Gas tank on empty; Wolves lose 129-106

Gorgui Dieng doing work

Gorgui Dieng doing work

How did you spend your Wednesday night?

Well, mine started with an ice-cold one as I sat on the couch, put my feet up after a long day at work. Then I remembered the Wolves were in Dallas for a pretty pivotal matchup with some serious playoff implications, which Nick so gratefully laid out for us.

To all of our delight, the Wolves came out in the end with a brutally hard-fought victory. Brilliant efforts from Ricky Rubio, who recorded his first triple-double including a very rare 20-point performance, and Gorgui Dieng, the unheralded rookie, who’s found time due to Nikola Pekovic’s injury, led the charge over the Mavericks. It was the kind of victory that had a lot of beef to it; an overtime bout against a formidable foe, who’s pushing right alongside the Wolves for a spot in the playoffs. You’d really think it’d create some momentum heading into the second night of a back-to-back in good ole’ Texas.

Well, unfortunately that wasn’t really the case. In fact, outside of just one good quarter tonight in Houston, — the first quarter, to be exact — the Wolves pretty much ran out of gas and fought for the sake of saving some embarrassment all night long. At the hands of the red-hot Houston Rockets, though, what more could you really expect?

One thing I would’ve liked to expect was back-to-back great nights from Ricky Rubio but that was just like trying to piss in the wind. And just when I was so jazzed up after reading Britt Robson’s great piece on the Spanish point guard and watching him play so well last night. Instead, Rubio may have been the first to tune out due to fatigue, only playing 25 minutes total after burning the hardwood for 49 ticks last night. He finished disappointingly with just five points and eight assists.

Another thing I would’ve liked to see tonight was a consistently sound performance from Dieng, but we didn’t get that either. Actually, fans got to gaze upon something much more special than that. Dieng finished with career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (21), which included a ridiculous eight offensive rebounds. Sure, the Rockets were indeed without All-Star center Dwight Howard but Omer Asik is a more-than-capable fill in and Dieng worked him to pieces. He benefitted from the perimeter-oriented Rockets’ attack but the numbers are gauntly, so daft that even the $12 million dollar man himself (Pekovic) probably couldn’t top it any better. It’s now been three games in a row that Dieng has brought his game when called upon and became a real force to be reckoned with.

Other than Kevin Love’s standard night of 29-6-5, though, the rest of the Wolves really fell in line with Rubio’s doing; simply just a lackluster performance that was fueled by fumes and 5-hour energy shots more than anything else. You can’t blame them because they probably felt the way I did after work on Wednesday night. And let me tell you, that’s never a fun place to be in. Well, unless you have beer and a comfy sofa like me. But instead they had to go out and play another game against one of the hottest teams in the league. That’s just cruel.

The fact of the matter is that this was still a tough loss and excuses probably shouldn’t be made. In fact, with Howard being out, this actually could’ve been a win for the Wolves, given how well they’ve been playing the past month. With the playoff picture practically just mathematically alive, any game, whether the opponent is great or not, is coming down to must-wins. Time will run out if the Wolves aren’t careful. And although it’s an extremely difficult uphill battle, the odds are still alive. Why not at least make a push?

Old School whips New School; Wolves lose 105-93

Big Al put on a show tonight in Charlotte

Big Al put on a show tonight in Charlotte

Remember back, like, a really long time ago, when Al Jefferson was the mainstay of the Kevin Garnett-to-Celtics deal? At the time, he was a highly skilled big man that brought a glimmer of hope that the NBA’s fruitful big men weren’t officially retired, and what was a somber move for the Timberwolves organization actually had some life and excitement to it.

The most unfortunate part of the deal was that the rest of Gang Green was sent packing alongside Big Al and the dooming spiral of depression that was the mid late 2000’s covered the Twin Cities like Hurricane Katrina.

Jefferson, now older, wiser but perhaps a tad slower, gave the Wolves a healthy dose of what could’ve been tonight by putting the Bobcats on his shoulders and sprinting them through to the finish line and a big win for Charlotte over the Wolves tonight. He finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, helping Charlotte win that battle by a tally of 54-35. Ouch. They actually held all Wolves players, including Love and Pekovic, from reaching double-digits in rebounds tonight. A very rare feat indeed.

