Monthly Archives: January 2014

Five Friday Questions

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1. Is Gorgui Dieng an exaggerated plus on defense, and exaggerated minus on offense?

After learning the nature and extent of the Pekovic injury, I wrote a little bit about Gorgui Dieng. Specifically, I wrote about the question marks surrounding the Timberwolves offense when Gorgui takes the floor, and also the fact that he blocks a lot of shots and crashes the boards.

Well, in 6.4 meaningful minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans, he continued his reputation. With Gorgui on the floor, the defense was really good and the offense was really bad. In a game like tomorrow’s versus Memphis, maybe he will fit right in?

I wonder how Adelman feels about muddying the game up in the paint and trying to win in the low 90s. Gorgui seems like a one-way player in the extreme sense.

2. Now that he’s finally playing well, why is Alexey Shved removed from the rotation?

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Pek Goes Too

All-Star reserves are announced tonight on TNT.

The Timberwolves made a super funny video to promote Nikola Pekovic, a candidate for one of the slots.

They get extra points for including some Punch-Drunk Wolves art at the 0:25 mark.

Great stuff, and good luck to Pek.

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A note about the Pekovic injury

Just a quick note about the unfortunate news that Nikola Pekovic has right ankle bursitis and will miss at least 7 to 10 days before he is re-evaluated. (Given the nature of this injury — apparently a gradual onset of symptoms rather than a simple sprain — he’ll probably be out at least a couple of weeks.)

Pek will obviously be missed. Continue reading

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Finding Defense in Chicago (Wolves 95, BULLS 86)

chicagostyle

That was an unusual Timberwolves game.

They won, but that’s not the weird part. It happens half the time, after all. The strange thing about tonight’s win over the Chicago Bulls was how the Wolves won.

They scored 95 points, which doesn’t seem so odd until you consider that the Wolves average 114.1 points per game in wins (a stat that includes tonight’s game bringing it down). They won by 9, which is just a titch more than half of their average victory margin of 17.0 (again, including this game). The Wolves are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding and second-chance points teams, but tonight they pulled down only 5 boards on their own end.

Most importantly, the game’s outcome seemed to turn when the Wolves upped their defensive intensity.

That never happens.

Let’s quickly rewind to the beginning of the game.

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Bull Fight (The Wolves-Bulls Edition)

It is Nikola Pekovic's job - it's his vocation - to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah's from opposing centers' faces.

It is Nikola Pekovic’s job – it’s his vocation – to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah’s from opposing centers’ faces.

Following a disappointing loss in Portland on Saturday evening, the Wolves (21-22) continue their four-game road trip tonight in Chicago (22-21). Tip is at 7:00 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on NBATV and heard on WCCO 830.

Derrick Rose won’t be walking through that door. (Eds. Note: He might limp to that bench, I’m not sure. Key thing is, he isn’t playing tonight or for a long time.) Neither will Luol Deng, or even Kirk Hinrich.

But beating the Bulls tonight will require the Wolves  to play top-level basketball. The Wolves haven’t beaten the Bulls in a very long time. Last season, Chicago swept the season series against the Wolves for the fourth straight year. They’ve now won seven straight against Minnesota.

And despite being decimated by injuries, the Bulls are perhaps the NBA’s hottest team that no one really cares about.

The Bulls are tied for the League lead in January wins so far, going 10-3 in 2014. They’re 8-3 since trading  Luol Deng earlier this month in what appeared a clear towel-throwing move.

But the Bulls keep winning. Because Tom Thibodeau.

Remember when I said Derrick Rose, Lu Deng, and Kirk Hinrich won’t be walking through that door? That doesn’t  matter. Thibs keeps the engine running on overdrive no matter what lineup he can put on the floor.

A few things stand out for tonight’s game.

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Blazin’ (The Wolves-Trailblazers Rivalries Edition)

Wolves fans will get their first look at Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum in tonight's game at Portland.

Wolves fans will get their first look at Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum in tonight’s game at Portland.

Tonight the Wolves face the Portland Trailblazers in the City of Roses. Tip is at 9:00 P.M CST. You can see it on NBATV.

It’s set to be a *very* interesting game. Find out why below the fold.

