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.

The Winny City: Timberwolves drop Bulls 95-86

The Timberwolves have never really fared well against the Bulls given the respective arcs of the two franchises. Initially, the Timberwolves were in their expansion phase and the Jordan Bulls were in full-swing. Then, Jordan retired and Garnett reigned freely, and then as he left Minnesota Rose rose to prominence in Chicago. Really, it’s made for a very uneven series in the 25 years of the matchup’s history. And coming into tonight, the Bulls had swept every series since ’09 against the Timberwolves, including three straight at United Center and seven consecutive overall. Tonight, with the Bulls short Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (Illness), the Timberwolves were in prime position to pounce.

The Timberwolves began the game jumping out to a modest lead by getting out in transition early and racking up all the easy baskets they could get. Then, halfway through the first, Nikola Pekovic went down with a sore achilles and did not return to the game. In his wake, everyone’s favorite player, Ronny Turiaf, stepped in and gave the team a much-needed boost.

Turiaf played well with the team’s backup point guards in the pick n’ roll and getting easy lobs off of those plays. When Turiaf wasn’t scrapping for points on offense, he was bringing the swat to the defensive end, too. Turiaf finished with a season high 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and was an absolute difference maker. Thanks to Turiaf, the Timberwolves were able to coast into the second half with the lead.

While the Timberwolves never really had their lead in question, the Bulls were not going to back down that easy. Especially not a Tom Thibodeau coached team. Chicago came out, grabbed a few points off of turnovers and made Minnesota uncomfortable enough to call a quick timeout. Still, the Bulls’ offense proved to be too anemic despite the Timberwolves own offensive struggles and still led going into the fourth quarter, 72-65.

By this point, it had become clear that the Timberwolves were going to need a bit of a push to not let the Bulls hang around. Well, that sort of worked out, thanks to more steady bench contributions from Turiaf, but also Chase Budinger who finished with 12 points. The Bulls pulled close late in the game behind a DJ Augustin three, but Kevin Love would answer it on the  other end with a layup off of a Rubio pass and that seemed to seal it. Actually, no. The true dagger was when Rubio came down with the defensive rebound and flipped it to Brewer streaking towards the basket and screamed, “FATALITY” (citation needed) as he emphatically dunked the ball.

Because Thibs, you continue fouling when it’s a 3-4 possession game and under a minute left, the Bulls gave the Timberwolves several freebies on the night, in part because they insisted on continuously sending Love to the line who finished 14-14 on the night. Love may have struggled with his three ball, but made up for it with his perfection from the line. Love also finished with just eight rebounds, begging the question: did he accidentally sip out of Noah’s Gatorade cup during pregame?

So, the Timberwolves break yet another streak, this time to the Bulls. Perhaps more importantly they take three of four on the road and head into a much easier portion of their schedule. In a way, tonight also had to be good for their finishing abilities in late game situations. The Bulls may have been shorthanded, but this was still a road game in a building they hadn’t performed well in and never let them back in the game. Even when Chicago would make a run, they would calmly push back the charge and continue to play their game.

Love finished with 31 points and eight rebounds and JJ Barea led the team with seven assists. Rubio played a nice, even game, finished with 9-6-4 on the night. Carlos Boozer led the way for Chicago with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler (!) and Augustin finished with 16 and 19 points, respectively.

Shorthanded team or not, the Timberwolves needed this to carry over some positive momentum into this upcoming lighter portion of their schedule. It wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed win for them, but they certainly went out and got it even when things got tough.

BREAKING: Kevin Love considering red or green shirt at the mall.

Disclaimer: Howlin T-wolf does not endorse any laundry products and products mentioned below should not be interpreted as such. The author is in no way shape or form compensated by big laundry and usually buys whatever is on sale.

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love has been wearing a blue shirt for the past six years. When Love first received the shirt it was a bit big as a 19-year old baby face and grew into it with each passing year. For years some have speculated that he’s wanted a different colored shirt, yet Love has remained insistent in his loyalty towards his blue shirt.

There were some reasons to question his loyalty to his blue shirt. His friends had newer, shinier shirts that were different colors and some speculated that he may also want a new shirt in a different shade. After all, the people that had originally been taking care of his shirt had not been kind to it. They didn’t believe in fabric softeners and would wash it in warm water, despite Love’s assertion that the tag said “cold water only.” I mean, damn, how hard is it to read a flipping tag; if it says cold only, don’t set the dial to warm.

Still, when Love’s shirt contract was up a couple of years ago, he said that he wanted to wear that shirt for the rest of his career, but the launderer had other ideas and didn’t think that was in the best interest of the organization. Upset, Love asked for a shorter deal with a player option, leading some to believe that he was considering other more colorful, bigger shirts to grow in to.

About a year later the owner decided to fire the launderer that caused the star’s displeasure and brought in a few of his friends. All Love wanted was to see a little Downy, some starch and some stain spot remover once in awhile. Under new management, the organization took a proactive approach to making sure Love’s threads were being well-treated.

Now, as the team remains in playoff contention and Love’s garments smell like Oxy Clean just a little more often, “reports” have surfaced that Love is considering new shirts when he goes to the mall when his contract is up in a year and a half. Reportedly, Love has begun to shop via catalog and has identified a red and green shirt as his two favorites. I mean, everyone plans out what they’re going to wear a year and a half before they can make the decision. There’s no way that tastes may change or that the mall will even have a red or a green shirt. Maybe Love really does want a new shirt, but sours on the red and green before deciding on a yellow shirt.

Do we really know? Should we worry about what Love will want to wear in a year and a half? After all, last we heard he still likes his blue shirt, especially since they switched to the liquid detergent over the dry stuff and put it in the dryer instead of air-drying so it becomes too crunchy.

Here’s what we do know: Kevin Love will be wearing a shirt in June 2015. Yet, it might be a little early to know which shirt that will be in January 2014.