Meanwhile, the Wolves’ bench played crappy and, conversely, the Bobcats’ bench didn’t. Gary Neal had 19 points and Chris Douglas-Roberts and Cody Zeller both pitched in 10 themselves.

At a time the Wolves oughta be desperate for the wins, losing to the Bobcats is a tough one to swallow. And despite how well they’ve been playing since the All-Star Break, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that a chance at the playoffs are moving further and further away each and every night. I’m not giving up hope, but these are the facts, people.

Think about it: 13 of the Wolves’ next 18 games are against the dreaded Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Suns take on seven Eastern Conference teams and the Grizzlies remaining schedule includes two games each against the Jazz and the 76ers. Based on what lies ahead, not just for the Wolves, but the others fighting for that final playoff spot, it doesn’t add up well for Minnesota.

That’s still no reason to quit. In fact, the final 18 games of the season could be the most important, regardless of the playoff race. Look up and down this roster and tell me that there will be major changes. Aside from the long shot odds that Flip Saunders moves Kevin Love, every key piece will return next season. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are here on long term deals, Ricky Rubio will return on his rookie salary, and Corey Brewer will stay even if his role may be reduced to a reserve if they can find another small forward with a more well-rounded game. The Shved’s, Barea’s and even perhaps the Budinger’s of the squad could be in doubt, which could benefit next season greatly, given how drastically underwhelming the bench has been just about all season. But now you also have a chance to develop guys like Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, who didn’t get much burn to start the season off (Figures). Rick Adelman could have a difficult time inserting those guys and developing them at this juncture, especially when someone like Muhammad magically posts a minus-18 in just 10 minutes of burn but you just have to do it. End of story.

Games like this are going to litter the end of the season and potentially spoil it, but as long as we don’t give up playoff hopes — because literally anything can happen — we’ll be just fine. As Minnesota sports fans, we’ve all learned to expect the worst but still desperately hope for the best. We can do it for the Wolves for just one more season, right?

Novak Nightmare; Wolves lose 111-104

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So back to .500 they go.

Thanks to Steve Novak and a huge night from behind the arc, the Raptors were able to bury the Wolves, keeping them from jumping two games above that dreaded .500 mark, and even shut Kevin Love down from grabbing his second triple-double of his career. The Raptors shot 14-24 from deep, including a 5-6 mark from Novak in his 20 minutes of burn off the bench. Compare that to the Wolves’ respectable 7-19 from that territory, you can see why this one was a little bit out of their reach for most of the game.

The Big Three came to play once again. The Love-Pek-Martin combo combined for 63 points, while Corey Brewer contributed 17 of his own. But it was the difference in the benches that swung this one’s result. Raptors got a lift of 15 from Novak and 12 from Greivis Vazquez to completely open up the game. By that point, the starters from Toronto just had to play marginally to score the win, which is exactly what they did. In fact, Novak and Vazquez combined netted a plus-28 while on the court. The rest of the Toronto starters combined for a plus-2, so it should’ve been much closer if it weren’t for that meddling white guy.

This was kind of hurts for a few different reasons. For one, the Wolves were playing some excellent basketball, in particular some stout defense, for the past couple weeks. But the Raptors all but blew that open by shooting red-hot from the perimeter. Sometimes it’s just a hot night, sometimes it’s poor rotation and not closing out on guys properly. I think it was a little bit of both in this one. Secondly, the Wolves are fatefully bound to this .500 mark. No matter how good this team can be, they’ll always seem to hover right around that record it seems like. They’re the classic case of, “Well, we’re pretty good but we’re still gonna make bad mistakes and let a three-point shooter off the bench take us down.” Classic.

And finally, I’m finally starting to keep my eyes on the playoff race. So, as I took a gander at the West’s standings this morning, I realized quickly that the Wolves are; A) a long shot to make that final spot; and B) are totally screwed by being in the Western Conference period. Under new commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA will undergo some changes. They’ve already looked at a European division. There’s talk of expanding the court and making a 4-point shot, or at least increasing the distance of a three-pointer. All good ideas. But if you really want to fix this league and the parity that runs through it, the divisions must be eliminated and the conferences of East and West completely scraped clean. I get that teams change and new ones get better, old ones get worse but it’s been this way for quite a while that the West is just straight-up more dominant from top to bottom than the East. And it’s sickening. The Wolves would actually be in the 7th seed right now in the East. And although that doesn’t bode well for a first-round matchup with the Heat or the Pacers, at least it’s a taste of the playoffs that could jumpstart the fan base a little more and perhaps give Kevin Love a little convincing to stay.

