THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30’s and even 40’s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

– Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

– The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

– There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

– Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

– Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

– If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.

Investments and Exchanges

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Transactions are subsidized by investors under the impression their ‘stock’ or investment will compliment the others within their investment portfolio.  In a way NBA GMs, and more specifically Flip Saunders, are investors consistently entertaining potential exchanges doing business on the open market. Hence, in NBA terms, trades, draft selections and free agent acquisitions are all investments. This is not a breaking discovery.

Earlier this season the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute. While it’s still too early to have received dividends — exchanging the former number-two overall draft selection for a player with a defined skillset — the interchange didn’t result in the obtaining of a player whose value is ‘in the red,’ nor did the Wolves sell an asset that is making a significant impact for a different firm or, in this context, franchise.

Determining Asset Value

Williams, the highest draft pick selected in franchise history did not implement, nor sustain, his presence within the roster during his time with the Wolves. During his rookie season, whilst appearing in 66 games (15 starts) he failed to score at least 10 points per game. Williams also struggled playing under the NBA’s dynamics. His three-point shooting was non-existent (less than 30%) and the inability to consistently connect on free-throws (>70%) posed frustrations for all those expecting greater things from Williams during his rookie year. Conversely, he was still a rookie and first year players hardly ever perform to their potential upon entering the league.

Last season, Williams marginally improved in certain aspects of his game. He appeared, and started, in more games because of Kevin Love’s absence. With experience under his belt, Williams bumped up his averages in nearly every statistical category. However, there were still questions surrounding the Wolves investment. Was Williams, who stands at 6-feet 8-inches tall, a power forward or a small forward (swingman). Was he better adept playing the 3 or 4 position in Rick Adelman’s offense?

Adelman’s variation of the Princeton offense opts to run offensive sets from the high post. Most possessions start with Ricky Rubio feeding Love at the elbow, or the areas above the free-throw line. This is expressed statistically in terms of ‘touches per game’ thanks to NBA.com’s player tracking. Love averages 86.9 touches per game, the sixth most compared to the rest of the league, he is the only non-point guard in the top 15 in this category. Rubio, the Wolves starting point guard, averages less touches per game (83.2) than Love. Some of this can be explained by Love’s rebounding, a rebound is considered a touch, but most of his touches are attributed to Adelman’s scheme.

Williams, still, is too small to successfully post-up on most of the league’s power forwards, lacks ball-handling skills, and never became instinctive enough to perform some of the off-ball cuts required in Adelman’s system. During the 2012-2013 season, Williams shot 33 percent (10 of 30 FG attempts) in post up situations. Ideally, he would have taken — and converted — more attempts in Love’s absence, but that wasn’t the case. Williams is also not a very good distributor; expecting him to make passes outside of the high post like Love is simply unrealistic.

This team wasn’t the adequate opportunity for Williams to succeed, although it’s fair to say he didn’t grasp the opportunity placed before him. Adelman and Saunders moved Williams accordingly because a young player still may have value elsewhere. Howlin’ T-Wolf’s own, Derek James, narrated more about Williams and his new opportunity with the Kings. There was no uproar among the Wolves fans base regarding the trade — the transaction that sent Williams to Sacramento was seemingly the best scenario for all parties involved.

What about the asset the Wolves received in return?

On a personal level, the timing of the trade seemed strange — why now? Could the Wolves have moved Williams prior to the season? Why not hold onto the asset until closer to the trade deadline when, theoretically, Williams may be more valuable to any ‘buyers’ hoping to acquire his services. All of that remains speculation.

@talkhoops I agree with that. But what they got in return. Not helping at all.

— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 17, 2014

Michael Malone, head coach of the Kings, began starting Mbah a Moute just before he was sent to the Wolves in exchange for Williams. The following quote was published at Cowbell Kingdom, strangely, on the same morning the trade had been announced.

“He’s a guy that’s kind of made his name in the NBA as a defensive player,” Malone said. “And he’s a guy that when he was in Milwaukee and I was coaching in Cleveland, he would literally guard one through four – Mo Williams to the power forward. So, I think he has a high IQ and he embraces that end of the floor.”

