Call it a November hangover, but tonight the Timberwolves take on the Thunder in the second-half of a back-to-back. At least from here they will be off until Wednesday when they play the Spurs in Mexico City, but they still won’t be returning to Target Center until Saturday against the Heat. Yes, they play the Thunder, Spurs and Heat consecutively this week. Ideally, you’re happy if you come away from this stretch with one or two wins.
As for tonight, the Timberwolves face an Oklahoma City team that has won six games ina row and now has Russell Westbrook back. Yes, even a struggling Russell Westbrook is still a dangerous Russell Westbrook; just ask the Warriors.
While Westbrook’s return has rejuvenated the Thunder, having Nikola Pekovic back in his own rhythm has been valuable to the Timberwolves. And with Luc Mbah a Moute on board, the Timberwolves will be able to change up the looks that defenders see between him and Corey Brewer. These teams typically matchup very well and games are usually always competitive. The two things to remember about this Thunder team is that they can now play some defense and you really don’t want to send them to the line because they’re going to make them 80 percent of the time.
Kendrick Perkins is listed as probable for the Thunder, which is probably a better thing for the Timberwolves than the Thunder. Both of these times like to run, get to the line and make their shots, so the team that is able to get the most stops should be the one to come out on top this time. Just don’t expect a blowout like the first time these two teams met this season.
Normally, I would talk about what has recently happened for both teams coming into the game tonight. I might talk about how the Timberwolves hung with the Pacers for 40 minutes before Indiana put them in the vice and slowly crushed the life out of them. I might want to play up some angle about looking to get back on the right track at home, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you don’t want to hear that; no, not after the Derrick Williams trade to Sacramento.
Why is this relevant? Well, because it turns out that Luc Mbah a Moute — the player the Timberwolves received in return for Williams — is the common thread between both teams. No, Mbah a Moute never played for the Nuggets, but he almost did.
When Mbah a Moute’s contract was expiring in the summer of 2011, he was sought after as an upcoming perimeter defender in the NBA. Coming off of a rookie deal, he was a restricted free agent and Denver wound up making him an offer. Sure enough, the Bucks couldn’t let him get away, and certainly not at the inexpensive price tag of around $5 million annually. So, the Bucks matched and the Nuggets drafted Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier. Of course, they would trade for Andre Iguodala to be their shutdown perimeter player as a one-year rental. Although, Nuggets fans probably won’t want you asking about that.
What does this mean? Nothing really, but it’s just an observation that Mbah a Moute will make his Timberwolves debut against the team that he nearly landed on two years before. Oh, and the Kings are starting Derrick Williams at small forward, proving that they’re either masochists or they really can’t stomach starting Travis Outlaw or John Salmons any longer. I could see it either way, personally.
Somethings really aren’t fair in life, like this month’s schedule for the Timberwolves. In each of the last two weeks, they have played two stretches of five games in seven nights, which is tough. Overall, they’ve played four back-to-backs as a part of a 17 game month. Sure, it all evens out in the end since everyone in the league plays the same teams, but when you’re in the midst of it, it is pretty unpleasant. And tonight, two nights after losing to Rockets on a second night of a back-to-back, will play no one other than the 10-1 Indiana Pacers.
Oh, joy. I can’t decide if this is less fair than having to play the Clippers twice on the second night of a back-to-back this.
As we knew last year, the Pacers were really freakin’ good, but they’re even better this year thanks to the further improvement of Paul George. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists on .463/.366/.843 shooting, which is nutty. If having an MVP candidate in your favor isn’t enough, they still have Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill. That doesn’t even touch upon the fact that their bench is really good. If the Timberwolves wanted a barometer of where they are now, they have a good one on the slate tonight.
The Pacers play with a style that is a complete opposite of the Timberwolves’. While Minnesota plays at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, Indiana prefers to slow it down as the league’s 26th-slowest. Not only do they like to control the pace, but they are the NBA’s best defensive team, which is a dangerous combo. To make things even more daunting, they are averagely efficient on offense despite what their ranking of 20th in points per game might have you believe since they operate at such a grinding pace.
