Category: Game Recaps

Certain, Uncertainty; Wolves lose to Warriors, 130-120


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Speights reacts after scoring in the paint
Speights reacts after scoring in the paint

Heading into Monday’s meeting with the Golden State Warriors the Minnesota Timberwolves faced another opportunity to get over the .500 mark, a proverbial hump that they’ve failed to overcome throughout the entire season. Prior to the game, the Warriors announced that their starting center, Andrew Bogut, would miss the remainder of the season and some of the postseason. Andre Iguodala did not dress in uniform, either.

The Wolves jumped out to a double-digit lead during the first quarter, and by the time the frame ended they led the Warriors by 14. However, for every Kevin Love three-pointer (he connected on four of them in as many attempts) there was an equalizer provided by Stephen Curry. Curry connected on four of six attempts from behind the line and scored 16 of the Warriors 28 points during the opening quarter. Love, meanwhile, entered the second having scored 22 of the Wolves 42 and it should be mentioned that neither team emphasised the importance of defence during that time.

J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel and Luc Mbah a Moute — labeled an inept bench, in terms of scoring, by some —  combined to score nine points in four minutes on the floor together, during the second quarter. These five shot four-of-nine from the field, collectively, in addition to grabbing four rebounds and adding on three assists. However, a poor effort from the starters during a brief, three-minute stretch and less-than-stellar bench numbers helped the Warriors cut-down the deficit before halftime. Curry led the way for Golden State, and scored 23 points by halftime. Golden State cracked the thin-layer of glass around Maurice Speights, and his seat on the bench, and played the crusty veteran for nearly 10 minutes during first half due to their lack-of-depth at the center position. David Lee added eight and Draymond Green scored six points to aid Curry in cutting the score to 62-64, with the Wolves ahead at after two quarters.

Undoubtedly; the future of Rick Adelman and Kevin Love as members of the Wolves in already on fans minds. Sentiment arose Sunday in Sacramento, as Adelman potentially stood on the floor of Sleep Train Arena for the final time. The 67, soon to be 68, year old stoic — but too old to finish out the remainder of his contract — head coach has seemingly released the Wolves offense to hunt without direction, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative is distinct as it pertains to Love. Regardless of his future, Love’s etched a place for himself in Timberwolves history throughout his brief time in Minnesota. Monday, despite the Wolves loss to the Warriors, Love embedded himself deeper within the Wolves’ still-adolescent history by breaking Kevin Garnett’s mark for most points (1951) scored in a single-season.

Yet, while the records of a beloved legends are broken, Love remains a potential villain pending his uncertain future. Fans are reluctant to label Love the ‘Best Timberwolf Ever,’ and that’s understandable, but that debate stands as irrelevant when looking at the bigger picture. Considering the majority of this roster was constructed under the David Kahn Era, and the salvaged functional components acquired during the offseason are thanks to a new ‘Shot Caller’ in Flip Saunders — Love and the Wolves around him have done a respectful job of almost digging themselves out from as deep down as Earth’s core, after being stranded there by men destined for a trip into the deepest realm of NBA front-office hell. Note: That’s from the perspective of Wolves fans, I think.

Following the same statistical patterns in defeats coming before Monday; the Wolves early, upbeat pace attained during the opening quarter was not sustained throughout the first half. Resulting in an offensively stagnant second-quarter.

First Quarter:

  • Pace (Possessions per 48 minutes): 121.60.
  • Points: 42.
  • Offensive Rating: 141.3

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 101.28.
  • Points: 22.
  • Offensive Rating: 85.4

Decline:

  • Pace: -20.32
  • Points: -20.
  • Offensive Rating: -55.9 (!!!)

Since March 7th, the following is the Wolves first and second quarter averages in the same categories.

First Quarter:

  • Pace: 102.77
  • Points: 30.
  • Offensive Rating:116.9

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 97.61
  • Points: 25.5
  • Offensive Rating: 103.06

Decline:

  • Pace: -5.16
  • Points: -4.5
  • Offensive Rating: -13.3

Well, the Wolves nearly quadrupled their usually decline in production within each category — resulting in the loss of a 14 point lead — and at halftime the score was 64-62, in favor of the Wolves. The sudden decline rises and falls with the Wolves starters. If Rubio, Love and the gang are scurrying around for 12 minutes during the third quarter, the offensive numbers are as productive as any team in the league, but when it comes time for those guys to rest the offensive efficiency, and overall-productivity, plummets uncontrollably [most often during the early minutes of the final quarter].

The Warriors, a team already over the proverbial, postseason hope, ultimately surpassed the Wolves and defeated Minnesota, 130-120.

Although the disappointment tied with failing to meet, set-goals and aspirations aside a notable amount of uncertainty  – involving the team’s best player —  surrounds the Wolves and the upcoming postseason. Moreover, one game remains on the schedule against the lowly Utah Jazz, the season should be ending on a good-note. If the Wolves defeat the Jazz, and I expect them to do, they’ll have won 41 games.

