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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Quarter:

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

Second Quarter:

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

Decline:

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

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

First Quarter:

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

Second Quarter:

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

Decline:

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

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

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

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

Wolves Wins by Season

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

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

Warriors at Timberwolves Preview: We Live in the Past Because it’s Cozy

I almost always enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play whenever they’re on. It helps that they play a fun brand of basketball and have several talented players, especially Steph Curry. Yet, the reason I say almost always is because of the latter reason and because there is a certain faction of Timberwolves fans that would rather complain about how, “We could have had him!” instead of just appreciating Curry and the Timberwolves team that is currently in front of them. Also, we should learn from Warriors fans, whose game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is probably sad enough to keep the average fan in bed for two weeks; hindsight is always 20/20.

Hey, guys! Did you know the Timberwolves could have had Steph Curry but they took Jonny Flynn instead? Even though neither player was a sure thing at the time and it’s four years later, we should make sure to tell everyone this at every opening we get– whether it be Wolves-Warriors games or an exciting playoff series, we should definitely talk over it as much as possible!

Yes, Curry is an absolutely brilliant shooter and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make pull-up 27-footers with such ease. It was great to see a finally healthy Curry light up the Denver Nuggets in last spring’s first round series that caused the Nuggets to blow it all up in the summer. Curry’s three point shooting in games three and four was brilliant, shooting .555 percent from deep on 18 attempts.

Curry has only continued to be a threat from deep this season, likely making him a key focal point to the Timberwolves’ defensive strategy. Not only is Curry shooting .500 percent from three, but is doing so on nine attempts per game, which is ridiculous. But it’s not just from three; Curry has converted on .577 of his two point attempts so far this season and is averaging an eye-catching 9.8 per game.

Where is Curry most effective?

Shotchart_1383747556795

 

You see, Curry has been most effective from above and to the right of the break, shooting nearly .730 percent from that spot. We’ve become so accustomed to Curry’s brilliance that when we see numbers like .416 and .375 percent that you almost wonder why he’s struggling from there, but all of those numbers are no worse than, if not above average.

However, Curry is not alone on the wing. Teammate and shooting guard Klay Thompson has also expanded upon a strong playoff series and continued his excellent play. Thompson has shot .600 from the field (Which is high for even a center), .520 from three and .667 of his two-point attempts. While stats for percentage of certain shots assisted is not yet available this season, Thompson was assisted on .945 percent of his three point makes last season, making the Warriors’ backcourt even more dangerous because double-teaming is incredibly risky, yet playing them one-on-one has been problematic for NBA defenses so far.

Looking at the chart below we see Thompson likes to operate in that exact same space above and to the right of the break as Curry with remarkable proficiency:

Shotchart_1383747637064

Really, Thompson has been burning teams from everywhere on the floor this season– inside and out. The Timberwolves will have to continue to be the same team through four games that has been the NBA’s sixth best team in turnovers forced percentage if they hope to throw the Warriors off of their game. This won’t be like being able to put Corey Brewer on Kevin Durant and forcing his teammates to beat you, because Curry and Thompson’s teammates will. Golden State also ranks 28th in turnover percentage with .178 percent, meaning they turn the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time per 100 possessions.

The Timberwolves are also among the NBA’s best at getting to the line and making their free throws where the Warriors are not. Combined with their ability to force turnovers and their propensity for running out on the break as much as possible, look for Minnesota to go after every single easy basket that they can– be it free throws or fast break points. By doing so this will also prevent a decent defensive team in Golden State from getting set and force them to play the Timberwolves’ game.

If the Timberwolves are able to force turnovers and draw fouls they may be able to conceal one of the weaker aspects of their game so far this season, and that is rebounding. So far, the Timberwolves have grabbed .717 and .242 percent of all available defensive and offensive rebounds available, respectively. This may sound pretty good, but it puts them 24th and 21st in all of the NBA in each category. Now, the Warriors are 19th in Defensive Rebounding percentage and 24th in Offensive Rebounding percentage, but they don’t miss a lot as the league’s best shooting team, so defensive rebounds will likely be at a premium.

