Monthly Archives: November 2013

Reversal of Fortune? Wolves vs. Mavericks (The holiday dregs edition)

Dirk N. and his hat will be squaring off tonight against the Wolves in Dallas

Dirk N. and his hat will be squaring off tonight against the Wolves in Dallas

(Eds. Note: Andy G and Patrick J clearly don’t know what to do with themselves over a long weekend because they both wrote preview posts, unbeknownst to the other. Here’s part deux.)

The Timberwolves are in Dallas to take on Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks tonight at 7:30 CST. The Wolves have lost three straight. They’re now 8-9. After getting off to a quick 7-2 start, this the first time this season  the Wolves have been under .500.

‘Sota needs a reversal of fortune in a bad way. And by “fortune,” I mean “effort and execution.” They showed neither in Wednesday night’s home loss against Denver, a point that Rick Adelman lamented repeatedly in his terse post-game presser. Referring to the loss on the Wolves’ home court, Adelman  said,  “the players can’t expect the fans to pump them up. That’s backward. (The players) need to get the fans going.”

(Eds. Note: When you hear a coach emphatically describe how his team wasn’t ready to play and didn’t give the effort you expect from a group of professional athletes–his group of professional athletes–you immediately see the stark difference between a coach who has absolutely no concern about his job security and the majority who aren’t so lucky to have the same leash.)

It was clear that after three straight losses, Adelman has lost any patience with which he began the season for the Wolves’ propensity for unforced errors, lackadaisical defense, and their failure to do basic things–like, say, blocking out opposing bigs (and Andre Miller) on the defensive boards–for painfully long stretches in winnable games.

Worse than that, Adelman clearly knows he doesn’t have a magic bullet to use now that he needs one.

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Wolves-Mavs Preview: The “I found my old Michael Finley jersey” Edition

finleyfixed

Hey Wolves fans. I just got back from Thanksgiving in Zumbrota, Minnesota (yes that’s right, the original home of Jacksonville Jaguars coach, Gus Bradley.) As the lead picture shows, I was digging through some of my old prized possessions sitting in my parents’ storage. More on that below.

The Wolves are in Dallas today where tonight they face the Mavs (7:30 CST, FSN North, 830 WCCO Radio). Dallas is 10-7, slightly better than Minnesota’s 8-9, but they boast a home record of 8-1. That’s why I was surprised to see that the Wolves are currently two-point favorites in tonight’s game. I mean, the Wolves are 2-6 on the road and have lost 5 of their last 6 games. Even if they have extra days of rest, I expected Dallas to be favored. Digging deeper, I then noticed that the Mavs might be without starting point guard Jose Calderon, who sprained his ankle last night in Atlanta, in a game the Mavs lost despite leading 70-55 when Calderon left the game.

Through 17 games, the numbers show the Mavs to be a slightly net-positive (+0.9 per 100 possessions) team in the 31.1 minutes that Calderon registers, per game. This is because of how well their offense plays with him. With Jose running the show, the Mavs score 107.8 per 100, and allow 106.8. It’s an offensive game. When he’s off the court, the Mavs score 102.6 per 100, but allow a much-better 98.3. In pretty small sample size, then, the Mavs have been better with Calderon on the bench than with him on the floor playing. I tend to side with Vegas here in believing that rookies Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin will struggle to replace Calderon when faced with greater responsibility and starting-level competition. I guess we’ll find out tonight.

One last thing about the Mavs: Monta Ellis. He’s playing his best ball since the We Believe, pre-moped accident days. Credit probably goes to Rick Carlisle whose reputation for maximizing production from raw talent is well established. Check out Kirk Goldsberry’s Grantland piece for more about Monta’s early-season success. I should add that Ellis shot a combined 8 for 31 in his last two games, perhaps signaling some regression to the mean. If Calderon can’t go tonight, expect a more ball-dominant Monta to replace the missing offense initiation.

Okay, on to more important things like the other jerseys I found when I was home for the holiday. I wasn’t a huge jersey kid, but I found five of them that span from 5th Grade through sophomore year in college. I suppose it only makes sense to do this Jersey Power Rankings style, because all internet lists are to be power ranked.