Exchanging Williams for Mbah a Moute was an obvious effort to fulfill the defensive void lost when Andrei Kirilenko declined the option to resign with the Wolves during the offseason. Corey Brewer, albeit he led the league in points scored in transition opportunities at the time, is neither the resourceful offensive player or defensive force that is “AK47″. It’s well-established that Adelman was not a proprietor of Williams, so, swapping the underachieving, misfit player with a capable and versatile, defensive component was undoubtedly going to be a net-positive for the Wolves moving forward this season.

As previously stated by coach Malone, MBAM’s reputation as an NBA player is defined by his defense. During only nine games with the Kings, Mbah a Moute scored a mere four points and collected three rebounds whilst averaging 21 minutes per game. These numbers are small, but, his aforementioned defensive prowess remains as the primary reason the Wolves parted with Williams in exchange for Mbah a Moute.

Dividends

Upon thorough analysis, an investment option promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.

While there are moments when it seems Williams is ‘flourishing’ with the Kings; perception is not always reality. Sacramento is 24-44 and the third-worst team in the Western Conference. Williams has exploded on multiples instances this season, offensively anyway. He had a 31 point performance in a win over the Dallas Mavericks last December, but it’s his production against his former team that has Wolves fans up in arms. He has played an average of 27 minutes per game, and during that time, Williams averages 16 points and six rebounds a game when facing his former team.

Those explosive performances may have been detrimental to Kings opponents, which in some cases has been the Wolves, but aren’t enough to justify Williams status as a second-overall draft selection. Yes, not all expectations may be paired with the draft-selection number, but his talent and potential made him the undeniable second-best prospect behind Kyrie Irving. Thus far, Williams (22) status remains as an underachiever since he entered the league.

Not long after the Kings acquired Williams, they obtained Rudy Gay by way of trade from the Toronto Raptors. This was another forward that would sit before Williams on the depth chart, he’s started in only 13 of his 54 appearances since his departure. 

As for the Wolves; they’ve had larger proverbial fish to fry throughout the season. While Mbah a Moute hasn’t made a noticeable difference since his arrival, he didn’t and hasn’t provoked the Wolves execution deficiencies during late game situations. MBAM hasn’t hindered the Wolves, if anything, there’s been more dispute regarding Adelman’s use of the defensive specialist, or lack thereof. Back in January, the Kings defeated the Wolves at the Target Center, Mbah a Moute recorded a DNP-Coaches Decision and watched helplessly as Gay and Williams combined for 49 points.

“… (I) came within about two seconds of putting him (Mbah a Moute) in the game, but … I don’t know … I tried to go with the group that has been playing pretty good — the bench — and it didn’t happen. So, it’s certainly something that you can look back on and think about that you could have done. That’s where he can be very, very helpful.” -Adelman said postgame after the Wolves three-point loss.

Investment Protection

Ultimately the trade is neither a win or loss for the Wolves yet. Mbah a Moute scores only three points and collects two rebounds playing an average of 12 minutes per game in 42 appearances since arriving from Sacramento this season. He’s going to continue producing lackluster offensive numbers because, as we know, that isn’t MBAM’s game — he’s a defensive player. To date, Adelman has used 10 lineup variations of which have played for over 40 minutes on the floor, together, this season. Only two of the qualifying groups of five have a defensive rating that is less than 100 (defensive rating is defined as how many points opponents score per 100 possessions), both of those lineups feature Mbah a Moute.

The Wolves have underachieved this season, but this may end up being the best season in franchise history, excluding the Kevin Garnett era. I expect them to win 40 games, something they haven’t done since the 04-05 season when they recorded 44 wins, but they will also likely miss the postseason. Meanwhile, Rubio and Love have remained healthy (knock on wood), Kevin Martin is playing as well as any shooting guard in franchise history, Chase Budinger may potentially return to his pre-knee surgery form and Nikola Pekovic — aside from his injury woes — is inked to be a Timberwolf for years to come. In addition to the offseason retained and acquisitions, draft selections Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have both shown signs of visible progression at their respective positions.

For Derrick Williams, seeing few instances of improvement playing for another team is no reason for worry. He’s a young and developing player with freakish physical attributes. However, Williams now plays on a dysfunctional, losing roster and hasn’t presented any consistent production that has me stressing over his departure. As a fan, I would wish Williams all the best.

In the case of Luc Mbah a Moute there isn’t enough samples insisting his production has hindered the Wolves in the slightest. He’s certainly not the most potent offensive player, but, for now he’s an irreplaceable presence on the defensive end that the Wolves don’t possess. Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel and Dante Cunningham are all offensive minded wing players, this signifies that Mbah a Moute is a complementary asset to the roster currently in place.

