Playoffs?! – Upcoming Schedule Will Test Wolves’ Determination


I can’t remember when exactly I began affectionately referring to the Timberwolves as the “Pups”, but I do know that this started for me when the Wolves no longer were one of the youngest teams in the league.

A friend of mine took issue with that once, seizing the opportunity to let it be known that not only are they not young enough to be called “pups” anymore, but their opponents won’t be especially intimidated by the name. I jokingly replied that perhaps they are more deserving of being called “pups” than “wolves” with their inability to make a return to the playoffs. “They make the playoffs, they played like wolves,” was the thought. While this conversation took place last season, I completely believe it applies to the team’s current situation as the 2013-2014 regular season winds down. Quite frankly, lately I don’t feel like we’ve been watching a team that believes in their own ability to make the playoffs and hasn’t been putting up the kind of effort that could have them more in the mix than they currently are. In other words, they’re not playing like hungry wolves in a time that it’s crucial. The Wolves have gone every-other over their last six games and have been outscored in the first half in four straight. I guess I’m just wondering where’s the fire? Have too many players bought into the idea that anything at this point is too-little-too-late? All three of those losses came against Eastern Conference teams that are currently scratching and clawing to stay alive (New York), battling for playoff position (Toronto) or fighting to stay in the playoffs (Charlotte). I’m not saying any of those games are easy by any means, especially considering the Knicks have won six straight by double-digits, but those are the games a team desperate to make the playoffs needs to have. Currently sitting in 10th place in the conference with 17 games to play, Minnesota is four games behind Phoenix for ninth, 5.5 games behind Memphis for eighth and 6.5 games behind Dallas for seventh. As fans, we torture ourselves with the thought of: “There’s still hope.” Sleep is lost, tears are shed and fits are thrown as we live and die with every possession with that thought in mind. Luckily (if there is a “luckily”), with three of the next four games being played against the seventh, eighth and ninth-placed teams, the Wolves aren’t completely out of it. This classic film dialogue sums up Minnesota’s playoff odds kind of perfectly:

Wolves: What are my chances? NBA: *pause* Not good. Wolves: You mean not good, like, one-in-a-hundred? NBA: I’d say…more like one-out-of-a-million. Wolves: *long pause* So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance!

You’re damn right, Wolves fans! At Dallas, at Houston, versus Phoenix, at Memphis. That’s the opportunity that begins tonight. The four games will be played over six days, with the games at Houston and Memphis being pivotal back-to-backs. As reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nikola Pekovic, dealing with ankle soreness, will travel with the team for the games at Dallas and Houston, but is doubtful to take the court. There is no update for Ronny Turiaf’s return as of today either. Following an impressive first start on Sunday against the Kings, we can expect to see Gorgui Dieng continue to fill in for Pek – at least for now. While it was nice to see the big man denying all those shots and doing a better job of staying out of foul trouble against the Kings, I’m hoping Dieng will be able to improve on getting the ball in the Wolves’ hands following a block instead of looking to swat it as hard as he can. All three of Dieng’s first half blocks against the Kings ended up staying with Sacramento and resulted in buckets. This might not necessarily be something we will see change much as the year winds down, but it is something to keep an eye on. Speaking of eyes, are you still rolling yours at the thought of the Wolves having an outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs? Hopefully taking a closer look at the upcoming stretch of games will get you to stop being such a negative Norman.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19 – AT DALLAS (MIN leads series 2-1)

