PG: Ricky Rubio vs. Steve Nash: Before we knew Ricky, we thought he’d be something like Nash minus the jumper. Turns out that the only things Rubio has in common with Nash are his skin color and uncanny court vision & passing skills. Nash is a great scorer and weak defender; Ricky’s a poor scorer and great defender.
SG: Luke Ridnour vs. Kobe Bryant: It’s no fun leading half the stuff I write with “How can they expect Luke to match up with [insert big, physical shooting guard’s name here]?” But that’s the reality. Ben McLemore would be nice, but he plays for Kansas. Here’s hoping Adelman does the sensible thing and has Ridnour guard Nash and Rubio guard Bryant. In any case:
SF: Mickael Gelabale vs. Metta World Peace: This physical mismatch is almost as daunting as the potential Luke-Kobe one. I’m starting to doubt Kirilenko is going to get right again this season; it’s a shame, as he’s certainly been our best player when healthy. If he were matching up against World Peace tonight, the potential for physical harm to be done would have been high. And unlike Gelabale’s case, it’s unclear whether who would be the harmer(!) and who’d be the harmed. Advantage: LAL
PF: Derrick Williams vs. EARL CLARK: Williams is still maddening, but at least he’s starting to do stuff. It’s amusing (and kinda sad) how surprised even he looks when he does something good. So that’s the baseline we’re gauging D-Thrill from. That said, Pau Gasol is out. And Earl Clark stinks. For the Wolves, no Gasol = no worries. Advantage: Wolves
C: Pek vs. D12: Tough call. Pek may be the most likable player in the League; Howard may be the least. Each is a unique physical specimen but in a tototally different way. (Pek sort of has the Rocky from Rocky IV thing going to D12’s Drago.) I’m an admitted D12 hater, so I’ll say:
Advantage: Wolves. (If for no other reason, agree with me because of D12’s ManSpanx.)
Predicted outcome: Lakers by 13
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Last night was one of those when despite having paid for a cable subscription, an NBA League Pass subscription, and even Timberwolves season tickets, I was unable to watch the Timberwolves game. Comcast was not showing the game on “FSN Plus,” as was advertised. That is the bad news.
The good news is that by all accounts I missed one of the ugliest games of the season, with two struggling teams trading missed shots for turnovers. The score was 47-33, Advantage Suns, at the half. The Wolves clawed back and forced overtime, eventually missing two buzzer-beater shots, either of which would’ve won the game. (One fadeaway jumper by Ricky, another semi-contested layup by Shved.) The Wolves shot 34.4 percent from the floor. If you take out with Williams and Pekovic front line (combined 39 points) the Wolves shot 27 percent from the floor. Phoenix committed 20 turnovers and is a bad team. So I don’t feel all bad about missing this one. I took the opportunity to listen to the 2nd Half on the Wolves radio feed that League Pass makes available for blacked out games. Alan Horton does a great job.
Anyway, that’s all I can really say about the game, so I’ll continue my world famous Breaks Running Diary.
In a rare matinee, the Wolves lost by one point to the playoffs-bound Warriors. After a near-perfect first quarter of play, things became more difficult. Golden State got serious, beginning with Jarrett Jack nearly getting ejected for JACKING Greg Stiemsma in the chest, after a whistle. (What do these people have against Stiemer?) Golden State got serious, the game got close, and a Luke Ridnour runner barely missed with one second left, leaving the Wolves one point short.
1. Ricky Rubio flirted with a quadruple double.
Ricky had 16 points (10-11 free throws) 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 6 steals. I guess if we throw in his 6 turnovers he wasn’t too far from a QUINT DUB. Rubio was incredible on defense in this game, AGGRESSIVELY hunting steals and getting out in transition where he did stuff like throw passes between his legs to Pekovic. He’s really getting into a groove.
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.
It was Business Time tonight. The Wolves were coming off of All-Star Break with excuses limited to the absences of Kevin Love and Chase Budinger. Ehh, I guess that’s my way of saying Andrei Kirilenko was back. Oh, and the opponent, Philadelphia, was as usual without their new, yet-to-play center, Andrew Bynum. The Sixers aren’t playoff bound. They aren’t that good. So yeah. It was Business Time. And the Wolves took care of business.
