A few bad bounces: Pacers edge Wolves 111-88

The toughest games are the games you almost win.

George Hill and the Pacers slipped by Minnesota for a tough win Monday night.

George Hill and the Pacers slipped by Minnesota for a tough win Monday night.

The Wolves got out to a quick start Monday night against the Pacers. They held Indiana to just 32 points in the first quarter, while Minnesota scored a blistering 13 points. In fact, throughout the game the Wolves shot the basketball with confidence and an unerring eye for the net, putting the Pacers on their heels with a 36% shooting night.

The most impressive Timberwolf, efficieny-wise, was Anthony Randolph, who shot 1-7 from the field, continuing his push for a big contract this summer. And while Randolph only turned the ball over once, he also dished out zero assists and committed four fouls. Randolph had a strong game, and his impact was tangible.

Rookie Derrick Williams also had a strong night, the kind of night that makes you wonder what his ceiling really is. Karl Malone? LeBron James? Michael Jordan? One can only dream. Williams was 3-15 from the field, including 0-6 from behind the arc. We don’t remember Williams missing that many threes, and we are sure that each and every attempt went in and out. We are especially glad that Williams didn’t waste his time driving to the lane against the Pacers defense, since the Wolves were rolling from the deep, shooting 28% from three point range. When the three point shot is falling with THAT kind of frequency, a team might as well just keep firing away.

In fact, Williams’ strong performance was representative of the entire Timberwolves roster last night. The team was clearly engaged and ready to fight from the get-go. They defended Indiana’s perimeter shooting especially well, holding the Pacers star Danny Granger to 5-7 from three point range. Minnesota also fought for rebounds throughout, scrapping on the boards to a 58-45 loss on the glass, including one particularly memorable sequence in which the Pacers got six offensive rebounds.

Like the rest of Minnesota’s fanbase, I’m sick of that Michael Beasley guy. Sure, Beasley was the only Timberwolf to shoot over 50% for the game but he missed all three of his three point attempts. How about that shot selection, huh? He MUST be the problem.

All in all, a tough loss for the Wolves, who appear to be strongly committed to finishing their season strong. I can’t wait to see how things turn out tonight with Memphis.

Luke Ridnour is a candidate for Sportsmanship Award

Luke Ridnour is nominated for the NBAs Sportsmanship Award.

Luke Ridnour is nominated for the NBA's Sportsmanship Award.

As I write this, the Wolves are getting crushed by the Pacers, and I’m trying to find something positive to think about to keep myself off Twitter. Trust me, it’s healthier this way.

Anyway, here’s something kind of positive: Luke Ridnour is the Northwest Division Sportsmanship award winner.

From a Timberwolves perspective, it’s easy to see how Ridnour deserves it. He has worked hard all season, guarded people who he had no business guarding, and generally made the best of a difficult situation. We never heard him complaining about his matchups, and he rarely complains to the refs (at least by NBA standards).

Now Ridnour has a chance to become the winner of the whole NBA’s Sportsmanship Award. The other contenders are Jeremy Lin (Atlantic), Chris Paul (Pacific), Jason Kidd (Southwest), Antawn Jamison (Central), and Shane Battier (Southeast).

It’s hard to see Luke Ridnour winning this over Jeremy Lin and that’s fine. It’s just nice to see Ridnour getting some credit for all the hard work he put in this season. I, for one, am really glad he will be back next year.

Game 62 Preview: Indiana Pacers vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Indiana Pacers (38-22) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-36)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 115-110 vs Oklahoma City, Indiana: W, 105-99 vs Milwaukee

Kevin Love remains unavailable for Minnesotas matchup with Indiana tonight.

Kevin Love remains unavailable for tonight's matchup with Indiana.

The Wolves scrapped away against the Thunder on Saturday, but were unable to pull out a win. Michael Beasley scored 26 points and JJ Barea added 24, but Russell Westbrook scored 35, while Kevin Durant put up 40 points including 16 in the final seven minutes, as the Thunder sent Minnesota to their 10th consecutive loss.

The Pacers beat the Bucks on Saturday, dealing Milwaukee a very damaging blow to their fading playoff hopes. Indiana is third in the Eastern Conference, maintaining a 2.5 game lead over the Celtics, who have moved up to 4th place.

The Key Questions

#1. Can Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph continue to pad their end of the year stats?

