I don’t really know how to start this, or really go about writing this, but I just feel like I should. And I don’t feel like I should in a self-serving kind of way, but in a respectful way to pay tribute to someone I admired, although I didn’t know him. Maybe tasteful is the word I’m looking for. I just know I’ve been through similar incidents with other people, and losing someone like Tim Allen hurts.
Really, I can’t believe it. Even after I saw the posts on his Facebook page, I still didn’t believe it. And even as I sent my goodbye and thanking him for supporting me, I don’t think I fully believed it to be true as I hit share. Which is something that’s hard enough to write when you’re still rendered speechless.
I barely knew what to think, but I looked around and looked for any idea, hint or clue that something was wrong. But there were no obvious signs from his final updates.
Then I finally started to accept the truth: he was gone.
I may not have met him, but from talking to Tim on Twitter or Facebook, I felt like I still knew him. Ultimately, I’ll remember the good times. The good times being the discussions about hoops, movies or whatever. I’ll remember winning a wager on the NBA Finals against his close friend @FemaleSportsLvr and Tim on Twitter that we unfortunately never had time to collect on. And if it weren’t for Tim, I wouldn’t have been so ready to build up Quincy Miller to you guys during the draft.
And it’s strange to see him pop up on my chat as a recently talked to person, and it will be stranger come basketball season to not have him and his unique brand of analysis around. I know I’m not the only one who will miss his generally sarcastic game previews, either. It will be different reading Canis Hoopus without Tim around, that’s for sure.
It’s also been sad-happy to see the outpouring of support and condolences on Twitter from people that likely never met him, but still had their lives affected by Tim. I mean, it’s great to see the impact he had on so many people, but sad in that we didn’t get to say it to him. I know that I appreciated the way Tim often supported my work and meant a lot to me that a writer of his ability and stature respected it enough to earn his endorsement. Unfortunately, aside from the occasional Follow Friday, I never really got the chance to let him know I admired him like I did.
Yet, this isn’t limited to basketball or writing. Somewhere, someone lost a family member, their best friend or someone important to them, and those are the people I really feel for. I mean, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed writing this, and we never met. But they’re not alone. None of us are. On some level, many of us are dealing with a loss.
From the same guy that has brought you thousands of words on players like Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic, and others, comes another (likely) thousand on one of the more non-descript trade rumors of the summer. The trade I’m talking about, of course, is Wayne Ellington to Memphis for Dante Cunningham. Heck, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written at length on Wayne Ellington, either.
When I first heard this rumor I immediately lamented the loss of Wayne. Some people get it, and others don’t. Despite not being the most physically gifted player, Wayne busts his hump every time he’s on the court and has been one of the few players with an elevated basketball IQ on the team the past few seasons. My affection for Ellington as a player may be irrational, but I certainly appreciate his game.
I understand why this trade has to happen, however.
- First, with Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Chase Budinger coming in and Rick Adelman’s penchant for using two point guard lineups, Ellington likely would’ve struggled to see minutes unless there was a rash of injuries.
- Likewise, the Timberwolves need help in the frontcourt, and Cunningham should be able to provide further depth behind Kevin Love.
- Not only do the Wolves need frontcourt help, they need a player that works hard on defense, and by all accounts Cunningham does.
- Ellington and Cunningham have nearly identical contracts in terms of years and dollars.
If you’re not familiar with Cunningham, is a four year veteran out of Villanova, taken with the third pick of the second round in ’09. He has also played for the Blazers (figures) and Bobcats before Memphis.
Contrary to popular Twitter belief, Cunningham is not an Anthony Tolliver replacement (Another favorite). In fact, Cunningham is a power forward and Tolliver is a center-power forward. While Cunningham has a decent mid-range game, he doesn’t shoot the three like Tolliver does. Really, the one thing the two players have in common is that they both wear #44.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen Cunningham play. I’ve watched Grizzlies games, but never paid any attention to Cunningham. Apparently, like Ellington, Cunningham is an average athlete with a strong basketball IQ. Word is he also works well off of the ball, and is a good catch-and-shoot shooter for Ricky Rubio. As much as I hate to see Wayne go, this move actually sounds like it makes a ton of sense.
