Tag Archives: Wes Johnson

Jottings from the Wolves Win over the Lakers

Zach Lavine

Zach Lavine

The Wolves defeated the Lakers last night in a 120-119 barnburner at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open three point shot that would’ve won the game at the buzzer.

  • Zach Lavine: Lavine made shots. The media made a lot out of his psychology in this game because he was squaring off against his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Lavine played by far his best game as a pro. He had 18 points in the second quarter alone (28 for the game), and shot 11-14 from the floor. He and Jeremy Lin were locked up against each other for much of this quarter, and Lavine looked confident that he could get any shot he wanted against Lin.  Lavine’s shot selection leaves plenty to be desired and maybe always will — a lot of his makes last night were of the “dribble jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock” variety — but you feel a lot better about it when the shots actually fall, and he doesn’t look surprised by the result.

A lot of times before last night, it looked like Lavine simply shoots to try to get his self going, but doesn’t really expect the ball to go in. Last night was a different story. As athletic as Lavine is, it goes to show how important timing and rhythm are for his offensive game. He was well within the flow of what was a very fast-paced game last night. Hopefully he can take away some lessons about why he was so successful last night and has looked so poorly on other nights.

But it bears emphasis: Lavine put together one of the best games that any rookie plays this season.

More below the fold…

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Lakers vs. Wolves (The Late Show Edition)

Nick "Swaggy P" Young and Kendall Marshall will be in Minneapolis tonight to take on the Wolves.

Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Kendall Marshall will be in Minneapolis tonight to take on the Wolves.

Look again, that IS NOT Steve Blake on the right. That’s the red hot Kendall Marshall, who’ll be manning the point for Los Angeles tonight in Minneapolis.

That’s right – the Lakers are in Minneapolis to play the Timberwolves tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST.  Most of you can see the game on FSN. If you’re not local, you can see it on League Pass. If you prefer to listen, tune in to WCCO 830.

A quick rundown of things to look for is below the fold.

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Person of Interest: Paul George

Paul George is a baller

Illustration by Howard Shum. Go check it out.

Paul George is good at professional basketball. Really good.

We’ve raved before about George’s underrated defensive prowess, but it’s worth reiterating: George can defend the hell out of the ball. George has those extremely long arms, that effortless footwork, and excellent positioning that, on a good day, might remind you of Scottie Pippen.

The Wolves will have to contend with George tonight, when the Wolves take on the Pacers at Target Center at 7 PM. But  they won’t just have to plan for George’s disruptive defense…

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Weird is Good (WOLVES 106, Blazers 94)

Minnesota beat Portland tonight for the second time in five days.  The following facts describe the two matchups:

  • Three point guards (Rubio, Ridnour, Barea) played a combined 88 minutes in each game.  The team was essentially going without a two guard.
  • Kevin Love averaged 35.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 assists over the two victories.  While he didn’t guard LaMarcus Aldridge all of the time, he certainly outplayed him.
  • Wes Johnson played a combined 37 minutes.  In that time he scored 25 points on 10-13 shooting.  In tonight’s game, he even dribbled and cut a few times.
  • Coach Adelman was able to find 56 minutes of playing time for Derrick Williams, despite his playing Kevin Love’s position.  The rook averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds over the two games, off the bench.
  • The Wolves won both games; the first two victories over Portland since Kevin Garnett was wearing #21 for the good guys.  If Saturday was a rite of passage, tonight was a statement game.
  • Most importantly, the Wolves combined for 25-46 shooting from downtown.  54 percent shooting from 3 is going to lead to victories for almost any team.  Especially in high volume.

What does it mean?

If you haven’t noticed already I am as prone as any NBA rube to making kneejerk reactions.  One minute my trade machine has Derrick Williams going to Boston for cap space and the next I’m lauding him as the next Amar’e Stoudemire (that used to be a compliment.)  But as more games are played–not just Wolves games but all around the league–what I’m finding more and more is that there is no such thing as a prototype NBA roster.  A team with a classic 1-2-3-4-5 is no more likely to be successful than one with some oddities.  Dallas won the championship last year with a 50-year old point guard and (for the deciding Game 6 at least) our very own midget, J.J. Barea, playing the two.  Miami, the perpetual title favorite for as long as Wade and James are playing, has an offense built around two wings that are almost the exact same offensive player.  Chicago built a contender around a single offensive threat who (oh by the way) happens to play point guard.