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A Meaningful Win (Wolves 121, WARRIORS 120)

There was a game a couple of years ago against the Spurs. It was at home. It was early in the lockout-shortened season on a Friday night. I remember watching it at a sports bar after work, with some friends. We were excited about Ricky Rubio. He was just a rookie and the most popular new player in the league. The Wolves began the season surprisingly competitive, playing almost-.500 ball that stood in stark contrast to the seasons of losing that we had grown accustomed to. But it was too early, and there were too many question marks to know if it was just a lucky start, or whether these winning ways had actual lasting power.

And a strange thing happened.

The Timberwolves won.

They beat the Spurs.

It wasn’t a fluke or anything. And that was the weird part. The Wolves just played well and — for one night — looked like a better team than the world-class San Antonio Spurs.

Fans of other teams — normal teams — wouldn’t understand. The Wolves don’t do that. Not when KG doesn’t play, anyway. Sure, they might beat a good team every now and then, but they never look like the better team. It never feels that legitimate.

It never feels that good.

I was thinking about that game yesterday afternoon, and how it probably marks the highest point of confidence I’ve had in the Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett was traded. Last season’s Thursday TNT win over the Thunder was great, but something about having Ricky Rubio hobbling off the bench made it seem a little bit less meaningful. When Rubio and Kevin Love led their new team to a win over Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, it felt like an arrival; the beginning of something incredible.

My thought was that a road win over the Warriors — a team that some smart people consider a title contender — might evoke feelings similar to the ones that followed that Spurs victory; a moment that feels like an eternity ago when you think about everything that’s happened since:

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The Love-Saunders Friendship: How much does it matter?

“[Michael] Jordan was skilled at verbal blood sport; no one in the league was better at zinging other people. He seemed to know how much to bait [Bulls general manager Jerry] Krause and, when there were danger signals, just when to back off. Jordan might have his own raging emotions, but he was a master at controlling them. He was mature and very tough mentally, and he had a certain high, professional coldness that allowed him to turn on his emotions as he so chose and to use his rage as an instrument. If anything, no one in the league was more skilled at creating artificial rage when needed.

Pippen was different. His emotions were always more raw and closer to the surface, and he had far less control over them. When he got into a situation like this, especially when he had been drinking, he was not nearly as good as Jordan at knowing when to let go. As Jordan began the baiting on the bus, Pippen took it over, berating Krause–When are you going to stop taking credit for drafting me and for my career?–then loudly and angrily demanding that the Bulls either sign him to a new contact or trade him. None of it was being done lightly, and Pippen became louder and angrier on the ride. It was the voice of anger and alcohol. Finally, [Phil] Jackson held up a bottle of beer, as if to tell him that he had been drinking too much and to stop.”

–Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam

Just about everybody was happy when David Kahn was fired was not retained as Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. Kahn made a lot of mistakes. He blew draft choices. He prioritized potential ahead of realized talent (to an unusually high degree). He didn’t know when to shut up to the press (which was awesome for fans, but bad for his team’s reputation, particularly in light of its win/loss record and standing in the league).

But when Kahn was let go, his flaw that fans focused most on was his cancerous relationship with Timberwolves star, Kevin Love. The two got off on a rocky start when Kahn would tell people that Love was the third or fourth best player on a championship team. There are rumors that Kahn was considering trading Love. And most famously, the Timberwolves refused to offer Love a five-year maximum contract; the decision which affects the team now as it might be forced into trading Love at this coming deadline, if the playoffs don’t seem realistic and a message is sent — whether by Love, his agent, or someone else in the know — that he is not going to re-sign with the Timberwolves in 2015. Even though Glen Taylor was apparently the maker of that decision, Kahn was the basketball boss and it seems highly unlikely that his input was not a key factor. When Kahn handed Love a four-year contract — literally, handed it to him — Love crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

So with that background, Flip Saunders was to be a savior. Saunders is a good old boy in a state that treasures Good Old Boys. He might not value advanced stats — they are just “information confirmation,” after all — but the one thing we knew he would get right is Kevin Love.

And to his credit, Saunders seems to be having success in making friends with Love. In his interview with Britt Robson of MinnPost, he lauded Love’s commitment to the organization. He said that they have lunch all the time. He said that Love really does like it here.

I threw out a question on Twitter last night to gauge fan opinions on this issue: Continue reading

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Caveats, Praise, Concern & Fun Ahead

Some caveats before praising the Timberwolves before acknowledging some (minor?) causes for concern before looking ahead to an exciting weekend of matchups.

Caveats

The Jazz are bad.

It’s nice to see the Wolves win any game, let alone one on the road that begins a winning streak. But Utah is really bad and tonight’s was a game that every fan expected the team to come away from victorious.

