Category: 2011-2012 Game Previews

Game 24 Preview: Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Houston Rockets (13-10) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (11-12)

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USE THE FORCE, KYLE LOWRY!
USE THE FORCE, KYLE LOWRY!

Last game: Minnesota: W, 108-105 vs New Jersey, Houston: 99-81 vs Phoenix

The Timberwolves fought through a tough game last night on the road against the Nets, allowing essentially everything ever to go wrong, but still managing to leave with a win. Anthony Morrow hit (approximately) 150 three-pointers, but Nikola Pekovic scored a career-high 27 points for the Wolves, who improved to 11-12 on the season.

The Rockets snapped a two game losing streak last night against the Suns, winning easily in Houston. The bench scored 50 points, and the Rockets weren’t seriously threatened after taking a 20 point half-time lead. Kevin Martin led Rockets scorers with 17.

The Key Questions

#1. Seriously, we have to play these guys again?

Three times in two weeks. At least we can expect both teams to be well scouted. Just as a reminder: in the first meeting, Kevin Martin absolutely torched the Wolves and Houston handled Minnesota easily, 107-92 at the Target Center. But earlier this week, the Wolves handed the Rockets just their third loss at home, 120-108. Michael Beasley had his best game of the year thus far, scoring 34 points on 10-14 shooting. So basically, one can expect to have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen tonight.

#2. What will we get from Pekovic tonight?

Pek has been playing great lately. His advantages offensively over Darko are striking. He is incredibly strong and he uses his huge body to get closer to the basket. Plus, unlike Darko, he actually has touch around the rim. It’s difficult to predict what Adelman will do on a night to night basis lineup-wise, but it’s not hard to imagine Pekovic getting a start tonight based on his performance over the past week.

#3. Why has .500 become such an elusive goal?

Yet another chance for Minnesota to get to .500 tonight. It would be the latest in the season they reached that mark since the KG-era. I don’t know what that means, but it feels quite significant.

The Key Matchups

Kevin Love has played really well against the Rockets, scoring 29 and 39 in the last two games. Luis Scola has scored 15 and 8 in those games, so outplaying Scola will be important for Love.

The Ricky Rubio vs. Kyle Lowry match-up has been interesting. Last week Rubio made several costly turnovers that enabled Houston to go on a huge run to put away the Wolves, while Lowry scored 16 points and dished out 10 assists. But on Monday, Rubio flirted with a triple double (18 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds) while Lowry had just 11 points and 3 assists. It seems fair to say that whoever plays better will put his team in a good position to win.

The Rockets don’t have anyone who matches up well against Michael Beasley. If Beasley plays smart, efficient basketball again tonight, there’s no reason he can’t have a good follow up performance to his last game against Houston. Also, if I win the lottery, there’s no reason I can’t be rich tomorrow.

The Outlook

Both teams played last night, both teams had some serious travel to get here, and both teams have been playing well lately, so the game should be very close. I honestly don’t have a prediction for this one, but I’ll be at the game tonight and I’ll be tweeting about it quite a bit, so (shameless self-plug) follow me!

Game starts at 7 on League Pass

Game 22: Indiana Pacers vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Indiana Pacers (14-6) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (10-11)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 120-108 vs Houston, Indiana: W, 106-99 vs New Jersey

Surprisingly, the internet isn't full of pictures of the Timberwolves playing the Pacers. The Warriors have similar colors. Just pretend.

The Timberwolves picked up an encouraging road win against a scorching Houston team on Monday. The Wolves used a huge third quarter (42 points, a new franchise record) to blow open a close game, as Michael Beasley scored 34 points off the bench on hyper-efficient 10-14 from the field. Other things that happened on Saturday: the sun rose green and the clouds were purple.

Indiana beat New Jersey last night 106-99. On the one hand, Indiana only beat New Jersey by seven on their home floor, George Hill hurt his ankle and will be out for quite a while, David West only took four shots from the field in 34 minutes of action, it was last night, and tonight is the second night of a back to back on the road. On the other hand, this.

The Key Questions

#1. Holy…can Michael Beasley keep doing that?

Jonah already did a great post on this topic right here, but…

Hey Mike. Tom from Howlin’ T-Wolf here. That was awesome, buddy. Seriously. You were killer against Houston. It was like you were back at K-State overpowering everybody on the offensive end. We were all a little blown away, and we all enjoyed the crap out of it.

But Mike? Please, please pleaseplease don’t let it get out of hand. I know you made 2-3 shots from behind the arc against Houston. But no matter how well it went against the Rockets Mike, you aren’t a three point shooter. We definitely appreciate the threes you have made. But don’t make them a regular part of your arsenal. You need to trust me on this. Keep taking shots close to the basket, keep playing to your strengths.

