After five days off that included a Mexican vacation and postponement of a Spurs matchup, the Timberwolves return to action tonight at Target Center. They face the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The Wolves will be without Kevin Love, who is home with family mourning the loss of his grandmother. (Eds note: Best wishes to Love and family.)
The Heat has lost two consecutive games; the latter being a 20-point drumming by the Roseless Bulls on TNT. They’ve been without Dwyane Wade, but the reports on Twitter indicate he’s shooting around and might play tonight. That’s not good news for a Wolves team trying to get back to .500 without its own best player. In any event, it will be a fun game to watch because… well, LeBron James.
But we’re less interested in the MVP or his All-Star teammates than we are a former Timberwolf returning to Target Center with career-best numbers and a renewed sense of basketball purpose. That’s right, we’re talking about the one and only Supercool Mike Beasley, a longtime PDW favorite.
Beasley is only playing 17.6 minutes per game, but that’s 17.6 more than just about anybody expected after his famous regression from prized draft prospect and promising young talent to inefficient chucker who didn’t play defense but did get himself into off-court troubles. Beas isn’t just playing in Erik Spoelstra’s rotation. He’s playing REALLY well. His 23.2 points per 36 minutes is a career high. So is his 54.6 field goal percentage, which is downright ridiculous for a combo forward like himself.
Beas has always had obvious talent and it appears he’s finally begun to tap into it in a way that helps an NBA team win games. The Heat are playing 12.9 points better than opponents, per 100 possessions, with Beasley on the floor. Suffice it to say this is a sharp change from his recent seasons in Phoenix and Minnesota. It’s also way better than LeBron and the other Heat starters, which is probably unsustainable but nevertheless a reflection of how well he’s been playing.
For more on Supercool Mike’s improvement, check out Tom Haberstroh’s espn.com feature (Insider, sorry).
We thought it appropriate to preview tonight’s matchup by recalling our favorite Beasley stories.
Without further ado…
#10 – The Kevin Love 30/30 Game…in which Beas dropped 35 (Andy G)
Dirk N. and his hat will be squaring off tonight against the Wolves in Dallas
(Eds. Note: Andy G and Patrick J clearly don’t know what to do with themselves over a long weekend because they both wrote preview posts, unbeknownst to the other. Here’s part deux.)
The Timberwolves are in Dallas to take on Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks tonight at 7:30 CST. The Wolves have lost three straight. They’re now 8-9. After getting off to a quick 7-2 start, this the first time this season the Wolves have been under .500.
‘Sota needs a reversal of fortune in a bad way. And by “fortune,” I mean “effort and execution.” They showed neither in Wednesday night’s home loss against Denver, a point that Rick Adelman lamented repeatedly in his terse post-game presser. Referring to the loss on the Wolves’ home court, Adelman said, ”the players can’t expect the fans to pump them up. That’s backward. (The players) need to get the fans going.”
(Eds. Note: When you hear a coach emphatically describe how his team wasn’t ready to play and didn’t give the effort you expect from a group of professional athletes–his group of professional athletes–you immediately see the stark difference between a coach who has absolutely no concern about his job security and the majority who aren’t so lucky to have the same leash.)
It was clear that after three straight losses, Adelman has lost any patience with which he began the season for the Wolves’ propensity for unforced errors, lackadaisical defense, and their failure to do basic things–like, say, blocking out opposing bigs (and Andre Miller) on the defensive boards–for painfully long stretches in winnable games.
Worse than that, Adelman clearly knows he doesn’t have a magic bullet to use now that he needs one.
Pacers star Lance Stephenson was a schoolboy phenom at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School
Hi Folks, I’ve been traveling for the last week, unable to post but catching Wolves basketball on my laptop when I could.
Lots of ups and downs, from the disappointment of the four-point loss in Washington to letting off some steam against KG & the Brooklyn Nyets to a disappointing 112-101 loss at Houston on Saturday night against a Rockets team that was down one James Harden.
The inconsistent play is more a function of stretches of bad Wolves basketball than it is of running into the wrong team at the wrong time. The Wolves struggle to take and keep leads, as was particularly evident in the loss to Washington, with the exception being when they get out to giant first-half leads, which won’t be the case very often against the kinds of teams we’ll need to beat if we make the playoffs.
One team the Wolves are unlikely to get out to a big lead against is the Indiana Pacers, who host them tonight at
Conseco Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 7 P.M. Eastern. You can see the game on League Pass.
The 12-1 Pacers are undefeated at
Conseco Bankers Life this season, and are 19-4 all-time when playing ‘Sota in their gym. The Pacers have two of the best defenders in the NBA in Paul George and Roy Hibbert. With his canny feel for the game and his long arms, George guards the wing like a young Scottie Pippen. Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in blocked shots and is the kind of rim protector Wolves fans dream Gorgui Dieng might someday become. Collectively, the Pacers currently allow the fewest points per game of any team in the NBA at 87.6 and hold opponents to a stingy 39.7 field goal percentage.
A sign that everything is clicking in Indiana? Things are so good in Indiana right now that respected columnists have begun to wonder whether the Pacers will be able to afford Lance Stephenson, formerly the punchline of so many sordid jokes.