Although he’s not a great rebounder, he can get away with being average if he’s playing next to Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic.
How might he fit in the rotation? Well, he immediately upgrades from Anthony Randolph, but he could spell Derrick Williams on an off night as well. If Rick Adelman wants hard working players who hustle, Cunningham will see the court. At 6’8 he could see minutes at the three, but given his shooting range and reported lack of ball-handling/athleticism, I’m not sure that’s a great long-term idea.
I’ve felt like writing this post at every trade deadline or offseason for every sport, and that is the concept of value- or perceived value. Fans of every team struggle with the idea that their players and draft picks aren’t worth as much in the eyes of other fans’. Well, I shouldn’t say all do, but there is a good amount that do.
Take the most recent Timberwolves example of their offers of Derrick Williams and the 18th to the Charlotte Bobcats for the 2nd in an effort to in turn flip that pick to land Lakers big man Pau Gasol. Or something like that. The other rumor of course was Williams, Michael Beasley and the 18th for Gasol. It was no surprise that the Lakers balked at the offer of two so-far-underachieving tweener forwards and a crappy mid 1st for a player who helped win them a title.
This is the concept of value.
No team is waiting by the phone to take another team’s castoffs and misfits. Hey, if you don’t want them, no one else likely does either. And if you’re fortunate enough to unload those, you’re going to have to take back something off of their scrap pile. It’s just the way it is, and no team is going to agree to a trade that leaves them with a smoldering crater for a team.
Furthermore, unlike 2K, a handful of mediocre players does not in any way shape or form equal one really good player. There is no player equivalency chart for NBA GMs; things just don’t work that way. For instance, the Magic didn’t exactly swoon over the Nets’ offer of Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries for Dwight Howard because teams don’t think like, “Well, Brook doesn’t rebound, but Kardashian Humphries does, so that’s even.”
If you want something good, you’re going to have to give up something good or of equal value to acquire the player.
Finally, you can’t just “throw in a couple picks” to improve a trade like you’re trying to spackle over a hole in the wall or fix a botched paint job. Teams think ahead and figure that if you take their good player, get better, the now-valuable picks will be much less valuable by the time they get to use them. Heck, even if your team still sucks after the trade, draft picks are an ever uncertain commodity.
Of course there are still times when a player-turned-GM will giftwrap a top player to his former team, or a GM who flips his best player to a contender for nickels on the dollar, but these instances are exceptions, not rules.
When you see a rumor, or have an idea, ask yourself how you’d feel if you were on the other side of that. Much like the deals discussed above, they don’t make sense for one team.
Earlier today I posted a piece on my personal blog also called “Knowing Which Doors to Prop Open and Which to Leave Closed” in which I talked about the risks that come with waiting too long to rebuild, except with a Wizards focus. I wanted to incorporate the Timberwolves, but figured I could just do that here since I’d have plenty of material for such a post. Here is the Timberwolves version.
We all know the story of the 2003 Timberwolves who made it to the playoffs seven consecutive times since ’97, but failed to get out of the first round. Coming off of a 51 win season in which Kevin Garnett was reaching his peak, Wolves GM Kevin McHale went all-in bringing in Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Ervin Johnson to make a deep run. While the plan worked, the Timberwolves were done in by injuries to Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak, and others before bowing out to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Going into the ’04-’05 season, there was some hangover to be expected, and the Wolves started out 25-26, costing Flip Saunders his job. And while McHale led them to a 19-12 finish the rest of the way, the team would end up missing the playoffs.
Here is where the Wolves went wrong by opting to re-tool instead of re-build. The Wolves let Sprewell go to find another means of feeding his family, and brought in Eddie Griffin. They infamously dealt the 35-year old Cassell (good move) for Marko Jaric (bad move) and extended him there after (worse move). And in an effort to inject fresh blood, the Wolves eventually dealt Szczerbiak, Michael Olawokandi, Dwayne Jones, and a 1st round pick to the Celtics for Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed and two 2nds. .