Thanks man. You are my favorite. I love watching you get minutes, which is why I say all this stuff. Keep up the good work.

-Tom

#2. Are the Pacers for real this season?

That depends on how one defines the phrase “for real.” Are they a playoff team, especially in the Eastern Conference? Most definitely. Could they win a playoff series, given the right match-up? Yeah, probably. Are they ECF contenders? Without everything falling into place (key injuries to opponents, the Celtics/Magic inexplicably knocking off Miami or Chicago, career performances from role players, etc.), it’s pretty hard to project.

Please note: I am absolutely not underestimating the Pacers. They are an excellent team right now, and they have some excellent pieces and a lot of really interesting cap room going into the next two off-seasons. They are extremely well positioned for the future. It’s just hard to see them making it past the second round this season.

#3. Will we finally see Barea return?

Reports indicate…YES!

The Key Matchups

Listen, I love Nikolai Pekovic. He works hard. He gets some rebounds. He can score around the basket. He has a super badass tattoo. But Pek can’t defend a player like Roy Hibbert. You thought the Lakers were long? Try going 40 minutes against a 7’2 super-athlete with long arms and a developing post game. Quite simply put: when Hibbert is in the game, the Wolves will struggle if they go small. Pek isn’t nearly long enough. Darko is closer, and he is supposed to return to action, despite continued dizziness.

David West is a fine basketball player, but he isn’t a truly plus defender, and he isn’t Kevin Love. The Timberwolves will need to win this matchup tonight.

Darren Collison vs Ricky Rubio will be interesting mainly because Collison is the kind of super quick point guard that scouts didn’t believe Rubio could defend coming into the NBA. Rubio, of course, has been using his ridiculous length to his advantage against such point guards and should be able to play Collison well.

If Minnesota’s deep bench can beat Indiana’s relatively deep bench (shallower without George Hill, but still), then Minnesota is probably in good shape, since Indiana’s starters will probably be tired after New Jersey yesterday.

The Outlook

While this projects to be a very good game, I like Minnesota’s chances at home against a weary Pacers squad. Then again, I said the same thing about LA on Sunday, and the Wolves played very poorly. And I didn’t like Minnesota’s chances against Houston, who they handled solidly. So. Minnesota will probably lose by 30. It’s going to be a blowout.

Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North

Game 20: Los Angeles Lakers vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Los Angeles Lakers (11-9) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 87-79 vs San Antonio, Los Angeles: L, 100-89 vs Milwaukee

The Timberwolves beat the Spurs on Friday at the Target Center, winning against Dallas and San Antonio in consecutive games for the second time this season. Minnesota’s balanced scoring attack kept the venerable Spurs at bay. Kevin Love had 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Rubio chipped in 18 points and 10 assists.

The Lakers have been struggling lately, dropping another bad loss yesterday to the Bucks. Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, but needed 21 shots to do it. Pau Gasol struggled as well, shooting 6-18 from the field and failing to get to the free throw line. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would miss them.

The Key Questions

#1. Will the Lakers struggle on the road against Minnesota?

Los Angeles is 1-7 on the road so far this year. Plus, this is the second night of a back to back, and the Lakers lost a demoralizing game to the Bucks last night. Kobe played 42 minutes, Pau played 39, and Andrew Bynum played 36. The Wolves should attempt to push the pace against a Lakers team that is likely to be gassed.

#2. Are the healthy Wolves a dangerous team?

It sure seems that way. As more and more players come back from injuries, the Wolves seem to get more and more dangerous, especially on offense. Martell Webster’s return should add some needed three point shooting. Beasley’s shot creation is now back (as is his inattention on defense, but I’m trying to stay positive). Add that to Pek’s productive minutes (probably not something we can count on every night) and Wes Johnson’s newfound aggression on offense (probably not something we can count on every night, either) and the Wolves…well. The Wolves might be considered a legitimately good team.

#3. When was the last time the Timberwolves were favored over the Lakers?

No, seriously. Look for yourself.

The Key Matchups

Kevin Love and Pau Gasol have battled each other well in the past. But Lamar Odom was the Laker who used to give Love the biggest fits, and he’s gone this year. In his place, the Lakers have a trade exception. The trade exception has been playing well so far (0 ppg in 0 minutes), but there’s little doubt the Lakers miss Odom’s production.

Kobe will get his points, even if he takes 30 shots to do it. It will probably be up to Wes Johnson to make sure that he does. Ruh roh.

Andrew Bynum scares me. He’s huge, he’s volatile (someone hide Barea…), and he’s talented. He’s probably going to give Darko fits, although Darko is the one Timberwolf with enough length to bother the enormous Lakers.

