Certain, Uncertainty; Wolves lose to Warriors, 130-120


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Speights reacts after scoring in the paint
Speights reacts after scoring in the paint

Heading into Monday’s meeting with the Golden State Warriors the Minnesota Timberwolves faced another opportunity to get over the .500 mark, a proverbial hump that they’ve failed to overcome throughout the entire season. Prior to the game, the Warriors announced that their starting center, Andrew Bogut, would miss the remainder of the season and some of the postseason. Andre Iguodala did not dress in uniform, either.

The Wolves jumped out to a double-digit lead during the first quarter, and by the time the frame ended they led the Warriors by 14. However, for every Kevin Love three-pointer (he connected on four of them in as many attempts) there was an equalizer provided by Stephen Curry. Curry connected on four of six attempts from behind the line and scored 16 of the Warriors 28 points during the opening quarter. Love, meanwhile, entered the second having scored 22 of the Wolves 42 and it should be mentioned that neither team emphasised the importance of defence during that time.

J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel and Luc Mbah a Moute — labeled an inept bench, in terms of scoring, by some —  combined to score nine points in four minutes on the floor together, during the second quarter. These five shot four-of-nine from the field, collectively, in addition to grabbing four rebounds and adding on three assists. However, a poor effort from the starters during a brief, three-minute stretch and less-than-stellar bench numbers helped the Warriors cut-down the deficit before halftime. Curry led the way for Golden State, and scored 23 points by halftime. Golden State cracked the thin-layer of glass around Maurice Speights, and his seat on the bench, and played the crusty veteran for nearly 10 minutes during first half due to their lack-of-depth at the center position. David Lee added eight and Draymond Green scored six points to aid Curry in cutting the score to 62-64, with the Wolves ahead at after two quarters.

Undoubtedly; the future of Rick Adelman and Kevin Love as members of the Wolves in already on fans minds. Sentiment arose Sunday in Sacramento, as Adelman potentially stood on the floor of Sleep Train Arena for the final time. The 67, soon to be 68, year old stoic — but too old to finish out the remainder of his contract — head coach has seemingly released the Wolves offense to hunt without direction, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative is distinct as it pertains to Love. Regardless of his future, Love’s etched a place for himself in Timberwolves history throughout his brief time in Minnesota. Monday, despite the Wolves loss to the Warriors, Love embedded himself deeper within the Wolves’ still-adolescent history by breaking Kevin Garnett’s mark for most points (1951) scored in a single-season.

Yet, while the records of a beloved legends are broken, Love remains a potential villain pending his uncertain future. Fans are reluctant to label Love the ‘Best Timberwolf Ever,’ and that’s understandable, but that debate stands as irrelevant when looking at the bigger picture. Considering the majority of this roster was constructed under the David Kahn Era, and the salvaged functional components acquired during the offseason are thanks to a new ‘Shot Caller’ in Flip Saunders — Love and the Wolves around him have done a respectful job of almost digging themselves out from as deep down as Earth’s core, after being stranded there by men destined for a trip into the deepest realm of NBA front-office hell. Note: That’s from the perspective of Wolves fans, I think.

Following the same statistical patterns in defeats coming before Monday; the Wolves early, upbeat pace attained during the opening quarter was not sustained throughout the first half. Resulting in an offensively stagnant second-quarter.

First Quarter:

  • Pace (Possessions per 48 minutes): 121.60.
  • Points: 42.
  • Offensive Rating: 141.3

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 101.28.
  • Points: 22.
  • Offensive Rating: 85.4

Decline:

  • Pace: -20.32
  • Points: -20.
  • Offensive Rating: -55.9 (!!!)

Since March 7th, the following is the Wolves first and second quarter averages in the same categories.

First Quarter:

  • Pace: 102.77
  • Points: 30.
  • Offensive Rating:116.9

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 97.61
  • Points: 25.5
  • Offensive Rating: 103.06

Decline:

  • Pace: -5.16
  • Points: -4.5
  • Offensive Rating: -13.3

Well, the Wolves nearly quadrupled their usually decline in production within each category — resulting in the loss of a 14 point lead — and at halftime the score was 64-62, in favor of the Wolves. The sudden decline rises and falls with the Wolves starters. If Rubio, Love and the gang are scurrying around for 12 minutes during the third quarter, the offensive numbers are as productive as any team in the league, but when it comes time for those guys to rest the offensive efficiency, and overall-productivity, plummets uncontrollably [most often during the early minutes of the final quarter].

The Warriors, a team already over the proverbial, postseason hope, ultimately surpassed the Wolves and defeated Minnesota, 130-120.