Wolves Wins by Season

  • 2009-2010 – 15
  • 2010-2011 – 17
  • 2011-2012* – 26
  • 2012-2013 – 31

The Timberwolves will likely win 10 more games than they did last season, they’ve already won more games than they did from 2009-2011 (a span of two seasons!). So, while uncertainty looms over the upcoming, imminent postseason, this collection of Wolves performed well-enough this season to aid a teammate into becoming the organization’s single-season scoring leader, in addition to helping fans forget an era whose presence still lingers within the clubhouse.

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Everybody, Get Back to Work


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The Sensitive Subject illuminated within the Timberwolves portion of local media outlets throughout the weekend was ultimately diffused, following a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday night at Target Center. Albeit serious, the accusations against Dante Cunningham are his to deal with, the legal process doesn’t intensify with the same speed as news outlets after these stories surface; nor should they, and as Derek James points out — Dante Cunningham entered yesterdays’ game virtually unnoticed following the concerning news that took place surrounding his personal life over the weekend.

Before Tuesday night had ended, I can only speculate, the topic had left nearly everyone’s mind.

In-wake of injuries, the Wolves signed a familiar face, Othyus Jeffers, during the day. Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad were inactive, likely for the remainder of the season, and those who would play seemingly didn’t have anything to play for. However, they were not a team that played that way.

While the Wolves and Spurs were supposed to play one-another on December 4th, a fire within a Mexico City stadium, prior to the game, kept them from doing so. Henceforth, the two met last night in Minneapolis. The match up’s significance had greatly diminished. The Wolves weren’t playing spoiler, there will be no postseason, and the State of Hockey’s beloved Wild were hosting a make-or-break meeting in St. Paul that would determine their postseason fate. There were very few in attendance, despite the presence of the stoic Spurs, in-town.

Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Gorgui Dieng trotted out to start the game against Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan. The Wolves scored the first basket, and the lead was theirs for the duration of the evening. Rick Adelman’s offense went to work, and Rubio and Love looked to do the heavy lifting during the first quarter. Love, despite shooting only one of seven from the field, was the Wolves’ top distributor during the opening frame with three assists. He’s refined his passing out of the high post throughout the year, a point of emphasis entering this season.

Rubio, although his scoring production is oft the subject of warranted criticism, has been notably more-and-more aggressive slashing to the basket as the year has gone on. Knowing this, the Spurs’ defenders encouraged him to settle for midrange jump shots by sagging into the painted area while Rubio dribbled at near the top of the key. He was able to successfully counter this familiar defensive scheme by connecting on three elbow jumpers on as many attempts during the first.

Without Tony Parker, Joseph and reserve point guard Patty Mills were left to orchestrate the Spurs’ proverbial offensive machine. Minnesota contested shots, denied entry passes and made everything difficult with tenacious defending. The disinterested Spurs scored only 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season. Minnesota compiled a 20-point lead by halftime, and there seemed to be no passion lost from within the home club.

The one-sided route leveled during the third and fourth quarters, but the energy level from the bench refused to cease until the game was over. Love, who struggled from the field early, scored 10 third-quarter points. Rubio matched Love’s scoring output. Dieng added five points and five rebounds, and the Wolves’ starters balanced scoring provided a 22 point lead entering the final frame. Ronnie Turiaf, who plays as fiery as anyone, hammered home multiple, alley-oop dunks with less than five minutes to play. Even Jeffers, signed earlier during the day, Tuesday, entered the game before it had ended.

With a little over a minute to play, Jeffers received the ball and Cunningham set him a screen near the left elbow. He went around the screen, into the lane, and found a streaking Cunningham with a bounce pass. “DC Hustle,” as he is known, emphatically attempted to add an explanation point to the victory, but to no avail. He missed the dunk attempt and the game ended, the Wolves had beaten the Spurs — 110-91.

Whilst negative, pessimistic, feelings of defeatism oft surround sports in Minnesota, the uneasy — saddening and troubling — news that punctured the Wolves organization was left at-ease, at least temporarily, following Tuesday night’s victory over the Spurs. Adelman emphasized the importance of setting the tone for the remainder of the week, post-game, and victories, ala last night and against the Miami Heat, last week, are a prime representations of the Wolves’ mental focus as they approach the end of yet another disappointing season.

“Liked the way we played. We came out and played solid. The guys on the bench came in did a nice job. They missed a lot of shots in the first half but we were doing what we wanted to, making them jump shoot and not give them layups because they are such a great passing team. They get cut to the basket and we were able to at least limit that some.” – Adelman

Perhaps it’s the type of tone that could echo throughout the postseason, and even into next year. Regardless, they played with as much energy as a playoff-bound team, without the stadium full of roaring fans. In a surprising victory over the Spurs, on a night when most eyes were on the Wild, across town, the Wolves showed that they’re playing for their own benefit.