Minnesota’s biggest advantage should be from the bench. The Lakers have several players who can contribute baskets every once in a while (Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, etc.) but none aside from the big three who can score regularly. This is a bad offensive team. The Wolves, however, can bring offense off the bench at any time, especially considering the open looks Rubio can create. The Minnesota bench will need to badly outscore the Lakers tonight.

The Outlook

I hate to be a jinx, so start knocking on wood immediately, but I really like Minnesota in this game. The Wolves youth and athleticism should go a long way agains the road-weary Lakers. And for the first time in several years, Los Angeles is having trouble scoring. Their defense has been good (7th in the league in opponents ppg), but teams need to score to win. As long as Kobe doesn’t score 80, I could very well see Minnesota winning this one.

Beat LA.

Game starts at 6 pm on Fox Sports North.

Game 18 Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Dallas Mavericks (11-7) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7-10)

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This is still a Picture of the Year candidate to me.

Last game: Minnesota: L, 107-92 vs Houston, Dallas: 97-83 vs Phoenix

Minnesota rallied in the third quarter to tie the game against Houston on Monday, but then hit a brick wall with an injury depleted roster, as Houston put the Wolves away with a flurry of fast breaks and three pointers. Kevin Love was completely dominant, scoring 39 points on supremely efficient 13-19 shooting from the field to go with 12 rebounds, but Ricky Rubio had the type of game that reminds the viewer that he is still adjusting to the NBA game, as he turned the ball over five times, all at very inopportune moments.

Dallas, without Dirk, edged the Suns on Monday, as Shawn Marion (!!!) caught fire from deep, hitting four 3-pointers, and scoring 29 points for the Mavericks, who have won 4 in a row, two in a row without Dirk.

The Key Questions

#1. What difference will injuries make in this game?

Rick Adelman, after Monday’s loss:

I have three guards and no small forward. We tried to adjust, but you’re putting people out of position…We just didn’t have enough answers.

Not exactly a boost of confidence. JJ Barea and Michael Beasley will both miss tonight’s game as well, and I can’t find confirmation anywhere that Wes will return, although one hopes he’d be feeling a bit better today.

The good news for Minnesota, of course, is that they still have their best player, the newly extended Kevin Love (much more on that coming from Jonah later today). The same can’t be said for Dallas, who will be missing Dirk Nowitzki for the fourth consecutive game.

#2. What should we make of Minnesota’s first win against Dallas?

Literally nothing. The Wolves beat a Dallas team that wasn’t mentally ready for the season to start yet. They did it in Minnesota in front of a jazzed crowd, with Beasley and Barea both contributing significantly. And, on the other hand, Dallas had Dirk.

Tonight’s game could go either way, but don’t expect Minnesota to win just because they beat Dallas earlier this season, and don’t expect Dallas to lose just because Dirk is out. Dallas has been excellent at home this season (7-2), and they have been hot lately. This team is more than just Dirk.

#3. How worried should we be about Rubio’s 5 turnover performance against Houston?

For my money? Not worried at all. We have been spoiled watching Rubio play like a point guard well beyond his years so far this season. He has made smart decisions, especially (oddly) shooting the ball, and he has led Minnesota to seven wins so far.

But we can’t expect a point guard experiencing his first year of NBA basketball to be perfect. Rubio is going to make mistakes, he’s going to have bad games, and we are going to have to suffer through them with him. That’s the trade off of getting a flashy player like Rubio. On his off nights, just remember this. It will help with the pain.

The Key Matchups

We saw a preview of Jason Kidd vs Ricky Rubio earlier this year, but now Rubio is in the starting lineup. Of course, he was essentially playing starter’s minutes before, but now he’s playing EXTRA starter’s minutes. So. There’s that.

Elsewhere, Shawn Marion has been playing very well in Dirk’s absence. On Wes Johnson’s DraftExpress profile, it lists his best case scenario as a Shawn Marion-type player. They will probably get some minutes tonight guarding each other, if Wes is back in the lineup. If not, Derrick Williams played a serviceable, if not amazing, game in his first start against Houston, and he’s certainly strong enough to fight Marion off in the post. Whether or not he can get out and defend the three point line against Marion may remain to be seen.

Remember when we were all crowing about how deep Minnesota’s bench ran? That was nice. Now we see Minnesota’s bench going just nine deep. Against Houston, every starter played over 30 minutes save Darko, and Love played over 40, while Wayne Ellington played 34 off the bench. No wonder Wayne needed a cryogenic bath.