The Timberwolves do have an opening for success, and that will be on the glass. Minnesota has been one of the league’s best teams and the Pacers have been average at worse. Therefore, the Timberwolves’ ability to crash the boards could enable them to control the tempo of the game and force Indiana to play their style and not allow them to get their defense set.
After tonight, the schedule eases up as November comes to an end and a victory over Indiana would be a huge morale booster going into December.
Where: Whatever-they-called-it-after-Conseco-Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, IN
This isn’t exactly the same Denver Nuggets team that took the season series from the Timberwolves 3-1 last season. Head coach George Karl is gone in favor of Bryan Shaw. Forward Andre Iguodala hit a game-winner last night…for the Warriors. Even Masai Uriji has moved on to become the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. And now we’re hearing about forward Kenneth Faried on the trading block.
Despite this amount of turnover, the Nuggets still sit at 3-4, with three wins in their last four games. But how do you lose that many key pieces and still remain moderately competitive? Well, their schedule has something to do with it. They have two ‘meh’ wins against the Lakers and Jazz who are a combined 5-14, but one against the Hawks that is legitimate.
It’s not as if the Nuggets do anything particularly well, but they don’t do anything terribly either. They’re 23rd in eFG%, which is bottom-third in the league, but not horrendous. Additionally, they’re not good or bad on the boards…just adequate. Are they good defensively? Kinda, but they’re nothing special. In short, this Nuggets team is just “here.”
That said, they do have some players. Center Timofey Mozgov has been remarkably efficient, and Ty Lawson is off to a decent start to the season. There may be no JaVale McGee, but Anthony Randolph will be available for all our entertainment needs. No Danilo Gallinari either, but there is a chance JJ Hickson could do this again. Wait, scratch that last one; why would I want that to happen?
As for the Timberwolves…we get to watch Kevin Love be brilliant every night with Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio by his side. While the Timberwolves have gotten better, the number say they are still steadily improving with figures now in the upper-half to third of the league. Their rebounding has come along a good ways since the start of the season and they are still 18th in the league in eFG percentage with Nikola Pekovic beginning to get in rhythm. You don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself:
Not that these figures guarantee anything, but it’s just an encouraging trend to note. Tonight’s game is the first of a home-and-away back-to-back with tonight’s game in Denver and returning tomorrow night to play the Boston Celtics.
I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.
They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.
Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.
The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.
Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.
#twolves haven’t beat the #lakers since March 6, 2007 (117-107 in 2OT). Last win in Los Angeles was December 2, 2005 (113-108). #nba
Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.
Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.
Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.
I almost always enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play whenever they’re on. It helps that they play a fun brand of basketball and have several talented players, especially Steph Curry. Yet, the reason I say almost always is because of the latter reason and because there is a certain faction of Timberwolves fans that would rather complain about how, “We could have had him!” instead of just appreciating Curry and the Timberwolves team that is currently in front of them. Also, we should learn from Warriors fans, whose game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is probably sad enough to keep the average fan in bed for two weeks; hindsight is always 20/20.
Hey, guys! Did you know the Timberwolves could have had Steph Curry but they took Jonny Flynn instead? Even though neither player was a sure thing at the time and it’s four years later, we should make sure to tell everyone this at every opening we get– whether it be Wolves-Warriors games or an exciting playoff series, we should definitely talk over it as much as possible!
Yes, Curry is an absolutely brilliant shooter and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make pull-up 27-footers with such ease. It was great to see a finally healthy Curry light up the Denver Nuggets in last spring’s first round series that caused the Nuggets to blow it all up in the summer. Curry’s three point shooting in games three and four was brilliant, shooting .555 percent from deep on 18 attempts.
