Category: Game Previews

Good to Be Back: Nuggets-Timberwolves Preview


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Think George Mikan had NOTHING to do with tonight’s game? Think again.

After four days off the Timberwolves return to action against the Denver Larks. Er, Rockets. Sorry, the Denver Nuggets. Excuse the confusion. The Nuggets actually do have an interesting history that involves a Minnesota basketball legend. See, former Minneapolis Lakers great George Mikan was commissioner of the ABA back in the 60’s and 70’s. When their Kansas City franchise could not get an arena that was suitable, they moved to Oklahoma City Mikan persuaded ownership to move to Denver, so they did. Except, they were the “Larks” (Nothing is quite as terrifying as a lark, is it?).

However, the ownership group that was responsible for, you know, financing the team had a lack of funds and nearly lost the franchise. Fortunately, a new owner stepped in and (thankfully) re-named the team the “Rockets”. It wouldn’t be until 1974 when the ABA began planning to merge with the NBA that they were forced to change their name to the “Nuggets”, after the team of the same name that played there from ’48-’50, because there was obviously a team named the Rockets in Houston already.

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Born Under a Bad Sign: Timberwolves/Warriors Preview


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Help us, Andrei-Wan Kinobi. You are our only hope.

Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all

-Albert King, “Born Under a Bad Sign”

Andrew Bogut! Stephen Curry! Kevin Love! Ricky Rubio! Brandon Roy! It’s the Golden State Warriors/Minnesota Timberwolves injury report, up next on Fox Sports North!

Teams in the NBA pursue talented role players because depth is important. It’s important because no team can reasonably expect to go the entire season with all of their players healthy. The Wolves have been devastated by injuries, well beyond the point that any team should reasonably expect or prepare for. At this point, it’s almost a joke (almost) because of the sheer ridiculous volume and importance of the various injured players.

But Golden State, though less snakebitten, hasn’t exactly been a picture of health either. Stephen Curry, though he has managed to stay somewhat healthy this year, is still listed as day-to-day because of ongoing injuries; a fact which makes Warrior fans cringe when thinking about his brand-new 4-year $44 million contract. Andrew Bogut, originally thought to be out just 7-10 days, has now had his return pushed back. Given Bogut’s previous health problems, this is more than a little bit concerning for Golden State.

But injuries to Bogut and Curry don’t render the Warriors toothless. Carl Landry, coming off Golden State’s bench for 26 minutes per game, has a PER of 23.6 so far this season. Klay Thompson, though at the moment little more than a volume scorer, still finds ways to put the ball in the basket, averaging exactly 16 points per 36 minutes.

Golden State’s biggest problem, however, is shooting efficiency. Curry and Thompson both average roughly five made field goals on 15 attempts per game, not the most efficient way a team can get (combined) 32 points. David Lee, he of the $80 million contract, has a TS% of .476 for the season, which is pretty abysmal .

Even with their injury problems, the Wolves aren’t assured a loss. They will once again be forced to lean heavily on the contributions of Kirilenko, who has played like a bona-fide All-Star so far this season. We are still waiting on word about Brandon Roy, Nikola Pekovic, Malcolm Lee and JJ Barea (GOOD LORD), so just how heavily the burden will fall on AK-47 remains to be seen.

The game starts at 7 pm on Fox Sports North. Bring your rabbit’s foot.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

 

The (Not) True Story of the Timberwolves: Mavs-Wolves Preview


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There’s a secret involving the construction of the Target Center.

Where: American Airlines Center; Dallas, TX

When: 7:30pm

See It: FSN

Hear It: WCCO-AM 830

When Marv Wolfensen and Harvey Latner were awarded an expansion team, they were elated that their dream of owning an NBA team was finally going to come true. While they had a new site for an arena chosen for the team to play their home games, the building wouldn’t be complete until the ’90-’91 season. What they didn’t know, is that they never should’ve left the Metrodome (Did I just say that?)

Anyway, what they didn’t know was that a construction worker at the site discovered an Indian Burial Ground. Instead of doing the right thing, and leaving well enough alone, he removed a necklace from one of the remains. Now, most of us know that these are things you do not mess with, and that there are consequences for tampering with such a burial site.

Harv and Marv learned of this, and tried to track down the artifact, the worker, or both. However, despite their best efforts, they fell short. Still, they carried on, figuring it was silly to believe in such superstitions. Then, the team began to fare worse and worse in the standings, but they still refused to believe that the construction worker removing the necklace from the site was to blame.