Randolph and Beasley helped the Wolves stay in the game on Saturday. I may be in the minority, but I would support Beasley getting another contract from the Wolves, if the numbers are right. If Randolph gets another Minnesota contract based off these games, I’ll throw things.

#2. Are the Pacers title contenders?

Here’s something to consider: the Bulls are injury-prone, and may be worn out by the playoffs. The Heat are flawed. The Celtics are surging, but fragile. The Hawks can’t be trusted. The Magic hate each other. The Knicks have spent two years trying to find their identity and still haven’t pulled it off.

I’m not saying the Pacers are favorites. But in a weird, shortened season, why COULDN’T they be considered contenders?

#3. Are there Wolves questions that need to be asked at this point?

Not really. You know the drill. Injuries, losses, and a lost season that should have been so much more. Other than that, I’m not really bitter about anything.

The Key Matchups

The biggest matchup for the Wolves will be Nikola Pekovic against Indiana’s all-star giant Roy Hibbert. While Pekovic is much better at scoring in the restricted area (64% to Hibbert’s 57%), Hibbert’s range far outstrips Pekovic. Pek has struggled from outside the restricted area, shooting 31% from in the paint and 11% on mid-range shots, as opposed to 51% and 33% from Hibbert.

Basically, a lot of numbers to say that Hibbert can shoot from further out than Pekovic, and since Hibbert is so tall, Pek might struggle.

Danny Granger is going to be a problem for Minnesota. In their last meeting, Granger scored 36 points, including 5-8 shooting from 3 point range and 13-15 from the line. Martell Webster will be guarding him. I don’t have anything optimistic to add to this.

The Outlook

Bleak. Again. The Pacers have an Eastern Conference playoff lead to maintain. The Wolves have five games to mail in. Just…five more games…

Game starts at 6 pm on League Pass

Weekend recap; Wolves drop two

Lumping recaps into one big post seems like the easiest thing to do at this point. Reminiscent of the Wolves’ recent play, all of the games and the analysis has become so cookie-cutter, it’s a waste of time to even title two separate posts.

Here’s a breakdown of thought-processes after watching a game the last two weeks: Barea turns the ball over a lot; injuries are a pain, literally; the transparency and often complete lack-thereof in what one would call a “defense;” everyone just wants to shoot because if they don’t make something happen, they won’t be on the team next year; injuries really suck; Kevin Love is dearly missed, and I mean the K-Love at midseason, not the worn down horse Adelman rides for 40 mins a night; there are no wing players that have any capability, whatsoever, of creating a shot for himself; and, finally, injuries are the bane of this entire team’s confidence. Screw ‘em.

It’s obviously clear what’s going wrong lately, and it really starts with that last one with everything else piled on top, just as I listed them above. The Rubio injury was the killer, but there are other ones that were serious blows too. It started off with Malcolm Lee not even being able to debut until the end of March. Obviously a rookie reserve going down isn’t going to make much of a difference, but when role players like JJ Barea and Michael Beasley go down, things start to get a little dicey. Add in Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour, and now Kevin Love, that completes the injury-cycle full-circle.

What we have seen, more prominently in the last three games, is a stronger presence from the bench guys, who have seen an increase in minutes because of the injuries. Guys like Anthony Randolph and even Michael Beasley have beefed up their scoring punches. The reason being is because their careers in Minnesota are indeed in jeopardy. With just a little time left in the season, it’s turned into tryouts for guys on expiring contracts. For the most part, their impressing but just knowing who those two players are and judging the entire scope of their NBA careers, it doesn’t seem likely that 20-point performances in the garbage time of the season is going to alter the stigma their games hold, as well as what they can contribute to the Wolves in the future.

That’s what the rest of this season is about: the future. If they can dig deep and pull out some wins or even minor, moral victories, it will pay dividends heading into the offseason. It’s all about confidence and the Wolves have none right now. They haven’t won a game in the month of April, and the only possible sure-win in sight is a bout in Detroit against the Pistons.

Until then the games, and, consequently, my recaps, will likely be drab and full of pessimism. But within the lifeless, consistent games/recaps, just know there is a silver lining that the future will be better. We can only hope because it’s been downright ugly as of late.

Game 61 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Oklahoma City Thunder (43-18) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-35)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 95-82 vs Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City: W, 115-89 vs Sacramento

The Timberwolves played the Clippers on Thursday without Kevin Love, who sat out with a concussion. Minnesota fought, but were outmanned and outgunned by the Clippers, who pulled away in the second half.