The Outlook

I’m hesitant to be too optimistic, since the Wolves are exhausted and undermanned, but it’s tough to be too down about playing the Mavericks when Dirk Nowitzki will spend the evening suited up like Barney Stinson. But it’s a road game against the defending champs. Don’t expect anything easy.

Game starts at 7:30 on Fox Sports North.


Game 17 Preview: Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Houston Rockets (9-7) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7-9)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 108-98 vs Utah, Houston: W, 105-102 vs San Antonio

Jonny Flynn should feel right at home sitting on the bench in his return to the Target Center tonight.
Jonny Flynn should feel right at home sitting on the bench in his return to the Target Center tonight.

A clearly fatigued Minnesota team lost to the surprising Jazz Saturday night, breaking the Timberwolves three game winning streak. Kevin Love settled for entirely too many jumpers shooting just 5-21 from the field. Utah’s interior size torched Minnesota, as the starting big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson combined for 44 points.

The Rockets rallied late against San Antonio on Saturday, going on a 26-18 run to end the game and beat the Spurs 105-102 in Houston. The Rockets improved to 9-7 on the year, but are just 2-6 on the road.

Jonny Flynn and Kevin McHale both make their returns to the Target Center tonight.

The Key Questions

#1. Is this the new Wes Johnson?

In the first 13 games of the season, Wes attempted two free throws. Go ahead, re-read it. Then check my math. It’s the truth. In the past three games, Wes has attempted 8. Not mind numbing numbers by any means, but certainly an improvement. He has also looked more comfortable shooting the ball, shooting 11-18 from the field and 4-7 from three point range.

Listen, I’ve done my fair share of Wes bashing here on Howlin’ T-Wolf, but even I would never deny this: Wes’ athleticism is excellent and his shot is a thing of beauty when it’s falling. If he can continue to show signs of improvement like he has over the past few games, I’ll be very encouraged.

#2. Which is stronger: the Rockets six game winning streak or their bad road record?

As mentioned before, the Rockets are just 2-6 on the road. Part of that stems from their difficult road schedule, and their relatively easy home games. On the road, Houston has faced the Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Spurs, and Magic. At home, they have been matched up against the Pistons, Kings, Hornets, and the struggling Trailblazers.

Of course, the Wolves have challenged teams like the Heat, beat Dallas at home, beat the Clippers on the road, and lost to teams like Toronto, so are the Timberwolves going to be another road test for the Rockets, or an opportunity to improve that 2-6 mark? It’s hard to say.

#3. Oh Barea, where art thou?

JJ Barea is out for yet ANOTHER week with a sprained ankle, as is Beasley with his sprained foot. Rubio has been doing an excellent job creating open shots for his teammates to kickstart an occasionally stagnant offense, and Wayne Ellington continues to make a solid case for himself for minutes. But at some point, the Wolves are going to need a player (or two) who can create for himself, and the two most capable shot creators on this team are both nursing sprains.

The Key Matchups

Kyle Lowry is a beast. Really, I just wanted to start off by saying that. He is incredibly athletic, but more importantly, he makes good basketball decisions. Lowry is averaging 16 points and 8 assists per game. His turnovers are up (3.6) but his usage rate is up 4% as well, so he’s being entrusted with the ball more often. But it’s his style of play that will make tonight’s matchup against Rubio so interesting. Lowry is kind of similar to Westbrook in that he goes crashing to the basket to try to score. It will be fun to see how Rubio is tested defensively tonight after a big night offensively against Utah (17 points, 11 assists).

Love will be matched against Luis Scola, whose range will test Love on defense. Scola, however, is a below average defender, so look for Love to start a new double double streak in impressive fashion tonight.

Derrick Williams showed some really great flashes against Utah. He still took some contested long twos, showing some inner Beasley, but he spent quite a bit more time working his way to the basket and to the free throw line, which was really great to see. It would be nice to see him get some more quality minutes tonight.

The most disappointing thing about tonight’s matchup? Brad Miller is injured and Jonny Flynn doesn’t get any playing time, so there’s very little chance of a Miller/Flynn grudge match. *sad sigh*

The Outlook

I have no idea what to expect from Minnesota anymore. They are capable of beating just about anyone and equally capable of losing to anyone. They had a night off in between games, so hopefully that will give them enough rest time to come out fresh. But honestly? I refuse to guess one way or the other.

Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North

Game 16 Preview: Utah Jazz vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Utah Jazz (9-5) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7-8)

Kevin Love is cooler than you.
Kevin Love is cooler than you.

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 101-98 vs Los Angeles Clippers, Utah: 94-91 vs Dallas Mavericks

Do we have to move on already? The Wolves won their third consecutive game in dramatic fashion last night as Kevin Love hit a three at the buzzer. Darko Milicic inexplicably scored 22 points on 10-15 shooting, and the Wolves battled their way back from a double digit third quarter deficit to secure the win.

