I love Taco Bell. And so does Kevin Love. Check him out in this new Taco Bell commercial.
There’s the theme for this weekend’s games. P.S. I went with the upbeat version of it to sorta brighten your mood while reading on. Because that’s about as satisfying and happy as I can get.
We’ll start with Friday night’s bout against the Raptors. I’m not sure what it is about Toronto that the Timberwolves just don’t like but they’ve historically never played well north of the U.S. border. And that’s really saying something. The Raptors haven’t been a real competitive team since a few years with Bosh and then the McGrady/Vinsanity years. But this team has developed into a tough squad this year, and that’s saying something after trading away their “best player” in Rudy Gay earlier this season.
Kyle Lowry is legit. Demar Derozan could very well be a bonafide all-star. And Jonas Valanciunas is a pretty big hassle to handle down low on both ends of the court. Even with those three, though, the Raptors are more than beatable on any given night. But that’s just not in the cards for the Wolves. Like ever.
Dating back to the end of the KG era, the Wolves are just 1-17 against the Raptors, including some of the biggest deficits in Toronto itself. All I have to say is history saw this loss coming from a mile away and I think the Wolves themselves did too.
Before this loss, the Wolves were on a 1-3 streak and playing some of the most unenthused, depressing basketball we’ve seen them play all season long. Take that attitude into Toronto and you get what you deserved, a 94-89 loss to a team that, well plays like they actually like each other.
As for last night’s win back home over the Utah Jazz, I’m not so sure how to analyze it, honestly. Watching the game and checking the numbers afterward speak for itself; it was an old-fashioned ass-whooping in every sense of the term. But for a team that should be doing this to bad teams pretty much nine out of ten games all season long, it wasn’t all that impressive.
The Wolves rode Nikola Pekovic’s (the most stable, consistent player on the roster this entire month) hot hand to a big 98-72 win in Minneapolis. Contributing greatly was Kevin Martin, who’s greatly struggled the past few games. He added 20 points, despite still stumbling to put up point from the perimeter. He was just 1-6 from three-point land. Then there was Kevin Love, who 18-13-5 in a good night. Also worth mentioning was Alexey Shved, who added 10 points off the bench.
Other than the starters and Shved, the Wolves didn’t do anything. In fact, if you add up the minutes as well as the plus/minus numbers, the starters combined for plus-157 in 136 minutes played. As for the bench, they posted a minus-27 in 105 minutes of court time. Now I know how to explain the bench players: they just downright suck and have almost all season long. They never play as a unit, rather just rogue chickens with their heads cut off. Other than the occasional one bright spot (Last night being Shved), they continually fail to produce. As for the starters, well, this is close to what they should accomplish on any given night. I mean, they’re that good. There’s no denying Love and Pekovic’s talent, and then Martin’s ability to supplement their game with points from the perimeter. But was last night’s impressive numbers a result of that unit playing well together for once or the lack of balance and power the Jazz, without Gordon Hayward, could sustain?
Given where the Wolves are at mentally right now, these kinds of blowout wins are helpful for their psyche. But I can’t be the only one seeing how lame and limp the Wolves are playing ball as of late. It’s a contagious attitude that’s sprinkled down to all the players and most of the fans to boot. But if you really think about it, if you really think winning can cure all, is beating one of the NBA’s absolute worst teams, playing without their best player, mind you, really a part of the remedy? It shouldn’t. It’s pretty much false hope in my mind.
The only way to get off the schneid is to string together a few of these games in a row. That could be a trying task, considering the next few games include trips to Golden State, Portland and then Chicago. But taking two out of three on that road trip would certainly build a foundation for how to win — and ultimately play — like a playoff-caliber team.
Coming into this game, there were two things I didn’t really like.
- The San Antonio Spurs are really good at kicking ass.
- The Wolves are really good at staying at .500.
Those two facts played a big part into the final of tonight’s bout. The Spurs are just so good at making okay teams like the Wolves look pretty bad. And the Wolves, well, are really good at making themselves look pathetic in cities not named ‘Minneapolis.’
