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Brewer’s 51: Basketball as it was meant to be

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Credit: Unknown.

I know this is late. Like, five days late. But I still wanted to do something on the Rockets-Timberwolves game from Friday night. It was one of the weirdest games I had ever witnessed, and I was there for it no less. As weird as it was, it was also one of the most pleasurable games I have ever been a part of. For one night we got a reprieve from the widespread disappointment over the team’s season and the trepidation over their future.

First off, there were all of the injuries. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger were all out. For the Rockets, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley were no-go’s. You could say bench play was going to be a determining factor, but really, it was all bench play. And despite the fact that there were so many players missing, the score after the first quarter was 39-32…Timberwolves. Yeah, this thing was going to make no sense.

The Timberwolves eventually won, of course, because sometimes basketball makes no sense, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Dante Cunningham had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Ricky Rubio had a double-double, and Gorgui Dieng finished with 12 points and 20 rebounds (including 10 offensive rebounds, thanks Dwight!)

Yet, none of those performances were the most noteworthy, somehow. This night belonged to Corey Brewer and his 51 points. Brewer rocketed out of the gate and never let up, scrapping his way for point after point,  converting several free throws, and draining a halfcourt shot. Having not watched every 50-point game in NBA history, this was probably the most unorthodox, given Brewer’s skillset.

At the same time, it really isn’t much different than any other. Whether it’s Steph Curry launching threes, Durant doing Durant things or LeBron being otherworldly; these players focus on what they do best and use that to their advantage. And when you take Brewer’s performance into consideration, is it really any different?

As Brewer’s point total continued to climb, the surprisingly filled arena became louder and louder. He roared through the 20’s, and when he charged through the 30’s, everyone clamored for him to touch the ball on each possession hoping he would hit the next milestone. Once he hit 40, the bench and the fans alike were on their feet to cheer him on. The score hardly mattered since everyone was enjoying themselves. It was really the essence of why we watch, or should watch, the game: for fun.

Too often in this season people have forgotten that basketball is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, the playoffs were the goal and they fell short, but the team still improved and will likely finish with their first .500 record in almost 10 years. That’s something to be happy about. On Friday night, none of that mattered. No one was worried about what Love what do in a year, missing the playoffs or whether Dieng or Pekovic should be starting.

Everyone in the building found joy in Brewer’s achievement. There were smiles all down the bench, and Rubio even jumped on Brewer after the game. There was an apparent camaraderie from everyone on the bench– a far cry from the disjointed locker room from early in the year. Really, it was a moment we all had to appreciate. How many 50-point games do we get to witness? After all, there are two in franchise history. More than that, Brewer tied Love’s record for points in a game, but set the record for points in regulation on top of getting the win.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to see someone of Brewer’s stature hit that milestone again, but I’m sure glad I was there. Most of all, it served as a reminder how basketball is meant to be viewed: enjoyed.

How the Nuggets nearly came back on Monday

Monday night’s game between the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves was not for the defense lover in your life. Each team scored 40 points in a quarter once and neither team scored less than 24 in any given quarter while the Timberwolves scored less than 30 in just one. Additionally, Kevin Love notched his 50th double-double of the season as the Timberwovles topped their divisional rivals.

However, this was a game that should never have been in question for the Timberwolves after the way the first three quarters went for them. They led 40-25 after the first; 66-49 at the half; and then 98-83 after three. The fourth figured to be a good time for both teams to get some rest for their starters as the end of the season nears. Yet, the Timberwolves manage to come away with a four point, 132-128 win.

The reason for this is rather simple, yet a tad ironic. The game in which the Timberwolves set the franchise record for free throws made and attempted in a game is the same one that they nearly lost it because they couldn’t make them in the waning minutes of the contest. At the same time, you have to give the Nuggets credit. Not only did they execute their hack-a-wolf strategy to near perfection, but they also got creative in running some plays to get their four three pointers in the final minute that made this such a close game. Let’s take a look and see just how they were able to get those shots off.