Following a 15-win season that earned them the worst record in the league, they figured their luck was about to turn, but they fell to third in a two player draft. Therefore, in the ’92 draft, they took Christian Laettner; then Isaiah Rider in ’93, but still failed to win 20 games in the next two seasons, and Harv and Marv quickly realized there were greater forces at work here.

They looked to sell and run. No matter how many coaches or GM’s they tried, nobody could get this team off of the ground. Only if they could find that construction worker…

After the NBA blocked their move in ’94, local businessman Glen Taylor purchased the team to keep them in Minnesota, and brought in legendary NBAer Kevin McHale to run his team. With new leadership and decision makers in place, Taylor figured that the Wolves were due for a turnaround.  However, Harv and Marv never warned Taylor of the curse before the deal was complete and Taylor was revered as a local hero for saving the team as a result.

The Timberwolves had their peaks and valleys through 2003, but always wound middling as a team that was bounced annually in the first round. Considering the rash of injuries to once healthy players, boneheaded contracts by smart basketball people, and failed trades, Taylor took to Harv and Marv to ask why they could never get the team over the hump.

After a few minutes of prodding over the phone, the two former owners told Taylor everything. The burial ground. The construction worker. And even the necklace.

Taylor laughed, telling them he didn’t believe in ghosts. Maybe or maybe not motivated by his conversation with the two men, he met with McHale to hash a bold plan for the upcoming 2004 season. This was the season they got over the hump at all costs. In doing so, they brought in Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Ervin Johnson and Michael Olawokandi (No curse involved here; he was just bad at basketball).

And it almost worked.

They were the best team in the West that season, and the only semi-important injury was Wally Szczerbiak’s injury that forced him to the bench, and then later, more seriously, Cassel. Yet, they rolled through Denver, and took Sacramento in seven, but met their end against the Los Angeles Lakers after Sam Cassel was ruled out of the series. They were so close, yet so far from escaping the grasp of the curse of the construction worker.

Then the next 8 years were a blur. The Marko Jaric Trade, the bad contracts (T-Hud, Hassell, and Mike James), and poor drafting (Rashad McCants, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, Ndudi Ebi…etc), are all evidence of tampering with a sacred burial ground. If you need more, there is also Randy Wittman over Dwayne Casey and Kurt Rambis over…well, anybody.

Nothing else could really explain us having to endure both Darko Milicic and Ryan Hollins, either.

Now we look at this season, and how it must’ve sensed our hope and optimism. Consequently, it’s taken Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, and now Chase Budinger from us. And tonight, we go up against a team that figures to compete for the same playoff seeds. Yes, the Mavericks are missing Dirk, but they don’t have 1/5th of their roster in business suits instead of warmup suits!

The Mavs may not be a great defensive team – 25th in opponent points per game – but the Timberwolves have just about all their scorers on the injured list, making it tough to combat the Mavs’ 104.7ppg, second-best in the league.

The Mavs will be without Shawn Marion, so that will help, but who keeps OJ Mayo in check? Maybe Andrei Kirilenko, but hopefully he’s causing Vince Carter to settle for as many jumpers as possible. And if there were ever going to be a time for Derrick Williams to step up, that time is now. Injuries like this can serve as a good test of the depth and makeup of this team. Guys like Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved, Nikola Pekovic, and even Malcolm Lee just became that much more important. If this is really a good, tough team, then they’ll do everything in their power to step up.

In the mean time, I’m wondering if we have a name or last known address on this construction worker.

Starting Fives: 

Luke Ridnour — PG — Darren Collison

Alexey Shved? — SG — OJ Mayo

Derrick Williams — SF — Jae Crowder

Andrei Kirilenko — PF — Elton Brand

Nikola Pekovic — C — Brendan Wright

Preview: Timberwolves versus Fever, Hoosiers, Pacers, or Someone From Indiana.


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Timberwolves fans will welcome a familiar face back to Target Center as Greg Stiemsma leers in the background.

Where: Target Center (Go to the game!)

When: 7pm

See It: At Target Center. Fine, or FSN.

Hear It: WCCO-AM 830

In this space, I normally try to think of some interesting or clever tie-in to the game that makes you want to keep reading. Or maybe it’s trickery. But the Timberwolves play the Pacers at home tonight and I am hard pressed to think of any cool Indiana related tie-in. I’m trying—I really am! I guess I’ll just have to find something, since that is my job of sorts.

Let’s see…I could talk about how tonight is the night that the Timberwolves exact revenge for their WNBA counterparts defeat to the Indiana Fever in the Finals.

We’ll put that down as a “maybe”.