These were men, accustomed to performing in front of a grand audience, working to accomplish a task at hand. This wasn’t a job done at the request, or for the glory, of others. The victory gives the Wolves opportunity to feel confident about themselves, as well as what they accomplished.

The White Flag Still Waves; Wolves fall to Nets, 99-114


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Who wants to play "Caption this!"?
Who wants to play “Caption this”?

If the snow is melting all around you and the sun is shining on your skin for the first time during 2014; the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t going to make the playoffs. It’s an awkward point of the season and there are many questions regarding Kevin Love and Rick Adelman’s future with the Wolves, but there’s a micro and macro approach to how fans can go about perceiving each performance throughout the remainder of the season.

There are still games to be played, and valuable information can be collected from each instance.

The Wolves and the Brooklyn Nets are both quite polarizing teams. The Nets, constructed of proven veterans playing under the instruction of rookie head coach, Jason Kidd, are flourishing late in the season. Brooklyn was 28-12 since the beginning of 2014, entering Sunday. Conversely, the Wolves are a congregation of young, mediocre, but appropriate components meant to appease Rick Adelman’s expiring, yet not quite outdated, offensive vision. For comparison’s sake; the Wolves record since the start of the new year entering Sunday’s game against the Nets was 21-19.

Kidd, who inexplicably received the head coaching job without previous experience, spoke highly of former T-Wolf Andrei Kirilenko during morning shootaround, as he should have. AK47 is a versatile defender with an unselfish, offensive mindset that make the Nets better — Brooklyn is 26-11 in games that Kirilenko plays. As for the other former Wolf, Kevin Garnett did not play on Sunday and will likely miss the remainder of the season due to back spasm.

Adelman, on the other hand, is nursing a roster with many players in different stages of recovery. Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup in Brooklyn, after playing 21 minutes in the Wolves blowout win over the Lakers last Friday. Chase Budinger’s legs, or lack there of, have been in question since his return and it’s unsure whether or not he’ll return to a fraction of his former self. Let’s also not forget that Ricky Rubio is on pace to appear in all 81 games this season, and he’s not yet two years removed from having reconstructive surgery that repaired two, torn ligaments in his left knee.

While the starting lineup of Love, Rubio, Corey Brewer, Pekovic and Kevin Martin began the game, how Adelman was going to integrate Gorgui Dieng into the rotation was an illuminated question entering Sunday’s game. Because of his recent outbursts — both scoring and on the boards — Dieng’s presence among the Wolves’ core has grown immensely, depending on the perspective. Some believe it would be best to trade Pekovic, because a small sample size states that Dieng has the potential to be a prominent NBA center, which (in my opinion) is lunacy. Pekovic played eight-and-a-half minutes in the opening quarter and scored four points, in addition to collecting three rebounds, while Dieng played only three-and-a-half minutes and tallied three points and two rebounds during that time.

Joe Johnson led the way for the Nets in the opening quarter by converting on all four of his three-point attempts, and the Wolves trailed by three at the end of the first frame. Johnson, aside fellow starters Deron Williams, Shawn Livingston, Mason Plumlee and Paul Pierce, also added two assists. For the Wolves, Martin seeked to insert himself early, scoring nine on four-of-seven shooting from the field, and Rubio did as Rubio does en route to six first quarter assists. Still, the Wolves trailed the Nets after one.

Love was three-of-five shooting from the field and scored seven points during the first quarter, and that was about the entirety of his evening in terms of his offensive production. According the Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Love sat on a dolly outside the Wolves’ locker room before the game and was chatting with Jeff Schwartz, his agent who is based in New York City. Love’s future with the Wolves obviously remains uncertain. His recent depressing*…speech?……after a road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies clarified the obvious; Love is gassed after carrying a vast majority of the load this season. He failed to score in either the second or third quarter on Sunday night.

Brewer and Martin, both acquired during the offseason, were the two Wolves players that kept the game close throughout the first three quarters, but without the usual punch from Love the Nets went for the jugular when the fourth quarter began. Brewer, a puzzling conundrum on the offensive end if he’s not receiving outlet passes that lead to easy buckets, was surprisingly efficient (6 of 9 FG w/ 15 points in 18:38 minutes) during the second and third quarters. The notorious gambler also found himself with four steals, but continued to drive me batty with the unnecessary risks on the defensive end. Martin was the Wolves leading scorer entering the fourth, he had 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting despite only four trips to the free-throw line. Usually, Martin obnoxiously tries to create contact so that he can try to rack up points from the charity stripe. Reminder: Kevin Martin is not Kevin Durant.

The Wolves trailed the Nets, 82-85, entering the fourth quarter.