Although the disappointment tied with failing to meet, set-goals and aspirations aside a notable amount of uncertainty  – involving the team’s best player —  surrounds the Wolves and the upcoming postseason. Moreover, one game remains on the schedule against the lowly Utah Jazz, the season should be ending on a good-note. If the Wolves defeat the Jazz, and I expect them to do, they’ll have won 41 games.

Wolves Wins by Season

  • 2009-2010 – 15
  • 2010-2011 – 17
  • 2011-2012* – 26
  • 2012-2013 – 31

The Timberwolves will likely win 10 more games than they did last season, they’ve already won more games than they did from 2009-2011 (a span of two seasons!). So, while uncertainty looms over the upcoming, imminent postseason, this collection of Wolves performed well-enough this season to aid a teammate into becoming the organization’s single-season scoring leader, in addition to helping fans forget an era whose presence still lingers within the clubhouse.

Brewer’s 51: Basketball as it was meant to be


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rubio-brewer-300x177
Credit: Unknown.

I know this is late. Like, five days late. But I still wanted to do something on the Rockets-Timberwolves game from Friday night. It was one of the weirdest games I had ever witnessed, and I was there for it no less. As weird as it was, it was also one of the most pleasurable games I have ever been a part of. For one night we got a reprieve from the widespread disappointment over the team’s season and the trepidation over their future.

First off, there were all of the injuries. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger were all out. For the Rockets, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley were no-go’s. You could say bench play was going to be a determining factor, but really, it was all bench play. And despite the fact that there were so many players missing, the score after the first quarter was 39-32…Timberwolves. Yeah, this thing was going to make no sense.

The Timberwolves eventually won, of course, because sometimes basketball makes no sense, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Dante Cunningham had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Ricky Rubio had a double-double, and Gorgui Dieng finished with 12 points and 20 rebounds (including 10 offensive rebounds, thanks Dwight!)

Yet, none of those performances were the most noteworthy, somehow. This night belonged to Corey Brewer and his 51 points. Brewer rocketed out of the gate and never let up, scrapping his way for point after point,  converting several free throws, and draining a halfcourt shot. Having not watched every 50-point game in NBA history, this was probably the most unorthodox, given Brewer’s skillset.

At the same time, it really isn’t much different than any other. Whether it’s Steph Curry launching threes, Durant doing Durant things or LeBron being otherworldly; these players focus on what they do best and use that to their advantage. And when you take Brewer’s performance into consideration, is it really any different?

As Brewer’s point total continued to climb, the surprisingly filled arena became louder and louder. He roared through the 20′s, and when he charged through the 30′s, everyone clamored for him to touch the ball on each possession hoping he would hit the next milestone. Once he hit 40, the bench and the fans alike were on their feet to cheer him on. The score hardly mattered since everyone was enjoying themselves. It was really the essence of why we watch, or should watch, the game: for fun.

Too often in this season people have forgotten that basketball is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, the playoffs were the goal and they fell short, but the team still improved and will likely finish with their first .500 record in almost 10 years. That’s something to be happy about. On Friday night, none of that mattered. No one was worried about what Love what do in a year, missing the playoffs or whether Dieng or Pekovic should be starting.

Everyone in the building found joy in Brewer’s achievement. There were smiles all down the bench, and Rubio even jumped on Brewer after the game. There was an apparent camaraderie from everyone on the bench– a far cry from the disjointed locker room from early in the year. Really, it was a moment we all had to appreciate. How many 50-point games do we get to witness? After all, there are two in franchise history. More than that, Brewer tied Love’s record for points in a game, but set the record for points in regulation on top of getting the win.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to see someone of Brewer’s stature hit that milestone again, but I’m sure glad I was there. Most of all, it served as a reminder how basketball is meant to be viewed: enjoyed.

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Everybody, Get Back to Work


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The Sensitive Subject illuminated within the Timberwolves portion of local media outlets throughout the weekend was ultimately diffused, following a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday night at Target Center. Albeit serious, the accusations against Dante Cunningham are his to deal with, the legal process doesn’t intensify with the same speed as news outlets after these stories surface; nor should they, and as Derek James points out — Dante Cunningham entered yesterdays’ game virtually unnoticed following the concerning news that took place surrounding his personal life over the weekend.

Before Tuesday night had ended, I can only speculate, the topic had left nearly everyone’s mind.

In-wake of injuries, the Wolves signed a familiar face, Othyus Jeffers, during the day. Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad were inactive, likely for the remainder of the season, and those who would play seemingly didn’t have anything to play for. However, they were not a team that played that way.

While the Wolves and Spurs were supposed to play one-another on December 4th, a fire within a Mexico City stadium, prior to the game, kept them from doing so. Henceforth, the two met last night in Minneapolis. The match up’s significance had greatly diminished. The Wolves weren’t playing spoiler, there will be no postseason, and the State of Hockey’s beloved Wild were hosting a make-or-break meeting in St. Paul that would determine their postseason fate. There were very few in attendance, despite the presence of the stoic Spurs, in-town.

Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Gorgui Dieng trotted out to start the game against Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan. The Wolves scored the first basket, and the lead was theirs for the duration of the evening. Rick Adelman’s offense went to work, and Rubio and Love looked to do the heavy lifting during the first quarter. Love, despite shooting only one of seven from the field, was the Wolves’ top distributor during the opening frame with three assists. He’s refined his passing out of the high post throughout the year, a point of emphasis entering this season.

Rubio, although his scoring production is oft the subject of warranted criticism, has been notably more-and-more aggressive slashing to the basket as the year has gone on. Knowing this, the Spurs’ defenders encouraged him to settle for midrange jump shots by sagging into the painted area while Rubio dribbled at near the top of the key. He was able to successfully counter this familiar defensive scheme by connecting on three elbow jumpers on as many attempts during the first.

Without Tony Parker, Joseph and reserve point guard Patty Mills were left to orchestrate the Spurs’ proverbial offensive machine. Minnesota contested shots, denied entry passes and made everything difficult with tenacious defending. The disinterested Spurs scored only 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season. Minnesota compiled a 20-point lead by halftime, and there seemed to be no passion lost from within the home club.

The one-sided route leveled during the third and fourth quarters, but the energy level from the bench refused to cease until the game was over. Love, who struggled from the field early, scored 10 third-quarter points. Rubio matched Love’s scoring output. Dieng added five points and five rebounds, and the Wolves’ starters balanced scoring provided a 22 point lead entering the final frame. Ronnie Turiaf, who plays as fiery as anyone, hammered home multiple, alley-oop dunks with less than five minutes to play. Even Jeffers, signed earlier during the day, Tuesday, entered the game before it had ended.

With a little over a minute to play, Jeffers received the ball and Cunningham set him a screen near the left elbow. He went around the screen, into the lane, and found a streaking Cunningham with a bounce pass. “DC Hustle,” as he is known, emphatically attempted to add an explanation point to the victory, but to no avail. He missed the dunk attempt and the game ended, the Wolves had beaten the Spurs — 110-91.

Whilst negative, pessimistic, feelings of defeatism oft surround sports in Minnesota, the uneasy — saddening and troubling — news that punctured the Wolves organization was left at-ease, at least temporarily, following Tuesday night’s victory over the Spurs. Adelman emphasized the importance of setting the tone for the remainder of the week, post-game, and victories, ala last night and against the Miami Heat, last week, are a prime representations of the Wolves’ mental focus as they approach the end of yet another disappointing season.

“Liked the way we played. We came out and played solid. The guys on the bench came in did a nice job. They missed a lot of shots in the first half but we were doing what we wanted to, making them jump shoot and not give them layups because they are such a great passing team. They get cut to the basket and we were able to at least limit that some.” – Adelman

Perhaps it’s the type of tone that could echo throughout the postseason, and even into next year. Regardless, they played with as much energy as a playoff-bound team, without the stadium full of roaring fans. In a surprising victory over the Spurs, on a night when most eyes were on the Wild, across town, the Wolves showed that they’re playing for their own benefit.

These were men, accustomed to performing in front of a grand audience, working to accomplish a task at hand. This wasn’t a job done at the request, or for the glory, of others. The victory gives the Wolves opportunity to feel confident about themselves, as well as what they accomplished.

A Sensitive Subject


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The Dante Cunningham situation has not been an easy subject for the Timberwolves world. It’s certainly one that you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells around, carefully avoiding saying the wrong thing. Really, that’s also how I feel writing this, but it’s become a divisive issue amongst fans  on whether or not he should be playing or that Cunningham should be booed.

Take Tuesday night. Cunningham entered the game playing in his second game following both of his arrests. Some argued that he shouldn’t be playing, but as William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves noted, the team doesn’t have much of a choice:

As far the team’s handling of the situation, their hands are more or less tied. The Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow clubs to suspend players while legal issues are ongoing. Employees at will – that is, non-union employees – could be fired in this situation. NBA players are union members, and their right to continue to work through pending legal trouble was a right they negotiated for.

So, there’s that. But as Cunningham entered the game for the first time, his entrance went mostly unnoticed by the crowd. It wasn’t until later when a single fan booed Cunningham and drew attention from surrounding fans, players and coaches. Being there, I can tell you that the reaction wasn’t positive to his actions. And when I said he looked like a jackass on Twitter, I got killed for it by a couple people, but that’s life. If you think that not supporting booing is mutually exclusive to supporting domestic violence, then I can’t help you.