The market is always fluctuating and there are those constantly watching the rise and fall of investment values as they occur. Thus far, the Wolves swapping stock with the Kings is a wash. Neither Williams or Mbah a Moute have payed excessive dividends to their respective brokers, or firms. However, the state of things in Minnesota remain unfathomably more promising than the state of Sacramento — perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Wolves early season investment helps get things ‘in the black,’ somewhere the franchise hasn’t been for quite some time.

Playoffs?! – Upcoming Schedule Will Test Wolves’ Determination

Playoffs?!

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.

Gorgui’s Block Party: Timberwolves top Kings 104-102

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

The Kings came to Target Center at the end of a seven game road trip and playing on the second night of a back-to-back. The Timberwolves needed a win to keep their small playoff window open, but would have to do so without the services of Nikola Pekovic. On the other hand, Sacramento would be without DeMarcus Cousins, mostly nullifying Pekovic’s absence. And when Mike Malone slotted Aaron Gray at the center position, Rick Adelman countered with Gorgui Dieng. Not exactly the premier matchup the Target Center faithful were hoping for, but it would work for a night.

Looking to put this one away early, the Timberwolves came out blazing. Kevin Martin dished to Kevin Love from three and Ricky Rubio did the same nearly a minute later to reclaim the lead early in the first. Minnesota continued to build their momentum with a 12-3 run with 6:41 to go in the frame. Then the Kings would rally behind the superb bench play of former Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Williams quickly hung 10 points on the Timberwolves, even with Corey Brewer and eventually Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute on him. It was fitting since Williams said before the game that while he has nothing but good things to say about the Timberwolves, he still got especially excited to play in Minnesota. Fortunately, the Timberwolves were able to take a modest -32-29 lead into the second quarter.

Though the Timberwolves led by as much as 10 early in the first, they were now locked in a game of battleship because their defense had become as bad as the movie of the same name. In fact, the only real playmaker on defense was Dieng– who finished the first half alone with three blocks. In spite of Rudy Gay (3 for 8 in the first half), the Kings shot the ball incredibly well and kept the turnover battle even to keep them in the game.

Malone also said that he was concerned about the matchup between rookie Ben McLemore and Kevin Martin since Martin annihilated the rookie in their previous meeting. Martin had 16 points in the half, while finishing with 31, but got McLemore to foul out of the game while going to the line 14 times on the night. Additionally, Martin made all 14 attempts that not only made the fouls worse, but negated much of an overall poor shooting performance by Martin.

Williams really was the spark for the Kings since Isaiah Thomas had been kept mostly in check with five points, but his six assists still made his impact felt. The energy the Timberwolves initially had faded by this point and found themselves down 54-53 at the half. I don’t know if the team knew that it was supposed to blowout the Kings because I was there and all the games I’ve been to have been blowouts, but they were in a very close game. I mean, it’s not like they were missing one of their best players or anything.

Despite blowing a double-digit lead and letting the visitors build on that momentum, the Timberwolves had done an admirable job of not letting things get out of hand. They quickly regained the lead with a Rubio dunk and Love’s three pushed their lead to six. Yet, the Kings would manage to tie things up late in the half thanks to Isaiah Thomas who had 13 of his 18 points in the quarter. Also, defense…the Timberwolves were not about to try winning this game with defense.

Some important things of note happened in this quarter. First, Dieng earned his first career double-double while staying out of foul trouble. Secondly, Martin made his 1,000th three. Finally, Thomas dished out his 1,000th career assist. Why did I make a note about Isaiah Thomas? Because Isaiah Thomas is the fucking best. In short, cool stuff happened tonight. For proof, Thomas was the only who was impervious to Dieng’s shot blocking.

The two teams traded the lead for the first half of the fourth quarter in what wound being an exciting finish. They say basketball is a game of runs, but this is how the fourth played out: Timberwolves lead by four, then Kings lead by three, Timberwolves lead by five, and then Kings by one.

And after Williams made the free throw to give them the late lead, the Timberwolves charged back. Love hit what would be the go-ahead three pointer and Martin nailed a pair of free throws to put them up five. Then, Isaiah the Great hit a three to cut the lead to 102-98 with with six seconds left before hitting another triple to bring them within one. You could hear the collective gasps of the now-engaged crowd as Thomas hit the second three, but Martin would put the game away for good with two more free throws.