The Raptors are a good squad, and there’s no denying the fact that this could’ve been a statement game for the Wolves had they won it. But the frustrating thing is that even the Raptors would struggle to compete in the West, just like the Wolves, but instead they get to reap the benefits of playing in the East and now they’re fighting for home-court advantage in the first-round despite having a good enough record to even make a spot in the West. I didn’t intend to make this recap a rant on what I believe should happen in the NBA soon but this game was a perfect example of how the league can better its teams by ridding itself of divisions and stirring up the pot that is the East/West divider.

Wolves a winning; Beat Kings 108-97

Nikola Pekovic came back tonight and in a big way

Nikola Pekovic came back tonight and in a big way

There’s a new attitude gleaming from the entire Wolves organization. Prior to the All-Star Break, hope was all but lost on making the Western Conference playoffs and looming personnel decisions like the trade deadline and Kevin Love’s status braced headlines from blogs and Twitter pages across the entire web.

But now, as winners of five out of the past six contests after the All-Star game, the Wolves’ playoff dreams are beginning to look a tad more realistic, and everything couldn’t be gelling as well as it is at a better time than now.

Tonight the Wolves got both Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back from injury, giving the Wolves an enormous boost. Those two helped lift the Wolves to a solid win in Sacramento by combining for 46 points. Martin was the hot-hand to begin with, scoring 14 in the first, while Pekovic gave Boogie Cousins a healthy dose down low as well. The two’s return couldn’t have been better planned, considering Kevin Love had a bit of an off-night. He started awfully slow but Love regained form in the second half and was a big reason why the Wolves pulled ahead in the third and sealed the game well before the clock hit zero.

The starters were lethal offensively but struggled to contain Rudy Gay at the other end. Gay came up big dropping 24 points in an efficient performance (Shocker). And then Cousins and Isaiah Thomas both had themselves terrific second halves scoring wise. But the Kings, as they normally do, committed way too many turnovers, and when the Wolves are forcing their opponent’s hand with pressure on the perimeter, mistakes will be made. The Kings had 19 turnovers, while the Wolves capitalized by scoring 27 points off turnovers thanks to the leaking Corey Brewer and company.

The Wolves have delved into a different mode we’ve never really seen before. For the first time in years, they seemed to have figured out how to link consecutive, quality games by creating and staying true to their own special brand of basketball. Winning teams have recipes for their success; Pacers play suffocating defense; Heat play a well spaced-out floor on the offensive end; Lakers play the triangle (Well, not so much); Suns run a fast-paced game to keep the opponent on their heels all night. It’s still difficult to pin exactly what the Wolves have been able to do over this winning stretch because it’s not exactly consistent with what they’ve ever done under Rick Adelman before. But as long as Love keeps playing out of his mind, Brewer and Ricky Rubio provide steady, stout perimeter defense, Martin and Pekovic continue to be role scorers putting up anywhere from 16-24 per game each and the bench keeps up their hard-played minutes, I like our chances moving forward even if it will be a constant, difficult uphill climb until the end.

It’s an exciting brand of basketball the Wolves are playing, and it was certainly on display tonight in Sacramento. Now all that’s left to do is play consistently night-to-night and keep racking up the wins. Next up: The Nuggest in Denver on Monday night.

A real J-azz whooping

The Jazz had no answer for Love's enormous night

The Jazz had no answer for Love’s enormous night

A solid, fun game like that deserves a punny title, so there’s that. But to get down to business, tonight’s win was exactly what the Wolves were looking for coming out of the All-Star break and now sit with a two-game win streak. #Winning.

As far as I’m concerned, a heavy dose of Kevin Love on offense and an all-around team effort seems to be the winning formula thus far. So after Wednesday’s big win at home over the highly heralded Indiana Pacers, the Wolves took that idea into Utah and came out victorious. And in a big way. Speaking of winning ways, check out this site for NBA odds on the Timberwolves for game-to-game lines and to gauge expectations for them come playoff time.