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Typical Florida: Timberwolves-Magic Preview


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Where: Target Center

When: 7pm

See It: FSN

Hear It: WCCO AM 830

I have a bone to pick with you, Florida. No, it’s not about your sunny skies, white sandy beaches or the bikini clad ladies that grace them. Heck, even your state taxes are pretty neat. Instead, we need to talk about something things that have been bugging all of us; not just me.

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Sleep, Finally: Timberwolves at Nets Preview


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The Nets should’ve just swung a deal with Jay-Z to make him mascot instead of what they wound up doing.

Where: Barclays Center

When: 6:30pm

Hear/See It: NBA TV; FSN; WCCO 830AM

Ok, now that I got my Beastie Boys reference in, I can openly talk about basketball. One thing that’s safe to say is that things can’t possibly get any worse than they did last night in Toronto, right? Twenty-four is about all of the turnovers you can commit in a forty-eight minute game, and you’re not going to lose your backup point guard to a concussion every night.

Tonight is a fresh start against a team playing in a new building in a new city. Sounds like a good place to be anew, right?

The Nets will be without starting small forward Gerald Wallace, so Keith Bogans will slide over in his place, and forward Josh Childress will be out, too. Likewise, the Wolves may be without JJ Barea, so expect to see more of Alexey Shved and maybe even a little Will Conroy.

Speaking of point guards, after Kyle Lowry went legend on the Timberwolves last night, it will be interesting to see how they contain Deron Williams. In the Nets’ first game he put up 19 and 9, so he obviously has to be reckoned with. He’s no stranger to being a Wolf killer, averaging 18 points and 11 assists per game against the Timberwolves throughout his career. In fact, he put up his career high of 21 assists against the Wolves. This is the matchup that sticks out to me.

Talking to my Nets people, the team apparently was showing some defensive issues in their first game. Meaning, that this could be a golden opportunity for guys like Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger to get their games on track.

I swear to Shammgod if any team I cheer for gets out-rebounded by Brook Lopez led frontcourt…I don’t even know. Sure, Kris Humphries can rebound. So can Nikola Pekovic, though. How about tonight we box out, crash the boards and get some easy looks in transition; sound good? I mean, have we enough pride not to get beat on the glass by Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband and Brook Lopez?!

Anyway, tonight’s projected starters are listed below:

Deron Williams – G – Luke Ridnour

Joe Johnson – G – Brandon Roy

Keith Bogans – F – Derrick Williams

Kris Humphries – F – Andrei Kirilenko

Brook Lopez – C – Nikola Pekovic

(Also, do we want to lose to a team that has this as their mascot? I laughed for five straight minutes after I first saw it. And it has a comic book! Click the hyperlink to see it, but whatever you do, do not Google “Brooklyn Knight” yourself(That search is NSFW; not the one I linked to).

Game 1 Preview: Sacramento Kings (0-1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0)


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Expect a battle from these two, as the injury-riddled Wolves open their season against Sacramento.

WELCOME BACK EVERYBODY!

When Last We Met

April 2, 2012. Sacramento won 116-108. As the Wolves slipped and slid their way to the end of the season, Sacramento took advantage at home. Tyreke Evans led Sacramento in scoring, rebounds and assists, 24-10-7 respectively.

New Faces

Thomas Robinson: Sacramento’s fifth pick in the NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson appears to be the future for the Kings at power forward. At 6’9 and 245 lbs, he already looks the part of an NBA player. He looked fairly uninspiring in his NBA debut, tallying just 3 points on 1-5 shooting, but as he acclimates to the NBA game, Robinson could become a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate, as he’s a perfect fit for Sacramento.

James Johnson: Playing for his fourth NBA team in three years, James Johnson gets minutes mainly for his defense. He is mediocre shooter (.504 TS% for his career), but he uses his size well defensive (6’9 small forward). Johnson does a good job of using his size and athleticism to his advantage defensively, making life harder on smaller forwards.

Aaron Brooks: On the one hand, you have to feel for a guy who had unrealistic expectations placed on him after winning the Most Improved Player award in 2010. On the other hand, when a guy shoots 3 for 10 from the floor and you come away thinking “Huh, Brooks wasn’t as bad as usual tonight,” well…you know.

Reason for Optimism

The Kings could be good eventually. But for what feels like forever, they’ve been going through growing pains, and once again in ’12-’13, they will have to try to work through an identity crisis of sorts. Is this Tyreke Evans’ team? DeMarcus Cousins’ team? How much can we expect from Robinson/Isaiah Thomas? Until Sacramento fixes their identity issues, they remain a team full of talent but lacking in cohesion.