  • Dallas owns an impressive 22-10 record at home, but did lose to Minnesota when hosting them way back in November. Ah, November, when playoff hopes were as high as ever.
  • Nine of Dallas’ remaining 14 games will be played at home.
  • Dallas enters the game having won five of their last six, including wins against Portland, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
  • This game will be the second of eight consecutive home games for the Mavs. Not only are they hot coming into tonight’s game, but they won’t be playing an away game until April 3 thanks to this ridiculous stretch.
  • In their three meetings this season, Dallas has outscored Minnesota in the first half by an average of 4.3 points.
  • Minnesota has outscored Dallas in the second half by an average of 6.6 points.
  • Stop that man: While Monta Ellis has had more success against the Wolves this season, Dirk Nowitzki has been heating up lately and could be in for a big game. With averages of 22.3 points, six rebounds and 3.3 3-pointers over the last three games, Nowitzki is gaining momentum at the right time for the Mavs.
  • What to look for: Upon looking back at the box scores, it was almost impossible not to notice the free throw and foul disparity. In their three meetings, Minnesota is 67-for-83 from the free throw line compared to Dallas’ 31-for-40. That’s right, more than twice as many attempts. In the second game alone Dallas was charged with 26 fouls to Minnesota’s nine.

THURSDAY, MARCH 20 – AT HOUSTON (HOU leads series 2-0)

  • The Rockets possess an even more impressive home record at 27-7 and haven’t lost in Houston since Memphis beat them by one on January 24.
  • Houston will play seven of their 15 remaining games at home.
  • Houston is currently third in the NBA in scoring (106.4 ppg) while Minnesota maintains the fourth-best ranking in that category (106.1 ppg).
  • This marks the third of four contests these two will play against each other this year. The final game of the season series will be played at Minnesota on April 11.
  • The Rockets have gotten off to great starts against the Wolves in the first half, averaging 11 points more than Minnesota.
  • Stop that man: Fox Houston reports that Howard is iffy to play tomorrow night with a left ankle sprain, which could open a window of opportunity for the Wolves. James Harden was absent from the first game between these two, although his presence didn’t seem to be missed. Harden has had some huge games recently, including a couple of 40+ scoring outbursts in the last 11 games, and could be in line for some extra shot attempts if Howard sits.
  • What to look for: Besides the status of Howard, it will be interesting to see how many 3-pointers the Rockets attempt. Houston went an impressive 17-for-31 against the Wolves in their first meeting and hit 11-of-27 in the second game. All five starters have scored in double-figures for the Rockets in both games and Houston was also able to overcome a 23-10 turnover deficit against Minnesota in their first meeting. C’mon, man!

SUNDAY, MARCH 23 – VS. PHOENIX (Series tied 1-1)

  • The Suns post a respectable 16-16 record on the road, including a win in Minnesota. The game at Minnesota kicks off a three game road trip for Phoenix.
  • Nine of Phoenix’s 15 games left will be played on the road.
  • Phoenix has outscored Minnesota by an average of four points in the first half.
  • The Wolves have outscored the Suns by an average of eight points in the second half.
  • Stop that man: While Goran Dragic hasn’t been putting up huge assist numbers recently, he still is averaging 19 points and four assists over his last five games. Back in their first meeting, Dragic went for 26 points, nine assists and 6 rebounds in 41 minutes and is capable of such a performance on any given night. Dragic was held in check for the second meeting, scoring 16 points before fouling out, which could have played a big role in Minnesota’s win.
  • What to look for: The second game between these two featured a Pek-less Wolves team rallying in the fourth quarter to pull out a nine point win. Phoenix out-rebounded the Wolves by 12 that night and amassed nine blocks in the game. It remains to be seen if Pek will be able to play by then, but I’m curious to see how those numbers will sway with Dieng getting more playing time. Phoenix’s 3-point shooting will be key in this game. The Suns shot 11-for-29 from behind the arc in their win over the Wolves; 3-for-15 in their loss. A combined 34 turnovers (PHO – 19; MIN – 15) between these two teams made for a sloppy game last time around, so we should all make a sacrifice to the basketball gods to ensure that doesn’t happen again. No one wants to see that.