We’re gonna play a little game here. Now don’t go cheat by looking at the box score! Just take a look at these opposing numbers and guess which team is which.
- Team A: 35.5 FG%, 5/17 3PM, 40 REB, 17 AST, 16 STL, 10 TO, 10 PTS OFF TO’s
- Team B: 56.8 FG%, 9-13 3PM, 46 REB, 31 AST, 10 BLK, 20 TO, 16 PTS OFF TO’s
Ahh, who am I kidding? This isn’t even a game when everyone can win (Or cheat). Obviously, Team A was the Wolves. What tipped you off? The FG%? Yeah, most likely. But everything else seems up to par. They don’t typically get out-rebounded but when you shoot that bad, it can happen. The assists are awfully low but the Spurs make it look puny with their insane total. 16 steals is nice. That was mostly caused by bone-headedness from the Spurs and their surplus of turnovers. But when you can only convert 10 points out of 16 steals and 20 turnovers, you’re doing something wrong.
Or maybe you’re not doing anything wrong. There’s something funky about these Wolves. The poor shooting nights have become synonymous to almost any game they get into. Kevin Love is prone to have bad nights, as is Kevin Martin, but there’s just no help ready to step up. Nikola Pekovic has been the most consistent option all season long. Otherwise, if one of those two guys have an off night, it’s pretty much a wash for that one because no one has, or maybe even can, step up and make a difference in the scoring column. Corey Brewer’s awful December is creeping into January. JJ Barea’s too busy dribbling. Ricky Rubio, HA!
There’s not too many other options from there. It’s good to have Chase Budinger back but from a reduced bench role until he’s 100-percent, he won’t be able to get enough time or shots to reduce any void left from either Kevins’ off-night. Everything I’m laying out shouldn’t be new, and it’s definitely very much alive in the back of Rick Adelman’s mind, especially when he stares down his bench in some clutch moments during any game. The help has to come from within because I don’t see any roster movement coming soon. But it also needs to come soon. 36 games into the season means we’re almost halfway done, so a run has to come soon, otherwise we’re facing ping-pong balls yet again.
I don’t mean to get all panicky, especially after a blowout loss to one of the league’s, not just the conference’s best. But these are recurring faults game-in and out, and it’s getting more and more frustrating as the season wears on. Let’s hope that both Kevins and the Wolves as a whole can turn it around Wednesday at home vs Derrick Williams and the Sacramento Kings.
Ahh, it’s good to be back! A bug in our system may prevent us from writing about our beloved Wolves but it certainly did not bring down any passion I still share for this team.
So watching them win huge, 126-95, in Philly tonight was a blessing because we can all agree that the last few games, particularly the loss to OKC, totally sucked.
The Wolves used a three-point barrage to beat the 76ers to a bloody pulp tonight on their homecourt, and boy, was it needed. Here’s the analogy I’ll use; how many of you are the middle child? Bueller? Anyways, if you are, you know what it’s like to get beat up by the eldest. I mean, they’re bigger, stronger and, of course, older and wiser. There’s usually no way out of it except to scream for mom to tell them to stop. So you’re sitting there, all pouty and bruised when you’re little sibling walks into the room. They rub you the wrong way, poking and teasing, and next thing you know, you’re wailing on them out of sheer frustration.
That’s the mentality the Wolves had coming into tonight’s contest. The big, bad older brother Oklahoma City beat us up pretty good, even if it was close. It’s still bitter and hurts deep inside. So what’s the best way to get that out? Beat up on the younger, less experienced one, who simply loves to instigate the matter. That was Philadelphia tonight. It’s nothing personal against Philly. The Wolves were looking for anyone to take their frustration out on tonight. It just happened to be the poor 76ers.
But I don’t care. They needed this blowout win to prove it to themselves that they’re not broken. The season is still very long and there’s time to figure out how to scheme out a win over the bigger brother another day.