Ty Lawson 0:27 Remaining

Lawson one

Judging by my header above, you can probably guess the ball is going to wind up in the hands of Ty Lawson, who is under the basket covered by Corey Brewer. In front of Randy Foye are Kenneth Faried (Who has Kevin Love defending him) stacked in front of him with Kevin Martin directly defending the inbounds pass.

Lawson two

Lawson runs in between Faried and Martin as Wilson Chandler steps to his right to prevent Brewer from running right to Lawson at the elbow and instead force him to follow Lawson’s pass. As a result, Lawson has time to get his feet set and launch a three, which he does sink. Lawson was red-hot on the night, finishing with 31 points, 11 assists and four steals. He really made himself a threat that the Timberwolves had to respect.

Wilson Chandler 0:23 seconds remaining

Chandler II 1

Virtually the same setup here as their previous inbounds play, but for the sake of this play it’s important to note that 1) Lawson is in the headband on the block, oddly covered by Love and Brewer; 2) Faried is just behind Martin; and 3) Chandler is right behind both Martin and Faried.

Chandler II 2

Here Foye gets the ball as Lawson runs towards the three point line, successfully drawing Martin to him, and Chandler simultaneously cuts towards the corner. The Timberwolves are now left scrambling as Brewer is now trying to catch up to Lawson although Martin was right there and they probably should have just switched.

Chandler II 3

Here’s why Martin and Brewer should have switched from the onset: Chandler is now wide open in the corner. It appears Brewer realizes that Martin has already picked up Lawson and that he is also too far away to do anything about Chandler. As for Love he’s trying to check Faried and can’t simply close out on Chandler. Finally, we see Cunningham, making a valiant effort to contest Chandler’s shot by way of around Faried and Love, but he is also far too late to be impactful here. And all Chandler has to do from here is make sure he’s not stepping on the line and hit the open corner three.

Wilson Chandler 0:17 seconds remaining

Chandler I 1

After JJ Barea splits a pair of free throws, the Nuggets get the ball over the halfcourt mark after a timeout. Once again, Lawson begins off of the block; Faried and Chandler are just off of the elbow; and Fournier is in the corner.

Chandler I 2

Foye receives the ball from the official and the magic begins. Lawson runs towards the free throw line but curls all the way out to the corner with Fournier in the corner on the far opposite end. What makes this play is that Faried turns to his left to pick Dante Cunningham and Chandler side steps from the screen towards the three point line.
Note Martin having his back turned to the action making it impossible for him to have any play on the pass to Chandler here. Though it is hard to fault him for thinking the play was again run for Lawson.

Chandler I 3

Foye steps inbounds towards Chandler who is now covered by Cunningham having been able to recover from the Faried screen while being chased by Martin.

Chandler I 4

However, it’s a fake handoff and the misdirection throws Cunningham off just enough to allow Chandler to rise up for the three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Fournier 0:12 seconds remaining

Fournier I

I hardly feel like counting this play, but it still counts. Fortunately for the Timberwolves they started making there free throws again because the Nuggets were seemingly hitting everything. Here, the Timberwolves make a free throw and Chandler launches an outlet upcourt to Darrell Arthur.

Fournier II

Arthur (Pictured just beyond halfcourt between Brewer and Martin), quickly flips the ball to Evan Fournier as the game clock winds down.

Fournier III

Fournier then races to the corner to launch this shot over JJ Barea with under 10 seconds to play and somehow nails it. Yeah, okay. Whatever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, this is how a once-blowout became a nail-biter on the road for the Timberwolves. Denver is an especially tough place to play because of the altitude, but you still have to execute better down the stretch to avoid getting into this position in the first place. Fortunately for Minnesota they were able to gut out the win, but it sure was a lot closer than it had to be. Not that close wins count any different in the standings than blowouts, but why make things more difficult for yourself?

 

Timberwolves-Lakers Preview: WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!

I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.

They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.

Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.

Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.

 

Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.

Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.

Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 6:30 pm CST

See/Hear it: FSN and WCCO AM 830

 

 

 

Rumor: Timberwolves Eyeing Corey Brewer…Again?

