Timberwolves drop Bucks, 117-95, get back to .500

Although the Bucks came into Saturday night’s matchup with the Timberwolves with the league’s worst overall record, the game carried some importance for Minnesota who had hit a bit of rough patch the last couple of weeks. The Bucks were getting Larry Sanders back from a hand injury and the Timberwolves were, well, like the Bucks, on the second night of a back-to-back. Still, with a victory in Milwaukee the Timberwolves would be able to do three things: 1) Move back to .500; 2) jump the Denver Nuggets for sole possession of third place in the Northwest division; and 3) reclaim the ninth seed in the Western Conference.

Spoiler alert: They did.

The Bucks came out with a ton of energy in an, “Aww, isn’t that just precious” kind of way. They were able to match the Timberwolves’ energy to start the game and were able to keep it a close game until about halfway through the first quarter when they scored 16 points on 14 points in the paint. However, they couldn’t resist the urge to commit careless turnover after careless turnover, including several passes thrown directly to multiple Timberwolves. In fact, in the first three minutes, Ricky Rubio had tallied three steals. I’m not sure the Bucks remembered they were wearing white.

As the game carried on into the second quarter, the Timberwolves continued to build their momentum behind a strong team three point shooting  performance and points off of turnovers. Minnesota shot 11-24 from distance for the entire game and with 25 points off of turnovers. The Timberwolves force the second most turnovers per game and forced 20 more on Saturday night, so when they finished the game with 18 of their own they were able to mitigate those negative effects with their 25-12 points off of turnovers advantage. By this point the energy the Bucks exhibited early on had faded and the Timberwolves led 64-55.

To follow up two 30-plus point quarters, the Timberwolves were able to add on to their lead with another 39 point frame. Continuing the good things that had enabled them to take and hold the lead and finished the half up 103-76, including what was once a 30-point lead. Placing the worst team in the league, this was hardly surprising.

Naturally, the Timberwolves took their foot off of the pedal in the fourth quarter and allowed the Bucks to creep back into the game some. Halfway through the fourth after the Bucks had cut the lead back into the mid-teens, Adelman re-inserted his big three of Rubio, Love, and Pekovic to stop the bleeding. This isn’t as much cause for concern as it was a team that was up big on a far worse team falling asleep at the wheel and then regaining consciousness in time to put them away for good. When the Bucks were back within 12 with less than two minutes to go and Martin hit that elbow jumper to cause the Larry Drew time out, it was over. Done. Did we really need the last 12 minutes to learn this result? No, not really, especially on the second night of a back-to-back.

Love led the Timberwolves with a brilliant 33 points, 15 rebound and four assist game on 11-17 shooting, including 4-6 from three. Nikola Pekovic played well with 19-11-3, but when the Bucks threw Sanders on him late his length gave Pekovic some problems and turnovers. On top of it all, the bench contributed 19 points, which is just what the Timberwolves need to be successful for the rest of the season.

Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points and nine rebounds. OJ Mayo added an efficient 19 points on 8-12 shooting off of the bench, but gave the Bucks very little else. And Sanders finished 10 points and nine rebounds in his return from hand surgery.

Nothing like a little Eastern Conference back-to-back to get your confidence back, right?

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Timberwolves fall to Lakers 104-91

I’m tired, I won’t lie, so I have no idea where this recap is going to go. If there is any way for me to get this up in a timely manner, it’s going to be now. I apologize; this is not the recap you need or really deserve. Though if you’ve clicked the link you probably do need the recap, so this will be better than nothing.

This wound up not being  a very fun game to watch, especially for bed. In the NBA you never assume that one team is going to run away with the game, but given how short-handed they were I think a lot of people expected the Timberwolves to come away with victory here. They were down Kobe Bryant (HAVE YOU HEARD?!), Steves Blake and Nash, and Jordan Farmar as well. That’s a whole lotta, “Welp, crap.” to deal with, but the Lakers made due anyway. On the other hand, the Timberwolves were coming off of some rest time and were mostly healthy.

