Jonah: Ricky Rubio has desperately struggled in his return from ACL surgery. He’s voiced his own opinion on the team’s woeful stretch but he’s also found himself trenched in the middle of it all. He finally broke through with a solid offensive night, posting a 14-8 and five steals. A while back I wrote about Rubio’s offensive issues, more specifically is inability to finish strong at the hoop. With the game on the line, Rubio actually came through with the go-ahead layup with 29 seconds to go. It was a strong move that meant a lot to him not only within the game but as a confidence builder for games to come. The confidence comes back in waves and this game did was a healthy boost.
Tom: Here’s Chris Johnson doing awesome Chris Johnson-y things.
Jonah: Props to Wolves Radio for this assist, but the Wolves have allowed opponents to shoot 50% or more in six of the last nine games. Now that’s a testament to the current roster makeup, which is obviously alarming, yet the absence of Rick Adelman is certainly missing on the defensive end of the court. With a depressing mindset sprinkling in, the first ability to go is your defensive intensity; it’s not an aspect of many players’ games that they really want to exert energy and succeed at. But without a coach to fire up the squad and challenge them to defend, things only get worse. And that’s where we’re at.
Jonah: Through this spiraling tailwind of misfortune of a season, Andrei Kirilenko has remained the most reliable, versatile and steady player on the team. AK led the way with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists in the matter of — get ready for this — 41 minutes. Yowza. A guy with a knack for missing games in the past has turned in the most consistent season and only missed four games at the end of November. Let’s just end with thank you for AK47.
Tom: Chris Johnson once again showed his worth, shooting 6-10 from the field, grabbing six rebounds and swatting away three shots. I don’t know what the D-League has been feeding him, but I hope Minnesota got the recipe, because he has looked like a completely different player in Minnesota than he did in any of his other NBA stints. Is his success due in part to the confidence of being serenaded with “M-V-P!” chants in his first Target Center appearance? Who knows? But it’s a lot of fun.
(AND YES I KNOW IT’S A SMALL SAMPLE SIZE AND THAT A REGRESSION TO THE MEAN IS ALMOST INEVITABLE, but dammit all, isn’t it nice to have SOMETHING good to overreact to?)
Derek: Speaking of hustle players, Jonah, how about Dante Cunningham tonight? 7-12 from the floor, 14 points and 3 rebounds off of the bench is always great to get, especially when short-handed.
Jonah: The Wolves’ tailspin can’t be pinned down on one specific reason. The injuries are brutal but they’ve proven before that they can at least stay competitive without Love, Budinger and Pekovic. So why the bipolar tendencies? The manic period began when Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale signed 10-day contracts and blew the minds of, well, everyone and left Rubio and Kirilenko singing praises, hoping luck has turned around. But then ever-so-quickly the depression sets in again and they lose two in a row and Rubio’s left to turn preacher yet again. The effort just isn’t there on either end of the court for 48 minutes a game. They show up in spurts but never sustain any ounce of energy or momentum. Perhaps it is the trials of wearing season with all the bad luck but it’s getting harder to watch game-by-game.
Tom: Hey wow, D. Williams had 18 points?! I didn’t even notice most of those. Six rebounds is pretty meh, but eight assists?! What’s this assist business? Was his court vision undervalued? Maybe he will work out as a small forward after- Oh. DERON Williams. My mistake. DERRICK finished with nine points on 11 shots and no assists. That sounds more like it. He definitely did have six rebounds though. So. Got that right.
Derek: JJ Barea: 11 points on 11 shots…I still like you, but stop making me reevaluate that disposition so often lately.
Jonah: It’s never right to point fingers but it’s becoming extremely difficult not to blame Terry Porter’s _____ (inexperience, incompetence, ineptitude. You pick which one you want). For example, Derrick Williams struggled to get anything going in the first half but came into the third with an aggressive vengeance. He was strong and scored nine points, looking like someone who could take the game over for the Wolves. You know what he’s welcomed with? Absolutely no burn in the fourth. Just about the same could be said about Rubio’s playing time tonight as well, who didn’t see any time in the fourth as well and only had 24 minutes total. Nothing has been predictable since Porter took over except for one thing: not understanding proper game adjustments/lineups.