Reason for Pessimism

As I’m sure you are aware, the Wolves are dealing with some serious (and, frankly, super stupid and unfair) injury problems. This leaves Minnesota some identity issues of their own. When Kevin Love is out, how will the offense run? Who will it run through? Can all of the new pieces come together quickly enough to salvage the first month of the season? Only time will tell.

Outlook

Your guess is as good as mine frankly, given the new pieces and the injury woes. But for the sake of the new season, the home opener and the fact that I’ll be in attendance, let’s feel positive about this one. Ok? Cool.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Game 65 Preview: GSW vs MIN, and Utah's playoff picture


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Golden State Warriors (22-41) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (26-38)

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Last game: Minnesota: W (!!!), 91-80 vs Detroit, Golden State: L, 99-96 vs Houston

Lets be honest: I really wanted a picture of JJ Barea and Nate Robinson.
Let's be honest: I really wanted a picture of JJ Barea and Nate Robinson.

The Wolves, with nothing left to play for but pride, defeated Detroit on Thursday, ending a dreadful April losing streak. Nikola Pekovic was solid, scoring 23 points on 10-17 shooting, while the Wolves blew out Detroit for three quarters. The Pistons made a run in the 4th behind Will Bynum’s 17 points, but the Wolves’ lead was too much, and they closed out Detroit.

Golden State, to the horror of their fan base, stayed with the Rockets for much of last night’s game against the Rockets before successfully losing. Despite the absence of DavidLeeNateRobinsonAndrisBiedri-
nsDorrellWrightandChrisWright, the Warriors were competitive throughout, getting 24 points from Klay Thompson and 19 from Brandon Rush off the bench.

The Key Questions

#1. Please for the love of everything, just make the regular season stop.

If I wanted to watch the D-League, I’d travel an hour north to see the Sioux Falls SkyForce. It’s depressing to see those same players when I fire up League Pass every evening.

#2. Will Kevin Love be back?

He’s a possibility, but does anyone honestly want to see him on the floor? Why WHY would we want to see him jeopardize his own health to play in a garbage time game that means nothing to Minnesota? Let Anthony Randolph continue to earn a contract for next year. You know, from some other team.

#3. Hindsight is 20-20, but does anyone else wish Minnesota had picked Klay Thompson instead of Derrick Williams?

I know, I know. This is an illogical premise because at the time of the draft, Williams was the clear second pick behind Kyrie Irving. But Thompson is shooting the ball confidently, making 42% of his threes (Wes Johnson, for reference, is hitting 30%), shooting an eFG% of .525 and generally playing like a decent wing.

Hey Golden State: could we interest you in Anthony Randolph?

The Key Matchups

Mickell Gladness. (I had to look up how to spell his first name). Jeremy Tyler (hahahaha). Charles Jenkins. These guys started for Golden State against Houston. If Minnesota doesn’t win, it’s because their starting lineup will likely include Martell Webster and AR-15. I can’t bring myself to break down these matchups for you. I’m sorry.

Instead, Utah! The Jazz owe their first pick to Minnesota if Utah makes the playoffs. Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on.

  • The Jazz moved into 8th place in the Western Conference with a dramatic overtime win over Orlando last night, while Phoenix fell to the Nuggets. The Jazz have a one game lead on the Suns.
  • Phoenix owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.
  • Both teams have two games left, including one head to head matchup on Tuesday. Neither team plays until Tuesday. With a win, Utah clinches a playoff berth. If Phoenix wins, they move back into 8th place going forward.
  • The last game of the season for Utah is against Portland.
  • Phoenix ends its season against San Antonio, which could be tough (if San Antonio has something to play for) or easy (if the Spurs rest everyone).

Simple enough. Conventional wisdom dictates that the Jazz should have the inside track on the playoffs at this point. But two things have been made abundantly clear about the Basketball Deities this season: they absolutely detest Minnesota and Steve Nash is an Immortal. So knock on every piece of wood and keep your conscience clear.

The Outlook

It really depends who is playing for which team. Watch this game at your own risk.

Game starts at 6 pm on League Pass.

Game 64 Preview: Detroit Pistons vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Detroit Pistons (22-39) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-38)

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Last game: Timberwolves: L, 91-84 vs Memphis, Detroit: L, 116-84 vs Atlanta

The Wolves take on the Pistons in Detroit tonight.
The Wolves take on the Pistons in Detroit tonight.

The Timberwolves showed some actual fight against the Grizzlies on Tuesday until some big shots by Rudy Gay in the final minutes allowed Memphis to pull away. Gay finished with 28 points and nine rebounds, while JJ Barea went off for 28 points on 10-20 shooting for Minnesota.

