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Back to Work (Wolves 127, SUNS 124)

Was it a coincidence that the first seven quarters of Wolves ball that I missed in weeks were the first seven quarters of Ricky-less ball?  Yes, actually.  Saturday’s TV coverage was FUBAR’d by the NBA, with reciprocal blackouts for paying customers of NBA TV and paying customers of NBA League Pass.  I actually thanked the NBA (to myself, at least) for this blunder.  It sounds like I missed a wretched display by the home team.  Tonight’s contest mostly conflicted with my men’s league game (we won, thanks for caring) so I was only able to listen to the 3rd Quarter on the drive home and watch the 4th on FSN.

Based on the box score, radio commentary, and my text inbox, it sounds like Mike Beasley, Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic collectively carried the Wolves through the first half as K-Love struggled with his shot.  Beasley in particular (15 points on 6-7 shooting in 16 minutes, (tied for) team-high +8) must have been crucial to the 7-point halftime lead.

The radio broadcast of the third quarter sounded like Suns matchups of recent past.  Al Horton repeatedly described Suns action begun by Steve Nash and finished by an open jump shooter.  The Wolves 7-point lead quickly became a deficit.  But then, as is happening more and more often, K-Love came to the rescue by bombing from outside.  Love hit 5 threes in the second half (5-9 total for the game) en route to another 30-point game for the superstar.

Now, the part I was actually able to watch: the fourth quarter.  Or as Magic Johnson and Roger Dodger call it, Winning Time.

The Key Players of #winningtime, in reverse order:

5. Derrick Williams – The rookie was on the court for the first 7:42 of the fourth and seemed to be involved in every play.  He aggressively and stupidly goaltended a floating shot that had no chance of going in (sound familiar?) BUT–he got away with it, somehow.  On offense, he hit a pair of square-up J’s, one from downtown, and converted his own backcourt steal into a dunk.  Defense was another story.  His “defense” on Channing Frye reminded of recent Kevin Love efforts against Magic stretch four, Ryan Anderson.  Put simply, Williams does not want to guard out to 24 feet.  You know why?  He’s a power forward.  (This dilemma of the stretch four is exactly why I want K-Love to embrace his own shooting talent, as he is doing of late.)

4. Channing Frye – As I just mentioned, Frye’s shooting was a problem.  He entered the game with 8:26 to go with his team down by 2.  He quickly hit a pair of 3’s, each giving his team the lead.  While the Wolves were ultimately able to hold off the Suns, Frye’s sniping was nearly a deciding factor in the other direction.

3. Sebastian Telfair – Bassy played well in the last Wolves-Suns tilt, too.  He must have it out for his old team or something.  In the early part of this 4th Quarter he was pretty dominant, even if in ways that are UNSUSTAINABLE.  When JJ went under a ball screen, Bassy buried the jumper.  A moment later on another ball-screen sequence, he hit a three and D-Thrill fouled him for good measure and a fourth point.  RIGHT AFTER THAT, he ripped Luke on a careless dribble and converted a layup.  8 quick points in the 4th Quarter.

2. Kevin Love – The MVP candidate had 13 points in the 4th Quarter, despite resting from 8:26 to 4:18.  Not much else to say.

1. Luke Ridnour – Notwithstanding the turnover to Bassy, Luke was huge down the stretch.  He made a layup with 4:35 to go, and a long 2 with 3:55 to go.  With 1:50 to go he made a sick little hesitation move on Frye (I think) and an even-crazier layup in traffic with the shot clock winding down.  He collected an offensive board with 1:15 to go and a key defensive board with 0:54 to go.  With 17 seconds left and a 1-point lead, he calmly went to the line to extend it to 3 and help seal the win.  Great Winning Time performance for Luke.

Nice to get a win.  It’ll be interesting to see if any moves are made before the trade deadline on Thursday.  Also on that day is the next game, a nationally televised (EXCEPT MAYBE IN MINNEAPOLIS!) contest against the Utah Jazz, a key rival for the 8-seed.  Big Al scored 33 tonight on 14-18 shooting in an easy Jazz win, so we’ll have to have our interior defense ready to roll.  Until then.

Season Record: 22-21

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INBOX: Target Practice, the Pau and Monta Edition

THE PAU GASOL IDEA


RUMINT has it that the Lakers would throw in Pau's Ed Hardy shirt for a conditional second-rounder, which Kahn demanded as a part of any trade

Patrick J: With all rumors swirling around Pau Gasol, the only thing for a hard-up blogger to do is fire up the good ol’ trade machine.