Tom: ^ Preach.
Derek: Did they play a lot of Kanye West songs tonight at Target Center? I only ask because Kris Humphries went 1-5 from the floor tonight with his 8 rebounds.
Next up: The Wolves head to DC to play the Wizards Friday night, 6 pm.
Sorry for the delay on the recap. Derek James is the one to blame.
Jonah: Yesterday might’ve been the first time this season that Derrick Williams put together the most complete, polished game on the offensive end. He evenly distributed his attempts from deep to mid-range to the rim and was awfully effective from all areas. I was thoroughly impressed with his aggressiveness in driving to the hoop, not letting a dunk attempt pass by. The dunk to end the first half that left Williams on his knees, grasping his Family Jewels, was ferocious, and the slam that was unfortunately negated by a reviewed shot clock violation was the best basketball play I’ve ever seen from him before. More games like these will definitely change fans’ minds about Williams trade scenarios, which makes it all the more disappointing that they’re likely to come true.
Tom: Rubio is still clearly struggling with his athleticism, but he’s starting to do some of the things we so desperately missed from him. For example:
Dear Al Horford: It’s ok. You aren’t the first one to get completely turned around by Ricky. Just walk it off. Of course, Al would get his revenge…(see my negative)
Jonah: It’s hard not to ignore the Wolves’ second half. They’ve played a majority of this season with an interesting mentality, one that seems to neglect the fact that basketball is made up of two halves, four quarters, and not one quarter is more important than the other; each quarter demands a taxing effort from both teams in order to award one victorious. Yet the Wolves seem to think that the first half is all that matters. Once the second begins, they’re hustle and effort, especially on the defensive end, pretty much fly out the door. Credit is certainly due for the Hawks, who shot a ridiculous 73% from the floor in the second half. But the Wolves’ defensive intensity can attest to the Hawks’ improbable second half comeback.
Tom: Not only did the Hawks hit twice as many 3-pointers as the Wolves, but they also won points in the paint (are you ready?) 50-24. Al Horford was like that guy who you hate playing pick-up against because he’s so clearly better than everyone else, but he still feels the need to exert his dominance. WE GET IT DUDE, YOU ARE BETTER. CUT IT OUT.
Jonah: Greg Stiemsma likes to think he’s a shooter. He flings this flat-footed mid-ranger that looks like it’s never going in nearly every time. He went just 1-5 from mid-range, proving that he’s not our answer from that spot.
Tom: After the first half, I had to go to class. I was pretty happy to go, thinking I’d come home and watch the Wolves wrap up a good win. This is sustainable, I thought. Lots of twos, not many threes, this could be good. I was, evidently, very mistaken.
Next up: Wolves come home for a game against the Nets on Wednesday, 7 pm.
Jonah: The Wolves came into this game with nine healthy players, including Lou Amundson and the two newcomers signed on 10-day deals, Mickael Gelebale and Chris Johnson. In a depressed funk, the Wolves needed some energy and fresh legs, which is exactly what those two newcomers brought in this one. Gelebale brought intensity on the defensive end and was part of the reason the Rockets shot so poorly from deep, and also chipped in 11 points. And it was Johnson who brought it on the offensive end with countless dunks and, most importantly, made free throw attempts (7-8 from the line) that led to 15 points off the bench. The two actually combined to score the first 23 points of the fourth quarter. Yeah, believe that. It was truly a breath of fresh air seeing those two succeed and inject a little bit of life into the rest of the Wolves’ players. It was only right they ended the game on the court. Thoroughly deserved.
Tom: In probably the best moment of the Timberwolves season so far (seriously, if you can think of a better one tweet it at me), Minnesota chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” for CHRIS FREAKIN’ JOHNSON whenever he went to the free throw line in the second half. I fully support this. Not only did Johnson come in and infuse the entire lineup with energy, not only did he make a series of big plays both offensively and defensively, but he did all of that coming straight in from the D-League. Chris Johnson seized the moment and squeezed the hell out of it. It was pretty wonderful to see the fans recognize that and laud him for it, however ironically.
