For one quarter of last night’s game, things were made impossibly easy for the Timberwolves. I don’t know if the
Pelicans Hornets players were sweating out last night’s Hurricanes or what, but they came out flat as a pancake and the Wolves took full advantage. Behind a steady supply of steals, Pekovic power moves, and even a flashy dime from Ricky to Stiemer, Minnesota led by 15 points after the opening quarter.
And that’s about when the fun stopped. Well, not quite, but close. Derrick Williams, who checked in near the end of the first, opened the second quarter with three straight moves that looked much more like Carmelo Anthony than the inconsistent “caged lion” that we’ve come to question as a building block for the franchise. Williams, playing out of that square-up, jab-step stance that the league’s premier 4’s attack from, began the second quarter with the following: 1) layup; 2) layup; and 3) layup and the foul. I was excited.
THAT is when the fun stopped.
Is the reason Eric Gordon’s always hurt because snitches get stitches?
Alright folks, the Wolves come off a crushing defeat at Oklahoma City to play a much easier opponent in tonight’s tilt against the Hornets in Nola.
The story here? Here’s one: Eric Gordon is finally back and playing in NBA games. Gordon was one of my and Andy G’s favorite players coming up through college and into his early Clippers run. He’s a body hunter extraordinaire, with a cool demeanor and a hot hand. But then he stopped playing basketball last season after getting traded. And then after that, he signed a huge Kahntract with the team he hadn’t played for at all. And, to top it off, he next proceeded to not play basketball this year until a few weeks ago.
On top of that, Gordon also gossips about teammates, all but snitching on his own mates. I’m sure that really endeared him to this Clippers team as a rook…(!!)
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.
The Wolves’ hipsters take on Thunder’s hipsters tonight in OKC
The Wolves got a nice win over Atlanta last night at Target Center. Tonight they have the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, on the wrong end of a back-to-back against the team with the second-best record in the NBA. As nice as last night’s tilt was, the Wolves are in for a long night if they aren’t ready from the get-go tonight.
The Thunder are really good (26-8). They have freak athletes (see Westbrook, Russell; Ibaka, Serge; and, of course, Durant, Kevin). They don’t have James Harden anymore, but they do have a former Mr. Efficiency, Kevin Martin, whom they received for Harden and who missed the last game OKC played against Minnesota, when the Wolves beat the Thunder 99-93 in Minneapolis on December 20th in one of the signature wins of the post-Garnett era.
Could Kevin Love occupy a season on another team’s bench after the trade deadline?
Kevin Love: 2012-13 Return Uncertain
Wolves fans learned today that All-Star forward Kevin Love may miss the rest of the 2012-13 season.
How big is the loss? It’s hard to say. Love missed the Wolves’ first nine games with a broken hand and the Wolves went 5-4 record. They were 9-9 in games he played after he returned November 21st, and they’re now 1-1 since he exited the lineup January 5th. So in terms of the W-L column, the team has been basically the same with or without him.
But the W-L column aside, one thing is for certain: Kevin Love did not play well in his limited time in the lineup after returning from breaking a bone in his hand while doing knuckle pushups under the supervision of his personal trainer in his downtown Minneapolis condo.
You don’t need stats to describe what was before every observer’s eyes: in his brief foray back, K-Love couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t run the floor. He stopped the ball too often.
Love just wasn’t the same guy we came to like last season. He was out of shape. He was disgusted with the team. He may have been – and may still be – jealous of Ricky Rubio.
Love just never came ready to play after the Olympics. That was definitely his best 2012 moment, unless you count his co-starring role as “Wes” in a great commercial with Kyrie Irving.
On and off the floor, it was pretty much a perfect storm of crappy-ness. This was a wasted season for Love, and one that should have been his time to cement his claim as the game’s best power forward.
Now, there’s another question looming: should the Wolves trade Kevin Love? Possibilities below the fold..
This win could be described quickly and simply, or in great detail on each key Timberwolf’s impressive performance. I’ll try my best at each.