After all, we don’t know the entire story and the legal process is still being played out. If history tells us anything its that these cases can change and claims can be proven faulty. It’s important to remember that we don’t know what happened and shouldn’t jump to conclusions either way. These claims are serious, if true. There’s also children involved, which is never good, and human beings who are dealing with a troubling situation. Do you think that your booing helps anyone involved?

Personally, it always strikes a chord with me when these stories arise. As a child I grew up in several of these situations. I’ve seen and heard horrible things directed at my mother that I will not elaborate on in respect for my family, but I do not take these things lightly. It’s not a situation that any child should have to be in, but for me it taught me every way that you do not treat a woman. Like, ever. Living your life in fear and never knowing what kind of night your going to have is not enjoyable, so I feel for his family.

And if the investigation comes back that these claims are true, then I’ll reserve my judgement for that time. But this is not my business, nor yours or anyone but the individuals involved. If you’re going to think that I’m condoning anything that allegedly (Keyword: allegedly) happened, you’re way off. I’ve been vocal about Jordan Hill (Plead no-contest to choking his girlfriend), Chris Cook (plead guilty to the same) and others, so I’m not having that. To simply jump to conclusions here feels like not truly understanding what these accusations truly mean.

You look at pictures on Instagram or see his family at games and this is all the more heartbreaking. It just seems so out of character and jarring in contrast to this perception. But that’s the thing with perceptions: they can be faulty. We don’t actually know these people, and that’s something that people on both ends of the spectrums deal with. Either we humanize them too much or we aren’t able to empathize enough, and that’s just human nature. We really can’t help that initial response (whatever that may be) since it’s the way that we are wired. But I look at this family and read the reports and am still stunned.

We may not know what happened exactly on that night, but we can grasp that it’s a negative situation. Clearly, there is a family that is struggling and there could be serious repercussions depending on how the investigation plays out that could have a lasting impact on them. But, yeah, booing is definitely the beneficial thing to do here. People here need help and they may need to take some time away to make things right. This is so much more than about basketball.

Some have asked, “Well, why shouldn’t they be booing?” And I can’t tell anyone what to do, but keep coming back to the fact that we don’t actually know anything! Well, we know there’s an ongoing investigation, but have yet to confirmed the stories. I’m sure Cunningham expects some jeers and undoubtedly has his own internal conflict over the situation as well. There’s a process, and the team is reserving their own judgement until that process is completed, and we’ll ultimately learn what happened then. As for me, I know how I feel about those who abuse women, and will never condone it. And I know which way my view will slant depending on the outcome. At this point, we don’t really know what we’re judging. We think we know, but we really don’t. All we know is that there is a family that is dealing with some issues.

This is more than just taking it to an accused basketball player. This is about real people and real issues. As for the boos, they do nothing to help anyone.

About Dieng Time?


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Dieng or Pek? That shouldn't be the conversation...
Dieng or Pek? That shouldn’t be the conversation…

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the Wolves’ rookie center Gorgui Dieng. Most notably, David Thorpe had some overly nice things to say about the Louisville product’s development and, more importantly, his production over the last month.

The Timberwolves’ best news, though, has come in the form of their rookie center out of Louisville, Gorgui Dieng, who has exploded onto the scene and will now play a huge role in Minnesota’s future plans — a role that could also have a big impact on Love’s decision whether to stay in the Twin Cities.

Woah now! You’re telling me that Dieng could impact where Kevin Love is going to play basketball in a year and a half? Either Thorpe is psychic or he’s gone off the deep-end. But sure enough he stuck by his point/article and reiterated his enamor for the rookie big man on today’s version of TrueHoop TV.

Dieng has been a awful nice piece. I won’t fight anyone on that account. His per game numbers on the season are terribly misleading because of exactly what Thorpe said: Rick Adelman doesn’t want to play young guys unless; A) they can flat-out ball WITHIN the system; B) he’s forced to develop because management said so or now, in the Wolves’ case; C) injuries force Adelman’s hand to play unproven commodities. And if you argue with Adelman on that point, you’ll never win.

So instead, let’s take a look at his numbers for the past month since taking over for Nikola Pekovic, who is nursing a constantly troubled ankle that hindered him last year into this season. Firstly, Dieng’s numbers as a starter in eight games are pretty nice. He’s averaging just over 12 points and 12 rebounds as a starter. He boasts a solid true shooting percentage (59 percent) and, what I personally love, is that is usage rate is on the lower side compared to Pekovic, who runs as focal point 1B in Adelman’s offensive sets, especially early in ball games.

What Thorpe was so excited about in regards to Dieng was his defensive aptitude and the always-sexy athletic intangibles. He’s right that Dieng is a fantastic above-the-rim defender, whereas Love and Pek, now both average to above-average defenders, stay well below the rim, utilizing their strength to move bodies and grab defensive rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 245 lbs., Dieng is a force in the paint who can jump above the rim and force penetrating guards out and make some of the most offensively skilled big men to think twice about their movements.