Derek: THE WOLVES WON!!! Seriously, after five in a row, and eleven of fifteen, this is nice. No…no don’t show me the Rockets’ shooting chart; that doesn’t matter!
Jonah: With such a shorthanded lineup and a certain lack of scoring, one would figure that JJ Barea would come through with another heroic effort. Instead, he was left to heave, which is never a recipe for success. He ended 5-13 from the floor, not bad, but also not what I would expect with the current makeup of the roster.
Tom: Well, the good news is that Derrick Williams attacked the basket repeatedly. Rather than settling for long jumpers, he drove to the hoop and threw up a variety of pump-fakes to try to get defenders in the air. The BAD news is that it didn’t actually help his field goal percentages much. Williams was 3-9 from the field and 1-3 from 3-point range.
Derek: You guys took the first two things I was going to use. They also struggled from three, committed turnovers but still forced even more, yet nitpicking like that just feels like a parent criticizing their kid for receiving a B+ instead of an A-.
Jonah: Andrei Kirilenko’s tip shots are a thing of beauty. Some nights, it’s just not there. The touch, the finesse just aren’t in line to make the most of the attempts. But tonight wasn’t the case and those shots certainly helped him follow through on a 21 point game. Also, it’s worth noting that Rubio actually played 30 minutes tonight, his most of the year.
Tom: Nikola Pekovic’s absence is never a good thing for Minnesota, but having an offense that wasn’t focused around Pek tonight WAS good. When these teams met back in December, one of the biggest problems was Omer Asik’s excellent defense on Pek. Tonight, the offense was more focused on Andre Kirilenko (AND CHRIS JOHNSON!!). In most games, this would have meant a lot of 3-pointers and very few points in the paint. Tonight, it meant much of the early offense spread the defense around, and the Wolves were able to bait Asik into foul trouble that severely limited his minutes.
Derek: “Hey, is that a rain cloud?” “Nah, that’s just Derek about to attempt to kill our joy again.” “Pssh. Figures…”
Tonight was fun and great to see guys like Johnson and Gelebale get their moment. However, this is going to get a lot less fun once teams get scouting reports on these guys.
Next up: The Wolves travel to Atlanta for a one game trip on Monday at 1:00 pm.
After last night’s game, the locker room saw a side of Ricky Rubio that many haven’t witnessed before. He stood up to the sulking and called the team out for its excuse-laden losing streak, claiming there are two ways to deal with the barrage of injuries, “We have two ways to do it. One (is) complaining. … I don’t think that’s the way. The way, it’s (to) be a man.”
Rubio’s right. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and all that crap. The problem is that the injuries are so bad that even the ones that Rubio is challenging — guys like Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour — are doing all they can but sooner or later, over the course of a long, trying season, those immune to the injury bug grow weak in both flight and pluck.
Rubio’s comments are stirring and hopefully bring out the fight from the players that we’ve seen already this year against good teams like Brooklyn and Oklahoma City, but, more importantly, hopefully they ignite some inspiring and consistent play from the wounded point guard himself.
In the absence of coach Rick Adelman, assistant coach Terry Porter made the decision to start Rubio last night, in an effort to get him more comfortable with the starters and increase his minutes just ever-so-slightly. What we saw from the tattered returnee was yet another disappointing night, especially shooting-wise, going just 2-9 from the field.
Since Rubio’s returned to the court from major knee surgery he’s really struggled to put the ball in the hoop. He’s shooting just 22% from the field and has yet to make a three-pointer this season. His endearing court vision and ability to convert the flashiest of passes hasn’t been on display since his first game on December 15th against the Dallas Mavericks.
Obviously the most frustrating and visible part of his game is his poor shooting. He’s short on nearly all of his shots, which goes to tell you his knee, which is well documented, still isn’t 100%. Some might point to his three-point shooting as the reason for his shooting woes, which is fair considering he has yet to make one this year and he only converted on 34% of them last year. He still just looks incredibly uncomfortable shooting threes from the viewpoint of a naked eye (His form isn’t bad, but it lacks quickness and leverage).