Curry has only continued to be a threat from deep this season, likely making him a key focal point to the Timberwolves’ defensive strategy. Not only is Curry shooting .500 percent from three, but is doing so on nine attempts per game, which is ridiculous. But it’s not just from three; Curry has converted on .577 of his two point attempts so far this season and is averaging an eye-catching 9.8 per game.
Where is Curry most effective?
You see, Curry has been most effective from above and to the right of the break, shooting nearly .730 percent from that spot. We’ve become so accustomed to Curry’s brilliance that when we see numbers like .416 and .375 percent that you almost wonder why he’s struggling from there, but all of those numbers are no worse than, if not above average.
However, Curry is not alone on the wing. Teammate and shooting guard Klay Thompson has also expanded upon a strong playoff series and continued his excellent play. Thompson has shot .600 from the field (Which is high for even a center), .520 from three and .667 of his two-point attempts. While stats for percentage of certain shots assisted is not yet available this season, Thompson was assisted on .945 percent of his three point makes last season, making the Warriors’ backcourt even more dangerous because double-teaming is incredibly risky, yet playing them one-on-one has been problematic for NBA defenses so far.
Looking at the chart below we see Thompson likes to operate in that exact same space above and to the right of the break as Curry with remarkable proficiency:
Really, Thompson has been burning teams from everywhere on the floor this season– inside and out. The Timberwolves will have to continue to be the same team through four games that has been the NBA’s sixth best team in turnovers forced percentage if they hope to throw the Warriors off of their game. This won’t be like being able to put Corey Brewer on Kevin Durant and forcing his teammates to beat you, because Curry and Thompson’s teammates will. Golden State also ranks 28th in turnover percentage with .178 percent, meaning they turn the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time per 100 possessions.
The Timberwolves are also among the NBA’s best at getting to the line and making their free throws where the Warriors are not. Combined with their ability to force turnovers and their propensity for running out on the break as much as possible, look for Minnesota to go after every single easy basket that they can– be it free throws or fast break points. By doing so this will also prevent a decent defensive team in Golden State from getting set and force them to play the Timberwolves’ game.
If the Timberwolves are able to force turnovers and draw fouls they may be able to conceal one of the weaker aspects of their game so far this season, and that is rebounding. So far, the Timberwolves have grabbed .717 and .242 percent of all available defensive and offensive rebounds available, respectively. This may sound pretty good, but it puts them 24th and 21st in all of the NBA in each category. Now, the Warriors are 19th in Defensive Rebounding percentage and 24th in Offensive Rebounding percentage, but they don’t miss a lot as the league’s best shooting team, so defensive rebounds will likely be at a premium.
Both of these teams enter tonight at 3-1 and among the league’s most exciting young teams. With so much talent and so many great players on both teams, this will undoubtedly be an incredible game. Yeah, the Timberwolves don’t have Curry or Thompson, but they do have Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic. You could always spend your time thinking what could have been and what should have been, but what for? Timberwolves fans have spent the last decade hoping and waiting for a return to relevancy and a legitimately good team they don’t have to talk themselves into every season. And now that team is here, finally. So let’s just appreciate it while we can.
Wow, what a game last night! I mean, at first it looked like the Timberwolves were about to blow away the Knicks like they did to the Thunder, but then they rallied back to make it a close game halfway through the fourth and things got interesting. Fortunately, the Timberwolves held on to what would have been an embarrassing collapse considering the lead they held for much of the game. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic played heavy minutes but that’s okay because they don’t play another game until…oh, today. Welp.
Back-to-backs can often be dreaded no matter who the opponent is, but especially against a Cavs team that is expected to be pretty good despite their early season returns. They’re 1-2 and have lost two in a row but Kyrie is still trying to find his rhythm as well as a few key rotation players, so the Cavaliers are a bit of a sleeping giant.
Yeah, their offense has been a bit of a mess; they’re 30th in points allowed and they’re ranked 25th in field goal percentage. On top of that, they’re 22nd in assists so far. So why am I worried about the Cavs, especially on short rest? Defense, rebounding and turnovers.
