Category: 2011-2012 Game Previews

Game 53 Preview: Boston Celtics vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Boston Celtics (28-22) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-27)

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Garnett had harsh words for the Timberwolves organization.
Garnett had harsh words for the Timberwolves organization. Last game: Minnesota: W, 88-83 vs Charlotte, Boston: W, 94-82 vs Utah

The Timberwolves beat a bad Charlotte team Wednesday on the wings of yet another superstar performance by Kevin Love. Love dropped 40 points and grabbed 19 rebounds on the Bobcats, who threw several different defenders onto the floor but were completely unable to stop Love. Luke Ridnour also played an excellent game, putting up 14 assists in the win.

The Celtics won a statement game against Utah on Wednesday. In a match-up of ex Timberwolves big men, Kevin Garnett scored 23, while Al Jefferson scored 18 in the loss.

The Key Questions

#1. How should Timberwolves fans react to Kevin Garnett, in light of his recent comments about Minnesota’s organization?

Garnett recently was quoted as saying he has “nothing good to say” about Minnesota’s franchise. This isn’t the first time he has had bad things to say about the organization and probably won’t be the last.

However, Garnett, in the same interview, complimented his “true fans.” So really, his only beef is with the organization itself. Kahn wasn’t around when Garnett was traded so….TAAAAAAAAAAYLORRRRRRR!

#2. How will the Wolves match up defensively against the Celtics?

Zach Lowe, in an excellent breakdown of Kevin Love’s MVP candidacy, pointed out Love’s annoying tendency to sag under screens on the pick and roll, which leaves the Wolves vulnerable against power forwards who can knock down shots with range. Brandon Bass can knock down shots from range. He could punish the Wolves tonight if Minnesota’s pick and roll defense isn’t up to par.

#3. How will home and away records affect the game?

The Celtics are 10-14 away from the TD Banknorth Garden this season, and they seem to be much more motivated when playing in front of their home crowds. The Wolves are 13-12 at home.

The Key Matchups

Will Kevins Love and Garnett see time against each other? If so, Garnett actually expressed respect for Love’s game (!!!), so perhaps don’t expect to see the usual Garnett woofing. Regardless, if they do end up matched against each other, Love will have his hands full. Garnett has been playing exceptionally well since the All-Star break.

Speaking of having their hands full, if Rajon Rondo shows up active and engaged (which is legitimately a question with him), there will be little Luke Ridnour can do to stay in front of him.

Minnesota could REALLY use Nikola Pekovic. He would be able to push Kevin Garnett around in the post.

The Outlook

Boston doesn’t play well on the road, and Minnesota is exactly the type of team the Celtics are likely to lose their focus against. However, the C’s are 13-5 since the All-Star break and playing like world beaters at the moment. While it certainly isn’t out of the question, don’t count on a victory tonight.

Game 50 Preview: Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Denver Nuggets (26-22) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (23-26)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 149-140 in 2 OT vs Oklahoma City, Denver: L, 121-102 vs Utah

Despite Kevin Loves outburst, the Wolves fell short against the Thunder.
Despite Kevin Love's outburst, the Wolves fell short against the Thunder.

The Timberwolves lost one of the most exciting games of the NBA season on Friday to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Love led all scorers with a mind-blowing 51 points, and JJ Barea recorded his first career triple-double, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 85 points, with Durant hitting several clutch threes. Minnesota was without Nikola Pekovic and their second-highest scorer Michael Beasley.

The Nuggets gave up 121 points to the Utah Jazz on Friday. Seven different Jazz players scored in double figures, as Al Jefferson lead the way with 23. The Nuggets fell to 8th in the West, half a game ahead of the Rockets, two games ahead of the Suns, and 3.5 games ahead of the Timberwolves.

The Key Questions

#1. Will the Timberwolves respond well to their first home game since March 10?

The past 15 days have been rough on Minnesota. After Rubio went down for the season, the Wolves began a seven game road trip. Now they sit 3.5 games out of the playoff race, after going 2-9 in their last 11 games.

All is not lost. The upcoming schedule includes several against teams who will be vying for the last playoff spots. But the winning needs to begin this afternoon.