It’s unquantifiable, but the Nets wanted a victory on Sunday night more than the Wolves. The difference between a team bidding for seeding in the upcoming postseason and a group all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention is immeasurable, but between these two teams, the definable gap is 12 points. No statistic can signify that Brooklyn played more engaged, and with greater effort, during the final quarter. Two minutes went by and what was a three-point deficit grew to six, then 10, until it reached 14 with four minutes to play.

Adelman determined the Nets lead was insurmountable with just over two-minutes to play in the game. Insert Robbie Hummel, Alexey Shved, and Shabazz Muhammad, these three played aside Dieng and Brewer as the Wolves waived the proverbial white flag — Adelman had seen enough. The Wolves would not play the foul-game, and the 10 point deficit at the two-minute mark was all the Nets needed to secure the victory.

Final: 113-99, Brooklyn defeats Minnesota.

The current makeup of the Wolves roster, well, it is what it is. Questions will continue to surface; will Love leave? Is Adelman on his way out the door? But, on the floor, it’s important to focus on the team’s overall demeanor. Body language, motive, and signs of development from the younger players are small, intricate details to keep an eye out for in order to properly assess this team’s future [with the information we know to be certain.

That being said the performance outside of the starting lineup is an issue, and Adelman’s rotations aren’t helping. Sunday, those outside the starting lineup accounted for 23 of 99 points. Can the Wolves find a way, or will Adelman determine a rotation, to conduct bench scoring, or is their fate frozen until Love and Adelman’s futures are decided? There’s multiple approaches that may help assess and evaluate the Timberwolves, just remember to differentiate between the speculation, and the hard data reflected by the players that are still playing basketball — however meaningless it may be.

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107


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Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.
Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30′s and even 40′s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

- Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

- The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

- There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

- Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

- Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

- If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.

“It’s just the beginning.” – Dieng, Wolves Cruise Past Hawks, 107-83


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Minnesota and Atlanta entered Wednesday night’s game on three-game losing streaks during a frustrating time of the season to be on such a streak. Losing three games in a row is a bit of a bummer at any point, but even more so when a team is making their push for the playoffs as the season winds down. The Hawks came into town having gone 6-17(!) since the last time these teams met, having dropped from third in the Eastern Conference standings to eighth and desperately in need of a win to hold off the surging Knicks. Yet it was the Wolves who would come out with a performance one would expect a team fighting for the playoffs would produce in a 107-83 bashing of the Hawks.

The first quarter of the game was, quite frankly, not that great to watch. The two teams combined for 13 turnovers in the first 12 minutes and were on pace for a combined 30 points halfway through the quarter. The Wolves would finish the game with a season-high 17 steals, largely in part due to master thief Ricky Rubio, who swiped everything but the Pink Panther with his six steals. Rubio, who wouldn’t score his first point until halfway through the third, took a nasty elbow to the mouth in a collision with Mike Scott with 5:26 left in the quarter and would have to briefly leave the game to receive stitches on his upper lip. Rubio would return to the game to finish with four points, 10 assists, six steals and 15 stitches in 31 minutes.

Minnesota led Atlanta 20-19 after the first as the teams seemed to finally loosen up by the end of the quarter. The Wolves would extend their slim lead to 48-41 at halftime thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper from Corey Brewer, despite turning the ball over 12 times to the Hawks’ nine. Minnesota achieved this primarily by keeping the Hawks to shooting 31.1% from the field and winning the rebounding battle 29-21. In fact, Kevin Love and Gorgui Dieng alone hauled down 21 rebounds in the first half as Dieng would be well on his way to another impressive performance.

Love had six points and nine rebounds on an uncharacteristically low amount of shot attempts (2-for-5) after the second quarter. He would finish the game with his league-leading 56th double-double, putting up 14 points, 12 rebounds (all defensive) and four assists. The Wolves are now 5-15 in games Love scores less than 20 points. Brewer’s jumper capped off a good first half for the former-Gator as he led the team in scoring on 6-for-11 shooting for 12 points and three assists. Brewer contributed everywhere on the night and finished tied with Kevin Martin for a team-high 18 points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals.

The Wolves were playing without the mighty Nikola Pekovic for a sixth straight game, giving Dieng another opportunity to play big minutes and give Wolves’ fans something to be excited about. At this point, at least for me, Dieng has inched incredibly close to “my dude” status; the status of being brought up in conversation and having at least one of the people refer to said person as “my dude.” Or sometimes one can’t help but jump up and shout “MY DUDE!” at the TV when that particular player does something worthy of such a reaction.

Dieng’s 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and 13 rebounds at the break had the words “my dude” at the tip of my tongue as the 24-year-old already had his fifth double-double in six starts. Dieng finished the game 6-for-8 from the field, adding 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, to put up 15 points, 15 rebounds (five offensive) and one block in 41 minutes. The 41 minutes were the most run Dieng’s gotten since he came into the NBA and he did an excellent job of staying out of foul trouble again with only three fouls. His most impressive stat of the night, however, could possibly be his +25 ratio when he was on the court. Dieng is now +34 in his six starts.