So, why didn’t they win? Was it just one of those games? It really could have been, but this team is perplexingly inconsistent: beat Memphis, lose to Boston, beat Portland, lose to the Lakers. Are they just rising up to the occasion against better teams and playing down to others? I don’t think so. They’ve handily beaten Boston and Oklahoma City and then lost to them the next time around.

Is it the way the roster is constructed? Maybe the current parts, namely the bench, don’t make sense. Perhaps not getting more from Alexey Shved and Shabazz Muhammad has hurt them on top of Chase Budinger’s absence. At the time these were pieces that you looked at and thought if they could get anything the team could have depth, but now feel more empty than expected.Did having Luke Ridnour cover up for some of JJ Barea’s deficiencies the last two years? Dante Cunningham is now the best scorer of the front court reserves, which is fine as long as the team runs the offense through Love when it matters most, unlike tonight.

The Timberwolves can score since they are currently third in the league in points per game, but they are near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, two point and three point percentage; they also play at the third fastest pace in the league. Only six, seven if you count Gorgui Dieng, players on the roster are currently shooting above 40 percent from the field. The list of players sub-40 percent shooters is: Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, JJ Barea, Alexey Shved, Ronny Turiaf, AJ Price and Shabazz Muhammad.

I only bring this up because no other Timberwolves scored in double figures besides Love, Pekovic and Martin– the usual suspects. Cunningham is just below .448 percent on the year and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is at .485, but it’s not as if LRMAM is a sustainable source of offense. This isn’t a new question, but this bench is definitely a concern for  a team with serious playoff aspirations.

At 13-14, the Timberwolves are far from hapless, but at 27 games you wonder how much of the true nature of the team you are seeing and how much room they have to grow. 56 games is still a lot of games, but some of the things that we were seeing or were hoping to see have begun to fade. And that could just be from the nature of the ebbs and flows of the season, but for a team with playoff aspirations, not being able to defend or shoot efficiently is a problem. Or this is just impatience showing through, and I’m just fucking tired and everything is fine because we’re just 27 games in. Then I look at a team like the Lakers and their circumstances and wonder how they’ve managed to exceed their expectations. Maybe our expectations and predictions don’t mean anything and they just make more sense together. Rather, what if they complement each other better as a team versus just having a few players complement each other well.

Whatever. I might be stupid, I might be onto something or on something (I’m not on something, FYI.) At this point in the season we may have expected to have more questions answered, even though it doesn’t feel this way. This was a game of runs, but ultimately a game that should have been won. The momentum was there when they took the lead at the end of the first half, but let it slip early in the first, and spent the rest of the game see-sawing before letting it ultimately get away.

Yeah, 27 games might be too soon, or not; I don’t know. Here are some coherent notes:

– Kevin Love had 25 points and 13 rebounds, but it was a disappointing finish considering that he had 20 at the half. To be fair, the Lakers did a good job forcing the offense away from him in the second half.

– Nikola Pekovic had 22 points and 13 rebounds himself. Of those 13 rebounds, 10 were offensive and he also went 8-12 from the line. That is a lot of offensive rebounds.

– Pau Gasol was on triple double watch for the Lakers finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Xavier Henry added 22 points and Nick Young added 25, including a big three at the end.

– How you lose after forcing 19 turnovers and getting 23 points off of those turnovers is a little beyond me. Kind of what happens when you lapse on the transition defense early and giveaway easy points you don’t need to. That wasn’t all of it, but it was part of it, and I’m tired.

No Blues Tonight: Timberwolves 101-93 over the Grizzlies

Coming into Sunday night’s game the Timberwolves had dropped 11-straight to the Memphis Grizzlies. To make matters worse, they hadn’t won at Fed Ex Forum since January 2009– one full year before I began covering this team. Each time the Grizzlies were just a terrible matchup for the Timberwolves, especially with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the frontcourt. Yet, there would be no Gasol for the Grizzlies, giving the opportunity for the Timberwolves to break the streak.

