Weariness: Grizzlies 109, Timberwolves 92

Video by CJ Fogler

Kevin Love sounds exhausted, and it’s hard to blame him.

After all, he’s played 2,400 minutes so far this season, second-most in his career, and once again he’s going to miss the playoffs. That’s 11,544 minutes or 192 hours of hard-fought NBA basketball that have largely been fruitless by the standards we generally set for athletes. After every game, the same questions are asked, the same answers are given. Repetition is wearisome, and Love sounds tired of saying the same thing.

Last night’s 109-92 loss to Memphis wasn’t repetitious in one way — Love played poorly. In a season where he has a PER of 27.9 with 26.5 points per game and 12.7 rebounds, games like last night (16 points, 6-for-18 from the field) aren’t common. But as Love himself said, everyone is entitled to a bad game once in a while.

Also not the problem: Rookie Gorgui Dieng, who scored 11 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, seven of which were offensive. Continue reading

The Delicate Line: Timberwolves 112, Bucks 101

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There comes a point in every Timberwolves season when the playoffs fade into the distance and a decision must be made as to whether the team wants to continue gunning for wins or accept the unpleasant reality that its season ends after the 82nd game.

Minnesota, quite frankly, passed that point quite some time ago, but Wolves fans have understandably been hesitant to give up the ghost of this season. Now, five games out of the playoffs and trailing the Phoenix Suns for even the 9th seed, the Wolves need to figure out whether wins are worthwhile or whether taking a small dive off the rest of the year to minimally improve draft lottery odds is the right decision to make. It’s a tough call — both directions offer limited rewards. Wins won’t get Minnesota into the playoffs, but even a 19-game losing streak would likely leave the Wolves well out of contention for a top-five pick (and frankly, I’m not sure this fanbase could survive a 19-game losing streak).

But before any of that, the Wolves had to beat the Bucks on Tuesday.

They really had to. Milwaukee is so bad this year and Minnesota is so middling, a loss would have broken the backs of a heck of a lot of camels. Fortunately, Kevin Martin and JJ Barea both found their strides in time for the Wolves to knock off the worst team in basketball.

Minnesota trailed for much of the first half, as Milwaukee came out blazing hot. But gradually, the Wolves chipped away until a nice run in the third quarter pushed them into the lead.

We haven’t done bullet points in a while, so let’s go through a few of them:

  • Don’t look now, but Rubio is shooting 45 percent in his last 13 games, as was pointed out on last night’s broadcast. What’s more, he is 10-for-22 from 3-point range in those games, and his trey last night lent some credence to this theory (shamless self-promo alert).
  • Speaking of the broadcast, the best moment of the night may have been Jim Peterson wondering who would win a head-butting contest between Nikola Pekovic and Zaza Pachulia. “I’m not betting against Pekovic in any kind of physical contest,” Dave Benz responded.

    Pek, your thoughts?

    Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 1.25.52 PM
    Yep. I also choose Pek.

  • It felt like Kevin Love spent much of the game hanging back away from the ball, which is why it was such a surprise to check the box score post-game and see “27 points on 22 shots with 10 rebounds and six assists.”
  • ESPN pointed this out: Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute hosted a bunch of kids from the south of France who had bought tickets to come see him in Sacramento. When he was traded, he picked up the tab for them to come see him in Minnesota. This story has a depressing ending though: LRMAM got a DNP-CD.
  • Steve McPherson of AWAW pointed this out on Twitter and he’s absolutely right: There would likely be a lot less animosity toward JJ Barea if he played in more lineups with Ricky Rubio and fewer lineups where he’s the primary ball-handler. Largely playing off the ball last night, Barea was 7-for-10 with 19 points.

That should cover things. Quick note: Be on the lookout for a couple new contributors at Howlin T-Wolf. One of them, Zach Bennett, already got the ball rolling yesterday.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Are The Timberwolves The Knicks Of The West?


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No, not really.

But let’s explore for a minute anyway, since last night’s 118-106 loss was another disappointing defeat and another dismal fourth quarter showing by the Wolves who have made a habit of disappointing losses and dismal fourth quarters.

In 2013-14, the New York Knicks…

  • Entered the season, if not title contenders, at least a lock for the playoffs and a team that could potentially advance a round. They made what looked like a dumb trade (giving up actual draft picks for Andrea freaking Bargnani), but many of us had talked ourselves into believing that he could be a contributor with Melo attracting all of the defensive attention. Plus, Tyson Chandler could cover for Bargs’ mistakes (this is important, so remember it). Given the right match-ups and a couple of injuries to opponents, they might even sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals. James Dolan’s championship or bust attitude was a pretty liberal amount of dumbass, but that’s okay.
  • Early on, the Knicks struggled, but we thought little of it. “Small sample sizes,” we told ourselves. “They’ll turn it around. It’ll be okay.”
  • As it turned out, Tyson Chandler could cover for one or two players being really bad at defense, but not every player on the team. As a result…
  • They continued struggling.
  • Knicks fans began writing some of the most incredible game recaps you can imagine, as well as some of the most thoughtful, depressing features on the internet.
  • The Knicks kept struggling.
  • For a brief stretch against bad opponents, they stopped struggling and won a few games. Everyone assumed they were going to turn it around.
  • Then they returned to struggling.
  • Their rookie is playing well, but not well enough to turn the team around.
  • They are going to miss the playoffs.
  • They might lose their star player to free agency.
  • They don’t own their draft pick.
  • They have no cap space.