The Wolves are winning games with a weird team.  Not only do they start two point guards, but they bring a third off the bench for big minutes.  It is all point guards all the time.  And it works.  Luke is showing off what a tremendous shooter he is, relieved of primary playmaking duties that he sometimes struggles with.  When J.J. comes in and inevitably finds himself defending the post, he draws a charge.  EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Ricky is versatile on defense, often switching and jumping the passing lanes.  On offense, he’s a true point.  It seems to work.

On the front line, things were just starting to reek of conventionality when Pekovic went down with a foot injury.  Tonight (and Monday versus the Clippers) we saw extended sequences with Williams at the 4 and Love at the 5.  I’ve made my feelings clear on this idea.

I write about this because the trade deadline is looming (March 15) and every Wolves fan has their own shooting guard who the team MUST pursue.  Some want Kevin Martin while others prefer Jamal Crawford or Monta Ellis.  I’ve clamored for Eric Gordon.

Well, the Wolves have now won 8 of their last 11 games and if the season ended right now they would be in the playoffs.  Is it really time to deal away a starting player?  The Wolves are a weird team.  When they’re hot, they chuck away from downtown and shots fall.  Kevin Love is the league’s most-productive and stabilizing force.  He is our Batman; a constant force.  His Robin walks through a revolving door with a new face on, each game.  A trade isn’t likely to bring in a star player of real notoriety.  Kevin McHale isn’t walkin’ through that door.  Neither is, I’m guessing, his current shooting guard, Kevin Martin.

In a Western Conference that looks more wide open by the day, why not just embrace the weirdness of a dual point guard/power forward/Balkan center lineup that has all sorts of personalities and nearly shatters the Likeability Scale?

Of course, after Friday’s Laker game the Wolves play New Orleans and Phoenix.  If they drop that pair I promise to write 5,000 words about the need for a veteran wing, balanced roster, go-to hero scorer, and every other adage and convention I can think of.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

Season Record: 21-19 (Currently 8th in Western Conference)



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JRUBIO (WOLVES 92, 76ers 91)

Jrue Clownin'

Tonight’s matchup with Philly turned into an interesting contest.  It was interesting because a near-capacity crowd showed up on a Sunday night even though the Sixers don’t have a “superstar” talent that typically draws big attendance.  It was interesting because it was very close for nearly the entire game.  It was interesting because Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio are each fascinating players in different ways.  And it was interesting because the Wolves won by a single point, in somewhat bizarre fashion.

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Exposed Again (MAGIC 102, Wolves 89)

Like recent seasons past, the Wolves are beginning to develop negative trends that play out over the course of an extended losing streak, this one now at four games.

  • Everybody (certainly this must include the bench and front office) knows that the team lacks a competent shooting guard. Luke Ridnour missed tonight’s game at Orlando for personal reasons. All the best to Luke and whatever he has going on, but his play at the off guard has not been good recently. Martell Webster didn’t help much tonight, scoring 5 points and turning it over twice in 22 minutes.
  • Everybody knows that the Wolves struggle to take care of the basketball. They had 18 turnovers tonight, with the increasingly erratic J.J. Barea leading the way with 7 of his own in only 23 minutes.
  • A new area of concern is three-point shooting.  Against the Magic, Wolves players shot 6 for 21 (28.6 percent) from downtown–this following recent games of 6-19, 6-23, and 4-19.  For the losing streak, they are a combined 26.8 percent from downtown, a rate that would put them dead last in the league by more than a couple of percentage points. Ricky creates a ton of three-point opportunities, but the Wolves won’t win many games if his teammates can’t convert them.
  • Why is Wes Johnson still starting?  This is the question that nobody has a good answer to.  He isn’t even playing good defense, anymore.  Jason Richardson scored 17 tonight, 5 over his average and many while baiting Wes into bad fouls or slamming him off screens for open jumpers.  Wes’ 3 for 7 shooting night was good for him, but his minutes need to go elsewhere.  Michael Beasley had a pretty average night by his standards (13 points in 25 minutes, a (-2) in a 13-point loss) and could play the same mediocre defense with better offensive punch.