#2. Will Minnesota be mentally drained after Friday?

For me at least, Friday’s game was one of those losses I came away from like Will Ferrell in Anchorman. “You…you lost, but you stuck with the best team in the Western Conference without three of your four best players? Kevin Love dropped 51? You ate the whole block of cheese? I’m not even mad, I’m just impressed!”

I said in my last preview that I thought a win would go a long way towards boosting morale, but oddly, I think last night’s loss could do the same thing. The Timberwolves somehow stuck with the Thunder on pure grit without Pek and Beas (and Rubio, of course). Well, grit and Kevin Love. The man is legitimately insane right now.

#3. How will Aaron Afflalo’s absence affect the game?

Afflalo was suspended one game (justifiably) for throwing an elbow into Gordon Hayward’s chin. This is a break for the Wolves: Afflalo’s consistency would hurt Minnesota from the shooting guard position.

The Key Matchups

The Nuggets’ matchups are hard to predict because their rotations change so frequently. Against Utah, no player played 30 minutes. But I’ll give it a shot…

Pek is still listed as questionable for today’s game, but if he becomes available, he will be matched up with a combination of Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee. Neither player has the strength to deal with Pek in the post.

Love will see a lot of Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington. Neither player should be able to shut Love down, but Faried’s energy and athleticism may cause problems. If Love gets caught up complaining about foul calls on one end, Faried may punish him on the other. In other news, Kenneth Faried is freaking awesome.

Two days after getting torched by Russell Westbrook, Luke Ridnour has to try to contain Ty Lawson. Lawson isn’t as big and strong as Westbrook, but he is just as speedy. Ridnour will need to focus to stay in front of him.

The Outlook

I’m oddly optimistic about this game. A solid home crowd would really help the Wolves in their homecoming. And man, Minnesota could sure use a win.

Game starts at 2:30 on Fox Sports North

Game 49 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Oklahoma City Thunder (35-12) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (23-25)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 116-100 vs San Antonio, Oklahoma City: W, 114-91 vs Los Angeles Clippers

Barea will be one of the highest scorers available for a banged up Timberwolves team.
Barea will be one of the highest scorers available for a banged up Timberwolves team.

The end of the road trip is in sight, and predictably, the Wolves are beginning to drag. Against the Spurs on Wednesday, Minnesota lost what would have been a difficult game even at full strength, as the Spurs were 17-4 at home. But the problem compounded when Nikola Pekovic was unable to play. Though the Spurs lost Tony Parker to a mild hamstring strain early in the 3rd quarter, Minnesota was unable to capitalize and fell further out of the playoff race.

The Thunder annihilated the free-falling Clippers on Wednesday. Kevin Durant scored 32 points on 11-18 shooting from the field, while the Thunder held the Clippers to just 36% shooting from the field.

The Key Questions

#1. Can the Wolves end their road trip strong?

Understandably, the Wolves are sick of playing away from the Target Center, and the effects of an extended road trip are starting to become evident. Though the playoff damage may have already been done, a win tonight, however unlikely, would go a long way toward boosting Minnesota’s slumping confidence going forward.

#2. Will Pekovic be available?

Nope. So Minnesota’s top scorers will be Kevin Love (good), Michael Bea…oh wait, he’s out too. Hmm. Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea are the next two highest scorers available? God save us.

Oh, by the way, about Beasley’s injury: he offered a gem after the loss on Wednesday.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

You could tell on defense that I was babying it. I had become a bit of a liability on defense, so I took myself out.

Ohhhh, that explains a lot. I was thinking to myself watching that game….”Why is Beasley such a liability on defense? This is so unlike him.” Now it all becomes clear. Thanks Beas!

#3. How do you solve a problem like Durant?

Hell if I know. Maybe Pek knows a guy who could…take care of him.

The Key Matchups

Kevin Love will likely start at center again, meaning Kendrick Perkins will be forced to guard him. Perk is a very good post defender, so Love will need to drag him out of the lane and knock down some shots away from the basket.