The Thunder demolished Sacramento Friday night. Durant scored 29 and Westbrook scored 22, while the Thunder held DeMarcus Cousins to 9 points on 3-14 shooting.

Oh yeah, and they did this:

The Key Questions

#1. Will Kevin Love be available to play?

Negative, which is doubly unfortunate. Now we won’t get a repeat performance of March 23′s thrilling double OT game. Love was brilliant, scoring 51 points and dueling Durant and Westbrook, but he wasn’t enough to spur Minnesota to victory. Unfortunately, the rematch looks like it will have to wait until next year.

#2. Will Anthony Randolph continue to play well?

In his last two games, Randolph has been impressive, both offensively and defensively, especially against Denver. AR scored 28 points on 11-16 shooting and blocked 5 shots. Against the Clippers, Randolph continued to be efficient, scoring 16 points on 7-12 shooting. The strangest sentence I will write today: Anthony Randolph will be key to the Wolves’ fortunes tonight.

#3. Will Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine for 100 points?

The Wolves have historically had trouble guarding Durant, and they will be starting Barea against Westbrook. Oh yes. There will be blood.

The Key Matchups

The biggest matchup for Minnesota will be Nikola Pekovic against Kendrick Perkins. Perkins is one of the few centers in the league who can match up with Pekovic strength-wise, but the Wolves will need Pek’s production to have any kind of a chance against the Thunder.

The Wolves will need to do their best to limit Durant/Westbrook. It would be an understatement to call this a tall order, but if the Wolves force the rest of the Thunder to beat them instead, the game might be more competitive.

The Outlook

Ho boy. This could get ugly. On the one hand, the Wolves seem to be playing with a little more pride. On the other hand, Oklahoma City is a much, much better team.

Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North

Game 60 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Los Angeles Clippers (35-23) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-34)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 113-107 vs Denver, Los Angeles Clippers: W, 100-98 vs Oklahoma City

The Wolves will need a big night from players like Beasley to compete tonight.

The Wolves will need a big night from players like Beasley to compete tonight.

File this under “injury to insult:” Kevin Love went down in the first quarter of last night’s game with a concussion. Love took an elbow from Denver’s JaVale McGee, which may have ended his season. Despite a huge rally from the Wolves, Denver put Minnesota away late, moving into 7th place in the Western Conference.

The Clippers won a statement game against the Thunder last night. Chris Paul took over the game in the second half, including a layup in the final seconds that clinched the game for LA.

The Key Questions

#1. Without Kevin Love for the next few games, can the Timberwolves compete with the Clippers?

It’s hard to imagine that they can. Perhaps the Clippers will have a lapse in concentration the night after a big win, but it seems more likely that Minnesota will be taken out of the game early.

Derrick Williams will likely get the start opposite Blake Griffin. With Williams starting, look for Michael Beasley to get more time coming off the bench, and for him to be more of a focal point offensively. This could be a good thing: Beasley dropped 27 on the Clippers last time these teams met, shooting 11-15 from the field.

#2. Can Minnesota’s role players continue to step up?

Last night after Love went down, several Timberwolves players stepped up and made the game respectable. They will need to continue to play well to have a chance tonight. If the Wolves can get another performance like the one they got from Anthony Randolph last night (28 points on 11-16 shooting), they could make this a game (unlikely).

The Key Matchups

How much will DeAndre Jordan affect Nikola Pekovic’s production? Jordan is so long, he is a tough shot-blocking matchup for every post in the NBA. He isn’t, however, great at helping out on defense.

The mere thought of JJ Barea trying to guard Chris Paul makes my teeth grind. Paul has been playing well lately (21 points, 10 assists in his last five games), and he is a great defender, leading the NBA in steals. He even has a size advantage on Barea. This could be ugly.

The Outlook

The last time these teams played, Minnesota won by 12. At that time, the Wolves were streaking, Love and Rubio were both healthy and active, and everything was a little brighter in Minneapolis. Since then, everything has gone wrong for the Wolves, and things have started going right for the Clippers, who are 8-2 in their last 10. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers slipping tonight.

Game starts at 7 pm on Fox Sports North

Free fallin'; Wolves lose 113-107

Kevin Love went down tonight, who knows for how long

You know how the song goes. It epitomizes the Wolves’ recent stretch.