The Jazz also battled back, but came up just short against the hot Mavericks, falling 94-91. Former Timberwolf Al Jefferson led the way for the Jazz with 22 points, and Utah fell to 9-5 on the season.

Injury report: Minnesota: Barea out (ankle), Beasley out (foot) plus the usual suspects. Utah: Josh Howard out (quad)

The Key Questions

#1. Will there be hangover from last night for the Timberwolves?

You may have heard that Minnesota had a pretty dramatic game last night. In the second biggest city in the nation, against one of the most hyped teams in the NBA, on ESPN for the first time in years, the Wolves spent the entire game battling back before Love hit his shot. It would be understandable if the Wolves came out a little flat against the Jazz.

But this is the NBA, and more importantly, this is the NBA in 2012. The games are packed together, and after every big win, there’s another big game lurking around the corner. Minnesota will need to shake off the afterglow (but not the confidence gained) from such a big win, turn around, and try to knock off a surprisingly good Jazz team who are currently in 5th in the Western Conference.

Speaking of which…

#2. How are the Jazz so good this year?

Utah has played quite a few games so far this season in Salt Lake City. 9 at home, 5 away to be exact, which happens to directly coincide with their record of 9-5. They have only beaten three truly quality teams, Philadelphia, Denver, and the Clippers.

That’s not to say that Utah can’t be a good team when they are playing other good teams. The front court trio of Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors have developed some really good chemistry, and Gordon Hayward has made some really big strides as well.

They also have a very deep bench of role players, which makes them dangerous on consecutive nights.

Speaking of which…

#3. What have we learned about the Timberwolves so far this year on the second night of a back to back?

Remember how we all made a big deal about how good the Timberwolves would be on the second night of back to backs before the season started?

Those were nice times. The Timberwolves are now 1-4 on the second consecutive night of basketball. Their one win was against San Antonio on some of the hottest shooting we’ve seen from them. Some of the losses? Toronto and Milwaukee, as well as a blown game against Atlanta.

This doesn’t bode well for tonight’s game. The Wolves will have to rely on the same contributors from last night to have a big impact tonight, given the injuries to Barea and Beasley. So let’s talk about those contributors. (Also about the fact that I’m KILLING my transitions today.)

The Key Matchups

At the risk of sounding too punch-drunk after Love drained a very deep three to win the game last night, Love’s range very well might bother his defenders tonight. Neither Millsap nor Jefferson is particularly suited to guarding the three point line. Derrick Favors got a shot at Love last season in Utah and Minnesota’s final matchup, and he played decently, scoring 13 points, but he allowed Love to score 22.

Al Jefferson is going to get Darko to foul out within 15 minutes. I’m calling this one right now. Jefferson relies on a fairly wide array of pump fakes, and Darko bites on EVERY SINGLE PUMP FAKE IN THE HISTORY OF MAN. Ugh.

I feel like Devin Harris’ size and athleticism would cause some serious problems for Rubio if Harris hadn’t seemingly forgotten how to play good basketball this year.

The Jazz have a lot of young players coming off the bench, including two rookies: Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. I’m a fan of Burks, who is very proficient in turnovers, unfortunately (2.0 per game), but is a decent shooter for a rookie (42%, but steadily improving). Kanter will grab a lot of rebounds, but he is unathletic in every way save strength.

The Outlook

Someone on Twitter pointed out yesterday that tonight’s game is win-win for the Wolves (and if you are reading this, hit me up on Twitter so I can credit you…) because if the Wolves win, they go to .500 on the season, but the more the Jazz win, the better the chance that Minnesota gets a first round pick this year, since the Wolves own Utah’s lottery protected first pick. So there’s that. Optimism!

I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling this game. The back to back thing is killing me. But it’s tough to pick against a team that did what the Wolves did against the Clippers, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching the Jazz so far this year, I’m not a believer in Utah quite yet.

Hopefully tonight doesn’t do much to change my mind.

Game starts at 8 pm on League Pass

Game 15 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Los Angeles Clippers (8-4) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (6-8)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 93-85 vs Detroit, Los Angeles: W, 91-89 vs Dallas

The Timberwolves take on Chris Paul for the first time since he left New Orleans.
The Timberwolves take on Chris Paul for the first time since he left New Orleans.

The Timberwolves struggled early but finished strong on Wednesday, defeating Detroit behind a 20 point, 17 rebound performance from Kevin Love. The Wolves lost every quarter besides the fourth to the Pistons, crushing Detroit 29-14 in the final frame.