Much in the same way the Grizzlies terrorized the Timberwolves with their frontcourt duo over the years, Minnesota used theirs to do the same to them in the first quarter. Kevin Love assisted Nikola Pekovic on his first basket and later on Love added a three to give them an early 7-6 lead. From there the Timberwolves used a 14-4 run to put them up 21-10 en route to a 28-17 lead after the first quarter.

The second quarter provided the Timberwolves’ bench to restore some faith in them as some of the starters took same rest. JJ Barea in particular needed to put together a strong performance. We all know Barea can give us either a fun performance or a frustrating one, and so far we’ve seen more of the latter, but Barea left his mark on the second quarter. Barea drained a few threes, but also made his impact felt as a distributor, notching a couple of assists.

Between Love’s strong performance on both ends, including some stingy interior defense on Zach Randolph, and Barea’s off-of-the-bench spark the Timberwolves carried a 10 point lead at the half.

The Grizzlies were able to cut the lead to single digits at the start of the third behind a pair of Mike Conley threes and a Randolph basket. Still, the Timberwolves were able to keep their heads above what became a quarter long run that featured Conley, but valuable contributions from players like Jon Leuer. For a team that had not beaten Memphis on their court in four years, a four-point lead could not have been comfortable to take into the fourth quarter. As an added disadvantage, the Timberwolves were going to have to do this without Kevin Martin, whose knee that had been bothering him for several games began to give him trouble again and had been sitting out since the second quarter.

Facing the tough task of closing out the Grizzlies out at home, the Timberwolves were going to need added support from their bench. So Dante Cunningham and Alexey Shved answered the call, as well as Pekovic in the paint and the Timberwolves were able to pad their lead. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had to leave the game early because of injury, leaving both teams a bit more short-handed than they would like nearing the end of the game.

Alas, the Grizzlies were unable to overcome the absences of Gasol and Conley and the Timberwolves exploited their advantage as they rolled to a 101-93 victory. Love and Barea helped down the stretch, but Pekovic’s ability to get to the line helped seal the game for the Timberwolves.

Love had 19 points at the half and  finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Pekovic gave 19 points of his own, but his 7-8 mark from the line was crucial to the victory. Barea’s 15 points and five assists provided a much-needed spark off of the bench and the Timberwolves’ bench outscored the Grizzlies’ 31-30. Although he missed most of the fourth quarter, Conley finished with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists. Leuer and Bayless added 15 and 14 points off of the bench as well.

The lack of turnovers in this game was remarkable. The Timberwolves force a high amount of turnovers per game and the Grizzlies had forced a high amount in recent years, but each had five and two, respectively, at the half and finished with nine and 10. This was the fewest amount of turnovers committed since the November 22nd game against Brooklyn, but also limited the team’s chances for transition opportunities that they thrive off of. On the other hand, every time they did get out the Grizzlies also seemed more than comfortable with a track meet, so this wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

Such a lack of extra possessions placed an even greater importance on rebounding and both teams finished nearly even in total rebounds. Both teams instead found their second chance opportunities in the form of offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies also claimed a 50-38 advantage in the paint without Gasol and both teams excelled at drawing fouls, finishing with  over 20 free throw attempts at once. An added bonus, even with 45 free throw attempts, was the fact that it didn’t hurt the flow of the game like it tends to happen with higher amounts of whistles.

The Timberwolves will run it back tomorrow evening in Boston. No word yet on the availability of Martin.

