Timberwolves fail to launch, lose 112-101 to Rockets

You would think that although the Timberwolves were on the second night of a back-to-back on the road they would get out to a better start with all of the rest the starters had the night before after thrashing the Nets. But they didn’t. It’s not as if this was even a full-strength with James Harden out, which gave the Timberwolves several favorable mismatches in the back court.

The Rockets got out to an early 8-0 lead, but the lead soon disappeared as the Timberwolves brought the deficit to five behind a Kevin Martin three halfway through the first. Houston suddenly stopped being able to hit anything after a perfect start. Kevin Love looked out of rhythm and would finish with 27 points, 15 rebounds and two assists.

Yet, as we all predicted, it would be Aaron Brooks stepping up in Harden’s steed as he gave the Rockets a spark of the bench. Even more like we all predicted, it would be Brooks and Terrrence Jones leading the way for the Rockets, despite a solid game from Dwight Howard. Thanks to all of the contributions the Rockets received from their supporting cast, the Timberwolves were never able to seriously climb back into the game and spent much of the game trailing by double digits.

Even though the Timberwolves beat the Rockets in points in the paint and finished with the most points off of turnovers in franchise history in 17 years (1996, versus Golden State; 39 points), the Timberwolves just did not have it and fell to 8-6 on the season. The Timberwolves will look to get back on track on Monday when they play the, ah crap, Pacers. Welp. Here’s hoping they get their day of rest and rejoice that this jam-packed November is almost over.

Timberwolves fall in DC, 104-100; bloggers write haikus

Funny story, and no I didn’t lose another laptop adapter. Anyway, I got off of work at 6:00 figuring that I would miss only part of the first quarter, which wound up being true. But then I didn’t realize the Wild hijacked the main FSN channel and spent another 15 minutes flipping through the channels before I figured to check the internet. The internet, Derek…what took you so long to check what channel it was on there. However, that was not where my stupidity ended. No, then I couldn’t find FSN-plus even though I know that I had watched it before. So I’m sitting on my couch flipping through the channels looking for this phantom channel as the game rolled into the second quarter before I finally found it.

No worries, I was still able to follow the game on Twitter — and the Timberwolves were doing really well without me — but what is even wrong with me lately? I mean, I turned to go to the court at Target Center last Saturday when they were playing the Celtics and accidentally headed towards the lockerroom, prompting a security guard to ask if I was from Boston. No, I’m not; I’m just directionally-challenged. Then, to top things off I wound up leaving my adapter behind. Go Derek!

Anyway, the Timberwolves did much better without me. They roared out to an early lead behind a Kevin Love three point barrage early on and finished with 15 points. Sensing that I just tuned in to the game, decided to forgo important things like transition defense and exerting minimal effort for simply contesting shots. But they still managed to squeak out a 12-point lead at halftime. Love led the Timberwolves with 17 points and six rebounds despite scoring a single point in the second. For the Wizards, John Wall’s seven assists at halftime gave Nene 14 points.

Can I stop here?

*mutter* *mutter*

Please, do I have to?

*RABBLE* *RABBLE* RABBLE*

Fine, I’ll finish this, but I get to do whatever I want at the end.

*rabble*

Okay, so you remember the bad transition defense? Yeah, that continued, and as an added bonus, we got discombobulated spacing! Hooray– not. The same Timberwolves team that committed just three turnovers in the first 24 minutes of the game managed to commit two in the first half of the third quarter. Two may not seem like very many, but it is when the Wizards had 11 points off of the five Timberwolves turnovers at that point. There was even one play in transition where Ricky Rubio had Corey Brewer in his sights for what should have been an easy layup and Brewer over-ran Rubio or Rubio thought he was going to stop cutting, so he would up bouncing the ball out-of-bounds between two Wizards.

Yeah, it was that kind of night.

However, it wasn’t just the turnovers that would derail Minnesota’s plans for victory. The shot selection, as a part of the overall decision-making was just “off.” Rubio and Love would begin their two-man game, yet instead of making a move that favored his strengths, Rubio cut to the corner and jacked up a fadeaway long-two. Or the back-to-back-to-back quick three pointer possessions. Or Kevin Martin attempting a turnaround jumper from just inside the two point line. Whatever it was– the spacing, energy, or whatever — the Timberwolves struggled to create good shots because they could not get into a good offensive flow. As a result, the Timberwolves wound up tied with the Wizards after three, 81-81 after a 16-point quarter.

Much of the fourth was spent with the lead see-sawing back and forth. And that made for a close game near the end. With the Timberwolves down 97-95, Martin would hit a three to put them ahead by one with about a minute remaining. Coming out of the timeout with :48 seconds left, former Timberwolf, Martell Webster would have your eventual game-winner to put the Wizards up 100-98 and the Wizards never looked back from there.

