I’m traveling on business, and have to make this short.
The Timberwolves (18-19) host the Sacramento Kings (13-23) tonight at 7:00 pm CT. You can see and hear the game at the usual places, FSN and WCCO 830-AM, respectively.
A few notes of interest:
- Pekovic-Cousins Grudge Match: Two of the best (and biggest) centers in the NBA go head-to-head tonight in what looks to be the game’s marquee matchup. Cousins is having a monster year, ranking among the NBA’s top 10 in both points (23.5) and rebounds (11.6) per game, which puts him in a strong position to make this season’s All-Star game. Pek has arguably been the Wolves’ best player in recent games, beasting his way to 23 and 10 on 55% shooting and over 5 offensive rebounds over his last dozen games. All I can say about their head-to-head matchup is by way of a public service announcement: Any time Nikola Pekovic and DeMarcus Cousins are set to go to war, hide your women and children.
Orlando appears to be keeping its eyes on the prize this season: The 2014 NBA Draft
The Wolves open their season tonight in Minneapolis against the
already-tanking-for-Wiggins hard-charging Orlando Magic, who’re 0-1 after last night’s season-opener loss to Indiana.
(Eds. Note: Is there anyway to figure out how many fantasy teams there are this season named “Tanking for Wiggins” or some variant of it? I don’t know how many fantasy teams there are total, but I’d still take the over on at least 10k “Tanking for Wiggins” teams this year. Maybe 15. There were probably fantasy league owners everywhere trying desperately to change their league rules at the last minute to allow them to use their auction money to bid on the rights to the “Tanking for Wiggins” team name instead of on draft-able players.)
Anyway, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to watch for, much of which could provide information on the questions we asked in our season preview post about the team’s starting lineup, defense, offense, and rotations.
Patrick J: The Wolves were defeated by the Raptors last night 104-97. The Raps are a surprisingly good 3-1 on the preseason.
A few notes:
*Kevin Love: Kevin Love played like Kevin Love. He looks more and more like Daniel Plainview by the year. Which is actually pretty cool, because that’s the kind of ruthless competitiveness the Wolves need in order to become an elite team in the Western Conference. Love played well in the minutes he got last night, shooting 9-19 (Eds. Note: Many of those missed shots were misses of his own putbacks, for which he got credit for offensive rebounds, which eventually led to makes.) K-Love is in great shape, and, barring injury, he should be a shoo-in on the All-Star team this season.
*Ricky Rubio: Ricky shot like Ricky, which is to say, 0-7. But he made an impact whilst on the floor, finding open cutters and shooters unlike any other Wolves player entrusted with the ball whilst Ricky was on the bench. Ricky had 6 assists in 28 minutes, and this was good for a +8. He’s (obviously) a very legit point guard coming into this season, and will only improve when he has real wing options off the pick and roll. (Chase, get well soon! You too, Kevin Mart!)
What’s your take?
Goodbye, Brandon Roy
We pretty much knew this was coming. Brandon Roy was waived by the Timberwolves. As had been widely reported, the second year of his contract was non-guaranteed. Therefore, the team chose to waive him and his $5.3 Million remaining on his deal. I’m not the right person to wax poetic on what a great player B-Roy was in Portland. I’m sure plenty of Blazers writers have already done that. His brief, somewhat-awkward T-Wolves tenure was recapped nicely by Mark Remme.
I do think it’s worth pointing out what the decision to waive Roy could mean, in a bigger picture sense. The Wolves could’ve held on to him as a trade chip. A non-guaranteed contract would have value to teams as a salary-cutting tool. But in any deal where the Wolves sent out Roy to bring in somebody else, they’d essentially be adding salary of their own. This is rife with assumptions and speculation but I take this move as a signal — however slight — that the new management is operating under a fixed budget; probably one set below the luxury tax line. I also take the move to signal a desire to retain the big free agents, Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger. Again, cutting Roy lowers the payroll and increases cap space and room below the tax line. Don’t be surprised if it’s not the only move in this direction.
[This is Part 1 of a season review series. This post looks back in time at the season that was. A subsequent post (or two!) will use what we learned this season to take a prospective look ahead at what the Timberwolves should look like in 2013-14 and beyond.]