While the team addressed their need of perimeter shooting, they incidentally compromised the integrity of the perimeter defense. At least if you’re going to do so you should have constructed an offense capable of running anyone out of the building on a given night, which the Timberwolves may have probably done. However, while the team may be more and more unlikely to retain Andrei Kirilenko, there may be another option available who you may just recognize.

 

 

Yes, Corey Brewer. That Corey Brewer.

Brewer would actually be a far better fit than he was during his initial stint with the team. Then he was asked to be a consistent contributor offensively which is just not who he is as a player. Now, he’d be responsible for bringing energy and playing good defense as the team needs, which he is capable of doing; any offense he contributes would only be a bonus.

When he hasn’t been asked to do too much — like he was at the start of his career with his Timberwolves — he has been a valuable rotation player in Dallas and in Denver. And in Minnesota he could reprise a similar role and solidify the Timberwolves’ chances at the postseason.

The fact that Brewer has hung around so long might mean that the Timberwolves could get him at a bit of a discount since the small forward/shooting guard market has shrunk considerably since the beginning of free agency. Meaning the team could save some a few slivers of cap space in case they need to later on. This would also make it highly unlikely Kirilenko is gone, but Brewer would be younger and cheaper than AK47.

So, this may be nothing concrete yet, but it’s certainly an interesting idea and one that could prove to be a very good one for the Timberwolves.

Corey Brewer's season: From chumps to champs

  NBA Commissioner David Stern Presents The Larry O'Brien Trophy To The Dallas Mavericks Founder Don J. Carter Next To

Dallas Mavericks, NBA Champions

How often does a season take on such a drastic transformation from influencing one player into jumping off the edge of a cliff to jumping for joy, rocking a new, shiny piece of hardware on his finger? Corey Brewer did it. But, as we all know, it wasn’t easy.

Brewer started off the 2010-2011 NBA season as the veteran of veterans of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Only 24 years old at the time, he was the longest tenured T-Wolf on the squad and was looking to bolster a ton of the load in terms of defense and leadership on the court. Unfortunately for him, his offense never prospered and his awkward on-court demeanor didn’t quite fit the bill of a true con-court leader.

Even as a fan-favorite, Brewer was let go. He had to be. His development as a young NBA talent seized in front of our eyes as he continued to frustrate fans more than wow them. But again, even as a fan- favorite, it was difficult to let go. Whether it was the fact of losing our single perimeter defender with the ability to halt the best of the best from lighting it up, or seeing him go at such a young age where his NBA career was really just starting to look up, or even that goofy, awkward yet smily disposition he always sported that fans actually thought of as “sweet” or “cute,” it was painful to see him leave. It really was.

As Brewer left us to hit the Big Apple via the Melo deal, many thought he would do well there. Under a fast-paced offense where Brewer could utilize his length and athletic abilities, it seemed like he would fit in well while taking the backseat in terms of leadership to Amar’e Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. Mostly, many critics believed his defensive prowess, that tough, lay-down-your-life defense he was known for, would be a big score for New York. After all, they really did need some defense to pair with that powerful offense. The only problem was New York themselves didn’t see any use for Brewer and cut him loose quicker then a shark on the end of your fishing line.

After allowing teams to plead for his assistance in his brief time as a free agent, Brewer decided to take his talents to D-town, to join Dirk and co. as they assembled for a full-on assault in this year’s playoffs. They weren’t going to play the “soft” card this year and made it be known when they signed Brewer for extra help. Brewer came in and did exactly what they asked of him: To be a role player, igniting the defense and bringing the game’s pace and energy to a whole new level when he entered. It’s what he’s great at.

Even though Brewer’s stints in the postseason were minimized by Dallas’ immense depth at all positions, he still had his time. And that’s what I’m most thankful for, that he got his well-deserved burn in the postseason for having to suffer three painful, just dreadful, seasons in Minnesota. He went from being on the worst team in the league, having to be that catalyst as a starter and be a leader on the court when that was really never his calling. What he needed he received in Dallas and no amount of experience or playing time in Minnesota will ever make up for it.