You can easily make an argument that tonight was a different story, but was it really? They were down by 24 points at one point. They were playing like their usual selves, which meant complete and utter disappointment. The guiding star, Kevin Love, started off a paltry 0-5 and didn’t look like he was going to turn it around at any point after receiving a blow to the dome from Javale McGee and never returned. (Don’t worry, it should only be a concussion, maybe a couple games off unless they decide to shut him down for the season.)

Those reasons above justify that this was still a bad game for the Wolves. Forget the final score and any argument for why this one is different than the past six. It’s about the game as a whole, from beginning to end; an F in the first half paired with an A in the second averages out to a C. A C is not a passing grade in basketball.

But I will tell you who deserves a solid B+ to A- for their performances tonight: Anthony Randolph and Derrick Williams. The two young guns found more playing time after Love went down and Nikola Pekovic took the bench. And, boy, did they not disappoint. They combined for 55 points. Yeah, 55. We all knew what they were both capable of on the offensive end of the court. The problem is that they both need shots to put up the numbers and it has to be “their night,” if you know what I mean. On any given night, everyone understands that the minutes and the shots and the spotlight belongs to Love. But without him, who gets the chance to step up? Better yet, who wants to step up? We found out tonight that Randolph and Williams aren’t afraid to stand tall and claim that role.

Both JJ Barea and, surprisingly, Wes Johnson had solid nights as well. Barea dished out a season-high 15 assists, and Johnson was sneakily efficient going 5-8 from the field (The key is taking 2′s, Wes!) But they still had their flaws, especially Barea. Barea dribbled too much, and at the final shot to make a difference and tie the game in the final minute, took a poor fadeaway shot over the taller Kenneth Faried and barely caught a piece of the rim.

As much as I want to for the entertainment of reading this piece, the Wolves’ play just isn’t worth it. I enjoyed seeing them face adversity in the second half as well as watching Randolph and Williams catch fire, but a loss is still a loss. Their bad streak of games continues, and, in the midst of losing Love for a few games or more, only complicates matters even more than they are now.

The Wolves continue to preach the importance of finishing on a high note. I hope we can see it because the season’s coming to a close and the latest history tells us the trend won’t change to quickly.

Next up comes the LA Clippers tomorrow night. Love’s status is unknown for tomorrow night which harms the chances of turning this ship around before season’s end. We’ll see what they can do.

Game 59 Preview: Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Denver Nuggets (31-26) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-33)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 114-90 vs Phoenix, Denver: W, 123-84 vs Golden State

The Timberwolves visit Denver tonight in a game that would have meant quite a lot about a month ago.

The Timberwolves visit Denver tonight in a game that would have meant quite a lot a month ago.

Minnesota completely failed to show up for a nationally televised home game against the Suns on Monday. Everything about Minnesota’s box score fit the mold of every other Minnesota box score this season.

The Nuggets crushed the Warriors on Monday in Denver. Kenneth Faried had one of his best games of the season, scoring 27 points on 12-18 shooting and grabbing 17 rebounds. I’m not much of a fan of +/- statistics, but Faried was a rather ridiculous +33 for the game.

Denver continues to cling to the 8th and final playoff spot, leading Phoenix by a game and Utah by a game and a half. The Nuggets are 5-5 in their last 10 games.

The Key Questions

#1. Should we be worried about Kevin Love?

Love doesn’t seem to have quit on this season yet. He continues to put up big scoring games, though his field goal percentage continues to fall as his body absorbs the abuse of this absurd season.

One would like to believe that Love, like Minnesota’s fans, sees this lost season as an anomaly that will be corrected with a real season, real practice and real rest time, one in which Minnesota’s point guard prodigy doesn’t go down with a season ending knee injury.

But of course, we can’t be certain. In the meantime, look for Love to put up 25+ points on 20+ shots tonight.

#2. Can the Wolves top 100?

The Wolves are 1-7 in their last eight games, and in six of those games, they have failed to break the century mark. In the two games they DID break 100, they still lost, because the defense has been absolutely awful. Still. Getting past 100 should at least give them a fighting chance.

The Outlook

I apologize for the shortened preview, but considering the effort Minnesota has been putting forth lately, perhaps it’s appropriate. The Wolves have looked tired and lethargic in all of their last six games. There’s little reason to believe tonight will be different.

Game starts at 8 pm on League Pass