The Hawks were led at half by Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll’s nine points each, but Millsap really struggled from the field all night. He shot just 3-of-11 in the first half and would finish the game 4-for-13 to put up 12 points and 10 rebounds. Scott finished the game with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds and would be the only starter for Atlanta that would see playing time in the fourth quarter. Part of this was due to the Wolves’ 14-point-and-increasing lead entering the final quarter and part of this was due to Atlanta having to play a back-to-back against Portland tonight. Jeff Teague entered the game scoring a little over 23 points over Atlanta’s last four, but would be held scoreless for the first time this season on 0-for-5 shooting in just 19 minutes of playing time. Atlanta’s bench ended up producing better numbers than the starters in this one, scoring 42 of the team’s 83 points and shooting six percentage points higher.

The Wolves missed all four of their 3-point attempts in the first half, but were able to knock three down in the third quarter as they would outscore the Hawks 27-20 heading into the fourth. Minnesota actually scored more than Atlanta in all four quarters, slowly building their lead as the game progressed like sand slipping through an hour glass. The final quarter saw the Wolves bench getting in on the action as well with the team hitting 6-of-12 from behind the arc to keep Atlanta from being able to make any sort of comeback.

This win was nice on a few levels for the Wolves. Minnesota ended an ugly streak of giving up 100 points or more in 11 straight games and recorded their franchise-record 11th win of 20 points or more in the process. The Wolves scored 32 points off of a ridiculous 25 forced turnovers and doubled the Hawks’ fast break point total 26-13. Minnesota turned it over 19 times themselves, but I won’t waste much time on such negativity. The Wolves were able to capitalize in a game against a team that’s really struggling with injuries this season. Atlanta (31-39) played, and lost, their fourth game in a row without sharpshooter Kyle Korver, dropping them to 1-7 on the season when Korver sits out. Korver put up a team-high 24 points for the Hawks the first time they met the Wolves and his lack of 3-point shooting on the court clearly hurt Atlanta, who made just 7-of-28 3-point attempts. Adding insult to injury, Pero Antic went down for the Hawks with a sprained right ankle when he landed on a coach’s foot after a 3-point attempt. The Hawks now lead the Knicks by two games for the final spot in the east and trail the Bobcats by three games for the seventh seed.

Minnesota (35-35) sits at the .500-mark for the 19th time this season and continues to add to their highest win-total since the ’03-’04 season (44-38). Trailing the Suns and Mavericks for the final playoff spot by seven games with only 12 games left to play, eight of which are against teams currently lined up for playoffs spots, Wolves’ fans must look to some of the smaller things to be happy about. Right now, one of those things is what we’ve seen from Dieng. In his six starts, my dude is averaging 33.8 minutes, 12.7 points, 14 rebounds (4.8 offensive), 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.2 steals, 3.2 fouls and only 0.8 turnovers. Although he hasn’t had a block in every start, he has had at least one steal in all of his starts as he continues to impress on the defensive end. What I liked even more than his performance were two quotes from his post-game interview. First: “I think I belong here.” He seems to be proving that more with each game now and I love that his confidence is building. Second, and perhaps more exciting: “It’s just the beginning.”

Weariness: Grizzlies 109, Timberwolves 92


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Video by CJ Fogler

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

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

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

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

Sunburned: Suns comeback on Timberwolves, 127-120


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Sunday night was a pretty important point in the Timberwolves’ season. In the midst of a stretch against Western Conference playoff foes, the Timberwolves had one win in Dallas and a loss in Houston. Facing the Suns, who were also on the cusp of the playoffs, the Timberwolves  needed a win to gain some ground in the standings. Falling seven games behind Phoenix for the ninth seed would likely put the Timberwolves’ playoff dreams to bed for good.

Normally, I would go quarter-by-quarter and rehash the game that way, but I don’t feel like that’s necessary for tonight.

The Timberwolves did come out strong forcing seven first quarter turnovers and posting 41 points in that time. However, an indifference to defense and a hot-shooting opponent makes for a risky strategy. Phoenix still shot 60 percent and would never dip below 58 percent on the night despite their high volume of turnovers. Eric Bledsoe’s two early fouls also contributed to the Suns’ slow start and things would get worse for them before they got better. The Timberwolves’ lead ballooned up to as much as 22 by halftime as they continued to pummel their opposition. In fact, their 73 first half points were a season high in a half.

Minnesota’s lead was just 11 at the half, but felt like more considering how the Suns played early on. Yet, once the Timberwolves stopped scoring and forcing turnovers, the Suns came charging back. They cut their deficit to six before Kevin Love’s three pushed it back to nine. But before Love’s three, the Timberwolves went nearly three minutes without a field goal (11:03-7:27). What do you know, not scoring or getting stops is bad. The rest of the third was much more like the team that we saw in the first half that was forcing turnovers and capitalizing off of them.