Love finished with 25-11-4. Robbie Hummel added seven points on 2-3 shooting to go with six rebounds. For the Wizards, Wall led the way with an impressive 14 point, five rebound and 16 assist game. Max player? Yeah, I think so.

Now, time for haikus! No, really…this is happening. Instead of getting up in arms over a sloppy loss in mid-November, William Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) of A Wolf Among Wolves and Tim Faklis of Canis Hoopus and I decided to start tweeting postgame haikus. Here is what happened:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then we got some help from our friends (not that kind of help, mind you).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and here’s an exchange our very own Tom Westerholm will appreciate:

 

And with that clunker out of the way, the Timberwolves play the Clippers tomorrow night at home. If this sounds familiar this is the second time this month that the Timberwolves are lucky enough to draw one of the Western Conference’s best teams on the second night of a back-to-back.

Timberwolves-Nuggets Preview: I’m going the other way, thanks.

This isn’t exactly the same Denver Nuggets team that took the season series from the Timberwolves 3-1 last season. Head coach George Karl is gone in favor of Bryan Shaw. Forward Andre Iguodala hit a game-winner last night…for the Warriors. Even Masai Uriji has moved on to become the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. And now we’re hearing about forward Kenneth Faried on the trading block.

Despite this amount of turnover, the Nuggets still sit at 3-4, with three wins in their last four games. But how do you lose that many key pieces and still remain moderately competitive? Well, their schedule has something to do with it. They have two ‘meh’ wins against the Lakers and Jazz who are a combined 5-14, but one against the Hawks that is legitimate.

It’s not as if the Nuggets do anything particularly well, but they don’t do anything terribly either. They’re 23rd in eFG%, which is bottom-third in the league, but not horrendous. Additionally, they’re not good or bad on the boards…just adequate. Are they good defensively? Kinda, but they’re nothing special. In short, this Nuggets team is just “here.”

That said, they do have some players. Center Timofey Mozgov has been remarkably efficient, and Ty Lawson is off to a decent start to the season. There may be no JaVale McGee, but Anthony Randolph will be available for all our entertainment needs. No Danilo Gallinari either, but there is a chance JJ Hickson could do this again. Wait, scratch that last one; why would I want that to happen?

As for the Timberwolves…we get to watch Kevin Love be brilliant every night with Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio by his side. While the Timberwolves have gotten better, the number say they are still steadily improving with figures now in the upper-half to third of the league. Their rebounding has come along a good ways since the start of the season and they are still 18th in the league in eFG percentage with Nikola Pekovic beginning to get in rhythm. You don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself:

Timberwolves four factors

Thank you for the data, Basketball-Reference.com. I love you so much I’m naming my first child after you.

 

 

 

 

Not that these figures guarantee anything, but it’s just an encouraging trend to note. Tonight’s game is the first of a home-and-away back-to-back with tonight’s game in Denver and returning tomorrow night to play the Boston Celtics.

Where: Pepsi Center; Denver, CO

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN; WCCO AM 830

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

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.

Cavs Hang on, Upset Timberwolves 93-92

You know how it feels the next day after you play some pickup ball and everything in your body hurts? You know, your legs are so locked up they won’t bend and your back is on fire because it’s not used to the impact. Then, when you play a little more regularly, your recovery becomes easier and easier even though you are no elite athlete. Well, that was how the Timberwolves came out against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night on their first back-to-back of the season.

Not to make excuses or anything, but the Cavs had the luxury of having Sunday off after an exhausting road game in, oh, Indiana. Whereas the Timberwolves had to cross time zones to play a hard-fought game before facing a young and talented Cavs team. But the Timberwolves’ legs would eventually awaken.

From the start it looked like the Timberwolves may be able to carry over their momentum from the first three games of the season when Corey Brewer raced underneath the basket for a quick hoop to give the team their own lead. But that’s where the superlatives would really stop for Minnesota. Kevin Martin continued his hot start from three, but Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic looked fatigued from playing heavy minutes the night before and then traveling. 

Still, the frenetic pace the Timberwolves operated at during the first few games of the season was not as effective with tired legs. Their timing was off, their shots short and even their defense was slow to react. Consequently, the Cavs — led in part by CJ Miles who finished with 19 points — racked up a 55-38 advantage at the half.

With the injury to Ronny Turiaf in the frontcourt the Timberwolves tried to use rookie Gorgui Dieng on the Cavs’ frontcourt, but Dieng quickly picked up three fouls in three minutes against Andrew Bynum and was never heard from again in the game. Cleveland was really able to take it to Minnesota in the paint during the first half with the Timberwolves unable to run the Cavs out of their own building, but were able to wind up finishing the game with a 48-42 advantage in points in the paint by the end of the game.