MONDAY, MARCH 24 – AT MEMPHIS (Series tied 1-1)

  • Memphis is 20-14 at home this season and will be coming off back-to-back games against Miami and Indiana in their two games prior.
  • The Grizzlies and Wolves will still meet one more time in Minnesota on April 2.
  • Memphis is 7-3 in their last 10 at the time of this writing, the best record in the last 10 games of any of these teams being written about.
  • While Memphis is 25th in scoring (95.8 ppg), they are third in points allowed (94.6 ppg).
  • Seven of Memphis’ final 16 games will be played at home.
  • Stop that man: Zach Randolph has been excellent in his two games against the Wolves this year, averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The first game was played without Marc Gasol, but his return didn’t seem to slow Randolph down that much in the second meeting as Randolph still put up a double-double.
  • What to look for: What was interesting to me was that Gasol returned in the second game to face the Wolves without Pek, yet Minnesota still ended up +8 in rebounding. Dieng played 13 minutes that game, being held scoreless and accumulating a -14 spread while on the court. These two teams play close games regardless of injuries, however, the second game of a back-to-back may make things difficult for the Wolves in this one.

The best-case scenario for these games would obviously be 4-0, but that seems to be a bit too hopeful to me. A more realistic best-case scenario sees the Wolves pulling out wins against Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis. The Wolves are 4-11 on the second half of their back-to-backs, but a win against Memphis is essential to keeping their playoff hopes alive. With the majority of Phoenix and Memphis’ games on the road, and Dallas playing so many games at home, the Wolves are likely looking to the Suns and Grizzlies to start losing in order to climb back into the mix. Four games behind the Suns with a game against them can eliminate that to three games behind. Two wins in the remaining games against Memphis would drop their deficit to 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies. The odds are very slim, yes, but it really isn’t impossible to see them inching closer to the final playoff spot if, and this is a big and important “if”, these pups can channel their inner-wolves.

Pekovic and Martin Carry Timberwolves over Mavs, 112-106

On the first night of yet another back-to-back, the Timberwolves rolled into Dallas on Saturday night to play the Mavericks. The Timberwolves came in carrying a five-game road losing streak and would need to find someday, any day, to build some confidence on the road if they planned on being a playoff team. In fact, the Timberwolves were just 2-6 on the road and have yet to win a game away from Target Center since the Lakers game.

Things didn’t start out so well for the Timberwolves, as they began the game in a shooting slump that put them down 7-2 early in the first quarter. Yet, six straight Nikola Pekovic points and a Kevin Martin three later, they were right back in the game. The Mavericks had a tough time contending with Nikola Pekovic all night, who finished with 21 points on 10-13 shooting and nine rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pekovic’s nine boards was the fact that five of them were offensive rebounds. Dallas really had no answer for him last night.

The other big story of the game was Kevin Martin, who eventually saw his 37 straight made free throw streak end in the final minute of the game. When Martin finally began to heat up in the second quarter, he began to hit the Mavericks from everywhere, which is what I suppose happens when you tab Monta Ellis to be your Martin-stopper. Martin managed to get out in transition for quick dunks and pull-up threes, as well as working off of screens per usual. The Timberwolves even exploited the Martin-Ellis matchup on the block with a post-up! Yet, the brunt of Martin’s damage was done at the line– shooting 10-11 as a part of a Timberwolves team that shot 19 more free throws than their opponent.

Last night, the Timberwolves were able to keep this game out of the Mavericks’ reach, dangling it tortuously just passed arm’s length. The Mavericks fared well in categories like points in the paint, points off of turnovers and turnovers. However, their inability to keep Minnesota off of the glass, the line and inability to force them to miss threes would ensure they were never really coming back in this thing.

Now, the Timberwolves come into Oklahoma City to play a Thunder team that has hit their stride with Russell Westbrook back in the fold. At least they come in with a little bit of momentum, which they’ll need since this won’t be a blowout of Biblical proportions like the last time these two teams met.