Luke Ridnour has defended some tough players this season, but Russell Westbrook is just frightening. Westbrook is incredibly competitive and constantly plays with a chip on his shoulder. Plus his athleticism is staggering. Ridnour’s athleticism is staggeringly mediocre. This could get ugly.

(Note: I love Ridnour, just not in this match-up.)

The Outlook

Well, the Thunder appeared to be slipping until the Clippers showed up and allowed them to get back on track. Thanks guys. Just another reason to hate LA.

Seriously though, this game does not bode well for a tired, discouraged Minnesota team. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I’m finding it very difficult to project any kind of optimism for this one.

Game starts at 7 PM on Fox Sports North

Game 48 Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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San Antonio Spurs (29-14) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24)

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It should go without saying, but we miss you Ricky.
It should go without saying, but we miss you Ricky.

Last game: Minnesota: W, 97-93 vs Golden State, San Antonio: L, 106-99 vs Dallas

Minnesota absolutely needed to beat Golden State to keep their playoff hopes alive on Monday, and at halftime, they looked to be in good shape. The Wolves led by 14 and were playing active, enthusiastic defense, holding the Warriors to just 35 first half points. But the Warriors nearly matched that total in the 3rd, scoring 32, and pulling themselves back into the game. Fortunately, Minnesota has Kevin Love and Golden State doesn’t. Love’s 36 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, vaulted the Wolves to a big win.

The Spurs lost to their inter-state rivals on Monday, the Mavericks. San Antonio was, unsurprisingly, unable to contain Dirk Nowitzki, who put up a typically enormous night with 27 points. Tim Duncan and Danny Green led the Spurs with 17 points apiece. San Antonio is second in the Western Conference, 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers.

The Key Questions

#1. How much of a difference does Ricky Rubio make to this team?

This is a question with an obvious answer: Rubio makes an enormous difference, both to the performance and morale of the Wolves. But tonight will be a good measuring stick of how much better Minnesota is with Rubio. The Wolves beat San Antonio twice this year when Rubio was playing. Will they be able to win three in a row even with Rubio sitting out?

(Hint: Don’t put money on it.)

#2. Oh dear Lord, Darko is going to start another game?

Yes, Pekovic’s absence could be reason for despair, but remember! Darko only played six minutes against the Kings! Adelman will likely play a smaller lineup with several different centers guarding San Antonio’s large duo of Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Center by committee is still better than center by Darko.

Also, if you are looking for a little encouragement, when these teams met in early January, Pekovic didn’t play and Rubio only had 3 assists. The Wolves still won! The Spurs weren’t playing like world-beaters at the time and they were discouraged because Manu had just broken his hand, plus the Wolves shot something like 90% in the game from the field, but still!

#3. Do you even want to know the playoff picture at this point?

The good news is that Phoenix lost to the Heat while the Wolves beat the Warriors! The bad news is that Houston beat the Lakers (!!) and the Jazz beat the Thunder (!!!!). That was the most perfect two-day stretch for Minnesota to gain some ground. Instead, the Wolves remain exactly where they were. If all of Minnesota’s playoff rivals could play the Heat every night, and if the Wolves could play Golden State every night, we might be in business.

The Key Matchups

Tony Parker has been playing some of his best basketball ever this season. His PER is the second highest in his career, his turnover percentage is the third lowest while his usage rate is the second highest, and he is putting up a full assist more per 36 minutes than any other year. Though Luke Ridnour has been playing well himself since taking over Rubio’s role as point guard (9.1 assists per game, 10.6 subtracting the Sacramento crap-salad), Ridnour will have his hands full against Parker.

Kevin Love has (obviously) been torrid lately. DeJuan Blair, though an admirable player, simply doesn’t have the length to bother Love if he starts hitting with any kind of range. Tonight could be big for Kevin Love.

One interesting subtraction for San Antonio: Richard Jefferson, who torched the Wolves for 16 points in their first meeting.

The Outlook

As previously mentioned, both of Minnesota’s wins against San Antonio this season came with Rubio in the lineup, but both also came on Minnesota’s court. Tonight, they face the Spurs in San Antonio. Chances of a win without Rubio seem remote, especially given San Antonio’s 17-4 home record.