Now, the Wolves were stuck with an inflexible roster thanks to the cumbersome contracts of Jaric, Trenton Hassell, and Troy Hudson. It’s also a strange practice for should-be rebuilding teams to be dealing first round picks. Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be taking on long-term money, and build around the young players they get in the draft. Instead, the Wolves tried to force their door of opportunity open with overpaid veterans, while mortgaging some of their future by trading draft picks. Had they been patient, they probably could’ve expedited the process with Garnett’s presence while finally surrounding him with cheap talent, finally.
Looking back, the Wolves almost certainly should’ve rebuilt after the ’03 season. It made sense after 7 consecutive first round exits, but they chose to make one more go at it. It almost worked, and when it all began to unravel the next season, they should’ve jumped at the chance right away (Think of what the Blazers did this past trade deadline). Who knows if they could’ve avoided the two separate rebuilding projects that would follow that ’04 run had they put in a concerted effort to rebuild early on.
Heck, they may not have had to trade Garnett, either.
Seriously, look at their $60 million+ payroll for the ’04-’05 season, and tell me there weren’t things that could have been done. There is no good that comes from toiling away in the middle of the lottery as the 10th seed in the conference; you’re not good enough to make the playoffs, but you’re also not bad enough to land a top incoming talent. To put it simply: Make a run or bottom out if you’re not on the way up.
Would it have taken the Timberwolves 7 years to even get a direction for the franchise if they had rebuilt sooner? Maybe. Would it have helped if they hadn’t burned through 6 coaches (Saunders, McHale, Casey, Wittman, Rambis, and Adelman) in that time? Probably, a little consistency goes a long way. It’s all in hindsight, I know, but there are some lessons to be had here (See: Spurs, San Antonio).
The Wolves could be in a similar situation (yet again) should Adelman decide to call it quits, Love decides to test the market, and Rubio decides to walk. Would they panic and try to keep the door open, or let it shut and find a new one? God forbid that scenario plays out that way, but I’m curious to see how they’d handle it.
Derek can also be found on Twitter: @DerekJamesNBA
Draft season is always fun. Whether it’s studying countless mock drafts for days on end, watching the combine, or scouring scouting reports, the draft always seems to take on a life of its own. Yet, there are always some things that put a damper on the fun by looking at things the wrong way, and consequently saying the wrong things. Sometimes, it’s a fine line we walk between sounding like an informed individual and sounding like an endless cliché-spouting ninny. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you survive draft season while maintaining your respectability.
Rule #1: Remember Who You’re Talking About
This one really requires logic and common sense, so if you already understand things like don’t run a red light, you’re probably on the right track. Of course, I’m talking about our tendency to scrutinize and critique teenage prospects.
“He’s too skinny/fat/short.” Oh, so no one ever was able to put on muscle, lose weight, or hit a growth spurt after the ages of 18-20? That’s unfortunate.
“Player ‘X’ is a little raw.” Well yeah, they’re 18 or 19 years old. Who said they were a finished product? Skills can still be polished and developed here.
How many times have we seen a guy like Paul George hit another growth spurt, or a player landing in the right situation and improving in area? Many times. So do I necessarily care that a guy like Jared Sullinger is a 6’9 center…(See next rule.)
Rule #2: Ability Over Physical Traits, Every Time
…no, I don’t care. Since we’re on a Timberwolves blog, I’ll relate this to them, Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph particularly. Simply put: Would you rather have Anthony Randolph over Kevin Love because he can jump higher or run faster? Of course you wouldn’t, or I hope you wouldn’t. And just because you’re 7 feet doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what to do with that height. Remember Ryan Hollins? The most practical use for him on a basketball court is designated shot clock duster.