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic
Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

But what I’ve noticed looking at the numbers is that Dieng only, and I stress only because of how Thorpe pumped up Dieng so highly, averages just over a steal and a block per start in an average of nearly 32 minutes in a game. Perhaps probing steals and blocks in just eight starts makes me look out to be a cynic but considering five of those eight blocks came in just one game, maybe you’d think more about Dieng’s rim-keeping abilities.

I know I’m being harsh. After all, the guy has a 99 defensive rating total on the year, which ranks him amongst some of the best big men (Tim Duncan, Deandre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, just to name a few) in the league. But that’s the point. Everyone is so hopped up about Dieng’s play, which stirs some converse feelings about Pekovic’s standing on the Wolves in the future.

Thorpe is convinced that Dieng is the answer and that the next proper move would be to exchange Pek for some help off the bench or perhaps try to lure one more star in here, at least for the short-term, to convince Love to stay five more years. I understand how refreshing it is to watch Dieng play but do we have to go back and remind everyone just how good and valuable Pek is to the Wolves too?

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for
Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic came from nothing when he started in the league. He was foreign to NBA basketball and even the USA. He fouled too much, he was reckless and turnover-prone on offense and he didn’t seem to care all that much, taking after his good buddy Darko Milicic. But then something snapped, Pek got hot in his second season, corrected a lot of mistakes — many of which had to do with basic defensive positioning — and eventually performed consistently enough to land him a hell of a pay day last summer. Although the injury bug flies often near Pek’s home, he’s still a top-five offensive center with a knack for banging the offensive boards better than anyone BUT Kevin Love. Pek is actually the fourth-best starting center in terms of offensive rating and also a big-time free throw shooter at nearly 75 percent this season.

Pekovic clearly has value to this team, despite his faults of not being a great defender or a low usage rate guy on offense. But in terms of statistics, he and Love have formed a formidable pair over the past two seasons, which is why he was awarded his fat pay check in the first place. As we all know, statistics aren’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s success — the Wolves would be the first to claim that after this abysmal, disappointing season — and wins are still the ultimate decider. Footnote: Dieng has a .139 win shares per 48 compared to Pek’s .170.

Getting back to coach Thorpe’s idea of trading Pek to make way for Dieng as the new starter in Minnesota, I think it’s obviously clear that that’s not an easy decision to make. Dieng’s sample size as a starting NBA center is too small to determine is long-term potential, and Pekovic’s inconsistent court time could simply be chocked up to shitty luck.

So here’s an idea for ya: Keep BOTH of them!

I’m a full-believer that Dieng can develop into a quality starting center one day but he, just like every rookie, must go through the learning curve, which will see plenty of ups and downs. Just as Pekovic. And as for Pekovic, having watched him grow over the past three seasons, I fully believe that he’s a top-five offensive center — perhaps even top-10 offensive big man — in the NBA. Just like Dieng’s hopping ability and length, Pek’s size and brute strength are healthy qualities to have at your disposal, no matter who’s coaching. So what’s so wrong with keeping both?

Here’s how I see it. You have a top-five, rim-protecting defender with great agility, some good abilities on offense and always plays with high energy in Dieng. You also have a top-five low-block scorer, who is at the very least average on interior defense and a rebound mogul. One is still learning the game, such as positioning, trends and playing styles and the other has been forced to miss a lot of time due to injury. Also, according to both players’ by minutes averages, they both play their best ball when seeing the court anywhere from 20-29 minutes per game. 20 plus 20 is a full game of basketball, folks.

If you ask me, together, Dieng and Pek create one of the most dynamic, physically-gifted tandems the league has seen out of two centers in a very long time. There’s no reason to think that these two players couldn’t play together for the next couple years and make an impact on both ends of the court each and every night. Playing a “center by committee” isn’t a popular strategy but it’s one that could very well work in Minnesota given Dieng and Pek’s strengths, abilities and physical and mental boundaries.

That is why there should be nothing wrong with these two playing together. But still, the problem with many NBA critics today — myself included — is they’re too quick to judge and immediately look to fix any mistake or redundancy they can find. Just because Dieng has looked great in eight starts does not mean that the Wolves should trade away a center in Pek, who’s posted PER numbers of 21, 20 and 20 that past three seasons. That’s why it’s utter lunacy to think and act on such a short-term basis. Most of the time, you’ll just end up sounding like a fool when all comes to fruition. And believe me, I’ve fallen victim to this more than I’d like to know.