Somehow, the Timberwolves had been able to push their lead back to 10 to start the fourth quarter. Yet, a 14-3 run for Phoenix to start the quarter would give them the lead with 6:51 to go. The Timberwolves once had this game handily, but now were fighting just to stay in the game. It would be an exciting finish, but one that would ultimately end in defeat and put themselves seven games behind the Suns.

Love finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists and Ricky Rubio added 19 points and nine assists. Even Kevin Martin chipped in 25 points, but added just one assist and zero rebounds. Shabazz Muhammad played well off of the bench with nine points and five rebounds in 16 minutes on a night when Rick Adelman rolled with an eight-man rotation. DNP-CD’s were had for Chase Budinger (Still trying to find his legs), Robbie Hummel and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Gorgui Dieng played 24 minutes and continued to look good, which is a bonus, but the team definitely still needs Pekovic back.

Adelman gave what was probably his shortest postgame press conference of the season. The only things he really had to say was that it was a tough loss and that the main difference between the third and fourth quarter was that they scored points. That sounds obvious, but it was true. The execution wasn’t there and the team as a whole deviated from their early strategy that was paying dividends. Love was right after the game, this was absolutely a game they should have won. While Love’s offense was a major reason they were in it, his defense was a major reason the Suns shot 57.5 percent and 44.4 percent from the floor and three, respectively. Really, their defense was a team effort, and other than making a few plays defensively, there really wasn’t much there.

Here’s a tweet I received from Kris Habbas over at SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun blog:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p><a href=”https://twitter.com/DerekJamesNBA”>@DerekJamesNBA</a> well Minny proved why they are not in playoffs moreso than the Suns. Good for Suns.</p>&mdash; BrightSideoftheSun (@BrightSideSun) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BrightSideSun/statuses/447870284289155072″>March 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

It’s true. Tonight exemplified everything that prevented the Timberwolves from reaching a higher level of achievement this season: the defense, reliance on drawing fouls and the bench. All game long they were completely indifferent on the defensive end and Adelman did not have enough bench options available. Clearly, Budinger does not yet have his legs back and may not any time soon; Hummel wasn’t needed; and LRMAM and Shved haven’t proven to be consistent enough. So tonight the bench was Barea, Cunningham and Muhammad, while the Suns used all but two of their active players.

Playoff teams have defense and playoff teams have benches, two things these Timberwolves are missing. I don’t want to get down on this season, because they took another step forward and the fact that they are going to win 40 games still makes it a success. Yet, the roster always had a faulty construct that we thought may could have worked, but ultimately didn’t. The roster was too top-heavy and the defense has been off all year. In hindsight, it’s easier to say that these things wouldn’t work. It’s also hard to fault the team for trying to patch their poor shooting from last season by sacrificing some defense, but it still didn’t pay off. Additionally, the bench is the bench for now, but there is reason to think it can improve. Gorgui Dieng has been playing well and his performance may be sustainable. Muhammad also appears to be playing better, too. If these two can continue to improve and the Timberwolves can grab a rookie to contribute off of the bench next season, then they will be in better position next year.

This was meant to be a recap and not a eulogy, but it started to feel final on Sunday night. The team as it is has been fun and it’s been enjoyable to actually win games for a change. The Timberwolves are about a move or two away from being where they want to be, which is not a bad position to be. Tomorrow they will play the Grizzlies in Memphis in a game that had a lot more meaning a week ago before they began this Western Conference fringe trip. It will be interesting to see how they respond after tonight’s loss.

Note: Weird moment in the game when the Suns PJ Tucker appeared to say “Fuck you guys” to the bench after making a three and then Gerald Green yelled “Now what?! Now what?!” to the bench after making one. Even DeMar DeRozan did something similar to the bench after making one in their game a couple of weeks ago. I have no idea why this is, but Corey Brewer has been laughing every time.

Gas tank on empty; Wolves lose 129-106


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Gorgui Dieng doing work
Gorgui Dieng doing work

How did you spend your Wednesday night?

Well, mine started with an ice-cold one as I sat on the couch, put my feet up after a long day at work. Then I remembered the Wolves were in Dallas for a pretty pivotal matchup with some serious playoff implications, which Nick so gratefully laid out for us.

To all of our delight, the Wolves came out in the end with a brutally hard-fought victory. Brilliant efforts from Ricky Rubio, who recorded his first triple-double including a very rare 20-point performance, and Gorgui Dieng, the unheralded rookie, who’s found time due to Nikola Pekovic’s injury, led the charge over the Mavericks. It was the kind of victory that had a lot of beef to it; an overtime bout against a formidable foe, who’s pushing right alongside the Wolves for a spot in the playoffs. You’d really think it’d create some momentum heading into the second night of a back-to-back in good ole’ Texas.

