The growing anticipation of tonight’s Spurs-Heat game, a primetime TNT tilt, came to a screeching halt an hour or so ago. Gregg Popovich, the “arrogant in an endearing sorta way” coach of the Spurs, decided to leave all of his best players home to rest. No Danny Green. No Tony Parker. No Manu Ginobili. No Tim Duncan. No chance for a win. No reason for fans to watch. Pop takes a sick satisfaction in sticking it to the league–in this case, the fans too–and it is no coincidence that he chose primetime to utilize a favorite strategy of his to preserve player health and minimize the fatigue of an aging team. I think most, or all, fans would agree that this is bad for the league. But what can be done to stop it? Nothing, exactly, but here’s an idea for a strong deterrent, pulled right from the game-wrap comments section (h/t Dave A):
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.”
It wasn’t easy. Despite building a 13-point lead late in the 3rd Quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Sacramento the Wolves found themselves in a dogfight in the closing minutes. With a minute to go, and holding just a 2-point lead, Andrei Kirilenko cracked the code of the annoying Kings zone defense, filling a seam, catching a pass and quickly flipping it over to Nikola Pekovic for an open layup. On the other end of the floor, AK47 swatted a crucial shot of DeMarcus Cousins. When he secured the loose-ball rebound himself, the game was in hand, with the five-game losing streak snapped. The Wolves controlled most of this game, and deserved the win. Since we’ve got another one tomorrow night (@ LA Clippers, 9:30 CST) I’m keeping it short, so we’re heading into the bullet format:
A struggling Wolves squad limps into Sacramento tonight trying to break their five-game losing streak against the Kings. Can they do it?
A few weeks ago, this would’ve looked like a gimme. But not anymore.
The Wolves are in disarray. At 5-7, they’re already in the cellar of a solid Northwest Division, just behind the 6-8 Portland Trailblazers. But if the Wolves lose tonight and fall to 5-8, that gap is likely to wide further tomorrow, with Portland scheduled to take on the Winless Washington Wi’zards.They badly need a win.
Five losses in a row and Ricky Rubio cannot return fast enough. Kevin Love’s unexpectedly-quick recovery from hand fractures, and immediate production of NUMB#RS, is not translating into wins. Minnesota is 0-3 since Love’s return. The common theme of the last three losses is building an early lead that evaporates as the missed shots and blown pick-and-roll assignments pile up. Tonight, the Wolves’ apex came in the mid-2nd Quarter when Alexey Shved and the second unit caught fire and extended the lead to 11, at 35-24. There would be no “fire” after that, unless you mean Steph Curry bombing from 27 feet. The Wolves lead dwindled to 4 at the half and it was a struggle to keep heads above water after that. Things fell apart in a catastrophic 4th Quarter that the Warriors won 26-11. Minnesota was stuck on 79 points (beginning the stretch with a 5-point lead) from the 10:19 mark in the 4th all the way to 5:28. After Kevin Love [finally] broke the seal with a bucket, the Wolves again stuck on 81 points until a Pekovic free throw at the 2:40 mark. 3 points in 7:39. There is your game wrap.
The Wolves don’t play Sunday and they don’t play Monday, so it’s worth addressing some broader questions. Continue reading →
For the second consecutive game the Wolves allowed a double-digit lead to slip away against a divisional foe. They’ve now lost 4 games in a row and have fallen below .500. Things were looking good when LaMarcus Aldridge picked up his third foul before halftime, frustrated after receiving a technical foul for angrily approaching Kevin Love after a whistle. Minnesota led 48-38 and had momentum on its side. That’s as good as things got on Friday night. From that point on, like the other night, the offense sputtered, mostly a result of poor guard play that simply does not create high-percentage shots. Not for themselves. Not for teammates. Adelman continues to give the starting nod to Malcolm Lee, and it continues to hurt the offense. It isn’t a noticeable help on defense either. It’s a mistake. He then trots out the two dribble-drive guards, Barea and Shved, as a tandem. Tonight, Shved struggled to score, but provided 3 assists in 16 minutes. Barea was a train wreck in all respects. I’ll keep beating this dead horse.
The Roy-Aldridge combo still gives nightmares to Wolves fans.
Wolves at Blazers tonight, so it’s a late 9:00 tip-off. I recommend eating the nuked-up turkey now so you have ample time to nap off the tryptophan before Love-Aldridge XXVI (all Roman Numerals approximate). There’s something of a rivalry between these teams, but it has more to do with the front offices than any epic playoff series (unfortunately). The teams flipped draft picks in 2006, with Brandon Roy sealing the one-sided fate of this intradivision matchup for years to come. As Wolves fans now know all too well, Roy’s knees eventually broke down, but not before he inflicted years of pain on the Wolves. Without looking this up, I think they beat us every single time we matched up after the Garnett trade, before Ricky Rubio resurrected the Timberwolves franchise last year. But the personnel tension extends beyond Brandon Roy.
I think Randy Wittman is a bad NBA basketball coach. I know that Randy Wittman understands basketball better than I do.
Randy Wittman played four years of college basketball at Indiana University. He played there for Bobby Knight, one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports. In Wittman’s sophomore season, the Hoosiers won a national title. In his senior season, Wittman was Big Ten Player of the Year on a team that won the conference. After his highly successful collegiate career, Wittman went on to play ten seasons of NBA basketball. Most of those seasons were with the Atlanta Hawks, coached by winner of more than 1200 games and the 1985-86 NBA Coach of the Year Award, Mike Fratello. Shortly after his playing career ended, Wittman entered the coaching ranks himself. He spent eight seasons as an NBA assistant coach, most of them under Flip Saunders with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the early seasons of Kevin Garnett’s career. With that incredible basketball resume’, Witt finally landed his first head coaching job. He was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1999 and spent two seasons on their bench before being fired.