But it might be fair to point out how poor Rubio’s finishing ability is, considering just under 25% of his attempts come at the rim, according to Hoopdata. And being the pick ‘n’ roll mastermind that he is, his attempts should continue to increase both from three-point range and at the rim.
Compare Rubio’s career numbers at the rim to that of Steve Nash last season (Which is my current guess as to Rubio’s ceiling). Last season, Rubio converted on 47% of his attempts at the rim, while Nash converted 74% of his 1.7 attempts per game. This season, Rubio’s reaching the rim 0.8 times per game and converting 50% of the time. It’s an improvement, certainly, but can you imagine only half of your essential layups going through? I mean, for me in an NBA game, sure, 50% would be outstanding. But when you’re 6’4″, shifty and possess outstanding court vision like him, getting to the hoop off of pick ‘n’ rolls, in particular, shouldn’t be all the difficult. So, compared to a two-time MVP that hits 70% of his layups over the last seven years, Rubio’s career 48.5% is extremely alarming.
This is just an example of what I’m referring to:
Okay, perhaps that was too cruel. But if you’re willing to call out everyone else and force them to step their game up, perhaps you might start with your own.
Rubio’s struggles in the paint are well-documented but it’s just so painful to watch along with the rest of this team’s effort. Rubio is right to call everyone out in an effort to spark some interest but he might be a little more credible if he worked on his own effectiveness as well. Injuries are no longer an excuse, according to Rubio, and if he’s willing to step up and be the leader, his game needs to start talking for itself.
Tom: I’m feeling less than negative about Luke Ridnour. Sure, he’ll never dominate a game that the Timberwolves actually win, but at least he scored! Plus he dished out five assists which isn’t really normal for him when he scores a bunch of points. PLUS HE HIT 50% OF HIS 3-POINTERS. Game ball, for sure.
Derek: Hey, Tom. Is that game ball partially deflated? Andrei Kirilenko had another well-rounded game with 12 points on 5-12 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 assists. Seriously, if it weren’t for Kirilenko I’d be crying myself to sleep like it was year two-thousand and Rambis all over again.
Tom: I don’t even know where to begin. The missed shots were atrocious. Blake Griffin had four and a half dunks (I counted). The 4-19 shooting from 3-point range. The 35.7% overall field goal percentage. Just an ugly, awful night all around.
Here’s the thing: I have to leave Derek a negative to write about and I don’t even feel bad having mentioned those four. This will still be easy for him.
Derek: Oh, you forgot the 65% on those pesky, uncontested free throws. You’re right about this still being easy for me, and since we don’t have Jonah tonight I can mention a few myself. They got beat inside, 50-30. They forced 18 turnovers, but committed 14 turnovers that negated much of the positives of the former. And they gave the Clippers to play their human victory cigar, Ryan “My Height Gives Me An NBA Job Every Year” Hollins, if even for a minute.
Tom: I’m not really worried about Nikola Pekovic’s bad night. Long, athletic centers have always bothered him somewhat, and DeAndre Jordan might be the pinnacle of long and athletic in the NBA. But given how close the Timberwolves were in the third quarter before the Clippers started really going to work and putting the game away, it’s not really a very fun thought experiment to wonder what would have happened if Pek had had one of the games we’ve been more accustomed to seeing from him as of late.
Derek: Ok, now that we got all of this out of the way, let’s put some perspective on this thing. This team is ridiculously shorthanded, and now even the guys who aren’t hurt are dealing with illness. Combine that with a team like the Clippers and this is what you get, even though they were missing Chris Paul.
Notes: Ricky Rubio was frustrated post game. On dealing with injuries: ”We have two ways to do it. One (is) complaining. … I don’t think that’s the way. The way, it’s (to) be a man.” Aside from Pekovic leaving the game early, Alexey Shved suffered an ankle sprain, collapsed in the hallway, but was apparently able to leave the arena on their own power…Before the game Lazar Hayward and Andrei Kirilenko were listed “probable” due to illness…Apparently help is on the way in the form of of big man Mickael Gelbale, who will wear number fifteen, but will hopefully not aggravate Derek to no end like the last Wolf to wear that number did.