Love finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Martin burned the rookie for 31 himself. Williams gave the Kings 26 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench in just under 28 minutes. Thomas finished with 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds and him keeping the ball out of Gay’s hands late enabled the Kings to give the Timberwolves a late scare.

However, the player of the game was undoubtedly Gorgui Dieng. Hell, the story of the game was Gorgui Dieng. His 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks saved the game for a Timberwolves team that was short both Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf. Had he also not avoided foul trouble the team would have been scrambling at the center position for help. Yeah, he finished with four fouls, which is high-ish, but he played 37 minutes.

After all, this is the same player who averages 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Adelman praised Dieng’s performance afterwards saying, “He has habits when the guards are coming at him or people are coming at him of getting his hands down and that’s where he gets his fouls. He just needs to use his length and keep backing it up, don’t just go after the guys. Back it up and you don’t have to block, you just have to alter the shots. The more he got into the game, the better it was. The other thing was that he worked really hard and he played 37 minutes and handled it. That gives him a lot of credit for the extra work he has been doing.”

We saw the positive change during the game, for instance, when Jason Thompson would go to back Dieng down and Dieng kept his hands up and forced Thompson to take an absurdly difficult shot over his wingspan. The worst thing a rookie can do is try to do too much and that sounds like what is at the core of Dieng’s foul trouble. An altered shot may not show up in the box score as a block, but it does show up as a missed field goal, and that’s as good as a block. Remember, even without Cousins, if he is unable to do this the Timberwolves likely don’t walk away from tonight with the win given the play of his teammates on defense.

As a whole, the more Dieng has been able to stay on the floor this season, the better. On-court the Timberwolves are a -12.9, but a dreadful -17.9 with him not on the court. Coupled with a 97 Defensive Rating and we say that Dieng is not just a defensive playmaker, but that he’s also been an impactful defender as a whole.

Furthermore, his 11 rebounds were just shy of his rebounds per 36 minutes average of 12.6, including an impressive 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36. This means, of course, that he is giving his own team second chance points and taking them away from opponents. In fact, Dieng grabbed three offensive boards and the rest of the Timberwolves grabbed four.

Yeah, his offense isn’t there and maybe it never really gets there, but so what? He still finds other ways to affect the game and not everyone needs to be a scorer. Besides, when healthy, this team does not need him to be a scorer. In fact, he may be the last guy or second-to-last guy they need to rely on to score. Adelman decided last minute to throw him in the starting lineup once he found out the Kings were starting Gray and the rookie made the most of it and gave his team the boost they needed. That’s what good teams get out of their rotation guys on a consistent basis, and has been something that has been lacking all year long.

There was a funny moment on the sideline when Dieng took the final free throws of the game. Dieng, a poor free throw shooter that is shooting 44 percent on the season, missed the first of two attempts. Adelman burned a timeout with one second left in the game that seemed to lack any and all reason. Of course that wasn’t the case. Adelman said afterwards that he called it to tell Dieng to just hit the rim. However, Dieng tells it differently. Dieng said while laughing that Adelman called the timeout to miss the free throw, but how to miss it if he is going to miss it. Adelman also added that they would have been happy if he had made one, but wanted to make sure that if he missed it he at least hit the rim in order to avoid penalty.

“I was just like ready. I was ready to play. I knew they needed me tonight and the other guys on this basketball team. When you got a chance you just have to step up,” said Dieng about his surprise start.

Cousins or no Cousins, Dieng knows that he has a job to do. He added, “I think I’ve faced a lot of guys in this league already. I played against Bynum and Dwight Howard and all those guys. I choose to be a basketball player, and I don’t mind facing him”

This is probably way too many words already, but the way Dieng played as a rookie as the only real center left on their roster was impressive. He saw extended time and did not shy away from the challenge. For this, Dieng is truly the player of the game.

Flip Saunders talks with Colin Cowherd

Flip Saunders

Flip Saunders appeared on ESPN radio and spoke with Colin Cowherd about his transition from coach to a front-office position, other teams’ interest in Kevin Love, and how well he slept in his days as an analyst.

Click this link to be taken to the interview. 