1. Season Highlight?
Andy G: Win over the Thunder, December 20, 2012
I’ll kick this thing off. The highlight moment of the season is an easy choice for me: the win over OKC on Thursday Night TNT. It was December 20th, Christmas time. Spirits were high with the Wolves moving to 2 games over .500 (the last point in the season in which this was the case) with a 13-11 record. All of Alexey Shved (the lead guard for the Rubio-less portion of the season), Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic were dominant. Pek was pick-and-rolling bigger and stronger than the top team in the West could handle. Love spread the floor with three-point bombs, scoring 28 points along with 11 boards and 7 assists (career high?). He was awesome and looked the part of an MVP candidate. And young Alexey Shved was the orchestrator of everything. Pre-ROOKIE WALL Shved was something to behold and legit reason for Timberwolves optimism. His skillset was on display in that win over Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Shved had a whopping 12 assists that night. Oh yeah, and JJ was GREAT JJ. He killed it during #WinningTime. All in all, that was a major highlight at a point in the season when the team had statewide interest and expectations of a playoff run.
Patrick J: Concur. OKC, December 20th, or “The Proof of Kahncept Game”
The Wolves’ victory over OKC was one the few games this season at Target Center I got to attend–I was back in Minnesota visiting family and had good tickets with Andy G & co to see what I expected to be an overmatched but spiteful Wolves squad take on the best team in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Good JJ came out in full force that night — the goodest JJ that JJ can be. The rest of the team synced that night, the Wolves snapped a long OKC winning streak. Shved was Olympics Shved, Love owned, and it was basically the team we expected to see in 2012-13, minus Rubio. Imagine the potential of that team plus Rubio. I often do, and it’s a pretty amazing highlight given the way things actually turned out.
2. Season Lowlight?
Patrick J: The K-Love/Woj interview immediately prior to Rubio return.
Many clutch plays contributed to tonight’s close win over the soon-to-be Pelicans of New Orleans. Ricky Rubio cut a 4-point deficit to 1 when he made a layup — and one — with under a minute to play. Shortly before that, Rubio chased down Al Farouq Aminu to foul him and prevent a layup and two points off of Ricky’s own turnover. Aminu missed both free throws, keeping the Wolves in the game. When Eric Gordon found himself on an island with Luke Ridnour and the ball in his hands, the Wolves’ 1-point lead appeared in serious jeopardy. That is, until Andrei Kirilenko came flying in from out of nowhere to swat away Gordon’s runner and corral the rebound in what seemed like one motion. And Nikola Pekovic made a pair of free throws with the game on the line to give the Wolves that lead in the first place. All of these plays led to a St. Patty’s win before the home crowd. But these plays were not the biggest story of the game; the one most easily molded into narrative.
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).
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.
Rubio damn near went Ice Cube tonight, messin’ around and almost getting a triple double. He had 18 points (12-13 free throws) 9 rebounds and 10 assists. He had 4 steals and even 1 block. Just 2 turnovers. The Wolves have formed a bad habit of falling behind in games. This version without Love and Kirilenko does, anyway. A little silver lining is how Ricky continues to scratch and claw, never surrurending defeat no matter the point spread. His TENACIOUS D has been a catalyst for many almost-miraculous comebacks in recent weeks, including tonight’s game. He was pretty damn good in this game.
Defense at End of 3rd/Beginning of 4th
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?
Eds. Note: After a couple tough home losses this week, we decided to change things up a bit. The game is, each of us singled out a few players who’ll be rockin’ it in tonight’s tilt. We then assigned the guys we selected to the other guy, who then offered some Kahnjecture about how those players will fare tonight. Whoever’s closest to the mark (however defined) wins. It’s sort of like no-stakes gambling, unless, of course, you consider things like trash talk in future posts or pride as currency. We consider trash talk in future posts and pride as currency. Let the games begin.
Patrick J: Your first assignment is
MASTER P ANTHONY DAVIS. What kind of NUMB#RS should we expect from Davis’s eyebrow tonight? Can the Wolves’ stop it, and if so, how? Does Adelman have Pek go mano e brow-oh with Davis, or are Wolves fans in for the kick-in-the-crotch consolation prize: a reminder of how much worse Derrick Williams is than another one of his contemporaries (i.e., a recent high lotto pick)?
[Last night's game is the rare Wolves tilt that shows up in my League Pass Broadband archives. I wanted to look back at Derrick Williams' three turnovers, because I remember each one was of the head-scratching and maddening variety, and they represent recurring issues with the inconsistent young forward. Below are my notes on how he screwed up 3 times in last night's 1st Half, causing his minutes to be limited to just 29 on a night that every other viable option was out with an injury or illness.]
This win could be described quickly and simply, or in great detail on each key Timberwolf’s impressive performance. I’ll try my best at each.
