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?

 

My Mirror Staring Back at Me: Timberwolves at Thunder Preview

Call it a November hangover, but tonight the Timberwolves take on the Thunder in the second-half of a back-to-back. At least from here they will be off until Wednesday when they play the Spurs in Mexico City, but they still won’t be returning to Target Center until Saturday against the Heat. Yes, they play the Thunder, Spurs and Heat consecutively this week. Ideally, you’re happy if you come away from this stretch with one or two wins.

As for tonight, the Timberwolves face an Oklahoma City team that  has won six games ina  row and now has Russell Westbrook back. Yes, even a struggling Russell Westbrook is still a dangerous Russell Westbrook; just ask the Warriors.

While Westbrook’s return has rejuvenated the Thunder, having Nikola Pekovic back in his own rhythm has been valuable to the Timberwolves. And with Luc Mbah a Moute on board, the Timberwolves will be able to change up the looks that defenders see between him and Corey Brewer. These teams typically matchup very well and games are usually always competitive. The two things to remember about this Thunder team is that they can now play some defense and you really don’t want to send them to the line because they’re going to make them 80 percent of the time.

Kendrick Perkins is listed as probable for the Thunder, which is probably a better thing for the Timberwolves than the Thunder. Both of these times like to run, get to the line and make their shots, so the team that is able to get the most stops should be the one to come out on top this time. Just don’t expect a blowout like the first time these two teams met this season.

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena; Oklahoma City, OK

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN/WCCO AM 830

 

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.

Notes: 

- 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.

Wake me up when November ends: Pacers-Timberwolves Preview

Somethings really aren’t fair in life, like this month’s schedule for the Timberwolves. In each of the last two weeks, they have played two stretches of five games in seven nights, which is tough. Overall, they’ve played four back-to-backs as a part of a 17 game month. Sure, it all evens out in the end since everyone in the league plays the same teams, but when you’re in the midst of it, it is pretty unpleasant. And tonight, two nights after losing to Rockets on a second night of a back-to-back, will play no one other than the 10-1 Indiana Pacers.

Oh, joy. I can’t decide if this is less fair than having to play the Clippers twice on the second night of a back-to-back this.

As we knew last year, the Pacers were really freakin’ good, but they’re even better this year thanks to the further improvement of Paul George. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists on .463/.366/.843 shooting, which is nutty. If having an MVP candidate in your favor isn’t enough, they still have Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill. That doesn’t even touch upon the fact that their bench is really good. If the Timberwolves wanted a barometer of where they are now, they have a good one on the slate tonight.

The Pacers play with a style that is a complete opposite of the Timberwolves’. While Minnesota plays at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, Indiana prefers to slow it down as the league’s 26th-slowest. Not only do they like to control the pace, but they are the NBA’s best defensive team, which is a dangerous combo. To make things even more daunting, they are averagely efficient on offense despite what their ranking of 20th in points per game might have you believe since they operate at such a grinding pace.

The Timberwolves do have an opening for success, and that will be on the glass. Minnesota has been one of the league’s best teams and the Pacers have been average at worse. Therefore, the Timberwolves’ ability to crash the boards could enable them to control the tempo of the game and force Indiana to play their style and not allow them to get their defense set.

After tonight, the schedule eases up as November comes to an end and a victory over Indiana would be a huge morale booster going into December.

Where: Whatever-they-called-it-after-Conseco-Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, IN

When: 6pm

See/Hear it: FSN/WCCO AM 830

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

 

 

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.

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.