You could counter and say that Utah started the season horribly (1-14) and had played .500 ball over their past 26 games before the Wolves home and home.

And you’d be right.

But you’d also be ignoring the significance of Gordon Hayward’s absence from Saturday’s game (he’s their best offensive player) and Derrick Favors’ absence from tonight’s game (he’s their best interior defender).

These were games that the Wolves were supposed to win.

Timberwolves Praise

And they did win!

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SLC Punk’d (The Curse of Salt Lake City Edition)

The Wolves have not won a game in Salt Lake City since 2009.

The Wolves have not won a game in Salt Lake City since 2009.

After rolling over the Utah Jazz (14-28) 98-72 at home on Saturday, the Timberwolves (19-21) are in Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz in the second game of a rare home-and-home involving the Wolves.

On Friday, everything that could’ve gone right did. They got off to a 9-0 start, and led by as many as 36 at one point. Nikola Pekovic carved up Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and any other challengers on Utah’s front line en route to 27 points and a season-high 14 rebounds in just 29 minutes; Good Kevin Martin came to play, tallying 20 points; and Kevin Love had 18 and 13, totals that would’ve been higher had the Wolves needed him to play more minutes. (He played 29.)

On the Jazz side, what was already arguably the worst team in the NBA was without its best player, Gordon Hayward, and the team had a historically-bad shooting night, going a franchise-worst 28.8 percent (21 of 73). With 18 points, Alec Burks was the lone Jazz player in double-figures. For one night at least, the Wolves quieted some of the naysayers who’ve loudly criticized their decision not to select Trey Burke with the ninth pick in last summer’s draft. Ricky Rubio clearly outclassed Burke on Saturday night, holding the rookie to 9 points–almost five below his season average–on 2-10 from the field and two assists. Burke also had three turnovers.

Tonight’s game in Utah figures to be a more difficult win for the Wolves than was Saturday’s laugher for two reasons: Gordon Hayward and the Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena.

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The past month of play

As I’m sure you already know, the Timberwolves beat the Jazz on Saturday. That game was played at Target Center. It was not close. The blowout allowed Coach Adelman to play his first round picks, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, for the final six minutes of the game. (Gorgui actually played a little bit in the first half, too.) Adelman was in a good mood after the game. When his presser closed with some jokes about a ridiculous lob pass Dieng threw from beyond the halfcourt line, it seemed as if Rick wanted to hang out for a while. Suffice it to say, it was a happier mood than the one that followed Wednesday’s loss to the Kings.

The Wolves and Jazz match up again on Tuesday. This one will be in Utah and marks the beginning of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Portland, Oakland/Golden State, and Chicago. As the Wolves are currently 2 games below .500 and 4 games out of the playoffs, they can’t afford a losing streak. Ideally they win at Utah and Chicago — where Luol Deng no longer plays and Derrick Rose is not in uniform — and steal one of the two difficult games on the West Coast. A 3-1 road trip would get the team back to .500 with some momentum after the first impressive win (whether it come at the Rose Garden or Oracle) in ages.

A few points about the recent play of the Wolves during the stretch of games I alluded to in my last post (everything since the 12/18/13 win over Portland at Target Center, which was about one month ago):

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On the Brink

onthebrink

The problem has less to do with where we are than where it appears we are headed.

With last night’s loss the Timberwolves are three games below .500 for the first time all season. Technically, they are only four games out of the playoff picture; this, and we have not even reached the season’s halfway point. It is possible that the Wolves will make a trade or figure something out with the playing rotation and find themselves in the conference’s top eight.

But the way things are going, that just seems very unlikely.

The list of problems is long:

Ricky Rubio is struggling in halfcourt offense, particularly late in close games. He is frustrated. Rick Adelman has been sitting Rubio out of recent fourth quarters. This is unpopular with fans and (so far) has not translated into wins. But it might be a necessary strategy in the short term, while Ricky continues to work on his shooting and scoring skills.

Kevin Martin no longer seems like a dynamic scorer. And as we already knew when he came here, he is a minus defender.

Corey Brewer can’t dribble or shoot, and is not a reliable one-on-one defender. He probably won’t be starting for much longer. Brewer’s ideal NBA role of spark-plug off the bench might be the only one he can execute competently. It would not surprise me if Chase Budinger (better scorer) or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (better defender) is in tonight’s starting lineup instead of Brewer.

Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are the backbone of the team and can be counted on for consistent production of points and rebounds. Love’s game continues to expand and he now creates scoring opportunities with clever passing from the high post. But neither he nor Pek has the physical capability to turn a losing game around with defensive dominance. Basically, the team needs to score at a very high rate to contend with good teams. And they haven’t been able to do that as often as we all would like.

As these team weaknesses have surfaced, the losses have piled up and the Wolves have struggled to beat any decent teams. Since the home win over the Blazers (who were exhausted and on the tail end of a road trip) on December 18, the Wolves wins have come at home against the Wizards, Pelicans and Bobcats, and on the road against the Bucks and Sixers. In that same month-long period the team lost games to the Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Thunder, Suns, Spurs, Kings and Raptors.

Yeah.

The season is now on a brink of sorts and not only with respect to making the playoffs.

Fans are beginning to question Coach Adelman. Flip Saunders, Adelman’s boss and this franchise’s most successful coach in history, might be doing the same thing. (For what it’s worth, Punch-Drunk Wolves is firmly entrenched in Adelman’s camp. Simply put, he’s an awesome coach and any change would be a downgrade. My only concern, sometimes, is that he doesn’t seem as intense or demanding as a developing team that struggles with focus might need. But that’s a relatively small point — he’s dealing with professionals, after all — and I’m not even sure if it’s true.) Local sports writers are blasting Ricky Rubio as another bust in a long line of draft mistakes. (Eds note: that column ignores that defense is a part of basketball. So there is that.) Kevin Love is a free agent in 1.5 seasons and Saunders will be tempted with big offers before next month’s trade deadline. The 2014 Draft is deep with high-end talent and we are a losing streak or two away from sliding some attention away from the game-to-game grind of the Wolves season and toward Chad Ford Insider posts about Kansas and Kentucky players. One can imagine a scenario where Love is traded for a young player and draft picks, Adelman promptly retires, and Saunders coaches a team that suddenly has Shabazz Muhammad in the regular playing rotation.

Those are some of the stakes as we head into consecutive games against the Utah Jazz. Tonight’s matchup is at Target Center. Tuesday’s is in Utah. It’s not hyperbole to call these “must win” games. Especially tonight’s. The Jazz, despite having some intriguing young players, are not good. They’re really bad, actually. Last place in the West.

Hey, if nothing else, the Timberwolves are never boring.

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The Raptors’ Home Dominance Against the Timberwolves: A Trend That Needs to End

The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.

The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.

The Timberwolves (18-20) are in Toronto to play the Raptors (19-18) tonight at 6 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or NBA League Pass or heard on WCCO 830 AM.  The Air Canada Centre (ANGLO SPELLING ALERT!) has been a house of doom for the Wolves: Minnesota has lost its last nine games in Toronto.

Being unable to beat Toronto on its home floor is a trend that needs to end. Coming off of a bad loss against Sacramento on Wednesday at home, the Wolves need a win in a bad way. Defeating the Raptors on their home floor would help Minnesota claw back toward .500 and could help the Wolves exorcise their Air Canada Centre demons.

But getting that win will not be easy. Toronto has a better record than the Wolves do. (Eds. Note:Caveat emptor: They play in the Eastern Conference.)  They’re tough at home, having won a season-high five straight home games (Dec. 28 – Jan. 13), something they haven’t done since 2010. All around the League, the question is, “Are the Raptors for real?”

In short, there’s a lot to like about what’s happening in Toronto.

Trading Rudy Gay: Addition by Subtraction?

The Raptors have hit their stride since trading Rudy Gay, who tortured the Timberwolves en route to 33 points in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento. Toronto was 7-12 before the trade. Since the trade, the Raps have gone 12-5.

Rudy Gay and his offensive inefficiency have been the punchline of so many (advanced!) analytics jokes over the last several years, that the facts only crowd could only smugly sneer and say “I told you so” when the Raptors improved after trading Gay on December 9th. And unsurprisingly, Toronto’s efficiency stats have improved since Gay’s departure. Sean Highkin notes:

With Gay, Toronto had a net efficiency of -0.3, scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions while giving up 101.7. Since the Gay deal, that mark has jumped into the black, sitting at 6.3. The team is scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to just 97.6.

With Gay on the roster, the Raptors had the bulk of their possessions used by two players, Gay and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has still put up a team-high 28.7% usage rate since the Gay trade, but the rest of the team’s possessions are being distributed more evenly. Center Jonas Valanciunas has taken on a bigger role in Toronto’s offense, and his play contributions to the team during their recent hot streak have been vital.