Meanwhile in 2013-14, the Minnesota Timberwolves…

  • Entered the season with high hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett left the franchise. Minnesota wasn’t a title contender by any means, but the Wolves weren’t aspiring to be. Instead, they were aspiring to be a team that built through growth and addition, as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio continued to mature and the Wolves added pieces to fix their problems (Kevin Martin and the returning Chase Budinger for 3-point shooting, Corey Brewer for defense). Minnesota’s expectations weren’t sky-high, but many prognosticators picked them to be in the playoffs.
  • They won their first three games!
  • They fell below .500.
  • They stayed below .500.
  • We began telling ourselves that everything would be okay after January. “January is an easy month,” we told ourselves. “They’ll be 4-5 games above .500 by that point.”
  • The Wolves finished January 23-23. 11 games in February, seven of which were against playoff teams, loomed.
  • Minnesota finished February 28-29.
  • Their rookie is playing well, but not well enough to turn the team around.
  • They are not going to make the playoffs.
  • They might lose their star player to free agency.
  • It’s too late to tank to improve their draft pick.
  • Their cap space is tied up (admittedly not as tightly as New York’s, but still).

Essentially, here we are. The Wolves are disappointing, to be sure, and one could certainly argue that the immediate future looks a little bleak as the “will Kevin Love leave?” saga continues.

That being said, the Wolves are not without options. If Love makes it clear he’s leaving, he can be dealt. If he departs, Minnesota has its own draft pick in 2015. The Wolves also have their own pick in 2014 if they don’t make the playoffs. There are things that could be done to quickly improve the team, or tear it down if necessary.

That doesn’t change the fact that Minnesota lost 118-106 to the most disappointing team in the NBA last night. We would be excused for being disappointed as a result.

But it could be worse.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Bazz-pun Goes Here: Timberwolves 110, Suns 101

Much has been made about Shabazz Muhammad’s huge night against Phoenix on Tuesday already, and much more will be made over the next few days.

Correctly so, I might add: ‘Bazz scored 20 points and pulled down six rebounds in his best game of the season so far (by far), and for the first time, Wolves fans got a real look at what a productive Shabazz Muhammad might bring to the team. Here’s what we saw: Good rebounding instincts, a big, strong body (so big and strong he might be better suited as a stretch-4, as PD Wolves wrote earlier today), soft touch around the rim, the ability to absorb contact, the athleticism and strength to create it, and the hustle of a rookie trying to regularly crack a rotation for the first time.

There is plenty of temperance necessary: Muhammad hasn’t been playing for a reason. He doesn’t have a good jumpshot, for starters, and his position is complicated. But if (and it’s starting to look a lot more like “when”) the Wolves don’t make the playoffs, Shabazz’s development can go a long way toward determining whether this season feels lost or not.

There were plenty of other things to be excited about as well, of course. The fact that the Wolves came from behind, took the lead and — instead of letting it slip away — extended it by scoring 35 points in the fourth quarter, for example. Also, the fact that Ricky Rubio dished out 11 assists and, more importantly, was left out on the floor during crunch time and wasn’t a detriment to the team (in fact, his ball-handling and passing were significant upgrades over the possessions JJ Barea often spends dribbling dents into the hardwood behind the 3-point line).

And, of course, there’s the omnipresent Love, who scored 33 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and dished nine assists, once again coming close to a triple double. Please note: Love nearly recorded a 33-point triple double, and we are talking about a 20-point game from a rookie. Love has had an incredible season. It’s not that we should be noting Love’s performance more — he has been generally lauded all year. It’s that these crazy games are becoming so commonplace, we barely notice anymore. It simply IS more noteworthy when Shabazz Muhammad puts up 20 points than it was when Love tallies 33/13. That’s what happens when you are a top-10 player in the NBA.

Minnesota is 5.5 games out of the playoffs, and considering how well Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas have been playing lately, there isn’t a lot of hope at this point. But if there is hope to be taken from last night, it’s this: Shabazz looked great, the Wolves held on late against a very good team. Progress is progress, even if it comes a little late.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

The Big One: Timberwolves 104, Pacers 91

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If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance.

-Theoden, Lord of the Rings

Let’s be clear: I don’t think Kevin Love is gone two and a half hours from the time this is posted. But if he is, that was quite the exit.

Faced with the toughest defense in the NBA, Love scored 42 points and pulled down 16 rebounds shooting an impressive 14-for-22 from the field, 5-for-10 from 3-point range. He scored on a variety of stepbacks, pick-and-pops, putbacks and every Kevin Love trick you would imagine.