Wolves get:
Pau Gasol
Darius Morris

Lakers get:
Michael Beasley
Derrick Williams
Wes Johnson
Luke Ridnour

In this two-team trade, the Wolves’ lineup would look something like:

PG – Rubio
SG – Barea
SF – Webster
PF – Love/Randolph/Tolliver
C – Gasol/Pekovic
6th man: Pekovic

The Wolves end up with a Pau, Ricky, K-Love core. Barea and Webster are arguably upgrades over Johnson and Ridnour as starters at the 2 & 3. Pek is a matchup nightmare against opposing teams’ second units. We still have one high-upside enigma with Anthony Randolph. (One’s enough, right?)

An elephant in the room common sense question is whether the Wolves would be competitive in a Pau Sweepstakes.

John Hollinger’s (Insider) column suggests the answer may be no:

“It’s not hard coming up with dance partners, that’s for sure. Send him to Houston for Luis Scola,Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris and Chase Budinger, and the Lakers suddenly fill four rotation spots with one deal while saving several million on luxury tax; deal him to Indiana for David West,George Hill and Dahntay Jones and you accomplish a similar feat. These aren’t the only possibilities; one can build similar trades with several other teams, ones that don’t bring back a talent on Gasol’s level but plug so many gaps that it may be worth it anyway.”

Can a Williams/Beasley/Ridnour/Johnson package compete with Scola/Dragic/Morris/Budinger or West/Hill/Jones? We know the Rockets really want Gasol, and that’d be a pretty strong offer. What do you think?

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Mile Low (NUGGETS 103 , Wolves 101)

Tonight was a weird, weird, game. The play was rough and sloppy. The Wolves lost in OT.

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Exposed Again (MAGIC 102, Wolves 89)

Like recent seasons past, the Wolves are beginning to develop negative trends that play out over the course of an extended losing streak, this one now at four games.

  • Everybody (certainly this must include the bench and front office) knows that the team lacks a competent shooting guard. Luke Ridnour missed tonight’s game at Orlando for personal reasons. All the best to Luke and whatever he has going on, but his play at the off guard has not been good recently. Martell Webster didn’t help much tonight, scoring 5 points and turning it over twice in 22 minutes.
  • Everybody knows that the Wolves struggle to take care of the basketball. They had 18 turnovers tonight, with the increasingly erratic J.J. Barea leading the way with 7 of his own in only 23 minutes.
  • A new area of concern is three-point shooting.  Against the Magic, Wolves players shot 6 for 21 (28.6 percent) from downtown–this following recent games of 6-19, 6-23, and 4-19.  For the losing streak, they are a combined 26.8 percent from downtown, a rate that would put them dead last in the league by more than a couple of percentage points. Ricky creates a ton of three-point opportunities, but the Wolves won’t win many games if his teammates can’t convert them.
  • Why is Wes Johnson still starting?  This is the question that nobody has a good answer to.  He isn’t even playing good defense, anymore.  Jason Richardson scored 17 tonight, 5 over his average and many while baiting Wes into bad fouls or slamming him off screens for open jumpers.  Wes’ 3 for 7 shooting night was good for him, but his minutes need to go elsewhere.  Michael Beasley had a pretty average night by his standards (13 points in 25 minutes, a (-2) in a 13-point loss) and could play the same mediocre defense with better offensive punch.

I’m already beating dead horses, so I’ll keep this brief.

The Magic spread the floor around Dwight Howard and shoot a lot of threes. They make a lot of threes. In fact, they lead the league by a wide margin in made 3’s per game (9.9, next in NBA is New Jersey with 8.8). They made 12 tonight, and shot at a 40 percent clip.

J.J. Redick could run a basketball camp solely dedicated to using screens. He’s really made it into an artform. It’s silly what he does to defenders by running them off picks in all directions.

Ryan Anderson spreads the floor by being a 6’10” sharpshooter. All of this works beautifully around Superman Howard. It’s a shame that he’s going to leave the Florida Sun and this nice team chemistry. In a season as wide open as this one, Orlando has a real chance to win an improbable title, just as Dallas did last year.

Bottom line: the Wolves lost because they a) didn’t take care of the ball; b) didn’t defend the three ; c) took and missed lots of jumpers; and d) don’t have an NBA shooting guard.

Until next time.

Season Record: 13-16

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The Return of Dirk (Mavericks 104, WOLVES 97)

As you probably know, the Wolves have twice defeated the defending-champion Mavericks in this short season, each game by a decided margin of victory.  Although I joined the excitement of other Wolves fans about last year’s worst dominating last year’s best, it was impossible not to notice two things about those games:

1) In the first game, Dirk wasn’t Dirk (as Bill Simmons explained yesterday, Dirk showed up for training camp way out of shape, not yet recovering from the championship hangover).

2) In the second game, Dirk wasn’t playing.  (His legs were broken down from playing his way into shape, for the above reason.)