The Clippers beat the Mavericks on Wednesday on a last second three by Chauncey Billups, but it was Mo Williams who carried the CP3-less Clips to a victory, scoring 26 points off the bench. Williams was a torrid 11-15 from the field, and the Clippers are first in their division, leading the cross-town rival Lakers by percentage points.

The Key Questions

#1. Soooo…no Chris Paul tonight?

Nope. CP3 has marked Sunday as his anticipated return from a hamstring injury, meaning the Clippers will be starting Chauncey Billups at point guard. Chauncey, of course, is a very capable point guard, but he isn’t Chris Paul. Nobody is.

#2. Can the Wolves continue to get this kind of bench production?

I’ll admit: once Rubio became a starter, I worried about Minnesota’s bench. Were they just overachieving because they had such a great passer working with them? Would they struggle to score the ball when Rubio spent most of his minutes as a starter? Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Against Detroit, the bench was +24 for the game. Bringing back JJ Barea, of course, has helped considerably, but Wayne Ellington seems to have snapped out of his early season shooting slump as well, Tolliver was 50% from downtown against the Pistons, and even Pek got into the action, scoring 11 points.

#3. How many teams have a lower winning percentage than Minnesota right now?

11. I’ll let that sink in for a minute: there are eleven teams in the NBA whose records are worse than Minnesota’s. And considering the early schedule Minnesota was stuck with, being two games under .500 is a fairly attractive prospect, thank you very much. Has mediocrity ever felt this good?

The Key Matchups

Let’s start with the obvious: Kevin Love vs Blake Griffin. Neither player is especially good at defense, Love because he doesn’t enjoy giving up rebounding position to play help defense, Griffin because (as was pointed out in this interesting Hoopspeak.com article) he has surprisingly short arms. Love’s deficiency is a little less detrimental in one on one post defense, so it will be interesting to see if he has a small advantage tonight.

It’s easy for the uneducated basketball fan to look at Rubio and assume that he will struggle against a player like Billups, considering that Rubio is a rookie and Billups has been in the NBA since James Naismith cut a hole in the bottom of the first peach basket. But Rubio has shown great poise against some really excellent point guards so far this year, and honestly, I feel a little deprived that we won’t get to see him take on Chris Paul yet. Ah well.

Minnesota’s bench runs much deeper than the Clippers, who had five players with 30+minutes against the Mavericks, while Minnesota had just two against Detroit. This would matter more, of course, if both teams hadn’t had a night off in between. Still. The Wolves should be much less gassed at the end of the game.

The Outlook

The Clippers are a good team, but not a great one, at least not yet. This will be an excellent test for the Timberwolves. If Minnesota plays well, they could certainly run their record to 7-8 and be THISCLOSE to .500. But if they play like they did for three quarters against the Pistons, this game probably won’t be close.

Game starts at 9:30 pm on (HOLY CRAP THE WOLVES ARE ON) ESPN.

Game 14 Preview: Detroit Pistons vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Detroit Pistons (3-11) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (5-8)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 99-86 vs Sacramento, Detroit: L, 97-80 vs Houston

Minnesota takes on a struggling Detroit team tonight

We were happy to see that Minnesota can continue to beat bad teams like the Kings on Monday. The Wolves put together a strong fourth quarter, running away at the end as Wayne Ellington and Luke Ridnour put together excellent stat lines in supporting roles. Also: Kevin Love. 33 points and 11 rebounds. Wow.

The Pistons were soundly defeated by the Rockets last night in Houston. Detroit was led by Ben Gordon, who scored 18 points, but the Pistons turned the ball over 20 times and allowed the Rockets to stretch the lead to the upper teens in the fourth quarter. Lawrence Frank after the game (via ESPN):

We pieced together about 38 good minutes. We have to defend, rebound, and keep down our turnovers. We did parts of those things, at times.

Well, gee whiz Frank. If you sound any more confident in your team, you might sound partially complimentary, at times.

The Key Questions

#1. Wait, who were those guards playing for Minnesota Monday night? Can we keep them around?

Probably not, at least in those exact forms. Luke Ridnour dropped 25 points and handed out 9 assists, while Wayne Ellington had 15 points on 6-10 shooting. I may or may not have said some unkind things on Twitter about Wayne Ellington earlier this year, and I may or may not be eating my words now.

Ellington probably won’t continue to shoot 60% from the field and Ridnour probably won’t continue to shoot 150% (roughly) from everywhere. But Minnesota’s offense is showing some really encouraging signs, especially this: Rubio’s passing is infectious. The Wolves are making the extra pass, even once in a while making a pass too many. But making too many passes is very preferable to making too few. An unselfish team is usually much more fun to watch.