Game starts at 7:30 on Fox Sports North

Game 45 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Golden State Warriors (18-24) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (22-24)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 115-99 vs Sacramento, Golden State: L, 99-92 vs Utah in OT

The Timberwolves and Kevin Love look to rebound (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!) against the Warriors tonight.
The Timberwolves and Kevin Love look to rebound (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!) against the Warriors tonight.

Despair. The road-weary Timberwolves dropped to two games below .500 with a loss to the Sacramento Kings yesterday. Kevin Love recorded another double double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, but the Wolves turned the ball over 21 times, leading to roughly 360 kajillion fast break points for the Kings (real number: 27). The Wolves remained two games behind the Rockets for 8th place in the division, and a game and a half behind Phoenix and Utah.

The Warriors fell to the Jazz in overtime on Saturday. Nate Robinson led the Warriors with 19 points, and he was one of four starters with 13 points or more, but Golden State gave up 56 points in the paint, including 23 to Derrick Favors. The Warriors also recovered just three offensive rebounds, while the Jazz grabbed 20.

The Key Questions

#1. What happened between JJ Barea and Kevin Love?

Steve McPherson did a great video breakdown of the sequences leading up to the brief…whatever that was on the bench. Teammates get upset with each other, especially during tough times on the court. Hopefully this incident will blow over quickly. The last thing Minnesota needs is more drama.

#2. Can the Wolves take care of the ball?

The Warriors like to run. Their gameplan isn’t exactly a secret. The Wolves were sloppy and lackadaisical with their passes against the Kings. If Minnesota continues to turn the ball over against Golden State, tonight will feel like several eternities.

#3. Can the Wolves still get back in the playoff race?

Yes…technically. Minnesota is only two games out since Houston kindly lost last night (to the Suns, unfortunately). But after tonight, the Wolves face San Antonio and Oklahoma City on Wednesday and Friday, before finally going home to face Denver on Sunday, then playing the Grizzlies in Memphis on Tuesday. This losing streak may look daunting, but it could look a whole lot more daunting a week from now.

The Matchups

So after all that doom and gloom, let’s discuss some happier things. For example, the hardest matchup Minnesota faces tonight (probably) is David Lee vs. Kevin Love. Lee is a decent power forward, but not much of a defender. Love should enjoy himself.

Nikola Pekovic should be in uniform tonight, which will boost Minnesota’s front line quite a bit. Anthony Randolph did some good things last night (which was a surprise in itself), but he also did some really awful things (not a surprise at all), so Pekovic’s return will be most welcome.

According to Jerry Zgoda, Beasley’s toe was really bothering him last night, which doesn’t bode well for his playing time tonight.

In news from Golden State’s bench, Richard Jefferson shot a paltry 2-14 from the field against the Jazz. Keep the good times rolling, RJ!

The Outlook

Derrick Williams tweeted that the Wolves “need to turn it around tonight.” Actually Derrick, that was last night I’m afraid. A win tonight is essential, but Minnesota will need some pretty major upsets to remain in the Western Conference playoff race over the next week.

Game starts at 9:30 on Fox Sports North

Game 46 Preview: Sacramento Kings vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Sacramento Kings (15-29) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (22-23)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 97-92 vs Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento W, 120-95 vs Boston

One of these guys wont see much, if any, playing time tonight.
One of these guys won't see much, if any, playing time tonight.

Don’t let the final score fool you: Minnesota put forth a good effort, but they were badly outmatched by the Lakers on Friday. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 47 points, but they needed 42 shots. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant torched the Wolves for 28 points, which included 5-8 shooting from behind the arc. Every time Minnesota made something that resembled a run, the Lakers seemed to have an answer.

Meanwhile the Kings badly outplayed the Boston Celtics in Sacramento. Marcus Thornton dropped a season high 36 points, leading Sacramento on an easy route of the C’s, who didn’t really show up for the game.

The Key Questions

#1. Can the Wolves steal a game on the road?

Minnesota’s record away from the Target Center this season is respectable, at 10-11. But the Kings, despite being 15-29 overall, are actually 11-9 at home. The combination of young talent and a home crowd makes the Kings a surprisingly tough matchup in Sacramento.