Quick and Simple
The Wolves hosted a good Hawks team tonight; one with an impressive and relevant road record of 9-6. From almost the opening tip the Wolves dominated. They defended well, provoking those inefficient shots (contested 2’s) that Britt Robson wrote about the other day. On offense, they made shots–something that has not happened often in this injuries-to-shooters plagued season. The Wolves led by 10 after 1, 16 after 2, and 14 after 3. With 8:11 remaining in the game, Ricky Rubio checked out; his night’s work complete. The Wolves were leading by 11. It was at that moment that two things happened: 1) The Wolves defense relaxed; and 2) The Hawks shooting heated up. A game that was largely dominated by the home team went down to the final possessions as the Hawks steadily chipped away at that lead. Dante Cunningham sealed the deal; first with a baseline jumper to extend the lead to 3, with 15 seconds to play; and second by tipping away the entry pass of the Hawks out-of-timeout play. An impressive win was had for the Loveless Timberwolves.
Josh Smith & co bring it tonight at Target Center
UPDATE (4:58 PM): Add Rick Adelman to the Injury Report list. He won’t attend the game tonight for personal reasons, say reports. Hope all is okay with Rick and the Adelmans.
Tonight’s tilt is against the Atlanta Hawks at Target Center. Did you know that the Wolves have an 11-game losing streak to Atlanta? I didn’t, not until today.
That’s a trend that needs to be reversed. Like, eight matchups ago.
You see, the Hawks are one of the most unfun teams in the League. They will never make one of our All-League Pass teams, unless we write one up a “All League Pass: Most Unfun to Watch” version (which we’ll probably do at some point, perhaps in the offseason). Al Horford? Nice player, but yawnstipating. Josh Smith. Another nice player, super cool individually, but not even J-Smoove redeems the Hawks collective. Andy G and I don’t agree on everything, but we agree that we never flip to a Hawks game unless all our other channels are blacked out. Or they’re playing the Wolves. Which they do tonight.
What to expect?
1. Kevin Love broke his hand. Again.
This was the big news to hit Twitter in the hours leading up to the game. Kevin Love had an MRI exam done on his right hand and it showed that he re-fractured the same bone that he previously broke during the preseason. Given that Love came back earlier than expected from the last fracture injury and never regained his shooting form (or anything remotely close to it) I think it’s fair to expect the team to take better caution this time around. Love’s latest injury could likely be a fatal blow to the Wolves’ playoff chances. Even if the team can hover around the .500 mark, they’ll do so while watching competitors like Houston (20-14), Denver (19-16), and yes, probably the Lakers (15-17) claim ownership of those final spots with records 5 to 10 games over .500. Portland, currently 18-15, could continue to look like a playoff team, but I personally don’t think they’re that good. One high ankle sprain to Nic Batum or LaMarcus Aldridge (or Wes Matthews or Dame Lillard) would probably mean a losing streak for the shallow Blazers roster. In any case, the Western Conference is loaded and Kevin Love playing so few minutes of good basketball this year is going to keep the Wolves out of the playoffs, barring a major surprise.
2. Blazers Shooting
Last night Portland attempted 24 three-point shots and made 16 of them. 48 points from downtown on 66.67 percent shooting is going to mean a win for almost any team against any opponent. Some of them were open, but that happens. The three-point line is never covered perfectly, and certainly not against a team that also has a matchup problem in the post like LaMarcus Aldridge and a capable playmaker like Damian Lillard. In his press conference, Adelman first pointed the finger at his own team’s lack of effort but then conceded that Portland made just about everything. Damian Lillard’s threes (3-5) were tough to stop because they came off the dribble. Wes Matthews’ threes (5-7) were tough to stop because some were ridiculous fade-aways. Nic Batum’s threes (5-6) were tough to stop because he’s 6’8″ and releases the ball high without even a split second of hesitation.
First things first. No Rubio tonight. No Love tonight. Both are mild surprises (to me, at least) as I thought Ricky’s 9 days off would be enough to get his back spasms resolved, perhaps with more strength work on his legs to continue working to regain his old burst. Kevin Love left the game the game at Denver with another right-hand injury; this one labeled a sprained finger. Since Love returned to the bench, I thought he might return to action two nights later. It might be for the best–scratch that. It is for the best that Love takes the time he needs to get his right hand back to normal. Presumably that would mean his shot, which was once one of the best in the league, returns back to its normal greatness.