 

My Mirror Staring Back at Me: Timberwolves at Thunder Preview

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

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

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

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

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena; Oklahoma City, OK

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN/WCCO AM 830

 

Pekovic and Martin Carry Timberwolves over Mavs, 112-106

On the first night of yet another back-to-back, the Timberwolves rolled into Dallas on Saturday night to play the Mavericks. The Timberwolves came in carrying a five-game road losing streak and would need to find someday, any day, to build some confidence on the road if they planned on being a playoff team. In fact, the Timberwolves were just 2-6 on the road and have yet to win a game away from Target Center since the Lakers game.

Things didn’t start out so well for the Timberwolves, as they began the game in a shooting slump that put them down 7-2 early in the first quarter. Yet, six straight Nikola Pekovic points and a Kevin Martin three later, they were right back in the game. The Mavericks had a tough time contending with Nikola Pekovic all night, who finished with 21 points on 10-13 shooting and nine rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pekovic’s nine boards was the fact that five of them were offensive rebounds. Dallas really had no answer for him last night.

The other big story of the game was Kevin Martin, who eventually saw his 37 straight made free throw streak end in the final minute of the game. When Martin finally began to heat up in the second quarter, he began to hit the Mavericks from everywhere, which is what I suppose happens when you tab Monta Ellis to be your Martin-stopper. Martin managed to get out in transition for quick dunks and pull-up threes, as well as working off of screens per usual. The Timberwolves even exploited the Martin-Ellis matchup on the block with a post-up! Yet, the brunt of Martin’s damage was done at the line– shooting 10-11 as a part of a Timberwolves team that shot 19 more free throws than their opponent.

Last night, the Timberwolves were able to keep this game out of the Mavericks’ reach, dangling it tortuously just passed arm’s length. The Mavericks fared well in categories like points in the paint, points off of turnovers and turnovers. However, their inability to keep Minnesota off of the glass, the line and inability to force them to miss threes would ensure they were never really coming back in this thing.

Now, the Timberwolves come into Oklahoma City to play a Thunder team that has hit their stride with Russell Westbrook back in the fold. At least they come in with a little bit of momentum, which they’ll need since this won’t be a blowout of Biblical proportions like the last time these two teams met.

Notes: 

– Nikola Pekovic’s shooting over the first seven games was a common talking point at the very early stages of the season. In the team’s first seven games he shot just 31-77 from the floor or 40 percent. Yet, since November 11th against the Clippers, Pekovic has been on a bit of a tear. Since then, Pekovic has made 80 of 131 shots in 10 games, or an impressive 61 percent. Pekovic’s shooting in the last few weeks is why it was so odd that he was struggling as much as he was, but now he seems to be doing very well for himself.

– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made his Timberwolves debut tonight. In 26 minutes Mbah a Motue posted four points and seven rebounds, but it was cool to see how he got those points. His first basket he realized he was matched up against Vince Carter on the perimeter and took him off of the dribble and was able to eventually get into the paint for the layup. Now, do you want Mbah a Moute regularly try to create like that? Probably not, but Carter is a much better defender in post-up situations, so there was an advantage there. His second was a transition basket that he was fouled on and earned an and-one opportunity. Don’t look for Mbah a Moute to stretch the floor, but look for him to play intelligently within himself and taking his spots where he can.

– The Timberwolves improved to 9-0 on the season when leading after three quarters. The Mavericks broadcast threw out a stat that the Mavs have never won a game all season when they’ve trailed by more than six, which seems off, but noteworthy if true.

– Kevin Martin has made a ridiculous 39 of his last 40 free throw attempts.

The Tie That Binds: Timberwolves-Nuggets Preview

Normally, I would talk about what has recently happened for both teams coming into the game tonight. I might talk about how the Timberwolves hung with the Pacers for 40 minutes before Indiana put them in the vice and slowly crushed the life out of them. I might want to play up some angle about looking to get back on the right track at home, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you don’t want to hear that; no, not after the Derrick Williams trade to Sacramento.

Why is this relevant? Well, because it turns out that Luc Mbah a Moute — the player the Timberwolves received in return for Williams — is the common thread between both teams. No, Mbah a Moute never played for the Nuggets, but he almost did.