The second half started like this: Brewer, turnover; Rubio, missed 22-footer; Pekovic, offensive foul; Martin blocked shot; Pekovic turnover. Despite this slow start by the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers only managed to add two points to this lead before Pekovic sank an easy shot. The Cavaliers made nothing easy on the Timberwolves’ big men, playing a very physical game that caused Pekovic to miss several bunny layups.

After playing much of the third quarter down by as much as 20, it seemed that the game was likely out of their hands even though they entered the final frame down by 15. It really felt as if the Cavs just had another gear that the Timberwolves just didn’t have last night, and would therefore be a great chance to give someone like  Shabazz Muhammad a baptism by fire, but the Timberwolves had other ideas.

See, I forgot one important thing about basketball in that assessment that I had cemented into my ideology by the Timberwolves: young teams should never, ever, ever be trusted with a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Even if the other team is on the second night of an onerous back-to-back.

Looking to prove me wrong, the Timberwolves came out firing. Brewer threw in a quick layup before Derrick Williams converted a very good three-point play in the paint, and all of a sudden the Timberwolves were in range of returning their deficit to single digits. Cleveland still pushed back with a Jarrett Jack two, a pair of Miles baskets and an Andrew Bynum 14-footer, giving the Cavs an 84-69 lead with about seven minutes left in the game. Timeout Timberwolves.

The most interesting thing to note is that the Timberwolves nearly completed their comeback with Barea, not Rubio, as their point guard. Coach Rick Adelman noted after the game that he went with what was working, which is a thought process that is hard to fault him for. Barea came in and got a couple of easy hoops that gave the Timberwolves hope for one more final push to comeback.

There are three factors that really make a difference in being able to close a game or make a late game comeback: good shots, limiting-if-not-eliminating turnovers and getting stops. The Timberwolves were able to use their ability to d-up the young Cavs and force them to make young mistakes (including bad shots) and turn their mistakes into points.

Eventually, the Cavs found their once great lead down to just three when Kyrie Irving blocked Barea’s layup, but it was Love who picked up the rebound and put in the layup to bring the lead down to 93-92. On the other end, Martin rebounded Irving’s miss and the Wolves brought the ball most of the way up court before calling a timeout to setup one final play. Adelman appeared torn on calling the timeout and let his players get the bucket off of the rebound, but made the smart call to collect his team for one final play. After all, Martin rebounded the shot at 0:14 seconds, which may have left Cleveland too much time to setup for the last shot. This way, the Timberwolves were able to remain in control of their destiny and own the game’s final possession down one.

The Timberwolves inbounded the ball to Barea, who had the ball poked loose as he drove to the hoop, but was able to find Love waiting outside of the arc with room in front of him. Love caught the ball and set his feet and got the ball off in time, but his shot caromed off of the back iron as both teams scrambled for the rebound as time expired in regulation. That was it for the Timberwolves’ comeback hopes in Cleveland.

Really, it was an incredible finish that no one watching the first half saw coming. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or desire that they got down big in the first three quarters, but somehow the team managed to get their second wind and force the Cavaliers to make the same mistakes they were making not too long ago. This was a game the Timberwolves had to experience by getting their first back-to-back under them, as well as some more crunch time experience. Love finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five rebounds. Kevin Martin, who was the only Timberwolf to make a three in this game, added 23 and Derrick Williams added 13 off of the bench. Kyrie Irving finished with 9 turnovers 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, with CJ Miles providing 19 points off of the bench for Cleveland.

The Timberwolves look to regroup at home against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night when we get to listen to parts of the fanbase whine about Steph Curry not being a Timberwolf for the millionth, bajillionth year in a row.

Oh, and #FistB2B.

Notes: 

– Kevin Love has shown an improved ability to pass and willingness, too. For example, Love hit a cutting Williams from the high post late in the fourth to bring the Wolves within five that was perfectly threaded. That was great. However, when Love checks out of a layup five feet from the basket to kick it out to Rubio or Brewer for three…that’s not a good decision, or really a good pass. Especially since he was one-on-one. There’s such a thing as good passing and over-passing, but I don’t want to see him stop– just to find that happy balance.

– Cavs rookie and last June’s first round pick is now 0-15 from the field to start his career and has just two points to show for his first four NBA games. This means nothing unless his career winds up being four games long, but is just interesting to watch.