I don’t mean to skirt my game wrapping duties, but this’ll be brief. There just isn’t a whole lot that we don’t know about this ’12-13 group. Nik Pekovic? A beast. 27 points, 18 rebounds, and by far the game’s MVP. (PAY THE MAN.) Kirilenko was phenomenal on defense. Evan Turner embarrassed himself trying to take AK47 off the dribble. Pockets were picked. Ricky drew fouls. He shot 12 free throws compared to just 4 field goals. Scoring efficiency numb#rs will forever hide the flaws in Rubio’s stroke. He was off with his passing tonight, but on the whole played a nice game. (11 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 3 steals).
Jrue Holiday and the Philadelphia 76ers come to Target Center tonight
Tonight it’s back to the grind. The Philadelphia 76ers come to town for a 7 PM (FSN) tilt at Target Center.
The 76ers are 22-29 on the season, 6-16 on the road. If the season ended today, the Sixers would be the 9th seed in the East. They’re sniffing the playoffs. Every game matters.
The Wolves are 19-31, and 12-13 at home. They’ve lost 16 of their last 19. The playoffs are pipe dream, but the Wolves are still trying to win now – no one’s calling in the tanks yet. A deal before Thursday’s trade deadline does not appear imminent. But you never put it past Wolves POBO David Kahn to find a way to move pieces. (We floated this on Twitter earlier today for fun, and it provoked some, errrm, “strong” reactions (here, here, here.)
What does this mean for tonight’s game? We’re not looking at a Battle of the Titans, but we are looking at a couple of relatively evenly-matched teams. Both teams have stuff to prove. It’s a winnable game. It will be fun.
“I try to stay away from that, and the reason is: I would never ask a player to play against a ghost; past, present, or future. We could only play against the guy that showed up while we were playing.”
Not too long ago, we chronicled Rashad McCants’ comeback to pro hoops with the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League team, the Texas Legends. So quiet is kept that it was only yesterday that I learned Shad had been “deactivated” by Texas on February 5th. [Eds note: Even an ADVANCED Google search fails to provide me with a reason for Shad’s DEACTIVATION. If anyone can shed light, please do so in the comments!]
That didn’t take long. They hardly knew ya, Shad.
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Rubio damn near went Ice Cube tonight, messin’ around and almost getting a triple double. He had 18 points (12-13 free throws) 9 rebounds and 10 assists. He had 4 steals and even 1 block. Just 2 turnovers. The Wolves have formed a bad habit of falling behind in games. This version without Love and Kirilenko does, anyway. A little silver lining is how Ricky continues to scratch and claw, never surrurending defeat no matter the point spread. His TENACIOUS D has been a catalyst for many almost-miraculous comebacks in recent weeks, including tonight’s game. He was pretty damn good in this game.
“We have to keep working. We know that we believe in us, and we have to keep believing.”
5 quick takeaways from tonight’s win:
1 – Hot Hand Luke
Luke Ridnour continued his hot shooting of late. He hit his patented runners, and his patented dribble baseline 15-footers. In all, he had 21 points on 9-14 shooting. Luke is shooting 59% over his last five games. He was big when it mattered most tonight, scoring 13 in the 4th Quarter including a dagger trey with 1:43 to play.
Tonight the Wolves are in Cleveland to take on Kyrie Lee Irving and his Cleveland Cavaliers (6PM CST, FSN, 830-AM). Hands down, Kyrie Irving has the best handle, and possibly the coolest offensive repertoire in the NBA. That’s the need-to-know. Rinse, repeat, enjoy.