So much of being able to rebound, and defend is being able to time your jumps, be aware, and ultimately knowing how to make the most out of what you do have. It’s pretty cool some guys can jump out of the gym, but if their basketball IQ is the same as their shoe size, it’s a problem.
Kevin Durant is a great example of this. Most readers, and myself can bench press more than him, but he has infinitely more talent than all but a few people in the world. Furthermore, he can get his shot off on anybody. I’ve never seen a basketball game on any level come down to a bench press competition.
Again, physical traits are meaningless unless a player knows what to do with them.
Rule #3: Watch the Clichés
You know who you are. You know what you’re doing. You probably even know you’re driving us all crazy, but you just can’t help yourself. Stop it. Seriously. Nothing is worse than watching or reading draft coverage and writhing in pain because someone had to fall back on their old, comfy clichés. Here’s a shortlist of the most egregious ones my Twitter followers could come up with: “Tremendous upside!”, “He’s a basketball player!”, “Upside/length/athleticism!” “He’s a bust/playmaker!” “Motor!”
Sigh. Yes, we know he’s a basketball player; he’s in the NBA Draft. You don’t know how a player will turn out either way before he’s played a game. Yep, he has “potential”; he is just 19 years old, after all. Please, do your part to stop the cliché’s, buzzwords, or whatever you call them.
Rule #4: If Your Team Won the Lottery, Their Main Need is Talent. Period.
I was talking to @Above_Legit, a Wizards blogger on Twitter about this after a report came out that the team had drafted many forwards recently and may not want to again. He agreed that taking the best player available is the way to go, regardless of need. With a team like the Wizards, they need everything. So what if you drafted Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesley, and Chris Singleton in recent years? You still won 20 games, and are at the top of the lottery again. And anyone whose team lets the likes of Crawford, Vesley, or Singleton keep them from improving, deserves their lottery team. Even our beloved Wolves for those years.
No, your lottery team doesn’t need a PG/SG/SF/PF/C; it needs one or two good PG/SG/SF/PF/C.
You can’t over-think these things and risk setting back your franchise. If the Wolves landed the number 1 pick last year, they should’ve taken Kyrie Irving, even with Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour onboard. They took BPA with the 2nd pick even though they had Kevin Love and like, four, other players who could play Williams’ position. That’s just what you do when you’re a perennial cellar dweller: take talent when you can and figure out the fit later. Ask yourself where the team could be had they taken BPA Demarcus Cousins over Wes Johnson the year before. Hindsight is 20/20, but you can’t be afraid to take chances sometimes.
I won’t lie, I’ve fallen into these pitfalls in the past. I’m not perfect, but I’m better for having realized it. It’s more fun to observe the process without being hypercritical or regurgitating the same tired draft day lines. Following these easy tips will lead to a better time for all.
Growing up, I was always tall for my age. So, naturally, when I played basketball I was either a 4 or a 5. Unsurprisingly, when I took my first assistant coaching job I volunteered to work with the bigs, since that’s what I knew best. However, I had to figure out how to get a bunch of 6th and 7th graders enamored with LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, to get excited about playing down on the block.
To do so, I had to think of why post players are important to the success of the team.
First, I thought that if you can score down low you’re able to get high percentage shots regularly, instead of constantly settling for jumpers.
Secondly, I realized (good) post players rebound. Offensively, this enables them to get easy second chance buckets at the rim, and their team’s shooters can shoot freely knowing they don’t have to make every shot because someone will bail them out. Defensively, a good rebounding 4 or 5 can take away those second chance points and initiate the break, increasing the chance of easier high-percentage shots.
Third, I remember watching dominate defensive bigs and recalling that just their presence in the lane forces teams to shoot further away from the basket than they would against defensively inferior teams. In other words, you can force the other team to take low percentage shots because your presence is threatening enough.