 

Timberwolves at Knicks Preview: Three Long Years Away

It’s been three years since the Timberwolves have beaten the New York Knicks, which they did on November 12th, 2010. Back then, we didn’t know what Linsanity was and Corey Brewer had yet to be traded for Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph (Bad thoughts…block them out…block them out…), who were still Timberwolves and Knicks, respectively. Heck, the Knicks didn’t even have Melo yet, so this is a very different NBA we are talking about.

At least the three consecutive games that they have lost to New York were all closely contested affairs. Jeremy Lin lifted the Knicks over the Timberwolves in February ’12 despite struggling for most of the game. Then last season they lost by three in their lone visit to Madison Square Garden by three (although the Knicks went 6-26 from three, ‘Melo had 33 points) and the Knicks would go on to sweep the series later on at Target Center.

How about the last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks? If you’ll remember, that was Kevin Love’s big 31-point/31-rebound game. Not only is 31/31 impressive to begin with, but even more impressive considering the build of the roster around him at that time.

Wolves Knicks roster

Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

My, look at those starters. Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Sebastian Telfair– the trio who enabled the Phoenix Suns to earn enough ping-pong balls last season to draft Alex Len. Then there’s Darko, who decided to ultimately walk away from the NBA altogether before last season with the Celtics. So, just three years later, the players aside from Love who started this game are either A) out of the NBA; or B) on minimum deals elsewhere.

This was also Nikola Pekovic before he was Nikola Pekovic: Destroyer of worlds, and be also before Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer were able to carve out their niches in the NBA, otherwise I would regard the talent in this game much more highly. Still, Love didn’t just grab 31 rebounds: he needed to grab 31 rebounds given the personnel around him.

Although the Knicks were pretty imperfect from a roster standpoint, putting up 31/31 is remarkable to do against anyone. Now, if you replayed this game with these exact players, Love probably grabs 41. Look:

Knicks roster

Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

There are some still very good NBA players on this  team — Gallinari, Felton, Mozgov, and Amare, when healthy — but it’s not so surprising they came into this game with a 3-6 record. I can recall at the time people questioning how long you could run Amare at center and hope to keep him healthy, but there’s a reason they traded for ‘Melo and a reason they would sign Tyson Chandler from Dallas the following season.  Still, Wilson Chandler, who found success last season in Denver as a power forward, was not going to keep Love off of the glass that night.

Additionally, this was probably also the greatest game of Michael Beasley’s career and the game fans of the team he signs his minimum contract with every season that HE JUST NEEDS MORE TIME!!! Beasley was efficient — 16 for 29, or 52% — and added four assists (Sounds high, but it’s true) and six rebounds on 35 points. Even I got caught up in thinking that there may be something here, but looking back it was a little naive since he took two free throw attempts all game. So what, right?   Well, that means that since he also took four threes that most of his attempts were of his famous midrange variety and wasn’t being as aggressive as he needed to be– a common Beasley complaint.

But it was an incredible night to be a Timberwolves fan since it had been such a long time since it had been so long since we had much to be excited about at all. Al Jefferson had just been traded months before to free up playing time for Love, and Love put up a historic performance early in the season, and was really the starting point of him taking that next step as a player. We even talked ourselves into Beasley, fronting him credit for weeks after this game, but realized that it’s probably not true if you have to talk yourself into it.

Finally, later on in that season Brewer is dealt to New York after the Timberwolves decline his option for the following season for Randolph and Darko as a part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.

The last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks feels like it was much longer than three years ago since the NBA amalgamate has changed so much in that time. I mean, the ‘Melo trade was an absolute blockbuster, and whether or not you thought it would last, Linsanity had yet to be a thing and you probably had a strong opinion either way. For the Timberwolves, Love is a star, Nikola Pekovic is a max-contract player and Ricky Rubio has now been here for his third season now. For the Timberwolves, the NBA and everyone involved it’s been a whirlwind of days since November 2010.

Tonight, the Timberwolves look to push their winning streak to three and the Knicks will look to hit their stride at home. There are lots of new faces in New York including Ron Artest  Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, which is Italian for “Bargsanity.” Perhaps a Timberwolves team coming off of a blowout of Oklahoma City on Friday night is not what the Knicks need to try to get on a roll, but Minnesota will have to be on the lookout for a trap game since the Knicks are likely a better team than they’ve shown and will wind up in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

These two teams have changed so much since 2010, it’s hard to recognize them when you reflect back on that game three Novembers ago. With both teams improved since then it should be another good game considering the subsequent three games have been very good. Besides, padding their first place division lead wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Timberwolves. Not at all.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

When: 6:30 CST

See/Hear It: FSN Plus and WCCO AM 830

Note: Ronny Turiaf is out tonight after fracturing his elbow on the hardwood at Target Center on Friday night.