– Nikola Pekovic’s shooting over the first seven games was a common talking point at the very early stages of the season. In the team’s first seven games he shot just 31-77 from the floor or 40 percent. Yet, since November 11th against the Clippers, Pekovic has been on a bit of a tear. Since then, Pekovic has made 80 of 131 shots in 10 games, or an impressive 61 percent. Pekovic’s shooting in the last few weeks is why it was so odd that he was struggling as much as he was, but now he seems to be doing very well for himself.

– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made his Timberwolves debut tonight. In 26 minutes Mbah a Motue posted four points and seven rebounds, but it was cool to see how he got those points. His first basket he realized he was matched up against Vince Carter on the perimeter and took him off of the dribble and was able to eventually get into the paint for the layup. Now, do you want Mbah a Moute regularly try to create like that? Probably not, but Carter is a much better defender in post-up situations, so there was an advantage there. His second was a transition basket that he was fouled on and earned an and-one opportunity. Don’t look for Mbah a Moute to stretch the floor, but look for him to play intelligently within himself and taking his spots where he can.

– The Timberwolves improved to 9-0 on the season when leading after three quarters. The Mavericks broadcast threw out a stat that the Mavs have never won a game all season when they’ve trailed by more than six, which seems off, but noteworthy if true.

– Kevin Martin has made a ridiculous 39 of his last 40 free throw attempts.

A tale of two Kevins: Timberwolves down Mavs 116-108

There were two main things that determined tonight’s outcome: 1) Both teams making runs and 2) the abilities of the Kevins Love and Martin to lift the Timberwolves over the Mavericks at home.

Essentially, each team traded runs, but it was Kevin Martin’s three with 5:03 left in the third to put the Timberwolves up by 11 that put them in control of this game. Jose Calderon hit a pair of threes and Jae Crowder hit a layup to bring the Mavs back within three. In the third with the Mavericks threatening, Martin again rose to the occasion, hitting a 20-footer and then sinking two free throws later to put the Timberwolves up 89-83 early in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas would manage to stay close, keeping their deficit within three before Love hit a huge three pointer with 2:12 left and the Timberwolves never looked back.

Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis led the  way for the Mavs. Calderon added 21 points and seven assists, while Ellis added 23 points on 24 shots. Dirk Nowitzki added 14 points in 31 minutes on top of that. For the Timberwolves, Corey Brewer put up 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Martin finished with 32 points and five boards. Ricky Rubio’s six points, four assists and three rebounds may not have stood out, but his three steals made an impact on the defensive end.

However, the real star of the game was Kevin Love, who was threatening to put up his first NBA triple-double in the first half. Seriously, 15-10-7 at halftime? Just unbelievable.

Coach Rick Adelman spoke this offseason about how he wanted to see Love be more of a facilitator than he had been in his career, and now we’re seeing it, and the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits. Love has now dished out five or more assists in a game in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. Adelman’s vision was for Love to not only expand his game, but to make his teammates better and we’re seeing that. Whether it’s rifling a cross-court outlet pass to a streaking Brewer or his pass from the high post to Derrick Williams making a backdoor cut to the basket. And when you have two of your best players, the other being Ricky Rubio, being so willing to pass it’s infectious– the Timberwolves had four players finish with four or more assists last night (Barea and Brewer being the other two).

By increasing his assist totals, Love has not had to sacrifice the other aspects of his game. Love is still scoring at 27.2 ppg and leading the league in rebounding yet again with 14.7 per game. Now in his sixth season, Love’s assists per game average would be twice as high as his previous career high of 2.5 without having to compromise any other area of production. If this sustains itself over the course of the season, Love will not only have established himself as a more complete player, but cement his status as the best power forward in the game. Oh, and he’s only 25, so he will likely continue to improve as he moves towards 30.

Love’s 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists was his second game of the season with at least 30-15-5, while the rest of the league has none. In fact, since entering the league in the 2008-09 season, Love has the most 30-15-5 games in that time while also essentially missing last season. Tonight a few of Love’s teammates had some big games, but Love was pivotal in helping making plays for them. Not to take anything away from Brewer or Martin, but Love played the role of facilitator to near-perfection last night.