Cowherd starts things off cordially by asking Saunders about the difference between being a coach, and working in the front office of an NBA franchise.

You sit up in the stands and you really have no control of what your players do on the floor. It’s then the coaches decision; who to play, what plays to run, and how to guard people, defensively. That becomes the most frustrating thing when switching to the front office.”

“When you’re a coach, you live in the present, you live for today. When you’re in the front office; you live for today but you also have to have an eye on the future.

Not long after than Cowherd got to the good stuff.  He went on to ask Saunders whether he feels “more empowered, or powerless, with a star player.” Needless to mention that Cowherd asked specifically about the Kevin Love situation, you know — that thing.

“Well, I laugh. One, having had, conversations with Kevin –maybe– every week. Having a pretty good relationship with him, you understand where he’s at. There are many things that have been said about the, “Glamour Situations,” but, whereas Kevin said (referring to his recent quote in GQ Magazine); it might not be so glamourous.

“You know good players are going to be wanted. That really comes with the business, so, when you have a player that’s wanted by people; people are going to talk about them because that’s what goes on.”

Cowherd continues talking about Love by asking Saunders; “why hasn’t he (Love) produced more wins with his unbelievable production?”

Kevin has been with a lot of very young players, he’s still only 24-years old. That’s what people don’t understand. He’s still a very young, and talented player. The other thing is, it’s very difficult for a player like Kevin, and the way he plays.

He’s a big player, even though he does shoot the three. Many times players don’t have the ability to carry teams down the stretch. He relies a lot of players, either getting him the ball for a three-point shot or getting him the ball into the post.

So, other players many times, in the fourth-quarter have to help him makes plays. We’re a young team, we’re gettin’ guys that are learning to do that. That’s going to be part of the transition for (Ricky) Rubio.

The final sentence sounded as if it were an admission of confidence. Only speculating, but it sounded as if Saunders believes Rubio is the point guard of the Wolves future. At no point did it seem like Cowherd was insinuating anything Rubio’s way and it was the first mention of his name in the interview.

Two days ago, Minnesota Republican State Representative, Pat Garofalo, tweeted out a controversial opinion. Cowherd asked Saunders about how he deals with those who negatively perceive the NBA without such warrant.

You have to educate the people. When people are educated on what our players do, and how active they are in their community. (Even) Individually, on their own — I know a lot of players go out to hostels and get involved with St. Jude (A Childrens Hospital), that’s a big thing for us this month.

You just have to educate the people and understand that they have to realize that, many times, perception is not reality. We’ve got players that do a lot of positive things in the community.

Cowherd ended the interview by asking if Saunders slept better; as a coach, or as a president, of an NBA team?

As an ESPN Analyst. That’s when we sleep the best. When I can talk to you in the morning and we can talk basketball.

That would be the life, wouldn’t it? Again, you’re able to listen to the interview via ESPN, just click this link.

Damn Thing Done: Timberwolves 114-101 over the Pistons

Following an embarrassing home loss to a team they should have beat, the Knicks, the Timberwolves were faced with an opportunity to get back on the right track against the Pistons. In order to do this, the team had to put that loss behind them and take care of business. It was a loss that everyone seemed to agree on: that is was bad but they couldn’t dwell on it. What’s funny is that implies a focus that they didn’t show coming into that game, but would need in order to avoid repeating history. The good news is that they did.

It showed on the court and the way they ripped out to an early lead, aided by some terrible missed baskets by the Pistons that washed away a few of their own that were gimmes. It seemed like the Timberwolves’ mediocre was still going to be better than the Pistons’ and they wound up with a 39-21 lead after one. They continued to roll in the second quarter, too. Looking ahead to the second half of the game felt like those quarters would be a mere formality considering they held a sizeable lead of 66-45.

More of the same happened in the third quarter: the Timberwolves’ starters rolled as the Pistons were still trying to figure out how to stop open layups in the halfcourt. It was a perplexing defensive year, I mean, night for the Pistons as they once sent a double team to Ricky Rubio as he prepared to launch a three, which he ultimately didn’t, but really? I could understand defending the pass, but he was clearly going to be shooting. 28 point lead and I thought of heading home early.