#2. Why are Luke Ridnour’s absurd assist totals not translating into wins?

I may well make this into a full length post later this week, but for now, note this: Ridnour’s assist totals over the past four games are 10, 9, 13 and 11, while the Wolves have gone 1-3. Minnesota is certainly struggling since Rubio went out for the season, but the struggles aren’t due to a drop-off in point guard play.

#3. Jimmer-mania?

Not a question so much, but something I find funny: in Friday’s game against the Celtics, a blow out mind you, rookies Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Honeycutt played the same number of minutes (10) and made the same number of shots (1). In related news, Jimmer was the 10th pick in the draft, while Honeycutt was selected in the second round, 35th overall. Hope you enjoyed your college glory days, Jimmer.

The Key Matchups

Pekovic is what DeMarcus Cousins dreams of at night when he watches a scary movie and takes too much Nyquil. Strong, steady and fundamental, Pek ripped apart the Kings in February, shooting a tidy 9-12 from the field and scoring 23 points. By comparison, Cousins was 3-13 from the field for 10 points. DMC is used to using his brute strength and touch around the basket to his advantage, but, as so many other teams have learned this season, brute strength doesn’t really work against Pek.

Kevin Love missed February’s matchup, but he dropped 33 on the Kings earlier this season. Jason Thompson is an athletic defender, but he struggles, like many others, to defend Love’s range and versatility.

Little Isaiah Thomas has been one of the biggest rookie surprises of the season. Taking his Mr. Irrelevance title personally, Thomas has been proving himself a capable NBA point guard despite his height (5’8). Ridnour will need to stay alert, as Thomas is very quick, but Luke will probably enjoy being taller than an opponent for once.

The Outlook

The season remaining is short enough that I can say “must win”, right? Because tonight’s game (and tomorrow’s against Golden State) are must-win games for the Wolves if they want to stay in playoff contention. While Houston and Denver are still (remotely) catchable, Utah and Phoenix are both coming on strong. Today and tomorrow are winnable games, and to make the playoffs, Minnesota needs to start winning now.

Game starts at 5 on Fox Sports North

Game 37 Preview: Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Phoenix Suns (14-20) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (18-18)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 104-85 vs Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix: L, 106-104 vs Golden State

Doubtless, Minnesota will be attempting to exploit the Darko/Nash mismatch all night.
Doubtless, Minnesota will be attempting to exploit the Darko/Nash mismatch all night.

Kevin Love sat out last night’s game against the Lakers with flu-like symptoms, and the rest of the team might as well have sat out too. Kobe Bryant eviscerated Minnesota for 31 points and eight assists, as the Lakers dominated the Wolves in LA. Minnesota’s shooting percentages were awful (39% from the field, 26% from 3), and they fell back to .500, staying a game out of eighth in the West.

The Suns haven’t played a basketball game since last week Wednesday, when they lost a heartbreaker to the Warriors. Battling back from a 20+ point first half deficit, Phoenix tied the game with 17 seconds left in the fourth before Monta Ellis drained a tough fadeaway with one second left that proved to be the difference. Markieff Morris took part in the Rising Stars Challenge (and completed a really nice play from Rubio), and Steve Nash was an All-Star, but no other Suns player has participated in basketball activities since Golden State.

The Key Questions

#1. How rusty will the Suns be?

If the Suns begin the game cold, Minnesota may get an opportunity to avoid their customary bad start. This would be big for the Wolves. On the third night of a back to back to back, Minnesota would definitely benefit from an early lead. Battling back from a deficit would feel like a steep uphill battle.

On the plus side, after missing last night’s game and Tuesday night’s fourth quarter, Kevin Love should be quite fresh.

#2. What’s wrong with Rubio’s shot?

Rubio has been awful shooting the ball over the past four games, going 9-39, which is 23% for those of you who like seeing misery spelled out. Earlier this season, Rubio seemed less tentative looking for his shot. After he misses a shot or two, he passes on good shots, realizes his mistake, and forces up a bad one. This is likely just an aberration, however. His numbers will likely trend upward soon.

#3. Where do the Wolves stand in playoff race?