I list these career accomplishments of Wittman not because I want to write his biography, but because when he later coached the Timberwolves I criticized his abilities and decisions countless times even though I am 100 percent sure that he understands basketball much better than I do. Continue reading →
Rick Adelman needs to fix the guard rotations before too many winnable games are handed away. Photo – David J. Phillip, AP
The Wolves extended their losing streak to 3 games on Wednesday, dropping a crucial game against a divisional foe that might be joining the Wolves (and Mavericks, Jazz and Warriors) in the battle of the playoffs fringe. Despite a fantastic surprise in the minutes leading up to tip-off (more on that in a second) and a large 1st Half lead, the Wolves offense sputtered in the 2nd Half and a winnable game was lost. This game was relatively simple, with one great thing slightly more than offset by one really bad thing. Those two things:
Kevin Love unexpectedly returned to the starting lineup. And was immediately back to his All-Star form.
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.
Alexey Shved’s signing is making David Kahn look good
The 5-4 record of the Minnesota Timberwolves is defined by crosswinds: In one direction blows a continuous breeze of injuries: damaged knees, bizarre knuckle and foot ailments, an ankle sprain (to a player seemingly-immune to such things), with the sum being a depleted roster and lots of improvisation we didn’t expect. The other blows all the way from Eastern Europe – Moscow to be exact, improbably flitting CSKA stars Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved into Timberwolves POBO David Kahn’s lap all the way over here in Minneapolis.
Kirilenko and Shved have exceeded expectations and helped the Wolves team gather needed wins in a competitive Western Conference. Kirilenko is the team’s MVP by a wide margin, thriving under Rick Adelman’s player-movement offense, perhaps to a degree never reached before in his career, even in his prime as a member of the Utah Jazz.
Kirilenko is playing at a high level, and is being paid as such; last offseason, he inked a two-year deal worth $20 Million, which includes a player option on the second year – worth about $10.2 Million – allowing him to explore free agency if he chooses. All things considered, it isn’t a great contract, only because with the level of play he’s quickly reached, we would all wish he were locked up for 3-4 years instead of just one.
Shved’s contract, on the other hand, is looking mighty fine.
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.
Is that Josh Howard or Marlo Stanfield? I can’t tell either! (Good thing.)
The Wolves have a new player. And it just feels right. It’s like we were destined to get him as part of a Ndudi Ebi exorcism after Brandon Roy’s five-game trial failed to redeem Roy-Foye. On Josh Howard’s future with the Wolves, go check out Oceanary’s post at Canis Hoopus.
Chris Webber lost a huge game because he called timeout when his team didn’t have any left. Tonight, the Bobcats made the same mistake… but won anyway.
If NBA fan objectivity had a pH scale with 0 being a non-stop complaining, the-world-is-coming-to-an-end pessimist, 14 being Tom Heinsohn’s views on the Boston Celtics, and 7 being perfectly objective, I’d rate myself at an 8 or 9. I rely on my eye test more than an analyst should (I say “my” and not “the” because there is no such thing as “the” eye test. I digress…) but I’ve learned enough over at Canis Hoopus to at least understand where I lose objectivity. My tendency is to see hope around the corner when it isn’t there, or potential in an athletic young player that never materializes. Tonight I’ll shift gears because I just watched the up-and-coming, feel-good-story Timberwolves lose a home game to the Charlotte Bobcats. Continue reading →
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?
In the interest of getting some much-needed, early-in-the-week sleep, I’m doing this wrap in two parts–first and second half splits. So the first half is being written at halftime.
1st Half Notes
The first half–and especially the first quarter–was dominated by the Wolves two best healthy players: Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic. [Eds note: In hindsight, I should not have phrased that sentence that way. More on that in the 2nd Half.] Pek showed off a move that he’s clearly been working on with Coach Billy Bayno, the standard jump hook. He buried three of these with his right hand in the opening quarter and finished the half with an impressive 13 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. It’s hard to understate the importance of this new skill, because as defenders become forced to defend it honestly it will open up his go-to favorite, the drop step. We’ve seen Pek taking a hard right-hand dribble into the paint when defenders cheat to his right (baseline side/left block) shoulder and try jump hooks. He makes them sometimes. What we saw in the first half tonight was on the right block–more of a standard post hook. Pek improves at things. That’s mostly a credit to him but also to Rick Adelman’s coaching staff.
The Wolves take on former Timberwolf OJ Mayo tonight in Dallas
Tonight it’s Mayo versus Shved. Mano-a-mano. Like a bullfight in which two matadors duel for an audience’s admiration, it’s OJ against Alexey no matter how much better it might be if it were a young Jet against a healthy Roy.
In fact, most of the main attractions will either be wearing a suit, or watching from somewhere in Minnesota.
No Dirk Nowitzki for the Mavs. No K-Love or Ricky Rubio (again) for the Timberwolves. J.J. Barea is out too.
Still both teams have winning records, so there are signs of life for the depleted Mavs and reasons for hope for the aspiring Wolves. In and of itself, this is surprising given that neither team’s All-Star power forward has played a minute this season.