But I forgot that you can’t do that with this team. Adelman said after the game that he wasn’t going to tear down the entire game over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, but it was enough for him to have to send the starters back in to clean up the bench’s mess after they lost half of a 31-point lead. Talk about brutal. It may have been more beneficial to rest the starters in the last few minutes of the third and have them come in the fourth to put the game away for good and make it so the reserves couldn’t do any damage. Yet, it all still worked out in the end anyway and the Timberwolves still won by 13.

Adelman addressed the concern after the game about the Timberwolves needing the discipline and in-game awareness when they’re up by 20+ points and not trying to be heroes and do too much. There was one play in particular that he felt Rubio rushed and wound up flinging a pass out of bounds instead of using the clock. This completely escaped me and Adelman’s abilities to pick up on these things usually cause me to give him the benefit of the doubt, in case you were wondering.

Kevin Love was still brilliant with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five rebounds. Kevin Martin added 22 points of his own and Nikola Pekovic just missed the double-double (17 points, nine rebounds.) Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Josh Smith, whose shot selection is even more glorious in person, finished with 13 points, but it took him 14 shots to get there. Brandon Jennings put up 17-5-5 and was less of the problem than some others. In  fact, Pistons starters shot a combined 40.6 percent.

Anyway, good, easy win for the Timberwolves, which is just what they needed after Wednesday. Timberwolves host the Raptors on Sunday.

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?

 

Can We Chill?

I’m not telling you how to feel, though everyone seems to think I am when I say this, but everyone is getting a little high-strung. You can feel how you want to feel and is ultimately your choice and I have no influence on that either way. Personally, I like to maintain my composure and remember that not every little thing in the world is the end, but — hey! — you do you, and I’ll do me.

First off, there is too much calling for people’s heads. Who are you trading for who that is going to make this team better? Kyle Lowry is available, but Kyle Lowry is always available because nobody wants him in their locker room. Evan Turner? Seriously…even if they could get him, it’s difficult to see how he improves this team. Plain and simple, the Timberwolves don’t have the assets to make an impactful trade.

Secondly, whether or not Rick Adelman is in fact the right coach for this team in the long term is debatable. Once they signed Adelman, we knew that the Timberwolves would enter win now mode and many have us have been frustrated because we’ve expected more than .500. However, the time to replace him was either this offseason or this coming summer; not now. Who do you get? Promote Terry Porter? Yeah, we saw how that worked out last season for the Timberwolves when Adelman had to take a leave of absence. If you’re going to let go of a Rick Adelman you better do it when you have a wider range of candidates available because you are not going to get a better coach for this team right now. Adelman may not be perfect, but he’s far from Vinny Del Negro.

You may disagree with his rotations, but they’re far from completely illogical, even playing JJ Barea over Ricky Rubio in the fourth quarters of games. When Barea is having a good game, especially Friday night when the team was without Nikola Pekovic, it’s hard to remove that spark from the game. Yes, Rubio is the better player and should not be on the bench for the entire quarter, but we’ve seen how the team has fared in fourth quarters with Rubio and it’s not a guarantee of victory to have him in instead of Barea. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what has been true this season.

This most recent stretch of games has been frustrating, but short of overnighting Pekovic to ISIS headquarters for bionic ankle replacement with Doctor Krieger, there is nothing anyone can do about this situation. Pekovic went down, and the Timberwolves still managed to take down the Pelicans, which was great to see. Then the Grizzlies came to town and brought their frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with them, which is a formidable tandem even when healthy.

The Timberwolves lost without that extra firepower Pekovic brings to the team and then had to head to Atlanta the next day for a back-to-back in what ultimately wound up becoming a schedule/injury loss. It happens, and again, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Every team has unfortunate injuries and has tough stretches in the schedule. It’s a part of the game and there are usually opportunities to make them back later on. Oh, what do you know: there are just under 40 games remaining in the season. Sure, it sucks dropping to 3 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies for the ninth seed, but the Timberwolves are still right in it.

This is a flawed-yet-talented team. They have some great players, and having Kevin Love always gives you a chance, but as a team, they are not strong defensively and do not have consistent bench scorers unfortunately. Maybe that will change once Chase Budinger gets healthy, but they are making due with the pieces that they do have. The waiting for everything to fall into place does grow tiresome, but it is what it as and could certainly be worse. Despite their flaws the Timberwolves can still grab a playoff spot. There’s just way too much time to be this…sensitive so soon. Again, feel how you want to feel. It’s up to you.