I’m already beating dead horses, so I’ll keep this brief.

The Magic spread the floor around Dwight Howard and shoot a lot of threes. They make a lot of threes. In fact, they lead the league by a wide margin in made 3’s per game (9.9, next in NBA is New Jersey with 8.8). They made 12 tonight, and shot at a 40 percent clip.

J.J. Redick could run a basketball camp solely dedicated to using screens. He’s really made it into an artform. It’s silly what he does to defenders by running them off picks in all directions.

Ryan Anderson spreads the floor by being a 6’10” sharpshooter. All of this works beautifully around Superman Howard. It’s a shame that he’s going to leave the Florida Sun and this nice team chemistry. In a season as wide open as this one, Orlando has a real chance to win an improbable title, just as Dallas did last year.

Bottom line: the Wolves lost because they a) didn’t take care of the ball; b) didn’t defend the three ; c) took and missed lots of jumpers; and d) don’t have an NBA shooting guard.

Until next time.

Season Record: 13-16


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The Return of Dirk (Mavericks 104, WOLVES 97)

As you probably know, the Wolves have twice defeated the defending-champion Mavericks in this short season, each game by a decided margin of victory.  Although I joined the excitement of other Wolves fans about last year’s worst dominating last year’s best, it was impossible not to notice two things about those games:

1) In the first game, Dirk wasn’t Dirk (as Bill Simmons explained yesterday, Dirk showed up for training camp way out of shape, not yet recovering from the championship hangover).

2) In the second game, Dirk wasn’t playing.  (His legs were broken down from playing his way into shape, for the above reason.)

Last night’s game would include neither of those beneficial factors.  After beginning the season 3-5, Dallas had won 12 of its last 18 games, returning to contender form.  After his worst start to a season in over a decade, Dirk had finally caught fire.  In the three games leading up to last night’s, Dirk was averaging over 26 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting.  It appeared as though he’d be the matchup nightmare that fans have grown accustomed to watching.

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Playing the Matchups (WOLVES 99, Kings 86)

Luke Ridnour had 25 pts and 9 asts in Monday's victory over Sacramento

Wesley Johnson, the player selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft in large part due to shooting prowess, is now hitting 31.7 percent of all shots from the floor and 12.5 percent of three-point attempts.  So, why did Johnson log 34 minutes on a night when his shooting woes (3-11 total; 0-4 3PT) continued?  My only guess is that the coaches felt that the matchups dictated Wes being out there.  JOHN SALMONS! is actually a pretty good isolation scorer.  He’s played this role on decent teams (Chicago, Milwaukee) unlike many nondescript ballers of his ilk.  Wes, shooting struggles aside, stayed right with Salmons all night, leaving the scoring specialist with a 4-11 shooting line, with 11 points and 2 turnovers.  In this respect, Wes did his job.  But man–he’s missing WIDE OPEN SHOTS.  Wayne Ellington is not missing these shots and is a noticeably-better offensive player than the second-year wing from The ‘Cuse.

The Wolves hit a rough patch in the 2nd Quarter.  After a pair of Derrick Williams free throws (his only points of the evening–more on this below) the Wolves led 30-22.  Over the next 11:21 to end the half, the Kings ripped off a 24-12 stretch that had Wolves fans a little-bit restless at the break.  Much of these struggles was directly attributable to missing jumpshots.  On some of these–particularly with Derrick Williams and Kevin Love–there was hesitation to shoot after a solid pass, usually from Rubio.  I thought we were done with this.  The Rule of Rubio is that he passes, you shoot.  How many of the great Wolves moments from this early season HAVEN’T been tied to catch-and-shoot basketball?  In any case, the Wolves went to halftime with a 4-point deficit and some talking points ready made for the coaching staff.