Well, unfortunately that wasn’t really the case. In fact, outside of just one good quarter tonight in Houston, — the first quarter, to be exact — the Wolves pretty much ran out of gas and fought for the sake of saving some embarrassment all night long. At the hands of the red-hot Houston Rockets, though, what more could you really expect?

One thing I would’ve liked to expect was back-to-back great nights from Ricky Rubio but that was just like trying to piss in the wind. And just when I was so jazzed up after reading Britt Robson’s great piece on the Spanish point guard and watching him play so well last night. Instead, Rubio may have been the first to tune out due to fatigue, only playing 25 minutes total after burning the hardwood for 49 ticks last night. He finished disappointingly with just five points and eight assists.

Another thing I would’ve liked to see tonight was a consistently sound performance from Dieng, but we didn’t get that either. Actually, fans got to gaze upon something much more special than that. Dieng finished with career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (21), which included a ridiculous eight offensive rebounds. Sure, the Rockets were indeed without All-Star center Dwight Howard but Omer Asik is a more-than-capable fill in and Dieng worked him to pieces. He benefitted from the perimeter-oriented Rockets’ attack but the numbers are gauntly, so daft that even the $12 million dollar man himself (Pekovic) probably couldn’t top it any better. It’s now been three games in a row that Dieng has brought his game when called upon and became a real force to be reckoned with.

Other than Kevin Love’s standard night of 29-6-5, though, the rest of the Wolves really fell in line with Rubio’s doing; simply just a lackluster performance that was fueled by fumes and 5-hour energy shots more than anything else. You can’t blame them because they probably felt the way I did after work on Wednesday night. And let me tell you, that’s never a fun place to be in. Well, unless you have beer and a comfy sofa like me. But instead they had to go out and play another game against one of the hottest teams in the league. That’s just cruel.

The fact of the matter is that this was still a tough loss and excuses probably shouldn’t be made. In fact, with Howard being out, this actually could’ve been a win for the Wolves, given how well they’ve been playing the past month. With the playoff picture practically just mathematically alive, any game, whether the opponent is great or not, is coming down to must-wins. Time will run out if the Wolves aren’t careful. And although it’s an extremely difficult uphill battle, the odds are still alive. Why not at least make a push?

Gorgui’s Block Party: Timberwolves top Kings 104-102


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Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season
Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

The Kings came to Target Center at the end of a seven game road trip and playing on the second night of a back-to-back. The Timberwolves needed a win to keep their small playoff window open, but would have to do so without the services of Nikola Pekovic. On the other hand, Sacramento would be without DeMarcus Cousins, mostly nullifying Pekovic’s absence. And when Mike Malone slotted Aaron Gray at the center position, Rick Adelman countered with Gorgui Dieng. Not exactly the premier matchup the Target Center faithful were hoping for, but it would work for a night.

Looking to put this one away early, the Timberwolves came out blazing. Kevin Martin dished to Kevin Love from three and Ricky Rubio did the same nearly a minute later to reclaim the lead early in the first. Minnesota continued to build their momentum with a 12-3 run with 6:41 to go in the frame. Then the Kings would rally behind the superb bench play of former Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Williams quickly hung 10 points on the Timberwolves, even with Corey Brewer and eventually Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute on him. It was fitting since Williams said before the game that while he has nothing but good things to say about the Timberwolves, he still got especially excited to play in Minnesota. Fortunately, the Timberwolves were able to take a modest -32-29 lead into the second quarter.

Though the Timberwolves led by as much as 10 early in the first, they were now locked in a game of battleship because their defense had become as bad as the movie of the same name. In fact, the only real playmaker on defense was Dieng– who finished the first half alone with three blocks. In spite of Rudy Gay (3 for 8 in the first half), the Kings shot the ball incredibly well and kept the turnover battle even to keep them in the game.

Malone also said that he was concerned about the matchup between rookie Ben McLemore and Kevin Martin since Martin annihilated the rookie in their previous meeting. Martin had 16 points in the half, while finishing with 31, but got McLemore to foul out of the game while going to the line 14 times on the night. Additionally, Martin made all 14 attempts that not only made the fouls worse, but negated much of an overall poor shooting performance by Martin.

Williams really was the spark for the Kings since Isaiah Thomas had been kept mostly in check with five points, but his six assists still made his impact felt. The energy the Timberwolves initially had faded by this point and found themselves down 54-53 at the half. I don’t know if the team knew that it was supposed to blowout the Kings because I was there and all the games I’ve been to have been blowouts, but they were in a very close game. I mean, it’s not like they were missing one of their best players or anything.

Despite blowing a double-digit lead and letting the visitors build on that momentum, the Timberwolves had done an admirable job of not letting things get out of hand. They quickly regained the lead with a Rubio dunk and Love’s three pushed their lead to six. Yet, the Kings would manage to tie things up late in the half thanks to Isaiah Thomas who had 13 of his 18 points in the quarter. Also, defense…the Timberwolves were not about to try winning this game with defense.