Kevin Love recorded the first triple-double of his career, despite averaging a double-double over the span of his career so far. Tonight he did it scoring the rock (Typical), sucking up rebounds (Uh-duh!) and dishing out some serious dimes (Wait, whut?!). Believe it or not, Love’s actually become quite a potent option to set up teammates for open looks. It’s his comfortability both inside the paint and beyond the perimeter that gives him that newfound advantage. He gets a wide variety of looks at the basket from all over the court, so if others around him are moving well without the ball, he’ll be able to find them in a split second, passing up an open shot of his own. It’s an aspect of his game that’s really grown over the course of this season and deserves a lot of credit for the overall growth to his game. And let’s not forget that a good amount of his assists come off of Minnesota’s go-to play, The Brewer Outlet. My goodness it’s a thing of beauty.

Now, Love’s 37-12-10 line was the showstopper but it must be known that this was yet another solid team win for the Wolves. Part of that new winning formula is an all-around team effort, which was visibly apparent again tonight.

Ricky Rubio had his second straight game where he looked very comfortable on both ends of the court. He actually ended the game with 15 points on 5-7 shooting. He also had seven assists himself. The assists were a big reason that the entire starting lineup of Love-Rubio-Cunningham-Budinger-Brewer all scored in double digits. Cunningham had one of his better games of the season with 11 and five boards. Then you also have to be fond of how the bench performed, most notably Gorgui Dieng. Scoring major minutes with Ronny Turiaf sitting this one out, Dieng started the game 4-4 with eight points before missing his last shot and also had eight rebounds off the bench, which helped the Wolves dominate the glass 49-34. Dieng had his best game of the season and it’s undoubtedly a confidence builder. I think they’re still looking at Dieng/Shabazz Muhammad as long-term options off the bench, almost as go-to guys off the bench, so a game like that can do wonders toward reaching that goal.

All in all, the Jazz are not a very good team, so some could look at this win as a bit of a given. But as inconsistent as the Wolves have been all season, two straight wins in convincing fashion are a momentum builder without a doubt. Hopefully this new formula will play a part in many games to come. If so, wins are on the horizon as the Wolves battle for that final playoff spot.

Kevin Love’s Makeover

Face-off with Kevin Love

Face-off with Kevin Love

GQ recently did a profile on the Timberwolves’ own Kevin Love. Included was a suave haircut, a beard trimming and a dapper new suit. Gotta admit it, the man cleans up swell.

But as part of his profile, Love sat down for an interview with GQ. Here’s a piece of what Love had to say to the magazine:

“People think it’s so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” Love told GQ. “And I’m not s——- on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.”

There’s no need to dig too deep into his comments because a lot can change between now and the summer of 2015, when Love’s contract could be up. And he’s not far off by any means. The Lakers are pretty dismal, there’s no lying about that. And the Wolves, despite their record being shy of what they wished coming into the season, are indeed a “fun” team to be a part of. Love’s obviously going through the emotions during the up-and-down season. He’s vaulted his way into race for third place for MVP (First and second is all but locked up, obviously). He’s clearly having the best season of his career, and he’s made huge strides in terms of leadership and intangibles. All in all, Love is becoming a bonafide superstar before our eyes, and it’s about time we give him that respect he deserves.

So don’t think too much about what Love said other than that the kind words are awfully humbling. But Love is doing and saying all of the right things at the exact right time.

HTW’s All Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team

In honor All-Star Weekend, HTW wanted to compile a team that truly represents the Wolves’ 25-year history in the NBA. Now, unfortunately, the Wolves haven’t had much of a decorated past. In fact, since we don’t consider the Minneapolis Lakers as part of the Wolves family, the teams of years past and all their players have, well, — how do I put this lightly? — have been pretty damn awful.

From botched lottery picks to “prized” free agents/trade targets and a plethora of attempted “Comeback Kid” projects, the Wolves have failed to put together a lengthy string of good, albeit competent basketball players. Outside of bringing in the cornerstone of the franchise in Kevin Garnett back in 1995 and finding the right formula for just a handful of years, the team’s past has been littered with misery and false hope.