And finally, being physical down low by boxing out, posting up, or setting screens wears down the opponent over the course of the game, and makes your life that much easier. You can’t tell me that a well placed screen that gets the ball handler an extra foot of space to shoot isn’t a good assist, even though it won’t show up in the box score. I found it especially important to – cliché alert — set the tone early and often. When I told the players that most players don’t start playing physical regularly until college (If ever…) and then asked if there would be an advantage if they began to do it now, they all unanimously agreed.
So what if you weren’t born to be an Iso monster, taking fools off of the dribble regularly, because being a post player isn’t just awesome, it’s essential.
The thing about being a good or a great post player isn’t even about being the most skilled player on the court. It’s about smarts, awareness and resourcefulness by knowing how to leverage your body to do what you want. It’s why guys like Charles Barkley and Kevin Love are great big men even though they are/weren’t the most athletically gifted. They understand how to use their body weight as leverage to toss their opponents around the block to get in rebounding position, and knew how to time their jumps to snatch that rebound over greater leapers. In fact, I had one player who was smart enough to understand that he couldn’t get the ball, but he was smart enough to push his opponent underneath the basket so he couldn’t make a play either; rebounding 4-on-4 is much easier than 4-on-5.
(In Chris Ballard’s book, Art of a Beautiful Game, he talks about rebounders who box out by essentially sitting on their opponents knees and driving them back to get position. )
It works the same way defensively if you’re undersized. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had bigger players try to post me up only to be denied. It’s simple: 1) Get tough. Oh, you caught the entry pass and are trying to pick up your dribble. Too bad I’m going to use my hips to push you off of the block with my body weight; 2) Get big. An altered shot is as good as a blocked shot, so get your hands up; 3) Get disruptive. If you think you can make a play on the ball, poke it away with an underhanded swipe. Whether you force a turnover, or a pass, your work is done.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much effort you’re willing to exert to do this, but you absolutely do not need to be an especially skilled player to be an asset down low. You just can’t be afraid to get hit, and this is where a lot of players go wrong.
I’m going to save the offensive portion for Kevin McHale in this video that NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk dug up. Watching McHale demonstrate his technique is truly something great to watch, and listening to his theory on post play as he does so is equally as great. I highly recommend you watch the video and read the article- I’ll even embed the video below, but read the article as well.
McHale talks about things like posting about not too far away for the basket (Rightfully calling it a wing ISO.), making sure your moves take you to the basket, and not away from it, as well as how to use your body to get the positioning you want. Again, this is where the effort thing comes into play. Aside from the physical side, he talks about awareness (Great coaches preach the importance of on-court awareness as well.), and doing things like using the rim to get open.
One of the very important things he mentions is that you don’t need a full palette of post-moves, but a few basic moves to allow you to create your shot. From experience, I’ve found that it helps to be able to move both ways, dribble with both hands, and have an ambidextrous hook shot. Combined with good footwork, smarts, and awareness, this is what makes a good post player so hard to defend.
McHale goes on to reiterate my point above about physical play when he asks, “How many teams have big men? You all raise your hands”, before adding that “Now, how many like to hit? Oh, only a couple of you raised your hands.”
Before the video cuts out he talks about working with Kevin Love to develop his hook shot and how Love uses his size to compensate for not being the biggest power forward in the game. It’s too bad that’s where the video ends, because I could listen to McHale talk about low-post theory all day long.
Now we know why good post play is so important, and why teams take chances or overpay these types of players. Aside from the point guard, they are the most important players in the game. I can recall talking to Grizzlies fans in Love’s second year who lamented the Mayo-Love trade by saying, “Scoring wings are a dime a dozen, and you can get one in every draft. Big men who can post double-doubles regularly are much harder to come by.”
This is why teams do things like take chances on draft day like Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Sure, there’s a pretty good chance Durant makes the next 15 All-Star teams, and another few scoring titles, but if you have the chance at a dominant once-in-a-generation center, you take that chance. I know, there are a few geniuses who predicted Durant’s ascension precisely, and I’m impressed by your clairvoyance, but teams understand that big men with Oden’s potential come along far less often than players of Durant’s caliber.