Some important things of note happened in this quarter. First, Dieng earned his first career double-double while staying out of foul trouble. Secondly, Martin made his 1,000th three. Finally, Thomas dished out his 1,000th career assist. Why did I make a note about Isaiah Thomas? Because Isaiah Thomas is the fucking best. In short, cool stuff happened tonight. For proof, Thomas was the only who was impervious to Dieng’s shot blocking.

The two teams traded the lead for the first half of the fourth quarter in what wound being an exciting finish. They say basketball is a game of runs, but this is how the fourth played out: Timberwolves lead by four, then Kings lead by three, Timberwolves lead by five, and then Kings by one.

And after Williams made the free throw to give them the late lead, the Timberwolves charged back. Love hit what would be the go-ahead three pointer and Martin nailed a pair of free throws to put them up five. Then, Isaiah the Great hit a three to cut the lead to 102-98 with with six seconds left before hitting another triple to bring them within one. You could hear the collective gasps of the now-engaged crowd as Thomas hit the second three, but Martin would put the game away for good with two more free throws.

Love finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Martin burned the rookie for 31 himself. Williams gave the Kings 26 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench in just under 28 minutes. Thomas finished with 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds and him keeping the ball out of Gay’s hands late enabled the Kings to give the Timberwolves a late scare.

However, the player of the game was undoubtedly Gorgui Dieng. Hell, the story of the game was Gorgui Dieng. His 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks saved the game for a Timberwolves team that was short both Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf. Had he also not avoided foul trouble the team would have been scrambling at the center position for help. Yeah, he finished with four fouls, which is high-ish, but he played 37 minutes.

After all, this is the same player who averages 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Adelman praised Dieng’s performance afterwards saying, “He has habits when the guards are coming at him or people are coming at him of getting his hands down and that’s where he gets his fouls. He just needs to use his length and keep backing it up, don’t just go after the guys. Back it up and you don’t have to block, you just have to alter the shots. The more he got into the game, the better it was. The other thing was that he worked really hard and he played 37 minutes and handled it. That gives him a lot of credit for the extra work he has been doing.”

We saw the positive change during the game, for instance, when Jason Thompson would go to back Dieng down and Dieng kept his hands up and forced Thompson to take an absurdly difficult shot over his wingspan. The worst thing a rookie can do is try to do too much and that sounds like what is at the core of Dieng’s foul trouble. An altered shot may not show up in the box score as a block, but it does show up as a missed field goal, and that’s as good as a block. Remember, even without Cousins, if he is unable to do this the Timberwolves likely don’t walk away from tonight with the win given the play of his teammates on defense.

As a whole, the more Dieng has been able to stay on the floor this season, the better. On-court the Timberwolves are a -12.9, but a dreadful -17.9 with him not on the court. Coupled with a 97 Defensive Rating and we say that Dieng is not just a defensive playmaker, but that he’s also been an impactful defender as a whole.

Furthermore, his 11 rebounds were just shy of his rebounds per 36 minutes average of 12.6, including an impressive 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36. This means, of course, that he is giving his own team second chance points and taking them away from opponents. In fact, Dieng grabbed three offensive boards and the rest of the Timberwolves grabbed four.

Yeah, his offense isn’t there and maybe it never really gets there, but so what? He still finds other ways to affect the game and not everyone needs to be a scorer. Besides, when healthy, this team does not need him to be a scorer. In fact, he may be the last guy or second-to-last guy they need to rely on to score. Adelman decided last minute to throw him in the starting lineup once he found out the Kings were starting Gray and the rookie made the most of it and gave his team the boost they needed. That’s what good teams get out of their rotation guys on a consistent basis, and has been something that has been lacking all year long.

There was a funny moment on the sideline when Dieng took the final free throws of the game. Dieng, a poor free throw shooter that is shooting 44 percent on the season, missed the first of two attempts. Adelman burned a timeout with one second left in the game that seemed to lack any and all reason. Of course that wasn’t the case. Adelman said afterwards that he called it to tell Dieng to just hit the rim. However, Dieng tells it differently. Dieng said while laughing that Adelman called the timeout to miss the free throw, but how to miss it if he is going to miss it. Adelman also added that they would have been happy if he had made one, but wanted to make sure that if he missed it he at least hit the rim in order to avoid penalty.

“I was just like ready. I was ready to play. I knew they needed me tonight and the other guys on this basketball team. When you got a chance you just have to step up,” said Dieng about his surprise start.

Cousins or no Cousins, Dieng knows that he has a job to do. He added, “I think I’ve faced a lot of guys in this league already. I played against Bynum and Dwight Howard and all those guys. I choose to be a basketball player, and I don’t mind facing him”

This is probably way too many words already, but the way Dieng played as a rookie as the only real center left on their roster was impressive. He saw extended time and did not shy away from the challenge. For this, Dieng is truly the player of the game.