#2. So the Pistons are last in points per game, last in rebounds per game, 22nd in assists per game, 29th in point differential, and, despite being 14th in points allowed per game, 29th in defensive efficiency. Is there anything this team is good at?

Being young? Wait…never mind. Greg Monroe is an underrated NBA center, Ben Gordon can score a lot, and Brandon Knight has a future in this league, but otherwise this is a bad team.

#3. Will Barea be playing tonight?

Hopefully. Barea has missed three consecutive games with a bad ankle sprain, but according to The Pioneer Press, if he is feeling good after Minnesota’s shoot-around, he will be playing. It would be really nice to get his infusion of energy and offense back into the lineup.

The Key Matchups

So in the past three games, Kevin Love has scored at least 30 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds. And he’s only getting better. After a couple of discouraging games in which he hung out behind the three point line for most of the night, Love has spent the last three barreling around inside, getting easy buckets close to the rim. It’s tough to project exactly who Detroit will have defending him, but it will likely be a difficult night for that poor soul.

Brandon Knight will struggle with Ricky Rubio. Rubio is wise beyond his basketball years, and routinely makes great passes that would confuse a wily NBA vet. Knight is the exact opposite of a wily NBA vet. He could be in for a rough one.

In the past, I would have made a big deal over how much better the Pistons were at the 2 guard with Ben Gordon, but if the Wolves can get a performance even half as good out of Ridnour and Ellington as they did against Sacramento, the advantage will be close to negated. Add Barea, and Minnesota appears to be in good shape.

Greg Monroe is a much better player than Darko. But you knew that, and we probably won’t see more than 20 minutes of Darko anyway.

The Outlook

Some games are winnable, others less so. Some games are only winnable if Minnesota plays to the absolute peak of their potential. And some games require only the basest of good performances from the Wolves. This is one of those.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been overwhelmingly positive in this preview, which can’t be a good thing, right? Doom and gloom. You heard it here first, folks.

Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North

Game 13 Preview: Sacramento Kings vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Sacramento Kings (4-9) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 93-91 vs Atlanta (ugh), Sacramento: L, 99-60 (woof) vs Dallas.

You may have heard about this other rookie getting a lot of hype...
You may have heard about this other rookie getting a lot of hype...

The Timberwolves blew an 18 point third quarter lead against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, wasting another offensive outpouring from Kevin Love. Atlanta’s zone defense utterly fooled the Wolves, and two late free throws by Ivan Johnson were the difference.

The Kings scored a stunningly low point total of 60 against the Mavericks, the lowest scoring output by an NBA team since 1991. They were blown out by almost 40.

INJURY UPDATE: Martell Webster just tweeted he has been cleared to begin practicing. Great news, we wish him a speedy recovery, and look forward to his return to action.

The Key Questions

#1. What did the Wolves learn about zone defenses on their day off?

For all the rhetoric about how the Wolves are a young team who will blow leads, it wasn’t youth that killed Minnesota. In fact, it was Minnesota’s youth and energy that was killing Atlanta in the third quarter. But when Atlanta brought a zone, Minnesota struggled mightily.

Two things would really help the Wolves against a zone. First, Minnesota will clearly benefit when Barea and Beasley come back from their injuries (which won’t be tonight). The Wolves need someone who can get to the hoop and score around a group of defenders. Second, the Wolves outside shooting has GOT to improve. Wayne Ellington got hot in the 4th quarter against Atlanta, but for much of the game, Rubio and Love were the only offensive options. I’ve talked about this before, but what the Wolves desperately need is someone who can hit three pointers from the corner, a la Richard Jefferson for San Antonio this year. Rubio would add 4 of 5 assists to his total every game just by setting that person up.

And, to get back to my original point, improved outside shooting would seriously help against a a zone defense. Fortunately, Sacramento’s defense is one of the worst in the league, 29th in points allowed per game.

#2. Will Rubio start again?

The smart money says “yes” since the Wolves got off to a good start with Rubio in the game on Saturday. Rubio’s starting numbers, 15 ppg and 10.5 assists, are superb, and he has played good tough defense, although Jeff Teague actually punished him a bit with his speed. Still. Expect to see Rubio get his first start at the Target Center. On a related note…

#3. How many alley-oops will Rubio throw tonight?

The Kings allow a ton of points, and they don’t help out much on defense. Rubio is very capable of making bad defenses pay. Add in a ton of extra minutes from his role as a starter and a desire to show off for the home crowd, and we could be in for some very entertaining work from Rubio.