The Pistons got crushed by Atlanta on Tuesday. The Hawks shot poorly from deep (28% for the game), but six players scored in double figures as Atlanta cruised to an easy home win.

The Key Questions

#1. Can the Wolves end that damned April streak?

You’ve heard the gruesome numbers and I don’t need to reiterate them. You know as well as I do that it’s been a long time since the Wolves have gotten a win. They have three games left: Detroit, Golden State and Denver. If Minnesota wants to end the season on a good note, all three are potentially winnable.

#2. Who steps up tonight?

The cast of characters Minnesota trots out on the floor is strange, fluid and difficult to predict. This opens the door for odd people to have a big night, thus Anthony Randolph’s three game stretch of dominance. I’m stretching for silver linings here, but since the Wolves have no reason to tank, it can be fun watching Minnesota’s lesser known players put up good stat-lines.

#3. How tough are the Pistons at home?

It’s been a rough year for the Pistons, but not in Detroit. Though their overall record is worse than Minnesota’s, the Pistons are still a winning team at home, going 16-14 on the season.

The Key Matchups

Brandon Knight has put together a decent rookie campaign for the Pistons at point guard, but he turns the ball over quite a bit. Knight’s assist to turnover ratio per 36 minutes is 4.2/2.9. Defensively, Malcolm Lee could be a factor if put to work against Knight.

Nikola Pekovic will be guarding Greg Monroe, a large, strong center much like himself, with soft touch around the basket. Not a battle I would be looking forward to on either side.

The Outlook

On paper, the Wolves should be able to pull out a win. Minnesota is 11th in the league in offensive efficiency according to Basketball Reference, while the Pistons are 28th, scoring just over 90 points per game.

But Minnesota has been hot and cold recently. Hard to tell what to expect from this one.

Game starts at 6:30 on League Pass

Game 62 Preview: Indiana Pacers vs Minnesota Timberwolves


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Indiana Pacers (38-22) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-36)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 115-110 vs Oklahoma City, Indiana: W, 105-99 vs Milwaukee

Kevin Love remains unavailable for Minnesotas matchup with Indiana tonight.
Kevin Love remains unavailable for tonight's matchup with Indiana.

The Wolves scrapped away against the Thunder on Saturday, but were unable to pull out a win. Michael Beasley scored 26 points and JJ Barea added 24, but Russell Westbrook scored 35, while Kevin Durant put up 40 points including 16 in the final seven minutes, as the Thunder sent Minnesota to their 10th consecutive loss.

The Pacers beat the Bucks on Saturday, dealing Milwaukee a very damaging blow to their fading playoff hopes. Indiana is third in the Eastern Conference, maintaining a 2.5 game lead over the Celtics, who have moved up to 4th place.

The Key Questions

#1. Can Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph continue to pad their end of the year stats?

Randolph and Beasley helped the Wolves stay in the game on Saturday. I may be in the minority, but I would support Beasley getting another contract from the Wolves, if the numbers are right. If Randolph gets another Minnesota contract based off these games, I’ll throw things.

#2. Are the Pacers title contenders?

Here’s something to consider: the Bulls are injury-prone, and may be worn out by the playoffs. The Heat are flawed. The Celtics are surging, but fragile. The Hawks can’t be trusted. The Magic hate each other. The Knicks have spent two years trying to find their identity and still haven’t pulled it off.

I’m not saying the Pacers are favorites. But in a weird, shortened season, why COULDN’T they be considered contenders?

#3. Are there Wolves questions that need to be asked at this point?

Not really. You know the drill. Injuries, losses, and a lost season that should have been so much more. Other than that, I’m not really bitter about anything.

The Key Matchups

The biggest matchup for the Wolves will be Nikola Pekovic against Indiana’s all-star giant Roy Hibbert. While Pekovic is much better at scoring in the restricted area (64% to Hibbert’s 57%), Hibbert’s range far outstrips Pekovic. Pek has struggled from outside the restricted area, shooting 31% from in the paint and 11% on mid-range shots, as opposed to 51% and 33% from Hibbert.

Basically, a lot of numbers to say that Hibbert can shoot from further out than Pekovic, and since Hibbert is so tall, Pek might struggle.

Danny Granger is going to be a problem for Minnesota. In their last meeting, Granger scored 36 points, including 5-8 shooting from 3 point range and 13-15 from the line. Martell Webster will be guarding him. I don’t have anything optimistic to add to this.

The Outlook

Bleak. Again. The Pacers have an Eastern Conference playoff lead to maintain. The Wolves have five games to mail in. Just…five more games…

Game starts at 6 pm on League Pass