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INBOX: In Which We Make Silly Predictions

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)?

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Intel Report: Timberwolves vs Heat

Former Wolves guard Mike Miller and those other guys host the Wolves tonight in Miami

Former Wolves guard Mike Miller and those other guys host the Wolves tonight in Miami

The Wolves take their talents to Miami tonight to play the incumbent Finals champions, after losing a winnable game against the Magic Monday night in Orlando. Well, maybe not all their talents: Ricky Rubio is not expected to play in tonight’s game, as part of a program that will have him avoiding back-to-backs until he’s cleared by team medical staff. Rubio, who struggled last night, will never say never, however, suggesting there’s a chance that he will play tonight if his knee isn’t too sore.

The Wolves could certainly use Rubio, even with Ricky coming off a subpar performance against the Magic where the rust clearly showed. Rubio ended the night with 0 points, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes of action last night after having a nice Ricky-like 8/9/4/3 line in Saturday’s win over Dallas.

Against the Heat, the Wolves need Rubio far more than they did against Dallas or Orlando, and not just because the Heat are (by far) the best of the three teams. Why? Continue reading

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Wolves Season Preview, Part 2 of 2

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.

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INBOX: What You Need to Know as the Wolves Enter the Preseason

Can Shved man the point in Rubio’s stead?

Andy G: The team has returned from Mankato with optimism abound.  Is it something in the air?  Or was it Mrs. Taylor’s home cooking?  Why is everybody so jacked up about this Wolves team after only a handful of practices?

Patrick J: We should be optimistic because Rick Adelman is optimistic. Not one to mince words, Adelman was adamant during last season’s training camp about how sloppy the team looked. His words foreshadowed the truth, and the team had a lot of trouble with turnovers and ballhandling in general. This season, we keep hearing things from Team Adelman about how this group “knows how to play.” And not just the vets–praise keeps getting heaped on newcomers like Alexey Shved, who’s in the running to get major minutes at the point, and Derrick Williams, who was anything but an Adelman favorite last year. I don’t think Adelman’s doing charity for these guys’ egos–I think what he sees is what we were all hoping he’d see: a vastly, vastly improved team.

Onto specifics: There are a few key things to watch for in the preseason. #1: Is Alexey Shved a point guard? Should he get the bulk of the minutes there over Barea? (I suppose this question is actually two questions, since it assumes BAREA is a pg, which I’m not so sure about.)

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Some notes on a Wolves win

1st Quarter Notes:

  • Pekovic going right at Greg Monroe in the early going, racks up a handful of quick baskets.  On the other end, Detroit color guy says Monroe will be able to take Pekovic off the dribble.  Not so; Pek cuts him off the only time he tries.  Pek finishes the quarter with 11 points.
  • Tayshawn Prince, who would seemingly be tired of playing for loser Piston teams after playing for SIX consecutive teams that made it to the conference finals or beyond.  He’s schooling Wes right now.
  • Randolph with 5 energy points and 5 rebounds in the 1st.  Missed some wild shots, though — needs to calm down when he’s holding the ball. Continue reading

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A Serbian Nightmare (Wolves 108, NETS 105)

The Godfather

6:48, Andy G: So, Darko and Wes start again.  Both playing like crap again.  Wolves fall behind early. What gives?
7:08, Patrick J: One quarter in the books. Wolves up 23-19. ANOTHER bad start. Coincidence? This is hard to watch. Quick, does anyone have a good Kris Humphries joke?
7:15, Andy G: Barea and Beasley give a huge spark off the bench, just like last game.  I hope each gets more tick tonight than they did versus Indiana.
7:20, Patrick J: (Eds. note: Derrick Williams with a huge tomahawk with 5:58 in the 2nd). How much more athletic is the Derrick Williams we have than the Derrick Williams we thought we were getting when we drafted him? God this guy can cram.
7:28, Andy G: This Rubio-Ridnour backcourt is looking pretty horrific, tonight.  Now Webster joins them and body slams D-Will for a turnover.  The bench is way-outplaying the starting lineup so far.
7:32, Andy G: If K-Hump & Shelden become a PROBLEM, I’m going to be pissed.  It’s looking like a real possibility in first half.
7:36, Andy G: Rubio finishing half well, assists a Webster trey, finds Tolliver for dunk attempt/fouled.
7:38, Patrick J: The Wolves consistently get DESTROYED by shooters like ANTHONY MORROW. 20 pts in the first half and it looked like a breeze. Wayne Ellington is already salivating about the NUMB#RS he’ll have against the Wolves with his next team. 50-49 Nets at the half.
7:43, Andy G: I’m going to (slightly) disagree.  Morrow hit at least two 3′s with a hand RIGHT in his face (once Luke, once Martell).  But 20 points is a ton.  The dish from D-Will (between legs, backwards) was also pretty much set up by an elite point guard.
7:47, Patrick J: As long as you’re not disagreeing with my point about Wayne…
7:49, Patrick J: (Eds. note: Still halftime) I’m going to burn a Kurt Rambis doll in effigy if Adelman doesn’t give the Barea/Beasley/Pekovic group more time in the second half. They  gave a HUGE spark off the bench in the first half.
7:53, Andy G: By the way, what’s up with Kevlar?  6 points on 1-6 shooting, and a (-8)?  He should be able to beat up on this Jersey Shore front line.