With that, I stand here and applaud him in his season-long quest. But he doesn’t need my gratitude. No, he’s got a hefty prize to show for his intense and lengthy season: A championship ring. Ooooh, shiny.

Howls from Around the NBA: A Familiar Face

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In case you forgot this wonderful moment...

Howls from Around the NBA is our newest series here at HTW. Tom will be highlighting anything and everything NBA providing some structured analysis and tasteful bits of information. Tom’s first line of duty: Reviewing Corey Brewer’s work in the playoffs and his importance to Dallas’ run.

To the surprise of nobody who has watched the Timberwolves since 2007, the Dallas Mavericks are glad they nabbed Corey Brewer when the New York Knicks inexplicably dropped him like he was hot after picking him up in the Carmelo Anthony deal.

Rick Carlisle, after Brewer scored 5 points in 8 minutes, played some very solid defense, and helped spark a 16-point comeback in last night’s instant classic 96-94 Game 1 win over Los Angeles:

“We needed energy. We needed enthusiasm. Ever since we got Brewer, he’s come into practice every day with a phenomenal attitude. He has worked to get better and has gotten better. He had opportunities to go to other teams for more money and as good a winning situation as ours was. You’re talking about a kid who won two national championships in a row, so he knows about big games. We got in a dire situation and he went in there and made some good things happen for us.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty comprehensive summary of Corey Brewer, wouldn’t you say? Energy. Enthusiasm. Phenomenal attitude/work ethic. A desire to win. You really don’t think you could have used that, New York, especially after being out-hustled and out-played in a blowout of a series against the Boston Celtics.

Whatever. It’s definitely good to see Brewer getting an opportunity to contribute to a contender, and I think I speak for every Timberwolves fan when I wish him the best of luck in the remainder of the playoffs. Hopefully he’ll get some more quality minutes as the series progresses.

Wolf Track: Corey Brewer, buyout?

According to ESPN, the New York Knicks are nearing a buyout with the newly acquired Corey Brewer.

The Knicks and Brewer are closing in on a buyout agreement that will make the former Minnesota swingman a free agent, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com.

Because Brewer will be officially released before March 1, he’s eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

Brewer’s sheer hustle and determination will make him a hot commodity on the market after the buyout. Any contender near the top will have to take a look at Brewer’s contributions. Some add that Boston, Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Dallas are interested. My guess: Chicago Bulls. What an upgrade he could be for that team at shooting guard.

Good for you, Corey. Wherever you land, we’ll be sure to root you on.

Goodbye, Mr. Brewer; Hello, Mr. Randolph

Anthony Randolph is coming to town

As you all know by now, the Wolves became the third wheel in last night’s mega Melo-deal, which sent superstar Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in exchange for every last bit of New York’s young, upcoming talent. The kicker, also known as the Wolves’ involvement, of the whole deal is having to say goodbye to the dearest Corey Brewer. He may not have been the most entertaining or productive players on the court, but the once longest-tenured Wolf had a way of energizing the crowd with his kamikaze-like style and stout defense.

Now, as you sob harshly into your palms over the loss of Brewer, consider what we got in return. First off, in order to facilitate the deal with the Knicks, the Wolves had to endure Eddy Curry’s obese contract — and body. It’s more than likely that he will just be bought out, thus justifying the $3 mil New York sent our way in the deal as well. Clearly this deal was made, and based, on David Kahn’s peculiar fixation on Anthony Randolph. Although picking another one of D’Antoni’s bench pieces may not be that peculiar at all. Randolph was a lottery pick back in 2008 — selected 14th by the Golden State Warriors. He has the physical talents to become a Lamar Odom-like player in the right system — which is exactly why I feel Kahn and Kurt Rambis fell in love with him. He has an aggressive instinct on the defensive end with a special ability to block shots to boot. His offensive game needs refining, but his outstanding ability to handle the basketball with a 7-foot-3 wingspan is impressive. He really is a young Lamar Odom with a stronger emphasis on the defensive end.