Without further ado…

#5 – Jalen Rose, Michigan, Champion

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Is it time to press the panic button?

rickpanic

This is not how they wanted to enter the holiday. Having lost four of their past five games and with a brutal four-game stretch after Thanksgiving, the Timberwolves needed to win at home against the Denver Nuggets. Although Brian Shaw’s team came in riding a three-game winning streak (to say nothing of the 57 games they won last season, before significant off-season shakeups) and had already beaten the Wolves once this year, it was a game that Minnesota needed to win if it wanted to continue the early-season positivity giving rise to expectations of an overdue playoff berth.

As you probably already know, the Wolves did not win. In what was possibly the worst defensive performance of the season the Wolves lost 117-110 on the Target Center floor against a team that they’ll almost definitely need to be better than, in order to crack the Top 8 of the Western Conference. In the game’s early stages, Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler made shots. Some were contested better than others. But as the game went on, the Wolves defense softened up considerably, allowing a mixed bag of wide open threes and wide open layups and dunks. Denver ended the game 8 for 16 from downtown. In the fourth quarter, they didn’t have to rely on threes as they managed to get to the rim almost at will. Three consecutive crunchtime possessions ended with Denver dunks.

After the game, Adelman lamented the surprisingly-poor effort:

“I was just really disappointed with our effort — the first half especially. We just, defensively, we allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do. Everything we had on the board, they did. We gotta figure out what we’re gonna do from this point forward because you can’t defend like that. We can’t have the energy coming into a home game like that.”

“We were so passive. We have to get more aggressively physical if we’re gonna play in this league.”

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14 Points After a 14-Point Loss (PACERS 98, Wolves 84)

Well, that was frustrating. Even if we didn’t expect a win, it’s still frustrating to watch a game get out of hand down the stretch, and doubly so when shots won’t fall. Since it’s Monday and I don’t feel like spending too much time recapping an expected loss without much by way of riveting fourth-quarter theater, I’m doing this one point by point. Fourteen in all; one for each point of the game deficit.

1. The Pacers are really good. With tonight’s win they move to 13-1. If the Spurs beat the Pelicans (currently leading by 17 at half) Indiana will be tied for the league’s best record. They’re 8-0 at home. Indiana’s defensive rating is down to 90.3, which is also best in the league. That mark would also be way better than last year’s 96.6 which — oh by the way — was also best in the league. Indiana is crazy-good on D.

2. Minnesota’s offensive flow became disjointed almost immediately, when Ricky Rubio went to the bench at 7:30 in the first quarter with two fouls. With the exception of some Rubio-created layups in the third quarter, the offense was ugly throughout. The Wolves shot just 32.6 percent from the field. Combine that with the 19 turnovers and, well, let’s just say Indiana looked every bit as good as their defensive statistics suggest they are.

3. Corey Brewer had a nice first quarter and helped cut an early double-digit deficit to just 4 points by period’s end. After that, he was an absolute train wreck, finishing with 6 turnovers and a whole lotta missed shots. Brew was out of control for most of this game.

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Why the Wolves Will Struggle against the Pacers

Pacers star Lance Stephenson was a schoolboy phenom at Brooklyn's Lincoln High School

Pacers star Lance Stephenson was a schoolboy phenom at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School

Hi Folks, I’ve been traveling for the last week, unable to post but catching Wolves basketball on my laptop when I could.

Lots of ups and downs, from the disappointment of the four-point loss in Washington to letting off some steam against KG & the Brooklyn Nyets to a disappointing 112-101 loss at Houston on Saturday night against a Rockets team that was down one James Harden.

The inconsistent play is more a function of stretches of bad Wolves basketball than it is of running into the wrong team at the wrong time. The Wolves struggle to take and keep leads, as was particularly evident in the loss to Washington, with the exception being when they get out to giant first-half leads, which won’t be the case very often against the kinds of teams we’ll need to beat if we make the playoffs.

One team the Wolves are unlikely to get out to a big lead against is the Indiana Pacers, who host them tonight at Conseco Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 7 P.M. Eastern. You can see the game on League Pass.