7:57, Patrick J: Pekovic starts the 2nd half. My Rambis doll is safe for now.

8:01, Andy G: In a short sequence, Rubio picked Deron’s pocket and assisted Wes TWICE (no small feat).  What a baller.
8:02, Patrick J: Nets announcer: “They might lead the NBA in beards” (referring to the Wolves). Shows side-by-side mug shot pics of Love and Brad Miller while Pekovic is busy scoring inside. Doesn’t seem amused. 59-58 Nets with 7:15 in the 3rd.
8:06, Patrick J: Rubio with the sickest handling trick I’ve seen this season. You’ll want to watch SportsCenter, like, now.
8:09, Patrick J: Okay, Pekovic is outclassing Love. (Insert “Apocalypse” cliche here.) Pek has 17/8 and Love 10/5 with 3:26 left in the 3rd.
8:14, Andy G: Nets with an UNSPEAKABLY-BAD second unit leading comeback charge.  Where the fuck is Michael Beasley?  (See first half line of 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 12 minutes of action.)  Has been sitting almost entire 3rd Quarter, now…
8:24, Patrick J: The Godfather has 21/10. Wolves up 84-83 with 10:02 in 4th. (Eds. note: Beasley’s FINALLY back on the floor after a painfully long absence. Thanks Rick!)
8:27, Patrick J: Nine minutes to go. Morrow’s 31 beat Pek’s 21. NOT a moral victory.
8:33, Andy G: After a couple of mistakes that followed a RIDICULOUSLY-long stretch on the pine, Beasley is quickly yanked.  I GUARANTEE that this has something to do with an unknown, off-game court event.  Mike outplayed all of his teammates, save Pek, in the first half, and gets this treatment?  I hope it’s nothing too serious with the coaching staff and higher ups.
9:32, Patrick J: Wes flails awkwardly on a contested miss from just inside the foul line. Having to write about Wes like this every day makes think I’m having a really long, nerdy, nightmare. ‘Cause in real life Wes would be over with Anthony Randolph, right? Right?
8:38, Patrick J: Tied at 89 with 5:39 to go. About to enter #winningtime.
8:41, Andy G: Rubio & Love exchanging clutch baskets with Morrow (!!!)… close game.  Should be exciting finish.  (Seriously, Morrow has 35 points and might hit 40 soon… was he one of those Rambis Targets that killed us last year or the year before?)
8:42, Patrick J: Nets announcer: “Anthony Morrow can do no wrong.” Nightmare hypothesis confirmed. 95-95 with 2:38 in 4th.
8:45, Patrick J: Morrow’s in a “Shitty Player, Wolves Killer” category that includes C.J. WATSON, REGGIE WILLIAMS, RYAN ANDERSON (okay, Anderson’s actually really good).
8:46, Patrick J: Nets announcer: “ANTHONY MORROW IS UNCONSCIOUS!” (I’m starting to worry I’ll never wake up.) Back to the announcer: this guy clearly came up listening to Kevin Harlan.
8:57, Andy G: A barrage of Rubio-Love-Pekovic led action has the Wolves winning this game.
8:57, Andy G: Okay, ANTHONY MORROW just hit a 3… AND GOT FOULED!!!!!!  41 Points!!!!! WTF?!?! Wolves lead by 1 with 23 seconds left.  A victory was in hand, now very much in doubt.
9:00, Patrick J: My League Pass Broadband cut out for a minute. When it came back to life, Morrow was finishing a 4-point play. Yeah.
9:02, Patrick J: Barea makes two throw with 18.2 left. Wolves 106, Nets 103.
9:05, Andy G: Game over, Rubio seals the win with a steal and Seve-like wedge shot just passed mid court with some backspin.  A few parting thoughts:
* The Beasley benching was a little weird.  Then again, once Rubio-Love-Pek got it going, perhaps Adelman thought Beasley wasn’t needed.  But why then play Luke at the 2, who isn’t so good on defense?  Strange stuff.
* If a guy like Anthony Morrow is going off, should the Wolves abandon defensive principles and stick to him (the way, say, Ray Allen is guarded) or assume the HOT HAND THEORY doesn’t exist and defend as usual?  Good question.  I don’t know the answer.
* Rubio and Love played extremely hard, and extremely in sync in the 4th Quarter of this game.  Big Pek dominated quarters 1 through 3, but Rubio-Love took this home.  That late possession when Morrow put them up 3 (with another 3) and Rubio quickly answered it with a driving basket… that was a sign that Ricky was not letting this one go easy.
* A road win is a good win.
PARTING SHOTS, REDUX (Patrick J)
* Weird, weird win.  Love was off most of the night; Pek and Morrow were the stories. This permutation of events is unlikely ever to occur again. Those who tuned in witnessed history.
* That said, it was largely difficult to watch. The Pek sideshow is funny but I don’t like that fans are beginning to think he’s a solution at the 5. Dude’s a backup.
* Can we get some more Mike Beasley? Or some Derrick Williams? I won’t say anything else because it’s already in every other post we put up.
* Darko sat, and so did Wayne. If I’m going to criticize Adelman’s playing time allocations, he also gets credit where credit’s due.
Season Record: 11-12