This is also why teams will overpay a guy like Kwame Brown, Andris Biedrins, or less egregiously, Al Jefferson. Take Big Al into consideration. He’s one of the few players in the league who can draw double and triple teams in the league as a 20-10 player. Opponents have to respect his low-post moves, and now they have to respect the pass so they don’t leave open shooters wide open. Now, Utah’s opponents have to debate defending Al one-on-one down low or leaving one, or two, shooters open.
Portland Trailblazers (24-28) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 100-79 vs Boston Celtics, Portland: L, 98-97 vs Los Angeles Clippers
The Wolves lost a disappointing (and playoff-hope damaging) game against the Boston Celtics on Friday in Kevin Garnett’s 2012 return to the Target Center. Garnett won the much-anticipated matchup between himself and Kevin Love, scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and generally flustering Love on defense. Love scored 22 points, but he was 5-18 from the field.
Portland played without injured star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge on Friday night, who sat out with a hyper-extended elbow, suffered in Thursday’s victory over New Orleans. His replacement, JJ Hickson performed admirably with 29 points and 13 rebounds, but Chris Paul hit a driving layup as the clock wound down that proved to be the difference, as the Blazers lost 98-97.
The Key Questions
#1. How will all of the injuries affect the game?
I don’t have any evidence to back this claim up aside from what I’m noticing, but seriously: there have been more injuries around the league than usual this season, right? Am I wrong? Take a look at this game: Rubio is out, obviously. Barea, Beasley and Pekovic are all questionable. For the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge is out. Again, I don’t have any numbers, but it certainly seems like players are dropping left and right.
#2. Playoff/tanking implications?
The Blazers are four games behind the Nuggets for 8th in the Western Conference. Their remaining schedule includes two games against both Dallas and Utah and a game against San Antonio. Plus the Blazers began tanking back at the trade deadline. Their slim playoff hopes (if that’s even what they are hoping for) look slimmer every day.
Minnesota, however, has no reason to tank and I still haven’t given up hope. Call me crazy, but see #3.
#3. How difficult is Minnesota’s upcoming schedule?
The next seven games for the Wolves are winnable match-ups, either mediocre teams (Sacramento, Golden State, New Orleans) or decent teams that the Wolves have beaten this year (Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles Clippers). I’m not saying that they will win every game. I’m saying that they COULD win every game. So as big as that 3.5 game deficit looks right now…don’t completely count out the Wolves yet.
The Key Matchups
Obviously, so much depends on whether Aldridge is playing or not, but if Portland is TRULY wants to tank, benching Aldridge for the rest of the season would be the way to go (hint hint). Hickson, though he played well offensively against the Clippers, is a minus defender, so having him guard Kevin Love could be all kinds of entertaining.
Nicolas Batum has scored double digits in six of his last seven games. Wes Johnson hasn’t reached double figures since March 9.
Elsewhere, so much depends on who is available, it’s very difficult to project who might have a good game.
Last time these teams met on March 3, Minnesota won 122-110, breaking a long losing streak to Portland in the Rose Garden. That game put Minnesota in 8th place in the Western Conference. Of course, the Wolves had Rubio at that point. They also had Kevin Love who scored 42 points in the win.
Minnesota doesn’t have Rubio, but they do have Love. A tough matchup, to be sure, but a winnable one.
Los Angeles Lakers (27-16) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (22-22)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 111-105 vs Utah in OT, Los Angeles: W, 107-101 vs New Orleans in OT
The Wolves enter tonight’s matchup with the Lakers coming off a frustrating overtime loss to the Jazz. Utah led for most of the game until the Wolves battled back with under two minutes to play, sending the game into overtime. But Paul Millsap’s energetic defense and mid-range shooting held off the Wolves, as they fell back to .500.
The Lakers also trailed for much of the game against New Orleans on Wednesday before overwhelming the Hornets in overtime. Kobe led the Lakers with 33 points, while Bynum posted 25 points and 18 rebounds.
The Key Questions
#1. Will Kevin Love’s thumb be an issue tonight?