Yes, despite the fact that they’ve struggled offensively, they have been one of the NBA’s top defensive teams so far. The numbers verify this: 8th in opp. field goal percentage; 5th in defensive rating; and 10th in opp. eFG%. While they have had a tough time scoring, so have their opponents and Cleveland is number two in the entire league in percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed.
To summarize so far, the Cavs don’t make it easy to score and they don”t give up easy second chance points, but there is one more area that the Cavs have excelled in as well, and that would be in the turnovers department. The Cavs are in the top half of the league in terms of protecting the ball (12th), but are also in the top half of the league in forcing turnovers (also 12). Being smart against the Cavs is crucial, which is what the Timberwolves have been to this point, but they’ll need to carry that over into tomorrow’s game.
Don’t let the Cavs’ 1-2 record fool you– they’re better than that. It’s still early and Kyrie won’t shoot at the current level he is now. The Timberwolves will hope to have enough energy to keep the Cavs off of the boards and control the tempo of the game in order to force them to play their game. It’s worked for much of their first three games, but you don’t want someone like Kyrie getting hot at the wrong time. On the other hand, while they may not be the strongest defensive team in the land, if Minnesota can force and further frustrate Cleveland while they’re slumping, this could pay dividends for them as well.
It’s been three years since the Timberwolves have beaten the New York Knicks, which they did on November 12th, 2010. Back then, we didn’t know what Linsanity was and Corey Brewer had yet to be traded for Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph (Bad thoughts…block them out…block them out…), who were still Timberwolves and Knicks, respectively. Heck, the Knicks didn’t even have Melo yet, so this is a very different NBA we are talking about.
At least the three consecutive games that they have lost to New York were all closely contested affairs. Jeremy Lin lifted the Knicks over the Timberwolves in February ’12 despite struggling for most of the game. Then last season they lost by three in their lone visit to Madison Square Garden by three (although the Knicks went 6-26 from three, ‘Melo had 33 points) and the Knicks would go on to sweep the series later on at Target Center.
How about the last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks? If you’ll remember, that was Kevin Love’s big 31-point/31-rebound game. Not only is 31/31 impressive to begin with, but even more impressive considering the build of the roster around him at that time.
My, look at those starters. Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Sebastian Telfair– the trio who enabled the Phoenix Suns to earn enough ping-pong balls last season to draft Alex Len. Then there’s Darko, who decided to ultimately walk away from the NBA altogether before last season with the Celtics. So, just three years later, the players aside from Love who started this game are either A) out of the NBA; or B) on minimum deals elsewhere.
This was also Nikola Pekovic before he was Nikola Pekovic: Destroyer of worlds, and be also before Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer were able to carve out their niches in the NBA, otherwise I would regard the talent in this game much more highly. Still, Love didn’t just grab 31 rebounds: he needed to grab 31 rebounds given the personnel around him.
Although the Knicks were pretty imperfect from a roster standpoint, putting up 31/31 is remarkable to do against anyone. Now, if you replayed this game with these exact players, Love probably grabs 41. Look:
There are some still very good NBA players on this team — Gallinari, Felton, Mozgov, and Amare, when healthy — but it’s not so surprising they came into this game with a 3-6 record. I can recall at the time people questioning how long you could run Amare at center and hope to keep him healthy, but there’s a reason they traded for ‘Melo and a reason they would sign Tyson Chandler from Dallas the following season. Still, Wilson Chandler, who found success last season in Denver as a power forward, was not going to keep Love off of the glass that night.
Additionally, this was probably also the greatest game of Michael Beasley’s career and the game fans of the team he signs his minimum contract with every season that HE JUST NEEDS MORE TIME!!! Beasley was efficient — 16 for 29, or 52% — and added four assists (Sounds high, but it’s true) and six rebounds on 35 points. Even I got caught up in thinking that there may be something here, but looking back it was a little naive since he took two free throw attempts all game. So what, right? Well, that means that since he also took four threes that most of his attempts were of his famous midrange variety and wasn’t being as aggressive as he needed to be– a common Beasley complaint.
