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.