To get into the numbers a little bit, the Wolves ended up draining 16 threes, a season-high for them. The 76ers actually nailed eight themselves, which is pretty good. But what was mostly different from tonight than most of the Wolves’ scoring outbursts was the dispersion in the scoring. Typically you see just Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic dominating the scoring column. Well, they did so again tonight (42 points combined) but Corey Brewer added 15. Kevin Martin also netted 18. But the bench really came up big, which isn’t so typical, coming up with 47 points as well, mostly from JJ Barea (13), Dante Cunningham (10) and Alexey Shved (10).
Those last three guys are going to be a big piece of the season’s story moving forward. If Adelman can find some trust in those guys to come off the bench for 15+ minutes per game and NOT screw things up too drastically, this team’s makeup will be greatly different than if they can’t. Cut down the turnovers and at the very least just turn those into field goal attempts, and I think this unit will be more reliable than the previous couple months. Barea is the starter but Shved is going to be key as well because he has the potential to fill a sixth man sort of role. It’s just all about consistency for all three of them, which they’ve struggled with all season long. So really we just have to hope and pray that these kinds of nights happen a little more often.
Twas a great win tonight, and now the Wolves are back to .500 at 17-17 (That’s nothing new). They get one day rest but then gotta come prepared for a fiery Suns team on Wednesday night. Luckily, it’s at home but it won’t be as easy as preseason predictions had it to be.
So the Timberwolves whooped up on arguably the hottest team in the West right now pretty good tonight. And although the final margin was just 11, the deficit was really a lot bigger, according to the eye test.
This was the first time since probably early November that the Wolves actually looked like the offensive powerhouse they’re built to be. They had just about every facet of their offense working in unity to create a beautiful symphony. Kevin Love played the inside-out game, burning Lamarcus Aldridge from both areas. Nikola Pekovic was a monster in the paint by using non-monsterish, finesse moves like that new turnaround mid-range jumper. And then Kevin Martin picked up the slack by being an efficient scoring guard from all over.
The first half was one of the most entertaining halves I’ve seen the Wolves play this year, and there’s been a lot of them to this point. But they just had it working and against the Trail Blazers, who’ve had our number in the past, it was exciting to watch them go full-throttle. And by “number”, I mean they’ve won 21 of the last 23 meetings against the Wolves. Ouch. It’s typically a tough, back-and-forth meeting between these two that seems like it should be dominated by terrific, one-on-one play between Love and Aldridge but always comes down to some random perimeter guy from PDX (Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum) blowing up Wolves at the seams. And it was oh-so close to being that way again tonight.
After jumping out to a 30-plus point lead in the second (It was 69-43 at halftime), the Blazers staked their bid at a comeback. Behind the incredibly gifted Damian Lillard, the Blazers kept pushing the Wolves into an uncomfortable spot, time and time again down the court. Soon enough, that “impenetrable” lead dwindled down to just four points and almost all was certain that the Blazers would finish this comeback and, at the very least, take the lead.
Luckily, the Wolves had just enough fight in them to fire up some threes to finish the third quarter on a solid run of their own. Three-pointers from Love, Martin and JJ Barea (Two from him, actually) stemmed the run and pushed that lead back up to 20 points before the fourth quarter, as the Wolves ended up sealing the deal in the end.
It was that trio, Love, Martin and Pekovic, that did all the damage in a multitude of ways to take down the fiery Blazers tonight. Love narrowly missed recording his first career triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He actually finished the first half with eight of those nine assists. And then Martin made a nice return back to early-season form, scoring 22 points on 8-15 shooting. But it was Pekovic that took the cake for me. He netted a career-high 30 points and 14-19 shooting. He was so, so good at sealing the Blazers’ centers in the paint and then finishing on easy layups. He also showcased that new turnaround mid-range jumper, which fell a couple times tonight. We’re starting to see some growth in his game, leaning more towards finesse moves around the rim. It may seem awkward at first, and I’m not sure why we’re not used to it having watched Al Jefferson play in Minnesota before, but the numbers will continue to roll in for him and he’ll get the recognition league-wide that he deserves.
Speaking of deserving, Mr. Lillard needs some praise. I don’t care that he’s on the Blazers. This dude is insanely good. Right now, I’d take him over Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and, yes, even Ricky Rubio. He carries himself with such great maturity and his body language clearly proves his desire to win and get better each and every night. His game just about has it all, and we certainly saw that tonight, while he tried to lead the Portland comeback single-handedly. If the Blazers continue on this hot run of theirs, look for Lillard to continue to put up huge numbers and slide under the wing of national attention.
