[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.
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.
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?
Andy G: Wolves host Clips tonight. CP3 isn’t playing. He has a bruised kneecap. The Clippers have lost 3 of their last 4 games played without their MVP. On our side of things, disaster relief is on the way. Nik Pekovic is back. Alexey Shved is back. And most importantly, Coach Rick Adelman is back. The Wolves should be able to trot out some semblance of a starting NBA lineup tonight, perhaps the only eye sore being Luke Ridnour at the starting off-guard, should Adelman choose to move Shved to 6th Man. Personally, I’d just as soon start GELABALE next to a creator like Ricky, but there’s no chance of that happening so I’ll stop right there. In any case, the way I see it the equation goes something like:
Adelman + Pek + Shved – CP3 = Automatic Wolves Win
Tell me why I’m wrong.
GOOD COP: Nikola Pekovic put together a 20 & 12 in 32 minutes.
BAD COP: Pek missed 6 free throws, had a game-worst -24 (correlation, not causation, to be fair) and Coach Terry Porter weirdly limited his best player to 32 minutes of action. This, after playing just 29, 29, and 27 minutes in his last 3 games, respectively. What does TP have against his best active player?
The Wolves had plenty of them. Coach Rick Adelman remained away from the team, for the second consecutive game, for undisclosed personal reasons. Without more (or any, really) information, I won’t comment other than to say I hope everything is okay with the Adelman Family and he comes back soon. Along with Adelman’s absence was the continued loss of Chase Budinger and Kevin Love. Love indeed does need to have surgery and the expected recovery time is 8 to 10 weeks. That means roughly 30 games. That means the Wolves need to figure out an alternative path to the playoffs that they have explicitly labeled as the team’s 2013 destination. J.J. Barea also sat out tonight with back spasms. You might recall that he dominated the 4th Quarter of the Wolves recent win over OKC. Along with absent players and coaches was the simple fact that the Wolves traveled last night and were playing on 0 nights rest. Their opponent, who also happened to be the best team in the conference, had not played since Monday; a night they lost to the lowly Wizards. Oklahoma City was certain to come out looking for blood in tonight’s game.
All of this is to say the Wolves were not favored to win. The excuses were built in.
Wes Johnson Jerseys: Worthless? Or just worth less than they used to be?
Okay, folks, the Wolves are winners again. Hallelujah, rejoice. They beat the Phoenix Suns 111-107 last night at home.
They did it without Golden Boy Ricky Rubio, about whom I’d written a slurptastic game preview, in which I suggested Rubio and Love were/are/will be the keys to the Wolves winning anything significant. Kirilenko, Shved, and Pek are nice bit pieces – nicer than we’ve had since 2004-05 – but they’re dispensible in different ways. Rubio and Love aren’t, unless we’d flip one of them for someone even better. Pau Gasol probably doesn’t qualify, for those of you still fantasizing about a Love-Gasol trade. If you’re reading, that includes you, Kevin Love.)
A few thoughts from last night’s game:
Twitter was going wild on the Timberwolves Injury Report front in the hours leading up to tonight’s game at Staples Center. First, the good news:
Such. Great. News. I can’t wait to see Minnesota’s most-entertaining athlete back on the floor at Target Center. Should only be another week or two.
Now, the bad (for tonight’s game anyway):
That hurts. Through 13 games, AK47 is the team’s MVP. Without him, taking on a title contender, on the road, on 0 days rest, is not a winning proposition. But as Chris Berman might say if he were segueing into a game in which an unexpected result occurred, “That’s why they play the games.”
To the action…
Andy G and I are exhibiting withdrawal symptoms after a multiday layoff from Wolves hoops. That should be fixed soon. Here’s what we’re thinking heading into tonight’s game.
Another thing: Punch-Drunk Wolves is at full strength tonight in the flesh. I’m in town for the holiday and about to head over to 600 1st Avenue.
A fatal mistake of the Wolves in Friday’s game against Golden State was a failure to box out and prevent second-chance points. The 17 offensive rebounds pulled down by the Warriors were key in staving off a last-ditch comeback effort. Tonight, the Denver Nuggets come to town with a league-leading average of 16.8 offensive boards per game. Kenneth Faried in particular has been a beast–or MANIMAL, I should say–in attacking the glass, averaging an absurd 6.9 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. If the Wolves want to win tonight, they need to get stops–which, against Denver, means working on the glass after forcing the missed shot.
30″ x 22″
mixed media on paper
painting by Holly Grimsrud
Andy G: SCENARIO: You just pressed rewind all the way back to June of 2010. You are David Kahn and you possess the rights to the fourth pick in the NBA draft. You have two choices. Draft Wesley Johnson out of Syracuse or DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky. You cannot draft any other player and you cannot trade the pick. Oh, and most importantly, you have all the benefit of hindsight from mid-November 2012 going backwards. What do you do?