonight, Pek gets the Gasol treatment. That means an extra-strength dose of pain for most opposing centers. And their backcourt is great at defense too. Mike Conley and Tony “000G” Allen make the lives of their oppenents miserable on a nightly basis. So Rubio, Luke, Shved & co, will have their work cut out for them. (Eds. Note: Allen has an excellent Twitter account, found here.)

So this leads to the next issue (assuming you agree) – can the Wolves get enough punch from Gelabale and/or D. Williams tonight to give them a shot in case our usual first options struggle?

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But I don’t wanna wait! (WARRIORS 96, Wolves 85)

Five losses in a row and Ricky Rubio cannot return fast enough.  Kevin Love’s unexpectedly-quick recovery from hand fractures, and immediate production of NUMB#RS, is not translating into wins.  Minnesota is 0-3 since Love’s return.  The common theme of the last three losses is building an early lead that evaporates as the missed shots and blown pick-and-roll assignments pile up.  Tonight, the Wolves’ apex came in the mid-2nd Quarter when Alexey Shved and the second unit caught fire and extended the lead to 11, at 35-24.  There would be no “fire” after that, unless you mean Steph Curry bombing from 27 feet.  The Wolves lead dwindled to 4 at the half and it was a struggle to keep heads above water after that.  Things fell apart in a catastrophic 4th Quarter that the Warriors won 26-11.  Minnesota was stuck on 79 points (beginning the stretch with a 5-point lead) from the 10:19 mark in the 4th all the way to 5:28.  After Kevin Love [finally] broke the seal with a bucket, the Wolves again stuck on 81 points until a Pekovic free throw at the 2:40 mark.  3 points in 7:39.  There is your game wrap.

The Wolves don’t play Sunday and they don’t play Monday, so it’s worth addressing some broader questions.  Continue reading

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Bullish Defense (BULLS 87, Wolves 80)

Bo Ryan’s face while watching tonight’s beat-em-up halfcourt struggle in Chicago.

Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s Wisconsin Badgers.  There are no elite athletes or SportsCenter top plays.  Just execution and defense.  They set big screens.  They use most of the shot clock.  They talk on defense.  They rotate on defense.  They push people around in the lane.  At United Center, they push people around without fear of hearing a whistle blown.  The pictures are not pretty, but the final score is in Chicago’s favor.

All of those qualities were on display in Chicago tonight as the Wolves fell to the Bulls 87-80 in a game that felt neck-and-neck until Marco Belinelli (of all people) caught fire in the early part of the 4th Quarter.  The Italian shooter made three treys in the first 2:05 of the fourth, extending a 4-point lead to 9.  A 9-point deficit to the Bulls in Chicago might as well be 30.  Everything felt like a struggle from that point forward–and that’s just me watching on the couch.  I can’t even imagine how Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams felt when Taj Gibson was swatting their shots into the third row.  Gibson is truly an incredible defensive player.  So is Joakim Noah, who also passes at an elite level and even showed off some fancy footwork on the block.  The game-clinching play was when Noah did an Al Jefferson-like array of pivots that eventually left Nikola Pekovic in his dust as he laid in an easy two.

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HOW BOUT THEM T-WOLVES?!

HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS?! T-WOLVES?!

Alexey Shved!  What a comeback!  I was at my wits’ end in that 3rd Quarter when the barrage of Brooklyn bombs rained down from three-point land and the Wolves couldn’t get a stop to save their life.  This bit of resignation sums it up best:

Let’s take it from the top…

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Maccabi Haifa! (WOLVES 114, Haifa, 81)

A mediocre photo of Brandon Roy, taken by me.

In what was either a coincidence or something related to the dismal crowd that showed up to face an Israeli opponent on a Tuesday Night when a 50/50 presidential election had a debate (okay, definitely the latter), I was able to sit close to the floor for the second straight [preseason] game.  This time, that meant seeing star defensive lineman, Kevin Williams, in the beer line.  It meant an up-close look at new Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko (the guy never stops talking and moving–fun to see in person), and the unexpected meeting of Brandon Roy’s family.  His mom, wife and kids were all cheering for “Bran Bran” which tipped us off quickly who they were.  Super nice people who seem to like Minnesota.

A few things about the game:

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Coming into Focus: 5 Things We (Think We) Know about the 2012-13 Timberwolves

What’s in store for the Wolves this season?

Sometimes you just want to know what the future holds. You look into your crystal ball, but all you see is fog, so you ransack your house looking for that Ouija board you got in college. You don’t find it, so you go on a peyote-fueled drive through the deserts of Mexico, looking for that shaman who your buddy says changed his life. You make it back into the States in one piece.

It’s three games into the Wolves preseason, and you’re now wondering if the Wolves are going to be any good this year. “Will they make the playoffs?” “What will Adelman’s rotations look like?” “Will Nikola Pekovic raze a village in frustration after a tough loss and get slapped with a season-long suspension?

At Punch-Drunk Wolves, we have the answers. A few emerging impressions about this year’s team are below the fold.

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