Now back at .500 on the season, next up for the Wolves are the Lakers with a battered but battling Kobe Bryant on Friday night.
Just a quick note before you read on, Ricky Rubio went 2-12 with six points in last night’s loss to the Celtics. He even lost significant playing time to the hands of JJ Barea and Alexey Shved down the stretch. This is the story of the rise and demise of Ricky Rubio and his offensive charm.
In 2009, former President of Basketball Operations David Kahn was in a prime position to turn the Timberwolves’ misfortunes around in a big, big way. Armed with two draft picks in the first seven slots in what seemed to be a pretty solid draft talent-wise, Wolves fans were more than excited to get off the hump and in a hurry.
Well, four years later, we know how that scenario turned out. Most notably, Kahn chose Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn over the country’s college basketball sweetheart in Stephen Curry. Flynn is currently playing (pro?) basketball in China, although rumor has it he left the team already, while Curry is becoming the superstar some thought him to be right out of college. Despite dealing with a myriad of injuries in his short career, he’s still the face of the Golden State Warriors, averaging 24.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, leading them to a modest 13-12 record this season.
Meanwhile, the other storyline of that draft was Sir Ricky Rubio. The mystical point guard out of Spain was all the rage from that draft because of how mysterious he was. At just 19 years of age and a big question mark regarding his contractual eligibility, Rubio was a hot commodity but it was like having a really big, shiny box and not exactly knowing what’s inside until you open it.
Thanks to a trade with the Wizards, the Wolves were lucky enough to open that box. And even though they had to wait with it under the tree for two years, what was inside was just as shiny and exciting as the box itself. Rubio, alongside Love’s emergence as one of the NBA’s top players, finally rejuvenated a desperate fan base and even instilled some hope for a brighter future in Minnesota. Better late than never, amiright?
But now that we’re in Rubio’s third season, that glitter and shine we all fell in love with is starting to dull and it needs a major rebuffering. The youngster with boyish charm off the court and flashy game on is now struggling to regain that favor with the fans, or at least this critic.
Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on the guy. After all, on the surface, Rubio could very well turn out to be the best Timberwolves point guard of all time. The competition isn’t all that fierce from Pooh Richardson to Terrell Brandon to Stephon Marbury. If he stays long enough, he could and most likely will break records for assists and steals in Wolves history. Through 122 games played over his three year career, he’s averaging 7.8 assists per game, giving him 950 on his career, which puts him just outside of the top 10 in Wolves history but on pace to break Kevin Garnett’s record of 4,146 in just about six more seasons. Not easy but definitely possible if he remains a Wolf. He’s clearly a magician when it comes to distributing the basketball. And although we haven’t seen as much flash this season like we have in the past from Rubio, he’s still posting consistent numbers and finding players for open shots. He’s ultimately what keeps the offense moving and he’s any coach’s dream point guard from that standpoint.
Then you have the defensive side, where Rubio may just be one of the best on-ball defenders at the point guard position. At 6’4″ with long, swaying arms, Rubio wreaks havoc at the top of the key. He’s got quick feet to stay along with even some of the quickest, more athletic guards in the league. At first, he struggled with those guys because of just how explosive they are. But after a few years of getting used to the speed of the NBA game, he’s figured out how to better position his body to stop the head-on drives to the basket. Perhaps the best part of his defensive game, though, is his mental makeup to gamble and take risks. And, boy, has it paid off. We’ve gotten used to Corey Brewer’s cat-and-mouse defense, where he lunges at offline passes to get a finger on them, but Rubio is more particular about it. That special Spidey sense has equalled 2.4 steals per game, which already leads the Timberwolves all-time, although he’s still a long ways off of Garnett’s 1,282 total steals. It’s still clear that Rubio’s killer instincts on defense are potentially more valuable than his offensive prowess, and I really mean that.