Minnesota trails Portland by half a game and Denver by a full one. Denver is inactive tonight, but Portland will have their hands full against Miami. A win against Phoenix and a loss by Portland to the Heat would vault Minnesota into the 9th spot in the West, just a half game behind Denver.

The Key Matchups

Well, folks. Here it is. You’ve been comparing Rubio to Steve Nash since we saw his first behind the back pass. The head to head is finally here. For the record, I think that Nash comparisons are a little ridiculous. Yeah, Rubio is floppy haired, flashy foreign import. But Nash is a dead-eye shooter, whereas Rubio…well.

Channing Frye’s numbers are down from last year, but matched up against Kevin Love, his performance will be interesting. Love has neither the length nor the athleticism to defend Frye if he gets hot, but Frye is also a minus defender, so Love could have an advantage offensively.

But let’s be real here. You and I are most looking forward to Marcin Gortat vs Nikola Pekovic. The Polish Hammer vs The Pek-secutioner. It. Is. So. On.

The Outlook

The Wolves HAVE to be exhausted, after two grueling, difficult games against LA teams. The Suns, after shaking off their initial rust, will be healthy and energetic. I’m not saying Minnesota doesn’t have a shot, but I AM saying that expecting a win is probably unreasonable.

Game starts at 8 on Fox Sports North

Game 36 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs Minnesota Timberwolves

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Los Angeles Lakers (20-14) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (18-17)

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Nobody in the NBA makes funnier faces than Pau Gasol.
Nobody in the NBA makes funnier faces than Pau Gasol.

Last game: Minnesota: W, 109-97 vs Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers: L, 100-85 vs Oklahoma City

Yesterday was the prototypical Timberwolves’ game for three quarters. Time and again, when the Clippers threatened to pull away, the Wolves reeled them back. Then the fourth quarter happened and Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams both scored 13 points in the quarter and ended up with 27 while the bench scored 72 points for the game and the starters got to rest for the entire fourth quarter and seriously can someone explain to me WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!!!

The Lakers lost to the Thunder before the All-Star break. Kevin Durant dropped 33 points on Los Angeles, who struggled to contain Oklahoma City’s athleticism. But none of this matters nearly as much as what happened during the All-Star game. Kobe was fouled hard by Dwyane Wade, which broke his nose and gave him a mild concussion.

The Key Questions

#1 (Of course…) Will Kobe be cleared to play tonight?

At the moment, Kobe’s presence seems surprisingly likely. Despite all the new rules about concussions, Bryant has apparently cleared tests, and plans to play 2 on 2 this afternoon to determine if he is available. Of course, knowing Kobe Bryant, if he hasn’t lost a limb, he will probably keep playing.

This, of course, raises another interesting question: will Bryant be wearing a mask? Some players love the masks and get used to them (Richard Hamilton, for example). Others (like University of Connecticut center Andre Drummond) never get used to it and play considerably better without. A limited Bryant might actually be worse for Los Angeles than no Bryant. Limited, he is more likely to shoot them out of a game. Which brings me to…

#2. Is it possible the Lakers would be better without Kobe against the Wolves?

Heresy? Perhaps. But Kobe has a tendency to eat up Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum’s field goal attempts. And against Minnesota, Gasol and Bynum have a big advantage (literally). Gasol towers over Kevin Love, who has trouble contesting him. Bynum is much longer than Pekovic. It might be good for the Lakers to force the ball inside early and often, and with Kobe in the game, that is less likely to happen.

Unfortunately, Kobe could also come out and score 45 on Wes Johnson. Really, it’s kind of a toss-up.

#3. How did we get this far without asking something about Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley?

The best part about last night’s game against the Clippers? Clearly, the Wolves won. But the SECOND best part of last night’s game was the rest the bench bought the starters. Minnesota is in the middle of a painful back-to-back-to-back. Having a rested squad against a tough Lakers team will be huge.

The Key Matchups

We already discussed Kevin Love vs Pau Gasol. One of the more underrated subplots of tonight’s game will be what adjustments Adelman will make to contain Gasol. After Kevin Martin torched the Wolves, Adelman took a calculated risk and had Wes guard him the next time Minnesota faced Houston, leaving the smaller Ridnour on Chandler Parsons. It worked well. What Adelman does to adjust to LA’s height could determine whether the Wolves can stretch their winning streak.