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Pistons Preview

Photo by Getty Images

The Wolves should win easily tonight against the Pistons, but Monday’s ugly win over SAC illustrates that you can’t take anything for granted.

What I’m most interested in about tonight’s game is Adelman’s rotations. What adjustments should he make?

Here’s what I think we’ll see:

Wes Johnson: For the first time this season, Adelman was praised Monday for giving Wes extended minutes against SAC, mostly because he did an effective job against Kings hired scorer John Salmons. With Webster still out and the Wolves facing Tayshaun Prince, another long three, look for Wes to get over 30 minutes no matter how bad he shoots.

Darko: The Wolves will need Good Darko to come out tonight, at least on the defensive end of the floor, because Pistons big man Greg Monroe is their best player and is emerging rapidly as a BIG headache for opposing defenses. Monroe’s finesse game and footwork would get Pekovic into foul trouble in a hurry, so look for Darko to play a lot of minutes tonight–closer to 30-35 minutes than 21-22, which he tends to get against smaller teams.

J.J. Barea: J.J. is due back from injury tonight, and it’s a good game to have him return for: Pistons SG Ben Gordon is ridiculously strong and won’t be the easier cover for Ridnour. With Rubio presumably committed to guarding Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, J.J.’s strength could be a huge factor in keeping Gordon from getting the looks he wants.

What else? K-Love should own Jerebko. Love has been logging a lot of long minutes, so if the Wolves get ahead, maybe Adelman can get Anthony Randolph or Derrick Williams some time tonight.

Enjoy the tilt.

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Buzz Kill (Wolves 87, Hornets 80)

An ugly win


The Wolves eked out an 87-80 win Friday night over the Hornets. There were no two ways about this one: it was either going to be a much-needed win or a bad loss against an already sub-par Hornets team whose best player, Eric Gordon, was out with an injury.

The Wolves were shorthanded. J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley stayed in Minneapolis. Martell Webster won’t be available for a few weeks. Or a few months. Or maybe never. Any could be true. Martell might not even know. Adelman leaned heavily on Ridnour at the two (not ideal), Johnson at the three (bad), and Rubio at the point (good). Rubio started (good) and played 44 minutes (good). Johnson played 34 minutes and Tolliver and Williams only 16 apiece (bad)

The victory was ugly. No one could get shots. Rubio served them on a silver platter. Teammates sometimes converted, often didn’t. His 9 assists should’ve been closer to 20. Johnson shot 1-8 from distance. Darko couldn’t catch. The Wolves won’t win many playing like this.

Love got to the line 18 times–the same number of attempts as the entire Nola squad. He made 17. His final line read 34 & 17. Yawn.

Love’s production is appreciated, don’t get me wrong. But against the Hornets, his numb#rs were lower-quality than in his other big games earlier in the season. He looked tired. He wasn’t closing out on D. He won’t get 18 throws every game.

Adelman needs to keep him fresh. Incorporating Williams and Tolliver and Randolph more would be a starting place. They play power forward too.

The takeaway is simple: no Rubio, no win. Love would’ve had about the same line with or without him. But no one else would’ve been able to get buckets. Like last season, after Beasley hurt his ankle. Adelman not only played Ricky a lot, he started him. That’s progress.