Part of my reasoning about his defensive skills being more important is because he seems more mature than he did when he first started on that end, whereas on offense, Rubio still has a lot of room to grow. Specifically, we’re singling out Rubio’s poor shooting numbers.
Typically, by a player’s third season, they start to solidify habits in their game. By that third year, a player’s maturation has just about blossomed and the things they’re doing on the court now are likely what you’ll see for the rest of their career. That doesn’t bode well for Rubio’s shooting habits. As of right now, Rubio is a career 36 percent shooter, 33 percent from deep. Those current numbers make him the poorest shooting point guard in the NBA in the last three seasons. Ouch.
Let’s have a look-see at what Rubio’s shot chart looks like this season:
A little bit too much red on that chart, if you ask me. But as you can see, he’s actually improved on his three point shot, which is good. But there are two areas that really strike a nerve, given Adelman’s offense and Rubio’s strength running the pick and roll. The mid-range jumper is key to being a pesky pick and roll guard. Think about your options when big Pek comes and sets that screen. For one, you can go right over the top and shoot the jumper from deep. But that’s not a very high percentage shot. So another option is to use the screen and go around, giving you either a clear shot to the basket or an open area to hit the pull-up jumper. That’s what makes Chris Paul such a dangerous option because he can hit that shot with ease. And then your third option is to attack the basket and look for a layup before the help defense collapses down on top of you.
Now, that second option of taking that pull-up jumper is not Rubio’s strength. We’ve seen him hit it before but the problem is that he comes so sharply into that shot at such a steep angle that, once he actually rises to take the shot, he’s moving forward so much that the shot is almost always too deep. And that’s a real problem considering Rubio’s jumper is on a low-arcing curve, naturally, which leaves very little room for any touch. And then you have that third option of attacking the rim. But the problem is Rubio is not very good at absorbing contact, especially with the body, so he shies away from contact quite often. When he draws the foul, that’s a good thing because he can hit free throws at a decent clip. Otherwise he finds himself in trouble in the paint and around the rim, as proven by his paltry 29-72 clip in that area. For most players, that should be close to the easiest shot in basketball but for a sly, slinky guard like Rubio, who masters finesse over speed and power, he can get beat up pretty good down there.
For being a pick and roll artist, you have to be able to expand your game. In his first three seasons, Rubio has not been able to do that. And for someone who appreciates elite talent for what they do (i.e. Chris Paul) it’s hard to look past Rubio’s
glaring blinding weaknesses on the offensive end. The flash is fine. The charm is exciting. The defense is wonderful. But Rubio still has a long ways to go before the Wolves go and consider giving a player a big, or a potential max contract, to someone who can’t even crack the “below average” category in terms of shooting percentage. The name of the game is to put the ball in the hoop, and Rubio’s not even average at that. C’mon, man!
So whenever you go back to that 2009 draft and debate with your buddies, everyone always dwells on the “What if we took Curry over Flynn.” But isn’t it fair to evaluate, with over three years now in the league, if taking Rubio over Curry was the right choice? It’s too late to dwell on any past decision but it’s time to start thinking about whether or not Rubio was and is the right choice for the long-term future of the franchise.
From the get-go, without Kevin Love, it didn’t really seem like the Wolves had much of a chance. Miami’s Big Three alone nearly average 60 points per game this season, a lofty figure for the remaining starters to reach without their top scorer. And that’s just about how the story went. The Wolves couldn’t shoot, especially from deep, and ultimately lacked any offensive firepower to keep up with the Heat’s gunners.
Want to know how bad it was? The Wolves ended shooting 29.3 percent from the field. They only converted on just five of 22 three pointer attempts. About the thing they were able to do successfully was get to the foul line, where they went 29-39. But that number and 23 points off of Miami turnovers was just a result of the Heat being a little sloppy throughout the game. They actually ended up with 20 turnovers but the Wolves had 18 of their own.
The numbers were just bad. Kevin Martin was the highest scorer with 19 points but only went 5-16 from the field and scored the majority of his points in the first half. Nikola Pekovic was a force in the second half but the effort was much too late to put any dent on Miami’s lead. Corey Brewer had trouble tossing the ball in a lake, and Ricky Rubio finished the night with ONE FREAKING POINT. More on that later.