Minnesota’s bench is much more talented than the LA’s. If it comes down to a battle of depth, that will bode well for the Wolves.

The Outlook

Despite all the positivity from last night, the Wolves could actually be in for their second consecutive trap game against the Lakers, as weird as that sounds. When the Lakers visited the Wolves earlier this season, Minnesota was caught complacent. It will be very important for Minnesota to come out of the gate swinging tonight, because climbing back against veterans like the Lakers will be much more difficult than against the young Clippers.

Game starts at 9:30 on Fox Sports North

Game 35: Minnesota Timberwolves vs Los Angeles Clippers

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Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17) at Los Angeles Clippers (20-11)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 100-98 vs Utah; Los Angeles: W, 103-95 vs Denver

  Kevin Love #42 Of The Minnesota Timberwolves And The Western Conference Dunks Against Dwight Howard #12 Of The
Love's ready to prove that he's the best power forward in the NBA, not Blake Griffin

Legs are rested, minds refreshed, it’s time to start the second half of the season. The Wolves finished the first half on a high note by completing a comeback, buzzer-beating winner against division rival Utah Jazz. But the All-Star break couldn’t have come sooner because everyone needed those few days of rest.

The Wolves move into the second half with momentum but also with question marks all over. Will Kevin Love start hitting more threes? Will we see better ball control from the point guard trio? Will Michael Beasley find his way back into the starting lineup ahead of Wes Johnson? How will Nikola Pekovic perform after the weekend break?

Despite the uncertainty, one thing is for certain: The Wolves are back and in the playoff picture.

Tonight the Wolves are in L.A. for back-to-backs against the Clippers tonight and Lakers tomorrow. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin represented the West in the All-Star game along with Kevin Love, so the three should know each other pretty well by now. Only this time they’ll be competing against each other.

The Key Questions:

1) How does Kevin Love play after failing to rest during All-Star weekend?

Most players were given the chance to rest their legs and just relax over the weekend. Not Love. No, the power forward was too busy winning the three-point contest and scoring 17 points in the All-Star game. He is a young athlete and he may not need to rest as much as some of the older players but it’s still a fair question.

Last time the Wolves played the Clippers Love nailed the buzzer-beating three pointer for the win. Does he have the physical and mental stability to do the same if the situation calls his name? We can only hope so.

2)  The second half is full of away games; will the Wolves rise to the occasion?

In the first half of the season, the Wolves played well on the road, 7-7. The common assumption for young teams is they can’t play on the road; the crowds are too loud, the confidence isn’t there; it all plays a part. But this season it’s almost as if the Wolves don’t see road games as much of a challenge. As stated before, this is the first game of back-to-backs at the Staples Center against L.A.’s two teams. This one may be the easier one to win than tomorrow — The Wolves suck against the Lakers, always — making it all the more special to steal another one in Clipper town yet again.

3) Who plays small forward?

Odds are Johnson continues to start at the 3, but at what point does Adelman insert Beaz back into the starting lineup? It has to be soon, right? Beasley’s numbers are far and wide above what Johnson has posted so far this season, and Beasley’s defense has improved this season too. I do believe that Beasley’s spot as sixth man is working well for both parties but it might be worth it to take a look at making the switch at some point.

The Key Matchups:

Chris Paul is averaging 8.6 assists a game this season with Ricky Rubio just shy of that mark at 8.4. Rookies don’t hang with veterans too often but we’ve quickly learned in 34 games just what Rubio is capable of. On the defensive end, these guards are two of the best thieves in the NBA. So, although Paul has advantages in shooting and perhaps sheer playmaking, the two are leading some of the NBA’s notoriously bad teams into potential playoff candidates. That’s definitely the matchup to watch.

The other matchup to watch is obviously Blake Griffin vs Love. The two are very close to each other but won’t let friendship get in the way of tonight’s tilt. The debate will continue over who’s the better power forward, and the more and more these two face off, the more clarity will shine in as the debate continues.