Love has said that his thumb is fine and he expects to play. Which is good, because he missed the last two meetings with the Lakers. On a related note, Minnesota lost both games (as well as 16 consecutive matchups with the Lakers previously, but I digress).
#2. With about 20 games left in the season, what kind of playoff implications does tonight carry?
For the Lakers? Next to none. They have built a 2.5 game lead over the suddenly free-falling Clippers and have positioned themselves to make a run at San Antonio and the second seed.
For the Wolves? Tonight is a fairly significant game. Denver, who holds a two game lead on Minnesota, is inactive. Interestingly, Denver more than likely damaged their chances at a playoff run by trading away Nene for the eternally frustrating JaVale McGee.
Still. To make the playoffs, Minnesota needs to win some games, and falling more than two games out of the race would be difficult to overcome with less than a third of the season left to go.
#3. Will the Lakers struggle without Fisher?
This question is less about tonight’s game and more about the rest of the season. For years, Fisher has been less than stellar as LA’s point guard, but he has been a rock for the team and an emotional leader. How much of that did the Lakers trade away for Jordan Hill?
The Key Matchups
Tonight may well prove to be all about the post matchups. One night after “struggling” with Paul Millsap (he still had 25 points and 16 rebounds…) Kevin Love gets a tougher, longer matchup problem in Pau Gasol. Gasol’s length will hurt Love in the post, so his ability to stretch Gasol out to the three point line will be important tonight. If Love can knock down some early threes, the Wolves may find themselves more open in the paint.
Meanwhile, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is used to being able to push opponents around in the post. Best of luck with that tonight, ‘Drew.
As always, Kobe will be a huge problem for the Wolves. Wes/Ridnour/Ellington have all proved fairly ineffective against him this season, although Ridnour showed some aggressiveness getting up in Kobe’s face in the last matchup.
Speaking of Ridnour, if the Lakers are without Ramon Sessions, Ridnour will need to capitialize on Laker rookie Andrew Goudelock’s extended minutes.
On paper, the Lakers are a matchup nightmare for the Wolves, especially now that Rubio is out for the season. But man…this would be a nice streak to end, wouldn’t it?
Utah Jazz (20-22) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (22-21)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 127-124 vs Phoenix, Utah: L, 120-111 vs (ironically) Phoenix
Both Minnesota and Utah faced Phoenix in their last game, Minnesota on Monday, Utah last night. Both Minnesota and Utah’s defensive efficiencies took a major hit, but Minnesota was able to escape with a win, thanks mostly to another huge game from Kevin Love, who put up 30 points including 5-9 shooting from behind the arc. Derrick Williams also played well, shooting a tidy 7-10 from the field for 19 points.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap led Utah in scoring with 18 a piece, but were badly outplayed by Phoenix’s big men Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye, who scored 25 and 26 respectively.
The Key Questions
#1. Will Michael Beasley and Luke Ridnour still be Timberwolves?
Unfortunately, every sign indicates no. Beasley trade talks have been “heating up” according to the internet’s mysterious “sources,” and apparently Luke Ridnour’s name has been included in the discussions. This, of course, means that if the trade goes down today, the Wolves will have Barea (who can’t stay healthy) starting at point guard until Jamal Crawford arrives. Then Crawford (who led a “mutiny” against his coach because he hated playing point guard) will take over at point guard.
Yep. This should go well.
Oh, and by the way, the last time these teams met, Ridnour hit a game-winning floater. But nah. Deal him away. We don’t need him.
#2. Can the Wolves bottle their 3-point shooting against the Suns?
Let’s be clear about two things.
1. The Wolves would have lost by a LOT on Monday if they hadn’t made so many threes. 13-22 from behind the arc for 63%? That’s insane. Perhaps the Wolves can start to improve their three point shooting now?
2. I hated every minute of that game. There was little defense. Both teams were jacking up shots from behind the arc, and I found myself on the edge of cardiac arrest for the entire second half. Just awful. Now get off my lawn.