As for any sort of positive, I’d point out Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s performance. 11 points in 26 minutes, filling in for the injured Love in the starting five, isn’t filling the void, per se, but I enjoyed his efforts. His offensive game isn’t very diverse but at least he doesn’t shy away from contact and attempts to finish plays, both on offense and defense. So far, the Derrick Williams trade has been fairly successful to this point. Williams isn’t doing a whole lot that we aren’t used to seeing in Minnesota, while Mbah a Moute adds a top-notch perimeter defender, who seems to play with more grit and determination than Williams ever possessed.
So, back to my point on Senor Rubio. I had a run in with a fellow Tweep, who brought up the point of how the Wolves and fans should be kicking themselves for drafting Rubio over Curry. Well, this kinda struck me funny. I think, “Well, usually that point is made with Jonny Flynn being the culprit, not Ricky.” But, if you play it back in your head, it’s a fair point. Rubio, since coming here, has been a big reason in the lift in optimism for this fanbase because of his boyish charm and knack for making the spectacular play, the jaw-droppers, if you will. But his numbers speak a different language. This is probably going to spur an in-depth look at the Spanish point guard, but it’s worth bringing up that these are games, missing Love and all, that the Wolves need Rubio to step up big time. Instead, he takes a huge step backwards and makes even devoted fans like me question the legitimacy of his long-term potential.
As for tonight, it’s a disappointment. No one expected us to win without Love against the Heat but it’s still frustrating knowing that this team, who started out so hot on offense, continues to struggle shooting the ball and putting up enough points. Someone is going to need to step up, and I’m not talking about Mr. Love.
The Thunder are just a bunch of bullies. Well, not really, other than maybe Kendrick Perkins, they’re just really good at flexing their muscles at the right time in front of the right crowd to take their moment and, ultimately, the win.
That’s exactly what happened last night. The Wolves were locked in what looked like a very promising game, and heading into the fourth quarter, the two teams were battling back and forth. The Wolves actually had a five-point lead by the start of the fourth, thanks in large part due to their extremely swift punch of 32 points out of the gates. But none of that mattered once the final 12 minutes started to tick.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks made a strategic move in that big comeback. Going with a smaller lineup that put Kevin Durant at the power forward slot (Note: this was all against the Wolves’ bench unit, led by none other than JJ Barea), the Thunder opened the game wide open with tremendous ball movement within their halfcourt offense and also burying three-pointers on nearly any break they had within the first five minutes. So even with that five-point cushion, the Thunder ended up sealing the game in their favor with about five minutes to play. The Wolves did get their starters back in but cold hands were already the issue, and that was that. Durant ended the game with a triple-double of 32 points, 10 rebs and 12 assists (a career-high) as well as the #1 Bully Award.
So that’s the narrative. Just one more stat to pile it on, the Wolves started the game shooting 60-percent from the field in the first quarter but ended with just 41.6-percent for the game, and went just 1-7 in three pointers in the fourth quarter. So any attempt at to answer the Thunders thundering (sorry) offense, was thwarted by everyone’s incompetence to hit an open shot.
The stats I want to go over. Nikola Pekovic has now pieced together three great games in a row. Last night, he set the pace with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He did seem to get lost in the middle quarters and scored two or three meaningless buckets in the last couple minutes of the game, but you have to be proud of his production, even against the tough son of a b*tch like Perkins. Second, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the new acquisition in the Derrick Williams trade, posted a minus-16 plus/minus last night. Now, everyone tells you not to read too much into game-to-game plus/minus stats (Or sometimes disregard it entirely) but it still has significance. As an all-around defensive stopper, your plus/minus should never be the highest on the team in an circumstance. Mbah a Moute will learn the system better as the season moves on but it’d be nice to see him step up a little more and just be an athlete.
So what’d we learn last night? Better teams beat lesser teams most of the time. Wolves are just going to have to bear down and keep their chin up high. After all, it’s on against the Spurs on Wednesday night. At least we’re at home!