The Outlook:

The Wolves could start the season on a high note with a win and another step above the .500 mark. Or they could get blown out in this one and start the slide down a slippery slope with tons of road games on the upcoming schedule. In order to get off on that right foot, the Wolves are going to need more out of their role players — Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Wes Johnson, just to name a few — to get some wins on the road. The first half was clearly led by Love and Rubio but they can only do so much. I expect moves to be made before the trade deadline but hopefully the Wolves can get off to the right start with what they have and make adjustments later when needed.

Game starts at 9:30 pm on FS North

All-Star Game Preview: Dunks on Dunks

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Love will participate in the All-Star game on Sunday
Love will participate in the All-Star game on Sunday

We have reached the All-Star break, and I think I speak for many NBA fans when I say “huh.” All-Star weekend isn’t the WORST thing on TV (I mean, this was a real thing at one point), and after the lockout doom and gloom, it’s certainly wonderful that we even have an All-Star weekend. But it isn’t real basketball.

In the absence of real basketball, here’s a preview anyway.

BBVA Rising Stars Challenge: Friday on TNT

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, but why does EVERYTHING need to be hashtagged now? Can you think of a single good reason why the words “Team Shaq” need to be scrunched together and prefaced with a number sign? Ugh.

Anyway, here are the lineups.


  • Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
  • Jeremy Lin, NY Knicks
  • Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
  • Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
  • Landry Fields, NY Knicks
  • Norris Cole, Miami Heat
  • Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
  • Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons


  • Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
  • Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Paul George, Indiana Pacers
  • MarShon Brooks, NJ Nets
  • John Wall, Washington Wizards
  • Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs (out with injury)
  • Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
  • Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

I honestly the the Rising Stars challenge could be the second most entertaining event of the weekend. Not only are there a lot of young players represented who are really fun to watch, but the fact that it was selected like a playoff pickup game could mean that players take it personally that they were drafted lower or higher. Maybe there will be some actual competition? Actually, who am I kidding. Best case scenario: this happens again.

NBA D-League All-Star game: Saturday on NBA TV

You want real 5 on 5 competition over the ASW? This is probably your only chance. You know, as long as “knowing who the player are” isn’t on your list of requirements.

Haier Shooting Stars Competition: Saturday on TNT

Hey wait a sec, this is kind of cool. Four teams, one from Orlando, one from Atlanta, one from New York, and one from Texas. An NBA player, a WNBA player and an ex-NBA player team up and square off with each other. This is a 3 on 3 tournament, right?

No? It’s just a shooting tournament? Ugh. Wake me when the dunk contest starts.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge: Saturday on TNT

The roster:

  • Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
  • John Wall, Washington Wizards
  • Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
  • Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets

In a contest that values flashy point guard skills, Rondo HAS to be the favorite, right? I’m picking Rondo first, then Kyrie Irving as my dark horse candidiate.

Foot Locker Three Point Contest: Saturday on TNT

The roster:

  • James Johnson, Miami Heat
  • Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic
  • Anthony Morrow, New Jersey Nets
  • Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat

Can’t say I really like Love’s chances here. The only player I’d pick him over is Chalmers. Anthony Morrow seems to be Twitter’s choice to win this event. Personally, I’d go with Anderson.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest: Saturday on TNT

Because let’s be honest, this is the only event we REALLY care about…and this year the Wolves are represented!

  • Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz
  • Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Chase Budinger, Houston Rockets
  • Paul George, Indiana Pacers

As much as I appreciate the way D-Will can catch and finish Rubioops, Evans and George have to be the favorites. Both have demonstrated some excellent in-game dunking ability. Unfortunately, this contest feels pretty uninspired compared to last year. Screw Blake Griffin, bring back JaVale McGee!

There’s a new format this year as well. One round, three dunks per dunker, and (gulp) fan voting instead of judges. Because, you know, fan voting worked so well for the ASG starters. Ah well.

The All Star Game: Sunday on TNT

Funny how little most people care about this game. Dunks will be dunked. Long threes will be shot. Points will be scored in bulk. Kevin Love will come off the bench (though he deserved to start, statistically) for the Western Conference.

Enjoy the, um, festivities everyone!