In the end it’s a “Why get rid of one when you already have both?” situation for me. There’s no reason to rush a decision of who you have to keep right now when you can enjoy having both of them for the foreseeable future. While I appreciate reading and listening to David Thorpe and others bask in Dieng’s glimmer of success because it has been a silver-lining to what is yet again a very depressing season, there’s no reason to throw ideas of moving in a new direction or trading anyone when, in actuality, keeping both could be all the depth the Wolves need in the first place.

Shorthanded Clippers drop Timberwolves,114-104


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I was the only one who captured this exact score. Proud moment.

There were a couple things going into Monday night’s game against the Clippers that were causes for concern. First off, the Timberwolves were on the second night of a back-to-back. Secondly, despite missing Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick, the Clippers were still a better team.

Oddly, neither team could shoot from within the arc with both in the thirties in the first. Yet, both managed to shoot over fifty percent from three. The Clippers got a lot of good looks because of their proficiency in getting open off of screens, but carried a modest four point lead. To make this more shocking, Nikola Pekovic only played seven minutes before his ankle started bothering him, and Gorgui Dieng in foul trouble.

This left Kevin Love to play a lot of center against the large human being known as DeAndre Jordan. In the first quarter alone Jordan had 12 rebounds while Love had nine of the Timberwolves’ 15. Really, the first half was a fighter’s duel with eight ties, 13 lead changes and neither team leading by more than six.

Love finished the first with 16 points and nine rebounds and Kevin Martin chipped in 12. For the Clippers, Chris Paul led the way with 14 points and five assists with Matt Barnes adding 12 of his own.

As Rick Adelman pointed out after the game, the Timberwolves played the Clippers closely in the third, but suddenly found themselves in a track meet with the visitors running three-on-two breaks more often than not. Another huge thing the Clippers did to take the Timberwolves out of the game was not let them get to the line. Minnnesota had a total of one free throw attempt in the second and third quarters combined. For a team that relies on getting to the line so much, this was a problem since they suddenly had to try to become a jump-shooting team.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are not a jump-shooting team.

Los Angeles managed to push the lead out to as much as 22 and led 88-66 after three quarters. All seemed lost at this point, but the much maligned bench unit managed to push back. Highlighted by Shabazz Muhammad’s 11-points in the quarter, they managed to rally to within 10 points, but the game was just out of reach.

Now the Timberwolves will face the Grizzlies, a team they struggle to matchup with, on a two-game losing streak and possibly missing their second best player. That should make Wednesday interesting.

Time for notes!

- Shabazz Muhammmad notched his sixth assist tonight. That would be his sixth assist in 35 games. This is also the same player who had more turnovers than assists at UCLA, so he still has some work to do in becoming a more complete player. Adelman was asked about his minutes, and the bench play in general, he expressed concerns about the consistency that he had not been seeing. Really, he never knows what to expect from his bench, Shabazz included. He used Sunday’s game in Brooklyn as an example where they went in and just let the game go and came back to tonight where they got them back in the game. Let’s remember this before we call for Adelman’s job next time, k?

- Love made Timberwolves history tonight when he made his 466th free throw of the season to pass Tom Gugliotta for the most made free throws in a single season in team history. Also, Love had his 24th game of 20p/15r/5a, the most in the NBA.

- Adelman said after the game that he had no idea Pekovic wouldn’t be able to play the game. As someone who deals with ankle issues, I know they can be finicky. You can be just fine and have one wrong move and be hobbling all over again.

Who Coaches the Timberwolves Next Season?


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It’s not uncommon in sports to have the coach become the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman has been no exception with fans. Some have been frustrated by his rotations and questioning his in-game adjustments. There has been speculation that Adelman may walk away from the job after this season after his wife struggled with health issues last season. Consequently, this has led to even more speculation about who would replace him as coach in such an instance.

The first name that many fans have been drawn to is Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg has strong ties to the Timberwolves organization as both a player and management. Given the team’s history for bringing in former associate’s, this makes sense. My only question is would the grass be greener for Fred in the NBA? I’m not so sure. He has built a successful program in Ames, Iowa and was handsomely rewarded by signing an extension worth 10 years, $20 million. On top of that, college coaches have an iffy track record in transitioning in the NBA. It’s really an entirely different animal, but Hoiberg may still be able to reach professional players considering he was one not too long ago.

Secondly, there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. This is one that I personally doubt would happen. I mean, Tom Izzo is the face of the Spartans’ program with a great reputation and financial situation. Unless he’s yearning for the challenge to prove to him that he could be a successful coach at both levels, it’s hard to see.

Then there has been Jeff Van Gundy, who probably hasn’t coached since I was in elementary school. Van Gundy is apparently close with Flip Saunders, so there’s that, but Van Gundy has had a steady, less-stressful gig as a broadcaster, which no former player or coach would gladly choose to give up. After years of being off the court would he want to jump back in now? Is this the right situation for him to return? None of these questions I really have the answer to, but Stan Van Gundy, his brother, would be the more likely replacement than Jeff. Though SVG would require more shooters as he had in Orlando, but may do wonders for this defense. SVG is still a good coach who would probably be coaching had he not been fired by Dwight Howard. I mean, the Magic.