Highkin notes that Valanciunas has not been the most significant beneficiary of the Gay trade. High-flying guard Terrence Ross has:

The main beneficiary of Gay’s absence on the Raptors has been second-year guard Terrence Ross, who has seen his playing time skyrocket. He was playing 18.9 minutes in the first 19 games of the season, and that number has jumped to 30.2 minutes a game since the Gay trade. His production has spiked as well since being given the opportunity to play, especially from beyond the arc. Before the trade, he was shooting 34.5% on 2.9 three-point attempts a game; since the trade, he’s shot three more times from long range a game (5.9 attempts) and his efficiency has ballooned to 46.1%.

This is a very important trend for the Raptors. Ross has a high ceiling, but he showed few signs that he would reach it last season. Now, with minutes freed up, Ross is again a player to watch–and not only for his *ridiculous* dunks, which are worth marveling at:

There’s much more on the Raptors’ trajectory since the Rudy Gay trade here.

Other Jottings

A few other Raptor-related notes in the run-up to game time:

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Notes on a Disaster

The Wolves lost to the Kings last night. At home. When Sacramento was on a back-to-back and the Wolves were rested.

It might be the team’s worst loss of the season.

Some notes about the game and other issues with the team:

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Kings vs. Wolves (The Run DMC Edition)

pekovic-cousins1

I’m traveling on business, and have to make this short.

The Timberwolves (18-19) host the Sacramento Kings (13-23) tonight at 7:00 pm CT. You can see and hear the game at the usual places, FSN and WCCO 830-AM, respectively.

A few notes of interest:

  • Pekovic-Cousins Grudge Match: Two of the best (and biggest) centers in the NBA go head-to-head tonight in what looks to be the game’s marquee matchup. Cousins is having a monster year, ranking among the NBA’s top 10 in both points (23.5) and rebounds (11.6) per game, which puts him in a strong position to make this season’s All-Star game. Pek has arguably been the Wolves’ best player in recent games, beasting his way to 23 and 10 on 55% shooting and over 5 offensive rebounds over his last dozen games.  All I can say about their head-to-head matchup is by way of a public service announcement: Any time Nikola Pekovic and DeMarcus Cousins are set to go to war, hide your women and children.

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Cold Kevins (SPURS 104, Wolves 86)

Losing to the Spurs in San Antonio isn’t a cause for alarm. They remain the class of the conference, significantly ahead of our developing Timberpups. However, tonight’s game was a little bit more winnable than the usual matchup with Team Popovich. The Spurs were without starting center Tiago Splitter and all-time great sixth man Manu Ginobili. Danny Green, the reliable three-and-D wing, injured his finger and did not play in the second half.

So with those opponent injuries taken into consideration, along with the Wolves unusually healthy state, (knocks on all of the wood) an 18-point loss is a bit disappointing.

The reason for the one-sided loss was clear: Kevin Martin and Kevin Love had off nights.

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Shabazz Muhammad in the D-League: A Preliminary Scouting Report

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad has now played his first three D-League games. Assigned to the Iowa Energy, Muhammad participated in the D-League Showcase this week, helping the Energy to two wins (box scores here and here). Muhammad and the Energy played again on Saturday night, losing 124-121 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (box score here).

The excellent D-League blog Ridiculous Upside provided some timely analysis of Shabazz’s performance in the Showcase:

Muhammad only played a total of 48 minutes in his two D-League games this week, but he scored 46 points on 62.5 percent shooting and pulled down 18 rebounds. He’s done a fantastic job on the glass and has been too much to handle for opposing teams around the basket and on the fast-break, scoring 13 of his 23 points per game on second-chance opportunities or in the open-court. He’s also played with tons of energy, which has been a great fit in the Energy’s high octane offense. Obviously there were a few little issues here and there, but he’s had a great stint with Iowa and has clearly been a man on a mission.

The piece is worth reading in full.

Scouting Report

I watched most of Muhammad’s two games in the Showcase. I wasn’t able to watch last night’s game, but it appears that he continued what he started in the Showcase, scoring 26 points and collecting 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. Here are my quick reactions based on what I’ve seen, in bullet-point format, because they’re just that–quick reactions that aren’t fully developed yet. Besides, the sample size isn’t large enough to draw firm conclusions from, so this is intended to read more like a scouting report than an analytic product.

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No More Mr. Nice Guy… I hope.

happyandmad

Last night’s game was weird.