I spilled a lot of virtual ink yesterday about the Wolves season to date. They went on to pummel the Lakers, defeating LAL by the most points in franchise history and for the first time in years. Three pointers by the Kevins, Outlet bombs to Brewer, pesky backcourt defense, and a Ricky Rubio triple double all factored into the win. Oh, and Nick Young’s shot selection.
Another big one tonight at the same arena, against a much better Clippers team.
Update (11:05 A.M. CST): It’s a cliche , but we’d be remiss not to honor Ricky’s triple-double (highlights here) by giving it the proper Ice Cube treatment (see 1:18) - Patrick J
It Was A Good Day (NSFW, depending where you W)
Swaggy P is gonna ball ’til he falls
Tonight the 4-2 Timberwolves will be taking on the 3-4 Lakers in LaLa at the Staples Center. The game is at 9:30 P.M Eastern, 8:30 P.M. Central. I’ll be watching on League Pass.
Kobe Bryant won’t be walking onto that court. (Eds. Note: He might be limping onto the bench. The operative message is, he won’t be playing tonight against the Timberwolves.) But Nick Young will. Like Kobe Bryant, Nick Young is a shooting guard. Like Kobe Bryant, Nick Young gets up shots.
But Nick Young is not Kobe Bryant. He has more in common with Jordan Crawford and other NBA gunners, and former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos. (It’s the shoes).
Imelda Marcos and her kicks
Swaggy P and his kicks
The Timberwolves travel to Cleveland tonight to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Artwork by Holly Grimsrud (hollygrimsrudart.com)
Andy G: Last night, the Timberwolves beat the Knicks and improved their record to 3-0. This marks only the second time in 25 seasons of franchise existence that the team won its first three games. Setting aside what that statistic says about the past, it is a small, early accomplishment worth feeling good about on the season’s first Monday morning. An undefeated start is especially impressive considering that the Wolves faced Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in consecutive matchups.
The Wolves won the game at the foul line, where they made 29 out of a whopping 38 attempts. (The Knicks only shot 13.) After a blowout first quarter of steals and pass-ahead assists to Brewer and Love, it was all about survival. Carmelo eventually started making shots and the Knicks cut the deficit to 2 with 4:48 to go. But Kevin Martin converted a technical foul free throw, followed it up with a three-pointer (his fifth of the night; he scored a wildly-efficient 30 points on 12 shots) and the game never got close again.
Patrick J, what’s up with the crazy free throw disparity?
In their last televised game of the preseason, the playoff-hopeful Timberwolves easily defeated the blown-up and rebuilding Celtics. It’s difficult to glean much from a preseason game, and doubly so when the opponent is severely undermanned and the score differential stretches beyond 20 in the second half. Had the result been flipped and the Wolves were blown out, there would be reason for some panic; especially since Rick Adelman played his starters for almost as many minutes as they will log when the games count. But the game played out about like it should have — at least if you are a Wolves fan with some degree of optimism for this season — and the execution was just inconsistent enough to make certain conclusions difficult to come by.
The pick-and-roll defense doesn’t look particularly good. The Wolves will not be “blitzing” ball screen this year the way that Miami and other more athletic teams will. With a more conservative approach, then, there shouldn’t be breakdowns leading to open baskets near the rim, or over-helping in ways that leave wide open shooters in the corners. Those things happened sometimes, in this game. But there were also positives on that end. Corey Brewer, while sometimes getting burned — including once on the wing so badly that Gerald Wallace walked in for a big dunk — was disruptively aggressive and parlayed some loose balls into transition offense. Nikola Pekovic continues to “wall up” (h/t Jim Pete) and play solid if not spectacular position help defense. I mean, they held their opponent to 89 points. The defense couldn’t have been too bad.
My takeaway from this game — or my thought after watching it anyway — pertains to the team’s three-point shooting. Without digging into the gory details, you already know this was a weakness last year. The Wolves were the worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA by a wide margin. Tonight, they shot 25 threes, which is kind of a lot. They made 10 of them — good for 40-percent accuracy — which is very good. Kevin Martin, the roster’s offseason shot in the arm, converted an impressive 5 for 8 from downtown. Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, a pair of young guards in desperate need of better shooting efficiency, shot a combined 3 for 5 from three.
But I’m most interested in the team’s best player, Kevin Love. Continue reading
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?
Here’s a snapshot of what the Wolves’ offensive sets have often looked like. Hi-Tech stuff here (don’t mind the DVR pause bar).
THE WOLVES SO FAR
So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.
Patrick J: One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.
The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.
This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.
So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?
For better or worse I went into my first media day without much of a plan, beyond “take an extra hour for lunch.” I wasn’t sure exactly where to go. (Thanks Darren Wolfson for pointing me toward the press room.) Or how to act as a newbie in a room stock full of veteran sports reporters. (Thanks Britt Robson for the pointers.) I had no questions prepared. (So I didn’t ask any!)
But despite my naivete on the logistics and intramedia etiquette, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of interview answers from the players and the coach. I’ve read enough newspapers and watched enough SportsCenter to know that media day is not usually the time for candor or nuance when discussing a season on the immediate horizon.
Against this backdrop of low expectations, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Sid Hartman asked Coach Adelman for a starting five; a notoriously skirted question for a team about to break for camp. Adelman listed Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic as four locks. After some hemming and hawing, he confirmed what many of us already suspect: Corey Brewer will probably be the starting small forward.