Let’s hope he tries to build on that progress tonight in Atlanta. Take baby steps.

Distributing Johnson’s minutes between Tolliver and Williams would be a start.

Or get really wild and crazy. Give 12 or 13 of Darko’s minutes to Randolph. He’s way better.

It’s staggering how much better we are when Randolph and Tolliver are on the floor and how much worse we are when Darko and Johnson are on the floor.

Hit us up in the comments.

Until next time.

Season Record: 4-7

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On the Rebound (Wolves 93, WIZARDS 72)

The Wolves came back from a pair of lackluster home losses against Memphis and Cleveland to beat the Washington Wizards 93-72 Sunday afternoon in D.C. in the first tilt of a back-to-back-to-back on the road.

Today’s win felt great, mostly because Friday’s loss felt so bad. But before we get carried away with blowout euphoria, let us remember that the Wiz are truly awful. As a DC area resident, I can assure you that the ‘Zards really are that bad and that it’s no mistake the Wiz are 0-8. The Flip Saunders offenses Wolves fans grew accustomed to are nowhere to be found these days at the Verizon Center. The Wiz stand around a lot and eventually do some kind of iso for one of the Three Stooges–Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and Jordan Crawford. For variety, they’ll sometimes indulge Rashard Lewis’ itchy trigger finger and let him take a heat check from the three, which he’s currently shooting at a smelly 22%.

There are bright spots. John Wall could be Westbrook or Rose on another team – hell, in 2009/10 Wall excelled in Rose’s role for John Calipari’s  Kentucky Wildcats team, the year after Rose was the uber-athletic one-year rental who drove Cal’s Memphis muscle car all the way to the NCAA championship game – and JaVale McGee is leading the L in blocked shots and is DeAndre Jordan East. But the Stooges and Lewis drag down the ‘Zards like a rusty anchor and there’s no hope for the ‘Zards unless Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld overhaul the roster and give Wall a fresh start with a new cast of characters. (Hey! You know what? Wolves POBO David Kahn just did this in Mpls! And we just blew out the Wizards. Leonsis should poach him for a Wiz redemption project!)

***
We’ll do a full wrap after the three-game set, but a few Wolves notes on the Wiz game:

  • Rubio outplayed Wall en route to 13pts/14 ast/+29 in 30 minutes. What the 5-14 in the box score fails to reflect is that Ricky knows when to shoot, and that he shoots it in rhythm/with confidence. It took Rondo–whose rep as a weak shooter has led defenses to sag off him like they do on Rubio–2-3 years to get as comfortable calling his own number as Ricky is right now. Can you believe we got this guy for Mike Miller and Randy Foy?
  • Beasley was out and the offense ran better. But again, it was the Wiz. So, correlation or causation?
  • Williams/Tolliver/Love is my favorite front line. They outwork everybody, they’re strong, and they’re physical. They play D. On offense, they all know how to exploit seams in the D and swing the ball to open shooters or make 3s themselves. I hope Adelman gives them more time together, with Rubio and Barea in the backcourt, once J.J. gets healthy.
  • Ellington made shots. With Beasley out at least three games I wanted Adelman to start Rubio or Williams, so I was pretty bummed when I heard Ellington was getting promoted. But he played okay today and we won.

We’ll get to test the experiment again tomorrow night against the Raps. Until then.

Season Record: 3-5

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Game 3: The Heatles (Heat 103, Wolves 101)

The Wolves lost a 103-101 heartbreaker Friday night against the Heat and Birthday Boy LeBron James.  It was a heartbreaker both because of the promise the Wolves showed and the mistakes they made, as well as because the defeat is the latest tick in a growing tally of losses to start the 2011/12 season.

The Wolves looked like a different team from the group that suffered the lackluster defeat in Milwaukee Tuesday night. Kevin Love dropped a workmanlike (for him) 25/12/3, and Ricky Rubio f*cked around and got his first career double-double with a 12/12/6 line.

Before diving into Wolves takeaways from the game, first thing’s first: the Heat are good. Real good. Bosh, Wade, and James are gelling like the trio everyone expected coming out of the gates in 2010/11. LeBron is the best player in the world. He turned 27 today.