In order to properly celebrate this truly depressing feat, HTW is unveiling it’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team. Filled with your favorites from teams both old and new, we want to show you what it takes to be filled with misfortune and regret. Tom, Derek and myself each compiled a list ourselves of players containing five starters, seven bench players and three worthy of honorable mention to create a 15-man squad. I then weighted the lists to find out who are finalists were and also plugged them in as a starter, bench or honorable mention based on those weighted projections. As a side note, I just want to be extremely clear that this was not even close to easy and for all the wrong reasons. Not only have a lot of poor basketball players played for the Wolves before but many have played for them way too long. Honestly, we should feel lucky enough to have only seen a large percentage of these players play in Minnesota for less than a couple years at best.

So without further adieu, here is HTW’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team:  Continue reading

Good vs. Bad; Wolves lose 107-89

Love vs. D12 AND Jones is always a tough matchup

Love vs. D12 AND Jones is always a tough matchup

Every competition ends with a winner and a loser heading back to their respective locker rooms. As a fan, joy of competitive sports is not knowing before the game even starts who could win. There are always factors that could lead one to believe that one side has an advantage — albeit slight or commanding. Often times, and general Minnesota sports fans are all too familiar with this feeling, the Wolves head into games on the opposite end of having that advantage. It shouldn’t be like that given we have a top scorer in Kevin Love, a big time assist-man and stifling defender in Ricky Rubio, as well as a slew of supporting characters, all paid handsomely for their past contributions to prior teams (I’m looking at you, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer).

But the story is becoming all too familiar from the treacherous past that has haunted the organization year in and year out. Luck is no longer on our side, rather the injury bug continues to perch on the walls of the Target Center. The future looks bleak with the looming demise of superstars hitchhiking out of town and a less-than-friendly cap situation. Bottom-line: It can’t get much worse rooting for a team trying to claw out from a seemingly bottomless pit of pure darkness and jaw-clenching damp air.

Oops, sorry. Accidentally published my season-end censure for when the Wolves miss out on the playoffs by losing the final game of the season. My bad.

Actually, tonight’s loss wasn’t that big of a deal at all. If you go back to that first depressing paragraph and think about how team’s go into games with specific factors that tip the scale in their favor, well, that was easily the Rockets tonight. Look, they’re way freaking better than the Wolves. Pure and simple.

But there are other factors that go into this matchup and its result that negatively affected the Wolves’ stock, including injuries to both Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin. The Wolves have been flat-out bad without Pek and Martin has always provided that second-scoring punch behind Love for the entire season. Without those two guys, a lot of pressure leans heavily onto the shoulders of inexperienced players (inexperienced within that role, that is) such as Budinger, Brewer, Barea and even Rubio, who’s not used to scoring as much as he can on any given night.

The Rockets’ starters kicked the pants off the Wolves entire team tonight. After all, they combined for 85 points and the highest scorer (Chandler Parsons) only posted 20 himself. Otherwise, it was a collective ass-kicking up and down the whole lineup. A barrage of three-pointers and a healthy dose of Dwight Howard and even Terrence Jones inside will give any defense the heebee-jeebies. That is why they’re built like the monster they are now to make a serious run at a title, and they undoubtedly have a shot if they’re playing their best ball towards the end of the season.

As for the Wolves, they’re just not good right now. Love is doing all he can to muster up enough production and leadership to get the cart back on track but it’s just not a one-man job. Time will help the Wolves greatly; to get Pek and Martin back healthy will boost the offense and the starting lineup will once again be whole. But until then, the grind must continue. Guys like Alexey Shved, who showed up at least in the first half with 11 points, and/or Luc Richard Mbah A Moute have to prove their minutes and fill voids. Depth has never been this team’s strong suit, and we certainly saw that tonight, but it’ll be of the utmost importance that that second unit steps up to the plate with more confidence that they can get the job done right. Because 29 points on just 37 percent shooting ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

Again, this win isn’t conducive to what I first wrote above but it very well could be if things aren’t straightened out in the next month or two. If the team of currently healthy lads can muster up some confidence, win a few games before the break and then regather once they’re second and third mates come back, I don’t see why this team, behind Love’s magic, can’t resurge back into the playoff picture. It really can happen. And, well, we sorta need it to.

Otherwise I’m copying in pasting those first couple paragraphs into a piece titled, “The Dump That Was 2013-2014.”

Next up: Wolves stay at home for a bout against the Nuggets on Wednesday. Mr. Derek James will have your coverage as well as a carefully thought-out recap following the game! Until then…