The 12-1 Pacers are undefeated at Conseco Bankers Life  this season, and are 19-4 all-time when playing ‘Sota in their gym. The Pacers have two of the best defenders in the NBA in Paul George and Roy Hibbert. With his canny feel for the game and his long arms, George guards the wing like a young Scottie Pippen. Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in blocked shots and is the kind of rim protector Wolves fans dream Gorgui Dieng might someday become. Collectively, the Pacers currently allow the fewest points per game of any team in the NBA at 87.6 and hold opponents to a stingy 39.7 field goal percentage.

Lance Stephenson

A sign that everything is clicking in Indiana? Things are so good in Indiana right now that respected columnists have begun to wonder whether the Pacers will be able to afford Lance Stephenson, formerly the punchline of so many sordid jokes.

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Sunday Post: Weekend Split, Superstars Injured & How Opponents are (and are not) Scoring

Weekend Split: A Friday Win & Saturday Loss

The Timberwolves won on Friday against the Nets and lost on Saturday against the Rockets, continuing an early season trend of winning at home and losing on the road. (The Wolves are currently 6-2 at home and 2-5 on the road.) The weekend split also reinforced a growing body of evidence suggesting that the Wolves will end the season very close to the cut line of Western Conference Playoffs inclusion. As things stand, the Grizzlies are 8th in the West; the Wolves 9th.

Friday’s game seems like a great win because the Wolves won by 30 points against a team that had Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett playing. But it wasn’t a great win as much as it was a terrible loss by the Nets who turned in such an embarrassingly unprofessional effort. Any of the league’s other 28 teams would’ve defeated Brooklyn on Friday.

Saturday’s game seems like a bad loss because Houston was without superstar guard James Harden, yet controlled the game from start to finish. There weren’t many moments when a Wolves win seemed likely, if even possible. But it wasn’t a bad loss as much as a combination of a “schedule loss” (The Rockets were at home and hadn’t played since Wednesday. The Wolves played Friday and obviously had to travel.) and an unlucky night to play against reserve guard, Aaron Brooks. He had barely seen the floor this season, but the Harden injury gave him a rare chance. Brooks made the most of it with 26 points in 25 minutes. He was 6-7 from downtown. If Brooks plays his usual game — whatever that is exactly — the Rockets may still have won, but the game would have been competitive.

Friday Injuries

Panic spread around the NBA world on Friday night when three marquee players went down with scary injuries. In a matter of minutes, my Twitter feed announced a(nother) possible ACL tear for former MVP Derrick Rose, a non-contact knee injury for Defense Player of the Year Marc Gasol, and a hamstring injury “with a pop sound” to Warriors linchpin Andre Iguodala. If every injury realized its worst-case potential, the 2013-14 season would be damaged beyond comprehension. In the case of Rose and Gasol, they are unquestionably the best players on their teams that are gunning for a title in pure “win now” mode. Iggy is new to the Warriors, but his defensive chops and impeccable fit with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have given the Dubs a title-contending look that doubles as the league’s most watchable brand of ball.

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Mismatch (WOLVES 111, Nets 81)

There isn’t much to say about last night’s game other than the Nets — literally — did not look like an NBA team. The Wolves played fine, but were hardly at their best, yet still led by 16 after 1, 20 after 2, and 32 after 3. Nobody aside from maybe Corey Brewer had a hot night by their standards. Ricky made 2 of 3 from downtown, and that is great to see, but the game had a major front-running feel to it where there wasn’t a worry in the world when anybody’s shot went up.

I don’t want to waste my time or yours with too much detail about a game where one team didn’t show up to play. The Nets better hope that the returns of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have a dramatic effect. Jason Kidd’s job might be in jeopardy just one month into his coaching career.

Some scary injury news around the league. I haven’t had a chance to read the stories — and I think the MRIs and whatnot have yet to come back with definitive results — but it sounds like the NBA might be once again without Derrick Rose. Marc Gasol and Andre Iguodala might be out, too. More to come on all this when we have better information.

Always good to get a win, even when the opponent isn’t ready to play.

Season Record: 8-6

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