Jonah: Ever since Terry Porter has taken over for Rick Adelman in his absence, we’ve seen some puzzling rotations, in particular his approach to Nikola Pekovic’s minutes. Before tonight, he hasn’t played more than 30 minutes, and tonight he barely cracked that limit with just 32 minutes. In that time, he amounted for 20 points on the most efficient shooting percentage on the team. Throw in the 12 rebounds and he proved himself to be tonight’s most valuable player. It’s just a shame he’s not on the floor more often, instead conceding minutes to Greg Stiemsma, who can’t even set a pick without warranting a whistle. In other words, play Pek more, please.
Tom: Rubio did look a little more comfortable on the floor. He still doesn’t look incredibly comfortable or confident reversing direction or moving in ways that were clearly affected by his injury, but at least the two shots he hit looked confident, including a 2-pointer that was originally a three. And after a couple of games with minimal amounts of assists, it was good to see him dish out six in 26 minutes. Three of them were pretty flashy. One was a lob to Dante Cunningham that utilized every bit of bounce in Cunningham’s bouncy legs. Another was a gorgeous pass along the baseline to Pekovic that brought Dallas’ lead down to 10.
Welcome back Ricky. Hopefully.
Jonah: Alexey, oh Alexey, why must you shoot? Why not just pass and defend well to boot?
A poem by: Jonah Steinmeyer
Tom: It’s still early…but it’s a lot less early now. The Wolves are 3 games behind the Blazers for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. That’s far from insurmountable, but they will have to leapfrog the Jazz as well to do so. The Jazz, for what it’s worth, beat Miami last night. Between Portland, Houston, Minnesota, Utah and (if you want to count them at this point) the Lakers, only two teams will go to the playoffs. Those are four and a half dangerous teams (couldn’t resist a Lakers dig), and you really don’t want to spot any of them a big lead in the standings.
The Wolves are far from finished. But they are teetering on a dangerous edge right now, and it doesn’t get any easier as the Clippers visit the Target Center on Thursday and the Rockets visit Saturday. Things might get worse before they get any better.
Sorry. That was a pretty negative negative.
Jonah: Nikola Pekovic is actually a very good free throw shooter for a center. For all the heat that Dwight Howard gets for missing free throws, Pek doesn’t get enough credit for his effectiveness at the line. But tonight was completely opposite as Pek went just 4-10 from the line.
Tom: The loss against Dallas marked the second consecutive decent game by JJ Barea. I don’t trust this trend one bit, but it’s good to see Barea having some real impact.
Next up: Welp, the murderous road trip concludes and the Wolves get to come home to meet the Clippers Thursday night.
Jonah: For starters, JJ Barea got himself back on the court after sitting the last two games with a bad back. He’s the only spark off the bench with any sense of consistent scoring. You can argue on his efficiency — just 4-11 from the field tonight — but there’s no denying that he’s one of, if not the only reliable perimeter scoring option on the floor.
Also, take a look at this:
Derrick Williams ain’t no joke. Early last month he started to find his shot from distance; last week he showed the ability to attack the hoop with a stronghold and vengeance and that dunk tonight proved that he hasn’t lost any step when it comes to his explosiveness. By no means is his development complete but I can safely say we’re starting to at least scratch the surface, and at a great time, I might add.
Derek: The Timberwolves are still short-handed, and in the midst of a five games in seven nights stretch that includes some good teams. For three quarters the Timberwolves managed to still keep this one interesting. In no way do I mean that as a moral victory, either.
Jonah: Rick Adelman’s absence from the sideline has, oddly enough, hurt the defense significantly. The Spurs took advantage of that by utilizing a series of curling dribble handoffs, usually from the high post, that left the Wolves utterly scrambled. Tony Parker took advantage of the slower Luke Ridnour, racing to the hoop at will, and they allowed the streaky Gary Neal to get the best of his looks from outside, nailing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. The perimeter defense has never been up-to-par but it’s fallen off even worse in the last couple weeks. Adelman’s presence and intensity is greatly missed.