In the process, he helped Ricky Rubio tally a career-high 17 assists. Rubio couldn’t make anything — 2-for-10, 2-for-6 from the free throw line — but he didn’t need to. His passing was back in 2011 form, most notably on one gorgeous pump fake and no-look dish to Ronny Turiaf for a massive slam. It was one of the best plays of the 2013-14 season thus far, and an incredibly encouraging sign. Rubio’s lack of shooting isn’t ideal, but if he is dishing and defending like last night, we can deal with the poor shooting.

Interestingly, it was Minnesota’s bench that did most of the damage. Leading 30-20 in the second quarter, the Wolves’ second unit helped push the lead to 40-20, a lead which they wouldn’t relinquish.

Much is made of signature wins, and while there were certainly mitigating factors for the Pacers (the second night of a back-to-back on the road, a long All-Star weekend for their two best players), Indiana is easily the best win for Minnesota this season. Unfortunately, it will be slightly overshadowed by today’s events — whether by sighs of relief once the trade deadline is passed or an uproar if…well, I won’t go there. One way or the other, beating Indiana on a night Paul George drops 35 is a great win.

And now, back to the rumors.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Never Scared: Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99

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You were never REALLY worried, right?

About the game, of course. If you were worried about Kevin Love when he took a nasty fall, snapping his neck back and smacking it on the floor, welcome to the club. I gasped a little, mostly closed my eyes through all of the slow motion replays, and worried that we had just seen Love knock himself out of the next few games with a nasty concussion.

We hadn’t. Love was fine, incredibly (and even more incredibly given Minnesota’s history of injury woes), and he finished with 31 points and 17 rebounds, a mind-boggling statline that — from Kevin Love — mostly makes us say “huh.” That should tell you something about how great he is right now.

The game itself, though? Continue reading

Short And Sweet: Timberwolves 88, Pelicans 77

We are going to have to keep this recap short, sweet and to the point.

Here’s the short: The Timberwolves were without Nikola Pekovic, which was big, but New Orleans was without Anthony Davis which was bigger. To be clear, Pekovic was the bigger person lost, but Anthony Davis was the bigger loss, and that’s why the Pelicans lost. Everything clear? No? Tough, we are moving on.

Kevin Love dropped 30 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and despite a mostly inefficient shooting line (11-for-26 from the field, 1-for-6 from 3-point range), he was the reason Minnesota won offensively. Neither team shot efficiently, so any kind of production whatsoever was liable to put the game away.

The Pellies had an awful shooting performance, finishing 35 percent from the field and (seriously) 9.5 percent from 3-point range. You read that right: 2-for-21 from behind the arc. Pro-tip, New Orleans: When your 3-point percentage looks like a box score from the 2012-13 Timberwolves, you aren’t going to win a lot of games.

The Wolves box score also bore a somewhat frightening resemblance to the 2012-13 Timberwolves, as they finished 40 percent from the field and 4-for-20 from 3-point range. But Kevin Martin added 18 points (interestingly, he was also 1-for-6 from behind the arc, tying Kevin Love’s 3-point futility), and the Wolves held on.

Also, Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute got 23 minutes off the bench and was so surprised to be in the game, he went 0-for-2 from the field.

Here’s the sweet: Minnesota debuted the ad campaign “#PekGoesToo,” an almost certainly futile attempt to propel Minneapolis’ biggest viking into the NBA All-Star game. Pek is having a career year, averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per game on a career-high 20.7 PER, but in a loaded Western Conference, he’s incredibly unlikely to get an invite to New Orleans.

More sweet: Take a look at this picture of Pekovic (s/o to @Steventurous on Twitter):

I MEAN. LOOK AT THIS GUY. YOU DO NOT LOOK AS GOOD AS NIKOLA PEKOVIC IN A SUIT. I GUARAN-FREAKING-TEE IT. HE’S LIKE THE RUSSIAN VILLAIN IN A BOND MOVIE WHO NOBODY QUITE BELIEVES IS THE VILLAIN CAUSE HE LOOKS TOO DAMN GOOD IN A SUIT.

Anyway.

Here’s the point: The Timberwolves are now a game over .500 (woo!) and — after Houston won a tight, high-scoring game against Dallas — just two games behind the Mavs for 8th in the Western Conference.

I wouldn’t say the Wolves are in a good place, or even that I’m confident going forward. Tomorrow’s matchup with Memphis catches the Grizz at a bad time, and Saturday’s game against Atlanta promises to be a challenging SEGABABA. But that’s a bit of a tangent. It’s nice to be looking at .500 from the topside for once, and that’s the point.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Nikola Pekovic out 7-10 days with bursitis

Nikola Pekovic getting an MRI is a nerve-wracking bit of news, and according to the Wolves PR team, the results weren’t great. Not as bad as they could have been, but not as good either.

From the Timberwolves PR Twitter account:

“The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced that Nikola Pekovic underwent an MRI…that revealed bursitis in his right ankle. Pekovic will be withheld from basketball activities for 7-10 days and will be reevaluated at that time. He will be sidelined indefinitely.

This is both bad news and good news, and we’ll start with the bad because everyone likes a happy ending. Er…you know what I mean.

The bad news is that Minnesota doesn’t have a whole lot of breathing room. Continue reading