Last night’s game would include neither of those beneficial factors.  After beginning the season 3-5, Dallas had won 12 of its last 18 games, returning to contender form.  After his worst start to a season in over a decade, Dirk had finally caught fire.  In the three games leading up to last night’s, Dirk was averaging over 26 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting.  It appeared as though he’d be the matchup nightmare that fans have grown accustomed to watching.

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A Loveless Victory (WOLVES 86, Kings 84)

Nobody quite knew what to predict for Minny’s first game of the season without its best player.  In fact, PJ published two separate posts in anticipation and speculation on exactly how this should shake out.  While the Kings are pretty lousy, they were coming off three consecutive wins and had big man DeMarcus Cousins playing the best basketball of his short career.  To eek out a win, even if ugly and way-too-close for comfort, is impressive in Love’s absence.

No Love

First things first: How did they do at replacing Kevin Love?

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Stomping the Rockets (WOLVES 100, Rockets 91)

I wasn’t going to post a game wrap, but with the Wolves off tomorrow night (next game Tuesday at home versus Sacramento) I thought we should have something up to acknowledge some events of Saturday Night, and to continue the ongoing discussion of all things Wolves as the season moves into its second trimester.

.500

Minnesota has, finally, reached the elusive distinction of having won exactly one half of its games.  At 12-12, the Wolves have hit .500 for the first time since Kevin Garnett donned the blue and green, in 2007.  In case you forgot, Dwayne Casey had Ricky Buckets and Company at 20-20 before being fired.  Randy Wittman replaced him, closing out that season by going 12-30.  Yikes.  Decidedly-average pro basketball never felt so good.  The road of improvement continues ahead.

The Stomp

As I’m sure you’ve already seen or read about, Kevin Love stomped on Luis Scola’s face, last night.  Footage here.  Although no announcement (that I read, at least) was made today, I’d guess he’ll be suspended.  Love was apologetic after the game, without admitting any ill intent.  Scola was classy in his interview, deflecting all stomp questions away as if it was no big deal.  These kinds of things happen, and the Wolves are usually on the receiving end (Wally kicked in face by Bowen, Jaric slapped in face by Kobe, Beasley jacked up by Bynum, list goes on…) rather than dishing out cheap shots.  My griping at the time had more to do with how he was playing immediately before the stomp.  It was more of the begging for a bailout stuff that irks me as a fan.  He actually got away with at least two obvious fouls (both against Scola, one offensive, one defensive) but seemed to be getting really upset that calls weren’t actually being made in his favor.  Love can play a really clean game of great basketball when he wants (and did so for large parts of this one–he was great in this win) but sometimes resorts to this bush league crap that is annoying to watch.

Miller Looking Back Door

Brad Miller threw 4 backdoor passes in 6 minutes of action.  He was whipping them off the catch without regard for anything.  Think this guy has played for Carrill Adelman before?  Coach has spoken recently about wanting to get his offense installed to lessen the burden on Rubio’s pick-and-roll sets.  Perhaps Miller has been assigned to expedite this process.  On one backdoor attempt that ended in a turnover, Beasley cut out instead of toward the hoop.  Miller looked upset, letting him know that an easy scoring opportunity was wasted.  If this team can add Princeton halfcourt offense to Everything Else Rubio… whoa.

The Rotation

If you remove Brad Miller and his six minutes of tick, Adelman’s Saturday rotation was of nine players; the number he has pointed out as being ideal.  The heavy lifters appear to be Rubio, Ridnour, Love and Pekovic.  Middle guys are Barea, Beasley, Webster, and Wes.  D-Thrill is a limited reserve.  Randolph is in street clothes, and Ellington and Tolliver don’t take off their sweats.

Bullets:

* J.J. was pretty awesome in this game with his one-man circus routine of buzzing around the halfcourt and eventually fooling five defenders into allowing him an open layup.

* Patrick Patterson will play many years in the league with that mid-range jumper he’s already mastered.

* Luke bounced back quickly from an ugly performance at New Jersey.  4-6 from downtown and 22 points. There are 10 or so minutes in each game that he and Barea will always fight for.

* Big Pek followed up his career night with an efficient 11 points and 9 rebounds with only 1 turnover.  If he becomes as consistent as he already is powerful, popular and cool, we’ve got ourselves a legitimate starter of an NBA center.

* Kevin Martin shot the ball horribly in this game.  He was 1 for 10 with 2 points in 31 minutes.  Basically, the exact opposite of his last Target Center performance.  Perhaps the non-Ellington defense (I can’t recall if it was Luke or Wes) was a factor.  This, as much as anything, explains the victory.

Season Record: 12-12

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