But it was an incredible night to be a Timberwolves fan since it had been such a long time since it had been so long since we had much to be excited about at all. Al Jefferson had just been traded months before to free up playing time for Love, and Love put up a historic performance early in the season, and was really the starting point of him taking that next step as a player. We even talked ourselves into Beasley, fronting him credit for weeks after this game, but realized that it’s probably not true if you have to talk yourself into it.
Finally, later on in that season Brewer is dealt to New York after the Timberwolves decline his option for the following season for Randolph and Darko as a part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
The last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks feels like it was much longer than three years ago since the NBA amalgamate has changed so much in that time. I mean, the ‘Melo trade was an absolute blockbuster, and whether or not you thought it would last, Linsanity had yet to be a thing and you probably had a strong opinion either way. For the Timberwolves, Love is a star, Nikola Pekovic is a max-contract player and Ricky Rubio has now been here for his third season now. For the Timberwolves, the NBA and everyone involved it’s been a whirlwind of days since November 2010.
Tonight, the Timberwolves look to push their winning streak to three and the Knicks will look to hit their stride at home. There are lots of new faces in New York including Ron Artest Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, which is Italian for “Bargsanity.” Perhaps a Timberwolves team coming off of a blowout of Oklahoma City on Friday night is not what the Knicks need to try to get on a roll, but Minnesota will have to be on the lookout for a trap game since the Knicks are likely a better team than they’ve shown and will wind up in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
These two teams have changed so much since 2010, it’s hard to recognize them when you reflect back on that game three Novembers ago. With both teams improved since then it should be another good game considering the subsequent three games have been very good. Besides, padding their first place division lead wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Timberwolves. Not at all.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
When: 6:30 CST
See/Hear It: FSN Plus and WCCO AM 830
Note: Ronny Turiaf is out tonight after fracturing his elbow on the hardwood at Target Center on Friday night.
This game was pretty forgettable as a whole. On the brightside they’re 0-2 against the D-League Select but 2-1 against everyone else. Really, no one outside of Chris Johnson really stood out and was terrific at getting to the line again. Othyus Jeffers was pretty good still and so was John Holland, but no one else really stood out.
Robbie Hummel went 2-7. Welp.
Shabazz Muhammad shot 25 percent from the field tonight and some people are clamoring for his retirement. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t peak yesterday. Or at least I hope not. That wouldn’t be good.
Can we get more than four summer league games before holding a referendum on a player’s career?
Really, you have to give the Select team some credit. They’re undefeated and beat the Timberwolves for the second time in five days, in part because they forced them into shooting 33.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three. Despite also cutting back on their turnovers considerably, they still got beat on the glass, 47-38. Enabling the Select team to grab so many more defensive rebounds enabled them to prevent the Timberwolves getting any second chance points and also keeping them from building more momentum.
It may not have mattered if they had gotten more second chance opportunities given how the entire team struggled shooting, but it could have also given them some rhythm, which they desperately needed.
You Mean I Get a Preview, too? What Value!
Consequently, the Timberwolves will play the Portland Traiblazers team in the consolation bracket instead of the championship bracket. Which is a little unfortunate because it won’t start until 9:30pm central and I have no idea where it will air; NBA TV or ESPN 3 would be my guesses, though.
As for the Blazers, they lost again as well yesterday, this time to the Suns, giving them a 1-4 record. C.J. McCollum has starred for the Blazers with averages of 21 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game and 3.4 assists for the the rookie guard (His averages are much more impressive if you don’t look at this shooting efficiency.) The Blazers are full of players like McCollum who have nice averages, like Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, but have not reached those marks efficiently.
I will not be there for this one since I will be in the air during game time on my way back to Minneapolis, which is disappointing because this week has been a blast. But you can still follow me on Twitter anyway and use other Timberwolves people who will be in attendance and giving live updates.