Now, the Timberwolves stand at 4-2 after snapping  their two-game losing streak and begin a road back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers beginning Sunday.

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: Dirk Loses Himself

8 mile final battle

You only get one shot/Do not miss your chance to blow/Cause opportunity comes once in a life time.

It’s not often in life that a person gets a real shot at redemption.

After all, a redemption story requires a life-altering disappointment and then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make up for that disappointment. And if you can throw in a little revenge to sweeten the deal…well. It just doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Ask 8 Mile; it wasn’t enough for Rabbit to win the rap battle. He needed to destroy Papa Doc and his entire crew in the process.

But if we were to believe Mr. Mathers on the issue of opportunities, 2006 would have been the end of the road for Dirk Nowitzki.

I’m sure you remember, but I feel the need to remind you: in ’06, Dallas faced Miami in the Finals. Dirk led the Mavs to a 2-0 lead, before Miami came storming back and took the next 4 straight games to rip the championship away from Dallas. Dallas fans (including Mark Cuban) were incensed at the superstar foul calls Dwyane Wade had been getting all series as he drove to the basket. The rest of the NBA began to call the Mavericks soft. This description picked up steam as the Mavs lost in the first round three times in the next 4 years, and failed to make it back to the Conference Finals.

But the story on Nowitzki and the Mavs has been getting an upgrade this postseason.

For starters, Dirk has been going nuts. Averaging 28.5 points per game, Dirk has been performing at an efficiency level rarely before seen in the NBA. Bill Simmons likes talking about the 50-40-90 club, a rare NBA achievement in which a player shoots 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the free throw line. This postseason? Dirk is shooting 52% from the field, 60% from three, and 92% from the line.


But more than that: Dallas has been proving themselves tough. Not only did Dallas sweep the defending champion Lakers, they did it after two come from behind victories in games at the Staples Center. They were more talented, more composed, and mentally tougher than Los Angeles, who embarrassed themselves in game 4, committing petty and dangerous flagrant fouls in a blowout, sending their Hall-of-Fame coach off in shameful fashion. (It was awesome.)

The NBA blogosphere has been flooded with writers clamoring to be the first to say “Dirk isn’t soft, I’ve been saying it all along!” Which, of course, is utterly bogus; everyone has been calling Dirk and the Mavericks soft since ’06, there’s no doubt about that. Many of these same writers said that Portland would upset Dallas in the first round, and very few, if any, of these writers picked Dallas to beat Los Angeles in round 2. For the record, I include myself in this, I picked the Lakers in 5. Fool me once, shame on me.

Possibly the most fascinating storyline left in the playoffs is this: if Dallas advanced to the Finals, their opponent could be none other than the Heatles, who enter Sunday’s game with Chicago tied 1-1 as well. Obviously, the Heat are a very different team. But the sight of those red and black uniforms, as well as Dwyane Wade, the player who completely eviscerated them last time, would be enough to make even the most confident Mavs’ fan shake a little bit.

At which point, it will be up to Dirk to change the narrative. This postseason has people talking about him in an incredibly positive way, but the internet is a fickle beast. With Kevin Durant and the Thunder already giving the Mavericks just about all they can handle, it’s not implausible to say that this could be Dallas’ last real chance to win a title. Failing to grab the Larry O’Brien trophy could close the book on Dirk’s legacy, as his years begin to climb up there, and it would be a very bitter taste with which to leave Dallas’ fans, especially if they lose again to the Heat.

But if he succeeds, and Dallas wins it all? Well, take it from Rabbit. That would be redeeming indeed.

Howls from Around the NBA: A Familiar Face

Corey-Brewer-Dunking-Over-Derrick-Fisher-Wallpaper.jpg (640×385)

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.