Both of these teams enter tonight at 3-1 and among the league’s most exciting young teams. With so much talent and so many great players on both teams, this will undoubtedly be an incredible game. Yeah, the Timberwolves don’t have Curry or Thompson, but they do have Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic. You could always spend your time thinking what could have been and what should have been, but what for? Timberwolves fans have spent the last decade hoping and waiting for a return to relevancy and a legitimately good team they don’t have to talk themselves into every season. And now that team is here, finally. So let’s just appreciate it while we can.

Webster and Flynn's return gets spoiled; Wolves lose to Warriors 108-99

Golden State Warriors' Monta Ellis, left drives past Minnesota Timberwolves' Corey Brewer during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010 in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo)

Monta Ellis doesn't need Stephen Curry

Those Warriors are pesky. Just when you think the Wolves had them backed into a corner with no escape route, they hop aboard the Monta Ellis-express and sail their way to a smooth victory.

What should’ve been the story of the night — Martell Webster and Jonny Flynn shine in their game back from injuries and lead the Wolves to a victory — was toiled thanks to magnificent play from Ellis and terrific three-point shooting from the Warriors.

The Wolves came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, which seems to be the case in recent games. Lately they just find a groove in the first quarter that doesn’t seem comparable, making them run away with the score. Darko Milicic was hot and Mike Beasley was firing on all cylinders, especially from mid-range. This continued all the way into the second quarter, where the Wolves actually took hold of a commanding 12-point lead. It seemed unsurmountable at the time, but you never count out a team that has Ellis, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and let’s his game do all the talking for him.

Ellis took charge and led the Warriors back into the game igniting a 12-2 run late in the second. And he didn’t stop there. With the scored tied at 51, Ellis hesitated at the perimeter with the ball in his hands and unleashed a 26-foot bomb with no doubt in his mind — as well as mine — that it would go in. Swoosh, and the Wolves lose their lead going into halftime.

From there, things didn’t get much better. Ellis continued his valiant effort and even got his teammates involved, most notably Reggie Williams. They started firing, and hitting, the three-pointer at will and the Wolves’ defense grew tired and porous as a result. Once the defense was spread out enough, Ellis started beating them off the dribble, slicing through the defense like a knife through butter and attacking the hoop with animosity like he had been all game long.

Ellis was essentially unstoppable tonight. He really is one of my favorite players in the league and probably my favorite to watch play live because of how creative he is and the energy he devotes to a game. The combination of his superior strength and freakishly athletic abilities was too much too handle, especially when he had poor Luke Ridnour guarding him all night. Ridnour was out-matched all night long and paid the price for it. He became frustrated on the offensive end throwing up unneeded shots and only made one out of nine of them. His assist total — 11 for the night — was impressive but it doesn’t make up for what he lost shooting the ball wildly and inefficiently. He honestly just looked like a lost puppy out there looking for someone to pick his ass up and cuddle him.

Kevin Love had a subpar performance, one of the firsts in a very long time. He still got his double-double recording 13-14 but got his 13 points off of a dismal 33 percent FG%. His now infamous three-point shot was contested nicely by the Warriors D as he failed to knock one down, and couldn’t get anything going inside thanks to some tough love on the inside on the part of the Warriors front line and the refereeing crew.

All in all this just wasn’t our night. I was, however, impressed with Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster in their return back to game action. Flynn didn’t do a whole lot, but you couldn’t help but cheer for the guy when he was on the court. After he hit his first three-pointer, he simply jogged back down the court with that smile from ear-to-ear that so many fans have fallen infatuated with. As for Webster, he couldn’t have done anything wrong tonight, in my eyes. He plays like that well-seasoned veteran we need because it seems as if he does everything right, or at least he did tonight. Like I said earlier today, if he keeps these kinds of performances up, we might see Wes Johnson fall into a reserve role as Webster moves into the starting lineup. It could ultimately benefit the team as a whole in the future.

The Wolves continue their road trip tomorrow night with a game at Phoenix, and the tumultuous road trip doesn’t end there: The T-Pups will then head to Portland, Denver and L.A. shortly after that. For a team that’s only won one game so far on the road this season, you can consider this stretch a real test of patience, will and determination.