This was a blowout. Blowouts are difficult to analyze. It’s difficult to bring myself to write about it, and it’s difficult to put stats in the proper perspective when most of them meant nothing. The first quarter was close, mostly because the Wolves pounded the glass to rebound their own misses. When that stopped working, the glass-crashing led to Memphis points a plenty in transition. The Grizz won the middle quarters by a combined 55 to 36. Aside from in transition defense–primary or secondary–the Wolves kept fighting and managed to cut the deficit to 11 with 7:33 to go. But that happens in blowouts, and it didn’t matter. The Grizz put their starters back in and closed er down. It was a blowout.
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?
There is a long list of reasons why NBA basketball is The Greatest Game. It has the best athletes and viewing experience, the coolest personalities and fans, the most thoughtful writers, and the funniest Twitter accounts. It is culturally and ethnically diverse. It is relatively safe from bad injuries.
The NBA is also, in my super-biased opinion, the most thought-provoking sport. Its genius rulebook created tensions between core concepts like size and speed, athleticism and skill, aggression and control, and intellect and instincts. Its playing venue allows close observation of the actions and reactions. It’s all pretty fucking brilliant.
But the NBA faces a real threat that it will become uninteresting. Or less interesting, anyway. Data collection and analysis becomes more thorough and sophisticated by the day. We’re learning what works best, what works worst, and everything in between. In today’s rules, the tenets include high ball screen offense, mobile pick-and-roll defenders, four out/one in, three-pointers & layups, two-for-one’s, Hack-A-[Raw Young Center X/Y/Z], and some others.
The Knicks are in town tonight for a 7 PM CST tilt against the Wolves. By way of preview, a few things:
The psychology of streaking: It’s time to talk about streaking, and the weird effects it can have on people. No, not that kind of streaking. I’m talking about the kind where someone does something many times consecutively. In this case,the Knicks have won 15 of the last 16 against the Wolves. They’ve basically been streaking against the Wolves. I hate streaks like that, because they play into teams’ psychology, even if the players won’t admit it. Continue reading →
[In case you haven’t noticed, the season has hit a little bit of a rut. For the time being, I’ll follow up weeknight/work night games with 5 quick take aways. There just isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said…]
1. Tony Parker teaches point guard class.
Some advanced stats for you:
58, 60, 57, 59, 63, 58, 56, 54, 50, 61.
Those are the regular season win totals of Tony Parker’s first ten seasons in the NBA. In his eleventh season, the Spurs went 50-16. This season, his twelfth, they’re on pace to win 64 games and lose 18.
Tonight the Spurs rested Parker’s fellow Hall of Famers to be, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. So Parker just did more. He dribbled more, shot more, passed more. Cared more. When things were slipping he gave Danny Green an icy stare that would make Kobe Bryant envious. He then helped set up Green for about a dozen open treys to get him going. It worked. Parker was everything tonight with a 31/8/5 stat line and dominant, classic Parker performance. There isn’t a better point guard in the world, if winning is the goal.
The Wolves closed out the final 6 minutes 15 seconds of last night’s game on a 24-9 run. Unfortunately this 15-point swing was 2 shy of what was needed to catch the Blazers on a night they dominated 3.5 quarters of action. In that final stretch, Ricky Rubio dazzled the crowd with 7 assists (14 for the game) and his patented pesky defense that frustrated Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews, who had both played great up to that point. Dante Cunningham finished most of those assists, finishing the game with a career-high 23 points. 17 of those came in the 4th Quarter. Unfortunately, Dante’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer fell short and the Wolves lost another close one.
The bad news is that I was not able to catch last night’s game against the Hornets, so my understanding of it is limited to the stats and the highlights.
The good news is that the game appears to have been — for all intents and purposes — defined by highlights. Minnesota blew the Hornets out from start to finish. The Wolves led by 19 after the 1st Quarter and it only got worse after that. Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved, and J.J. Barea each posted impressive per-minute assists numbers. Dante Cunningham made all 9 shots that he attempted. Fun was had against an undermanned Hornets team without Eric Gordon.
Look for more detail after tomorrow night’s Blazers tilt; a game I’ll be attending. I should have more to say after that one. Glad we got a win last night.
Oh, and before I go, let’s all cheer this guy on in tonight’s Super Bowl:
Season Record: 18-26
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