About Ricky’s status:
This sounds about right. I’d guess the back spasms, even if a true condition, were a partial cover for giving Ricky some extended, additional rehab of his knee and leg. He wasn’t playing well–not on offense, at least–and some hard workouts like today’s with Terry Porter are probably a better use of his energy right now than playing in games and growing more frustrated than confident in his progress.
What else about tonight’s game?
“I think Minnesota at times plays better without Love.”
-George Karl, following last night’s Wolves-Nuggets game.
It didn’t take George Karl’s comments to detonate the nuclear bomb of Kevin Love derision that followed last night’s surprising win at Denver. This is 2013 after all, when public opinions bare in a matter of seconds. By the time an NBA coach finishes a post-game presser (let alone by the time his remarks are published by the Star Tribune) fans have already had it out on the interwebs on whatever the night’s hot issue. Last night, the Timberwolves rallied to overcome a 10-point deficit and win at Denver; a place only the Miami Heat had left victorious before. Kevin Love became a hot-button issue because his third quarter hand injury coincided exactly with the moment the comeback began. In other words, it looked like they were going to lose before Love got hurt and left the game. And then they won it without him.
“I like to compete. I like to compete. I’ll do anything. Whatever it takes to help my team win and especially when I get in a little rhythm I try to take over a little bit.”
Every team in the National Basketball Association plays 82 regular season games. Among that long slate of competitions will inevitably be a handful of strange results. Tonight was one of those nights. Denver came into its matchup with Minnesota sporting a league-best 10-1 record at home. Even if Denver is not a true “championship contender,” they protect their mile-high home court as well as any team possibly could. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, came into the game tired. They had their asses handed to them in Utah less than 24 hours prior, and had a shoddy 5-10 record away from Target Center. The Wolves’ task became steeper late in the 3rd Quarter, tonight, when Kevin Love checked out of the game in obvious pain and his team trailing by 10 points. Love’s right-hand injury was somehow aggravated and a loss appeared inevitable. Up to this point, Love had continued to struggle with his jump shot (he was 4-13 tonight). But he was grinding out a productive performance and doing all he could to keep his team in the game. In 24 minutes he compiled an impressive 12 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists stat line. Up to that point, like much of the season to date, nobody could buy a jumper from beyond the three-point line.
It was right about that point in the game that the lid came off of the Wolves basket. With a shade over 2 minutes to play in the third, Luke Ridnour hit a trey to cut the deficit to 66-62. Next time down, J.J. Barea hit a bomb of his own and all of a sudden and Rubio & Love-less Timberwolves cut it to 1. ‘T’was the deficit heading into the fourth.
PG – Ridnour
If you have a size advantage on Luke (and you probably will) then use it. Post him up. He won’t draw a charge, even if you aggressively back him down. (That’s what the other little guy does. He comes off the bench.) Luke is best shooting off of clear dribbles to the baseline. Don’t go jumping on his head fakes.
SG – Shved
The key to playing against Alexey Shved is to be as physical with him as you can possibly get away with. He’s incredibly smooth with the ball when he has space to operate. He’s incredibly uncomfortable when you take away that smoothness with bumps, slaps, grabs, anything you can think of. If you violently chop him on a breakaway (like Jamal Tinsley did, tonight) don’t worry. Nobody on the Wolves will retaliate to protect their teammate. It’s cool.
Don’t let Shved dribble around without feeling you for most of the process. When Shved is guarding you, and you’re cutting baseline, just “sit down” under the hoop. You can seal him hard and probably get fouled or score an easy bucket. Dwyane Wade did it. Damien Wilkins did it. Hell, Gordon Hayward did it.
This coming June marks the twentieth anniversary of one of the biggest tragedies in NBA history. On June 7, 1993 a Volkswagon was speeding along Germany’s Autobahn when it encountered a truck that had crashed through the guard rails and was blocking traffic. Unable to stop or avoid a crash, the car hit the truck, causing serious injuries to the driver and backseat passenger. The front-seat passenger got the worst of it, flying through the front window. Drazen Petrovic, the six-time European Player of the Year, recently named All-NBA Third Team performer, and undoubtedly greatest basketball player in Croatian history, was dead at age 28.