Quick and Simple
The Wolves hosted a good Hawks team tonight; one with an impressive and relevant road record of 9-6. From almost the opening tip the Wolves dominated. They defended well, provoking those inefficient shots (contested 2′s) that Britt Robson wrote about the other day. On offense, they made shots–something that has not happened often in this injuries-to-shooters plagued season. The Wolves led by 10 after 1, 16 after 2, and 14 after 3. With 8:11 remaining in the game, Ricky Rubio checked out; his night’s work complete. The Wolves were leading by 11. It was at that moment that two things happened: 1) The Wolves defense relaxed; and 2) The Hawks shooting heated up. A game that was largely dominated by the home team went down to the final possessions as the Hawks steadily chipped away at that lead. Dante Cunningham sealed the deal; first with a baseline jumper to extend the lead to 3, with 15 seconds to play; and second by tipping away the entry pass of the Hawks out-of-timeout play. An impressive win was had for the Loveless Timberwolves.
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.
Patrick J: How hard do you think AdelKahn is shopping Derrick Williams and change right now for a shooting guard? And, would they do a Beal trade? Would the Wiz? This probably means nothing, but I saw that WaPo picked up a story from somewhere (maybe even the Strib) on D-Thrill, suggesting they think there’s some demand from their readers to know more about this guy whom they’re potentially interested in. He’d probably be a breath of fresh air out there, as they could move Jordan Crawford to starting SG (gag, I know, but he’s better than Beal right now), and start Williams next to Okafor instead of Chris Singleton (!) or Martell Webster (!!).
Who are the other targets?
A few years back, Harrison Barnes was supposed to be The Next Kobe. Expectations have since dropped, but his NBA career is off to a solid start.
I knew I wasn’t [completely] overreacting to that bad loss on Wednesday night. Despite the injuries that have overhauled the Wolves starting unit, the team still has enough talent and grit to play competitive basketball. “Competitive basketball” would have prevailed against the Bobcats that night. Last night’s game was fun to watch because expectations were low and the game remained in doubt into the closing possessions. Unfortunately, the comeback was incomplete and the Warriors prevailed. The “Good Job. Good Effort.” feel to this loss was on clearest display on the game’s pivotal possessions. Dante Cunningham had just pulled down one of the most impressive offensive rebounds I have ever seen. He FLEW through the air from the top of the key and collected Luke’s missed trey at a ridiculously high point. Cunningham was then fouled and, after a Warriors timeout, hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 3 points with under 3 minutes to play. Golden State ran a high ball screen for Jarrett Jack (Steph Curry had fouled out of the game) with David Lee being the screen and roller. Cunningham defended the entire play perfectly, even anticipating Lee’s spin move to a lefty turnaround. Lee somehow managed to make the shot. Tip the hat to Lee, because he played a great game against a slightly-overmatched team.
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.
Nothing seems easy when David West comes to town.
The largest first-quarter differential was 4, when the Wolves led 17-13. Early in the second, the Wolves built an 8-point advantage that quickly dwindled, eventually to a 1-point Pacers halftime lead. The third was a back-and-forth that mostly kept the differential under 5, although that is exactly where the Wolves lead sat at the end of the quarter. Building on that momentum, Minnesota extended the lead to 8, two times early in the fourth. But once again, the Pacers answered, with George Hill scoring 7 points in slightly over 2 minutes to cut the Wolves lead to 2. From there, it was a heavyweight fight, each team trading hard-fought two-point baskets. A key play to extend the lead to a whopping 4 points was when Andrei Kirilenko cleverly stole the inbounds pass following a Shved layup, and quickly found Alexey under the hoop for an easy two. When Dante Cunningham’s 20-foot swish extended the lead to 6 with only 0:39 remaining, the game was over.
If Magic fans want to enjoy this season, they should learn to appreciate J.J. Redick.
Let’s start with the simple: The Magic are bad. I don’t care if they arrived at MSP International with a 2-1 record and a Big Baby Davis MVP Campaign in full swing. By trading away Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson and getting nothing but Arron Afflalo of value in return, the Magic are a gutted roster headed straight to the lottery. Even with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love missing, the Wolves needed to win this game. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that Jameer Nelson, the Magic’s veteran point guard, was out with an injury. Nelson was replaced by former Purdue star and not good NBA player, E’Twan Moore. So yeah, this was a game the Wolves should win.
Can Andrei Kirilenko really be the key to this year’s team? Who knows! The season hasn’t started yet!
In Part 1 of our Wolves preview, Andy G delved into several issues that will have key implications for the team’s success this season. I come back with my takes on these topics, as well as a few other things he didn’t look at closely.
Find out what below the fold.