Takeaways

  • Turnovers: Adelman said prior to the game that if the Wolves failed to protect the ball, it would lead to a Heat dunk contest. His concern couldn’t have been more prophetic. Unforced errors and Heat ball-hawking led to 25 Wolves turnovers and what felt like a million transition buckets for Miami. Every Wolves player had at last one turnover. Love and Rubio were the chief offenders, with six and five, respectively, but their turnovers stung less than their teammates’, as aggressive play underlay the bulk of their mistakes, while the rest of the team played the kind of sloppy basketball that James, Wade, and company are only too happy to exploit. Adelman has lamented the Wolves’ sloppiness since the beginning of camp, and while the shortened preseason, the new system, and adjusting to new personnel all point to turnovers continuing to plague the Wolves for the foreseeable future, Adelman’s rotations are puzzling and he could ease the players’ burden by firming them up sooner rather than later.
  • The point guard situation: Rubio-mania has overtaken Minneapolis; Ridnour is no longer trying to mask his consternation with his declining role. Luke played just six minutes in the first half, missing his only field goal attempt. He had a nice stretch early in the third in which he made a quick three and then got a steal that led to a transition opportunity. But he started pressing in the middle of the third, taking an ill-advised three off the dribble that missed very badly, leading the already antsy Target Center crowd to clamor loudly for Rubio, who’d had a hot first half with 8 points, 6 assists, and a +7 in 15 minutes. When Rubio finally reported to the scorer’s table with 4:00 in the third, Ridnour retaliated with two difficult rapid-fire three-point attempts before exiting at the dead ball. Ridnour did not return, and finished the night with 6 points on 2-6 shooting and a -11 in 17 minutes. Rubio played the rest of the way, looking extremely good en route to 12 assists (which could’ve easily been 18+ with some help) and a +9 in 31 minutes. The stats are telling–the Wolves’ offensive sets and overall energy were markedly better when Rubio was in the game. With Rubio’s play exceeding expectations and Ridnour’s ineffectiveness and attitude forcing Adelman’s hand, the Wolves’ point guard situation is coming to a head sooner than expected. Kahn should be shopping the aggravated vet aggressively, but with Barea and Lee battling injuries, trading Ridnour would leave the Wolves thin at the point and so might not happen anytime soon.
  • Close but no cigar: In the three games thus far, the Wolves have been within three points with less than two minutes to go against two potential title contenders. They’ve failed to close each time. This year’s team clearly has more talent and a better culture than last year’s, but the Wolves’ inability to compete down the stretch is reminiscent of some of the ugly things we saw last year. Hopefully Adelman can instill some lessons about #winningtime where Rambis failed.
  • The last shot: A third-string guard seeing his first significant minutes of the season should never be in a position to take a potential game-tying or winning shot against anybody, let alone the Heat. Yet that’s what happened tonight in the game’s closing seconds when Wayne Ellington flung an extremely difficult dribble-jumper from 22 feet that clanked off the iron. Part of the reason the Wolves struggle to win close games is their lack of a go-to player down the stretch. Michael Beasley has the talent to get difficult baskets time-after-time when opposing defenses have hunkered down in the fourth quarter, but can he do it for this team? Beasley played poorly tonight, scoring only 4 points on 2-6 shooting in 22 minutes before getting benched in the fourth quarter. Yet Beasley is the Wolves’ only player who can create a decent shot for himself almost every time he touches the ball, as he showed during stretches of last season. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to second-guess Adelman’s decision to leave Beasley on the bench with four seconds left in a dead-ball situation in which the Timberwolves had possession. The Wolves will start to win close games against playoff-caliber teams when/if Adelman is able to trust Beasley or someone else to take and make big shots down the stretch. Ideally Beasley would need to earn that trust, but given his de facto role as the team’s sole 1-on-1 creator, Adelman should give Beasley a longer leash to earn it as he goes, despite the inevitable lumps that’ll come along the way.
Quick Hits
  • The Wolves sorely missed J.J. Barea at both guard positions. Get well soon J.J.!
  • Anthony Tolliver has so much heart. After getting slapped with a blocking foul on what appeared to be a LeBron charge late in the 4th, AT went hard to the cup and tried to CRAM on the entire Heat interior, drawing a foul. He’s proud and he worked his ass off on both ends.
  • That said, AT needs to work on his free-throws. He made the first shot and missed the second on at least three trips during the second half.
  • AR15 finally showed some signs and was a game high +18 in 25 minutes of action. He still has a long way to go before he’ll gain Adelman’s trust.
  • Randolph looks so much better when his 12-15 face-up is falling like it was tonight. It prevents him from trying to do too much off the dribble, which is when he tends to get out of control.
  • Derrick Williams looked better after a down game against Milwaukee on Tuesday. He mostly let the game come to him, and he hit two of three from downtown and had 10 points in 21 minutes.
  • Wes Johnson apparently didn’t read our letter.

It all starts again on Sunday against Dallas. Until then.

Season Record: 0-3

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