In the third, the shooting wasn’t hot, but the Wolves (specifically, Kevin Love) grinded it out with a combination of free throws and better defense.  Love had 11 points total in the quarter, en route to a 33-point, 11-rebound, 3-assist, 2-steal gem of a performance.  This was classic Love, baiting officials into questionable foul calls, and hitting opportune jumpers to break the opponent’s back.  His interaction with the refs reached a tipping point tonight, earning him a technical foul and later flirting with an ejection.  He is quickly approaching the Kobe and LeBron level of getting utmost respect from the refs, and giving thanks by way of whiny gestures.  Oh well — it’s a lot-less annoying when it’s your team getting the calls.  On this night Love was a team-best (+22).

The lid came all the way off the basket in the fourth, with Ellington, Ridnour and Love taking turns making it rain at Target Center.  After a Jason Thompson dunk cut the lead to 1 (72-71) Adelman called timeout.  The Wolves then proceeded to a 27-15 closing stretch over 8:51.  Rubio hit a trey to extend the lead to 9 at the 5:11 mark and swung a fist of celebration to the crowd.  This was a frustrating game for him, in part due to his own misfiring on jumpers (3-10 total) but also because teammates (Darko, Wes, Pekovic) blew easy scoring opportunities that only Ricky can provide.  Pekovic and Milicic, as was pointed out by David Thorpe who attended this game, are not at all Rubio’s kinda guys on the court.  His (-3) was a rare negative +/- for the young phenom.

All in all, it was a hard-fought win against a bad team.  In years past, a win was a win was a win.  Since this year is DIFFERENT (the Wolves currently own a 0.5 game edge over the BOSTON CELTICS!) a struggle-fest against the Kings that requires a Wellington Bailout feels less satisfying.  I hope they dispose of the shitty Pistons on Wednesday with relative ease.

A few bullets:

* DeMarcus Cousins can’t get no respect.  I don’t even mean this as a joke–sure, he invites criticism by his constant whining, but so does Kendrick Perkins and it doesn’t seem to prevent Perk from getting a call or two.  Cousins must have been hacked or pushed a half dozen times in this game by the Serbian-Montenagran combo of Darko and Pek.  He shot 0 free throws for his efforts and was called for 4 fouls of his own in 25 minutes of action.  From my view it looked like the refs had it out for the enigmatic big man.  For what it was worth, he hit some nice jumpers and really does show off excellent footwork.  For his sake, I hope he finds some sort of comfort level in the NBA so we can all watch his talent on a consistent basis.  The league needs more talented bigs to balance out this wave of awesome lead guards.

* Since Rubio looks like the business as a true point guard, I’ll make what some might consider to be a BOLD STATEMENT: Steph Curry wouldn’t be any better for this team than Luke Ridnour is.  Luke is playing off the ball now, and is shooting as well as any Timberwolf I can ever remember.  He had 25 points and 9 assists tonight on 10-14 shooting (4-4 from 3.)  Curry is an awesome point guard, but if you’re sticking each slightly-built point guard off the ball, I don’t see a big difference between he and Luke Ridnour.  Not only did Luke shoot well tonight, but he also defended Marcus Thornton just fine.  I doubt very much that Curry would have been able to handle that matchup the way Ridnour did.  (OBVIOUS REBUTTAL: Curry would have trade value that Luke doesn’t.)

* The Kings might improve some if Francisco Garcia played more.  He “fits in” out there and doesn’t need to dominate the ball.  They’ve got a surplus of ball-dominant wings (without a single true point) who like to slash.  The lone saving grace is that they penetrate-and-kick.  On some similarly-built offenses (the Dunleavy-led Clips come to mind) the isolation is without passing.  Sacramento doesn’t seem quite as selfish as they do mismanaged.  Jimmer was a stupid draft pick for that roster.

* Pekovic fouls on damn-near every possession.  He was called for 4 tonight in 16 minutes and none of those were the time he threw DMC to the ground after a missed free throw.

* Derrick Williams made exactly one move tonight that got me excited.  He squared up a defender from 14 feet and went right at him to the cup.  This is the Amar’e stuff that he seems to have the potential to try.  He got fouled and made a pair of free throws; his only points.  The next time he found himself on the elbow with one-on-one coverage, he looked lost and passed it off after a hesitation.  He is battling some confidence issues.  Given this team’s propensity to start chucking from three (perhaps the best way to win games, right now) it sure would be nice if it could incorporate D-Thrill as an interior scoring presence.

Season Record: 5-8


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