The Key Matchups

DeMarcus Cousins could cause some problems for the Wolves tonight, if he’s playing well. Good DeMarcus posts up, has silky sweet moves and a really nice tough around the basket. Good DeMarcus bulls his way to the basket, grabs offensive rebounds, and plays engaged, solid defense. Bad DeMarcus is disengaged, doesn’t post up enough, and shoots too much from midrange. We’ll see which one shows up.

Tyreke Evans has been playing some shooting guard with Jimmer Fredette at point this season, and he could also do some damage at that position. Evans is quick, fluid, and very strong. If the Wolves can force him into taking jumpers, they will be in better shape, but if he gets to the hoop, he might cause some havoc.

On the other hand, Jimmer won’t challenge Rubio as long as Rubio stays out on him and keeps a hand in his face, and the Kings have no one who can match up on Love if he continues to play well.

The Outlook

It would be great to see the Wolves win this game. Winning games you should win is a mark of improvement for a rebuilding team like Minnesota, and Sacramento is a team they should beat. The Kings have talent, but they are struggling right now and the Wolves need to take advantage.

Game starts at 7 pm on Fox Sports North

Game 12 Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Atlanta Hawks (8-4) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-7)

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Last game: Minnesota: W (!) 87-80 vs New Orleans, Atlanta: W, 111-81 (!!) vs Charlotte

Injury report: Wolves: Malcolm Lee (Back), Brad Miller (Knee), JJ Barea (Ankle), Michael Beasley (Foot).

Hawks: Al Horford (Shoulder), Marvin Williams (Ankle), Tracy McGrady (Back).

Minnesota faces a tough Atlanta team tonight.
The Wolves face a tough test on the road against Atlanta tonight.

Minnesota won last night, which is noteworthy, although perhaps less noteworthy considering the team they beat and the player who was sitting out (Eric Gordon). The Wolves forced their way to the free throw line with abandon, which ended up being more than the difference as they knocked off the Hornets on the road.

The Hawks won by 30, which is noteworthy, over Charlotte, which makes it slightly less noteworthy (patterns!). Josh Smith dropped 30 on the overmatched Bobcats as Atlanta moved to 8-4 on the season, good for 5th in the East, and only half a game behind three other Eastern Conference teams.

The Key Questions

#1. Which Atlanta team is going to show up tonight?

So far this season, the Hawks have looked awesome against the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Wizards, and Bobcats. They have looked awful against the Bulls, Heat, Bobcats, and Rockets. Another year, another bipolar Atlanta team. Need evidence of their bipolar-ness? The Hawks beat Miami with Wade, LeBron and Bosh, then a lost three days later to Miami with LeBron and Wade both sitting out.

But take a look at that chart at the top of the preview again. That differential between offensive and defensive efficiency? 7.9. That’s good for third in the NBA, behind just Chicago and Philadelphia. And unlike Philly, Atlanta’s schedule so far has been full of tough teams, including Miami and Chicago twice, and Indiana. This is a good team, potentially a great one.

Of course, the Hawks are also completely capable of coming out flat and losing to a bad team like Houston, so it really is a toss up. Hopefully the second night of a back to back will affect them mentally.

#2. Can the Timberwolves avoid a slow start?

A slow start doomed the Wolves against Chicago. It almost doomed them last night against the Hornets. Atlanta is much more like Chicago. If the Wolves come out of the gate shooting badly and turning the ball over, Atlanta could certainly break out and put Minnesota away early.

#3. Who guards Joe Johnson?

Last night Ridnour started at shooting guard. Joe Johnson would eat him like a buffet. Will the Wolves let Ridnour guard him to start the game and hope for the best? Or, more likely, will Wes be put back at the 2? Either way, Johnson presents a fairly serious matchup problem for the Wolves. Which, leads us to…

The Key Matchups

So we’ve covered Johnson.

Kevin Love vs Josh Smith will be pretty fascinating. Both players much prefer to take outside jumpers rather than posting up. Both players are good rebounders, though for different reasons. Smith is hyper athletic, while Love positions himself well.

Rubio may be tired after last night…he got well over 40 minutes of action for the first time last night. We’ll see if he gets as many minutes tonight with a night off coming on Sunday.

But most importantly…Zaza! Darko! Iiiiiit’s the NBA on League Pass!

The Outlook

I’ve been looking forward to this game all weekend, actually. While many of you will be watching Tim Tebow (and I understand), I’ll be watching one of the more intriguing Timberwolves games of the year. The Hawks are a tough test, but if the Wolves play to their potential, they can win this game.

Of course, if they don’t play to their potential, they could easily lose by 30 as well. Either way, I think we will learn something about the Wolves tonight.

All 3 of us who will be watching.

Game starts at 6 on League Pass