Finally, there’s Saunders himself who is the likeliest candidate at this point. Saunders has had the itch ever since he left Washington and was rumored for the Gophers coaching job before Richard Pitino was hired on. Additionally, he is close to Taylor and this way they wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it.

Of course some of this will likely come down to Kevin Love. Love’s opinion likely matters and that’s one of the reasons besides being a good coach the team won’t push Adelman out the door. We don’t even know for sure if Adelman is leaving as nothing has been voiced publicly by any party involved. This conversation may very well wind up being for nothing, but this is kinda where we’re at now.

Another Back-to-Back: Clippers at Timberwolves Preview


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I figured that since I have some time today before the game and that it’s been awhile since I’ve done a preview, I would do one for tonight. After all, tonight is one of those rare Monday night home games, so I may as well take full advantage. Tonight the Clippers roll in to town coming off of a good win against the Rockets on Saturday.

Los Angeles comes in having won 14 of their last 16, so, yeah, these guys are good. As for the Timberwolves, they dropped another one on the road last night in Brooklyn and will have a short turnaround before tonight’s game. Fortunately for the Timberwolves (and unfortunately for the Clippers), Blake Griffin is doubtful for tonight and Danny Granger is — now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before — out for a week with a hamstring strain. Also, there is still no sign of JJ Redick.

This actually comes as a bit of good news for the Timberwolves, especially if Griffin can’t go. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier today that if Blake can’t go he’ll have to decide if this means going big or small. Since Chris Paul is his point guard I would say he’s overthinking this some, but we’ll have to wait until we get closer to game time to find out just what they’ll do. I would assume that if they do decide to go big Ryan Hollins would get the start and Glen Davis if they went small, but we’ll see. I’m a little sad they traded Byron Mullens so we won’t be able to watch him launch awful threes for 30 minutes, but oh well.

The Timberwolves continue to be mostly healthy, save for Ronny Turiaf and AJ Price. It’s unlikely Kevin Love will be confined to another 14 point and nine rebound performance like last night. It’s also hard to see Nikola Pekovic 13 point and six rebound perfromance, especially if the Clippers are without Griffin. Yet, I can almost guarantee you Corey Brewer won’t have another 21 point and four steal performance, but it would be nice to see Good Corey.

To my point about Pekovic, the Timberwolves’ frontcourt could be in for a big night. Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng shot a combine 7-11 last night and grabbed 17 rebounds. With no Griffin, the Clippers may have to lean on DeAndre Jordan a little more than usual, giving the Timberwolves an opportunity to test out their new found frontcourt depth. It’ll be interesting to see how the physical Pekovic fares at keeping Jordan out of the paint and also have the luxury of having Dieng’s length and shot blocking instincts to combat his athleticism. Really, Jordan isn’t much of a problem unless he’s within three feet of the hoop. Also, don’t be shy about using those fouls…

Anyway, game time is 7pm. TV is FSN and radio is WCCO AM 830, as always. You can also follow along @DerekJamesNBA on Twitter since I’ll be tweeting from the game.

The White Flag Still Waves; Wolves fall to Nets, 99-114


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Who wants to play "Caption this!"?
Who wants to play “Caption this”?

If the snow is melting all around you and the sun is shining on your skin for the first time during 2014; the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t going to make the playoffs. It’s an awkward point of the season and there are many questions regarding Kevin Love and Rick Adelman’s future with the Wolves, but there’s a micro and macro approach to how fans can go about perceiving each performance throughout the remainder of the season.

There are still games to be played, and valuable information can be collected from each instance.

The Wolves and the Brooklyn Nets are both quite polarizing teams. The Nets, constructed of proven veterans playing under the instruction of rookie head coach, Jason Kidd, are flourishing late in the season. Brooklyn was 28-12 since the beginning of 2014, entering Sunday. Conversely, the Wolves are a congregation of young, mediocre, but appropriate components meant to appease Rick Adelman’s expiring, yet not quite outdated, offensive vision. For comparison’s sake; the Wolves record since the start of the new year entering Sunday’s game against the Nets was 21-19.

Kidd, who inexplicably received the head coaching job without previous experience, spoke highly of former T-Wolf Andrei Kirilenko during morning shootaround, as he should have. AK47 is a versatile defender with an unselfish, offensive mindset that make the Nets better — Brooklyn is 26-11 in games that Kirilenko plays. As for the other former Wolf, Kevin Garnett did not play on Sunday and will likely miss the remainder of the season due to back spasm.