#3. How much of an impact will fatigue play?
The Wolves got a rare gift from the NBA’s schedule makers: two days off. The Jazz played a fast paced game last night against the Suns. For once, if fatigue plays a factor, Minnesota will actually benefit.
The Key Matchups
Al Jefferson vs Nikola Pekovic should be entertaining. When these teams played in February, the big men came close to matching each other. And though many experts expected Pek’s numbers to drop off when Rubio went down for the season, Pek went off for 24 points Monday against Phoenix.
Paul Millsap is a notorious Kevin Love-killer. Love’s performance may prove to be important tonight, especially if the Wolves are playing with a smaller roster.
JJ Barea scored 22 points last time these teams met, and was key in leading the Wolves back from an 83-67 4th quarter deficit. Barea’s contributions might be even more necessary tonight. You know, if he’s the only point guard on the roster and stuff.
If Beasley and Ridnour are gone, I have a hard time believing that the Wolves can win tonight, which would drop them to 2 games behind the Rockets in the Western Conference playoff race. If both players are (miraculously) still Timberwolves, Minnesota’s depth and rest should be enough to push them to a win.
Portland Trailblazers (18-18) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (18-19)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 104-95 vs Phoenix, Portland: L, 107-93 vs Miami
When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be an NBA player, like most of us who spend time on these blogs. Nights like last night make me kind of glad I never achieved that ambition (although paychecks like the ones I get bring me back pretty quickly). Minnesota played well in the first half before completely losing their legs in the second, which was understandable for a team on the third night of a back to back to back. Still, Thursday’s game had playoff implications, and Minnesota can’t be pleased with the result.
Neither can Portland, although they can also take minimal comfort in an explicable loss. The Blazers ran right into a chainsaw, a Heat team that looks utterly unbeatable at present. LeBron scored 38, had several highlight real alley-oops, and generally looked like the best player in the world. The Blazers threatened in the 4th quarter, cutting a 20 point lead to 10, but couldn’t get closer than that. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 in the loss.
The Key Questions
#1. Is one day long enough to rest after the grueling three day stretch Minnesota just endured?
The Wolves certainly better hope so, because the schedule doesn’t get any easier after tonight. Minnesota plays Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday next week, including games against the Clippers (again), the Lakers (again), the Blazers (again) and the Hornets. I see you, NBA schedule makers.
#2. Can Minnesota deal with Portland’s length?
Or: can Minnesota deal with LaMarcus Aldridge? Pekovic might struggle with Marcus Camby, but he should be able to outmuscle him close to the hoop. Aldridge, however, had a grudge against Kevin Love last year for stealing his All-Star game appearance. This wasn’t good news for Love, who struggled against Aldridge’s length and athleticism.
This year, Aldridge’s numbers are up again. He could do some serious damage against Minnesota.
#3. Why does God hate JJ Barea?
Seriously, what did Barea do over the summer? The man is a professional basketball player (and thus a millionaire). He has a championship ring. He’s dating a former Miss Universe. Something he was doing was very right.
Then Barea winds up in chilly Minnesota with a team that won 17 games last year, and he can’t stay on the court because of injuries. I’m just saying…something feels fishy.
The Key Matchups
Wes Johnson will probably struggle against Gerald Wallace. Wallace is a hard-worker who plays incredibly aggressive basketball. Beasley might be a better matchup against Wallace, with his size and athleticism, but if Beas starts coasting at all, Wallace could make him pay.
Jamal Crawford started the last two games for Portland in place of Raymond Felton, who had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. Minnesota had a shot at Crawford this summer, but decided to chase Barea instead. Try not to think about it as Crawford hits every single shot that Minnesota tends to miss.
Quite a bit of tonight’s game depends on how fresh the Wolves are feeling. If Minnesota has their legs back, they could beat a sliding Portland team and claim 9th place in the conference. If they are still tired, Portland’s raucous Rose Garden crowd could help lift the Blazers to a win.