The real downfall to Randolph’s game is his shooting ability. Odom has the special gift of being able to hit open three’s and possesses an above-average mid-range jumper as well. Randolph’s arsenal of shots is severely limited, giving the Wolves a lesser chance of seeing production on offense out of him.

John Hollinger offers a little commentary as well as a grade for the Wolves on their part of the Melo-deal (Insider):

Minnesota: B+

I like Brewer, but I’d trade him for Randolph in a heartbeat. Brewer is a solid role player who plays great defense but can’t shoot or dribble. That type of player has his uses, but that’s all Brewer will ever be. Helpful, yes, but fungible too.

Randolph has a lower floor but a much higher ceiling. He can’t shoot, he weighs 11 pounds and he’s a head case. On the other hand, he has rare shot-blocking talent, handles the ball unusually well for a player of his size, and is an elite athlete. He’s a potential game-changer at the defensive end and, if the light bulb ever comes on, he’s going to provide a very potent complement to Kevin Love’s skills in the Minnesota frontcourt.

The price of that trade was just swallowing Curry’s expiring contract, but because of the difference in salary between Brewer and Randolph and the $3 million coming from New York, it’s pretty much a wash financially. Basically it amounts to a free talent upgrade for Minnesota just for loaning out their cap space to get the Nuggets under the luxury tax.

You have to give credit to everything Hollinger says. Aside from his opinion of doing this deal in a heartbeat — I’m sure Kahn had to think twice on this one, maybe even thrice! — Hollinger hits some good points. As much as we all love Brewer, the reality of his situation was that he’ll never be the offensively sound player a serious contender needs. And although I am convinced he’ll be a tremendous role player for a winning squad, his game just didn’t coincide with Kahn and Rambis’ vision. Randolph, on the other hand, comes in with the skills to thrive in the triangle offense. And with his aggressive demeanor on defense, he could just be exactly what the Wolves need to improve on defense.

But where I really see this move going downhill is when you put all the pieces together. Some analysts, such as Hollinger, believe Randolph could be the perfect spouse next to Kevin Love on the floor. He’s big, athletic and extremely active on the defensive end. But what about offense? Sure, Brewer never succeeded much on offense either, but picturing a lumbering Love next to another fundamentally weak post player in Randolph could spell disaster for our offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if our offense finds itself in drastic lulls even with the starters in. Now, if Randolph somehow magically finds a shooting stroke up to par with that of Odom’s, that’s a different story entirely because then Randolph could space the floor accordingly and give Love more room to bash underneath for rebounds. But as of now, he doesn’t have it and I can foresee some weaknesses on the offensive side with those two in the ballgame.

Ultimately what I think this trade does is show that Kahn has faith in this team. For the past week Kahn has said that the major pieces are already in place — Love, Beasley, Rubio (If he ever gets here, that is) — and that just a few more tweaks should be enough. This week Kahn personally called out Beasley saying he needs to have a giant end to the season. Same goes for Love, despite his All-Star efforts of the first half of the season. Randolph isn’t going to change games but his presence is going to force guys like Beasley, Love and Darko to step up and produce like they should be. Because as we know it, this team is capable of bigger and better things. You can’t lose as many close games as they have without having competitive, professional athletes who care about their job. Now it’s just time to start pushing harder and desiring more. It’s all about heart and determination now, and although Brewer looked like he possessed it more than anyone on the court, Randolph could very well have a resurrection period — similar to Darko’s — and prove himself to be the player both Kahn and Rambis believe he can be.

Overall: It was a good trade for the Wolves and Nuggets, while the Knicks now have some work to do. Three teams already have shown it takes a big 3 to win in the East, so two superstars could very well not be enough to hoist them to the top. But although I’m happy to see an active and aggressive front office from our Wolves, who are desperately crying for help, it’s bittersweet to see Corey go and you can’t help but wish the best for him in his future endeavors.