Derek: Getting beat by 20 points in the paint, and 20 points in transition against the Spurs is a sure way to lose, but it’s not surprising given the circumstances. See also: San Antonio’s jerseys.
Jonah: It’s hard to nitpick performances of someone returning from a major injury that blew out both the knee itself as well as the psyche of the recipient. But every time Ricky Rubio steps out on to the court, I cringe not only at the memory of his horrific injury but also the way he conducts himself, and the results that ensue, on the offensive end. We’re not seeing flashy Ricky, who could throw a bounce pass between three sets of legs and make it seem like it’s no big deal. Instead, it’s a very timid Ricky, whose confidence has all but left him (It’s actually entirely absent from his jump shot). After tonight’s 0-6 performance, he’s now just 6-33 from the field on the season and still passes up open shots more often than he misses them. The reason his troubling play is striking my nerve in particular is because of the greatness that the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson exuded this year after suffering from a similar injury (Both tore the ACL, while Rubio also tore the LCL) as Rubio and also playing in a more violent and physically demanding sport. It’s not fair to compare the two but the taste of Peterson’s sweet season is so addictive, it’s hard to forget. Meanwhile, Rubio’s sour start leaves me puckering and wanting so much more. Every road to recovery from a major setback is different, which is exactly why it’s not fair to compare the two, but I, just like all of you, can’t help but fiend for that taste of success yet again. Just remember that Rubio feels the same as all of us, and he’s looking forward to tasting sweetness again.
Derek: Lazar Hayward played nine minutes tonight…NINE. Nine, as in one less than ten, and one more than eight. Oh, and this is in the NBA.
Next up: Another back-to-back has the Wolves playing in Dallas tomorrow night, 7:30 pm.
Jonah: The Timberwolves have proven time and time again that when they go to Nikola Pekovic early in the first they establish a pace their game and offensive pace. He jumpstarted the Wolves to a 29-14 lead in the first with his dominating post presence. After that, Pek sat down a while, the Wolves lost their mojo in the paint and the rest is history.
Tom: I asked Jonah if I could watch an entire season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and recap that instead of re-watching the Wolves game, and he said yes. I don’t know if he MEANT yes or not, but frankly, I don’t care.
In this episode: Mac and Dennis ride around in wheelchairs in an attempt to get girls to sleep with them out of sympathy. Hilarity ensues.
In the NEXT episode: Luke Ridnour hit a bunch of shots and scored 20 points!
Jonah: Despite the shortcomings of the Timberwolves’ bench — players and Adelman alike — it’s going to be very hard moving forward when winnable games (such as last night’s against the Hornets) fall out of your reach. If the Wolves have any lick of hope to make the playoffs with the barrage of injuries they’ve endured, these are the games that become must wins. Last night they failed to play all four quarters and paid the ultimate price: an ugly loss on the schedule.
Tom: In this episode: Charlie pretends to have cancer to try to hook up with the coffee barista he has had a crush on for a very long time. Mac and Dennis pay her a bunch of money to convince her to sleep with Charlie. Hilarity ensues.
In the NEXT episode: Pick a number between 1-4. Got it? Cool, now pick a number between 16-22. Got that one? Alright. Now take your first number, put a dash after it, and insert the second number at the end. Your number should now look something like this: 4-18. This random number generator is designed to imitate the projected number of 3-pointers Minnesota will hit and attempt in any given game. We hope you enjoyed your simulation.
Jonah: Andrei Kirilenko did a very good job of moving without the ball and staying aggressive. That’s what helped him see 10 FT attempts.
Tom: In this episode: The gang tries to reclaim their bar from an Israeli man who owns half of their bar due to a zoning mistake. Also Frank and Charlie. Hilarity ensues.
In the NEXT episode: In a very strange turn of events, Derrick Williams scored three tough field goals and missed all four of his jumpers. He also drew two fouls when he went to the hoop. It’s weird, it’s almost like he should stop shooting and try to get to the hoop more.
Next up: The Wolves continue their road streak on Sunday at San Antonio.