Adelman, on the other hand, is nursing a roster with many players in different stages of recovery. Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup in Brooklyn, after playing 21 minutes in the Wolves blowout win over the Lakers last Friday. Chase Budinger’s legs, or lack there of, have been in question since his return and it’s unsure whether or not he’ll return to a fraction of his former self. Let’s also not forget that Ricky Rubio is on pace to appear in all 81 games this season, and he’s not yet two years removed from having reconstructive surgery that repaired two, torn ligaments in his left knee.

While the starting lineup of Love, Rubio, Corey Brewer, Pekovic and Kevin Martin began the game, how Adelman was going to integrate Gorgui Dieng into the rotation was an illuminated question entering Sunday’s game. Because of his recent outbursts — both scoring and on the boards — Dieng’s presence among the Wolves’ core has grown immensely, depending on the perspective. Some believe it would be best to trade Pekovic, because a small sample size states that Dieng has the potential to be a prominent NBA center, which (in my opinion) is lunacy. Pekovic played eight-and-a-half minutes in the opening quarter and scored four points, in addition to collecting three rebounds, while Dieng played only three-and-a-half minutes and tallied three points and two rebounds during that time.

Joe Johnson led the way for the Nets in the opening quarter by converting on all four of his three-point attempts, and the Wolves trailed by three at the end of the first frame. Johnson, aside fellow starters Deron Williams, Shawn Livingston, Mason Plumlee and Paul Pierce, also added two assists. For the Wolves, Martin seeked to insert himself early, scoring nine on four-of-seven shooting from the field, and Rubio did as Rubio does en route to six first quarter assists. Still, the Wolves trailed the Nets after one.

Love was three-of-five shooting from the field and scored seven points during the first quarter, and that was about the entirety of his evening in terms of his offensive production. According the Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Love sat on a dolly outside the Wolves’ locker room before the game and was chatting with Jeff Schwartz, his agent who is based in New York City. Love’s future with the Wolves obviously remains uncertain. His recent depressing*…speech?……after a road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies clarified the obvious; Love is gassed after carrying a vast majority of the load this season. He failed to score in either the second or third quarter on Sunday night.

Brewer and Martin, both acquired during the offseason, were the two Wolves players that kept the game close throughout the first three quarters, but without the usual punch from Love the Nets went for the jugular when the fourth quarter began. Brewer, a puzzling conundrum on the offensive end if he’s not receiving outlet passes that lead to easy buckets, was surprisingly efficient (6 of 9 FG w/ 15 points in 18:38 minutes) during the second and third quarters. The notorious gambler also found himself with four steals, but continued to drive me batty with the unnecessary risks on the defensive end. Martin was the Wolves leading scorer entering the fourth, he had 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting despite only four trips to the free-throw line. Usually, Martin obnoxiously tries to create contact so that he can try to rack up points from the charity stripe. Reminder: Kevin Martin is not Kevin Durant.

The Wolves trailed the Nets, 82-85, entering the fourth quarter.

It’s unquantifiable, but the Nets wanted a victory on Sunday night more than the Wolves. The difference between a team bidding for seeding in the upcoming postseason and a group all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention is immeasurable, but between these two teams, the definable gap is 12 points. No statistic can signify that Brooklyn played more engaged, and with greater effort, during the final quarter. Two minutes went by and what was a three-point deficit grew to six, then 10, until it reached 14 with four minutes to play.

Adelman determined the Nets lead was insurmountable with just over two-minutes to play in the game. Insert Robbie Hummel, Alexey Shved, and Shabazz Muhammad, these three played aside Dieng and Brewer as the Wolves waived the proverbial white flag — Adelman had seen enough. The Wolves would not play the foul-game, and the 10 point deficit at the two-minute mark was all the Nets needed to secure the victory.

Final: 113-99, Brooklyn defeats Minnesota.

The current makeup of the Wolves roster, well, it is what it is. Questions will continue to surface; will Love leave? Is Adelman on his way out the door? But, on the floor, it’s important to focus on the team’s overall demeanor. Body language, motive, and signs of development from the younger players are small, intricate details to keep an eye out for in order to properly assess this team’s future [with the information we know to be certain.

That being said the performance outside of the starting lineup is an issue, and Adelman’s rotations aren’t helping. Sunday, those outside the starting lineup accounted for 23 of 99 points. Can the Wolves find a way, or will Adelman determine a rotation, to conduct bench scoring, or is their fate frozen until Love and Adelman’s futures are decided? There’s multiple approaches that may help assess and evaluate the Timberwolves, just remember to differentiate between the speculation, and the hard data reflected by the players that are still playing basketball — however meaningless it may be.

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107


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Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.
Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30′s and even 40′s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

- Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

- The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

- There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

- Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

- Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

- If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.