It wasn’t weird because of the result; a blowout Timberwolves win over an overmatched, Eastern Conference opponent at Target Center. That’s a common occurrence this season.

It also wasn’t weird because of how that favorable result came to be. Nikola Pekovic dominated in the paint. Kevin Martin made jumpers. Ricky Rubio ran the offense and played pesky defense. Kevin Love did a little bit of everything. The bench kicked ass. (Okay, that part was unusual.) Overall, the winning formula looked familiar to fans.

The game was weird because — heading into it — it was impossible to know what the ideal outcome was.

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Timberwolves Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Kemba Walker has the (second) meanest crossover in the East.

Kemba Walker has the (second) meanest crossover in the East.

Your Minnesota Timberwolves will be playing basketball tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats at Target Center.  Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. The game can be seen and heard through the usual channels.

The Wolves are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at home. Former Wolf Gerald Green–a longtime Punch-Drunk Wolves favorite–hit the game-winner on a tough baseline jumper with seconds remaining.

One question to ponder after the Phoenix loss is whether the Wolves have chemistry problems. (Eds. Note: No, not the Breaking Bad kind of chemistry problems, at least that we know of.)

Tempers flared on Wednesday after Rick Adelman pulled J.J. Barea with 8:07 to go in the 4th quarter. Barea, a  player whose passion and intensity run so thick that they’re palpably evident even in pre-game warmups–the sideline-to-sideline defensive shuffle-suicides J.J. does each night as part of his pre-game ritual is all you really need to see–was visibly upset and stormed off the court, cursing in at least two languages. (Eds. Note: Barea was in fact cursing in three languages, if you count Spainglish.) The next thing you know, neither Barea nor Dante Cunningham joined the team huddle during a timeout.

Kevin Love, the team’s best player by orders of magnitude and an League-wide MVP candidate, didn’t appreciate Barea and Cunningham’s lack of team spirit. But Love himself was moody, and it doesn’t take a trained psychologist to deduce that Love appeared to be projecting frustration with his own sub-par performance onto Barea and Cunningham.

Love is serious about his image and is protective of his NUMB#RS. This video is by now a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean anything.

Kevin Love’s image took a hit on Wednesday night’s loss. In one of the Wolves’ few nationally-televised games of the season–Love played downright bad basketball and looked nothing like an MVP candidate. In fact, Love’s performance was sub-par on both ends: he shot 4-20 from the field, and got lit up by Suns three-point specialist Channing Frye after repeatedly failing to close out on Frye three-point attempts. Love’s failure to close on active shooters like Frye and Ryan Anderson is not a new phenomenon, and is one of the few aspects of his game for which he can be legitimately criticized and for which he is not called out enough by writers, many of whom give him the benefit of the doubt because they love Love for his fat stats.

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Suns vs. Wolves (The Rising Sun Edition)

Former Timberwolves wing Gerald Green: Still Dunking

Gerald Green: Still Getting High

UPDATE (4:19 P.M. CST): It’s still unclear whether Suns guard Eric Bledsoe will play tonight, according to ESPN.

The Wolves play Phoenix tonight at 8:30 P.M. CST. You can see it on ESPN or listen on 830 WCCO. The 8:30 P.M. tip is an odd time for a Wolves home game. (Eds. Note: Earlier this season, the NBA amended its schedule so tonight’s game would start later than initially planned and be shown on national television, presumably because the NBA and ESPN were concerned that no one would want to watch the Kobe-less Lakers against the Houston Rockets–the game that was initially scheduled to be on ESPN at 8:30 P.M. tonight.) 

But tonight’s tilt promises to be an extremely interesting game for fans–perhaps more so than Stern and Silver, LLP, expected when the game was pushed onto the national TV slate–as the Wolves will be taking on one of the League’s most enigmatic teams with which the Wolves are competing for a Western Conference playoff spot. (Eds. Note: The Suns are the rare NBA squad that’s enigmatic in a good way, basically the opposite of the way in which the Brooklyn Nets are enigmatic.) 

The Suns are a breath of fresh air. They’re good. Really good, actually. They’re 20-13 thus far, good for a winning percentage of .606. The Suns have the 7th-best record right now in a stacked Western Conference. They trail the much-hyped Houston Rockets by just one game for the 6th spot in the West. The Suns’ record shines when compared to the Wolves’ 17-17 record.  If the playoffs started today, the Phoenix Suns would be in the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves–currently 10th in the West–would not.

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