When Mbah a Moute’s contract was expiring in the summer of 2011, he was sought after as an upcoming perimeter defender in the NBA. Coming off of a rookie deal, he was a restricted free agent and Denver wound up making him an offer. Sure enough, the Bucks couldn’t let him get away, and certainly not at the inexpensive price tag of around $5 million annually. So, the Bucks matched and the Nuggets drafted Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier. Of course, they would trade for Andre Iguodala to be their shutdown perimeter player as a one-year rental. Although, Nuggets fans probably won’t want you asking about that.

What does this mean? Nothing really, but it’s just an observation that Mbah a Moute will make his Timberwolves debut against the team that he nearly landed on two years before. Oh, and the Kings are starting Derrick Williams at small forward, proving that they’re either masochists or they really can’t stomach starting Travis Outlaw or John Salmons any longer. I could see it either way, personally.

Where: Target Center; Minneapolis, MN

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN and WCCO AM 830

What Luc Mbah a Moute Could Bring to the Timberwolves

Photo: NBA

If you’ve been on Twitter today and are a Timberwolves fan you’ve undoubtedly heard the Derrick Williams trade rumors. Apparently they spread locally and something was supposed to go down today, and it didn’t Then ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped these nuggets and some validity was added to the speculation:

 

By dealing Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute, the Timberwolves would get the consistent perimeter defender that the lost when Andrei Kirilenko headed east for Brooklyn. Mbah a Moute, averaging just 4.4 points per game, will never be accused of being a great scorer, but will score in the ways that Williams scored best: within the flow of the offense as a cutter/spot-up guy. In fact, MySynergySports.com  says that he has been above average in those categories so far this season.

Mbah a Moute has been damn-near shutdown on the wing so far, holding opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting and a strong 0.84 points per possession. For comparison’s sake, Corey Brewer is averaging 0.80 ppp and with Mbah a Moute, the two would combine to give the Timberwolves another defender on the perimeter. Now, would you ever play the two together? Probably not too much since they could leave the Timberwolves with too few scoring options on the court, but that might depend on the lineup. However, if they did play them both, Mbah a Moute has shown to be a better spot up shooter and Brewer a better transition player, so that could work; the only way to really know is to try it out.

For Williams, he would get the change of scenery that he needs. After a relatively productive season when he was asked to step up, his minutes have fallen and so has his production. Or his production is down because of his minutes…either way. With a healthy Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham, the Timberwolves just don’t seem to have a use for Williams. And without a superstar at either forward spot, Williams will have the opportunity to earn all of the minutes that he desires. Which is good, because he is a useful player when he is used right and can even be a capable defender for spurts.

Williams’ production has been concerning, but that’s more of an effect of the lack of playing time so far. The last time Williams has been asked to play this few minutes was probably, well, never. So, the adjustment to 14 minutes per game has made it difficult for him to get a feel for the game and in rhythm. Williams’ percentages have fallen from respectable averages of around .430 percent and .333 percent from three last season, to .335 and .133 this season, despite taking fewer threes per 36 minutes. For Derrick, he’ll be in a more advantageous position competing with Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson for minutes instead of Love and Cunningham. If he can someday prove to be a serviceable small forward, he’ll only be competing with Travis Outlaw and John Salmons, so this will be a good opportunity for him.

From day one it seemed like it was going to be a challenge for Derrick Williams to succeed here. There was always one too many players in front of him and the Timberwolves tried to get him on the floor where and when they could. Last year, Cunningham joining the team immediately seemed like it was going to push him out of the rotation, and it did. This season, Chase Budinger came back and Robbie Hummel impressed Rick Adelman enough to earn his favor. Adelman spoke of Hummel on Media Day as a solid player that never tried to do anything that he couldn’t do, which was a fault of Derrick’s at times. This isn’t too say that Williams didn’t put in the work, because he absolutely did by losing weight, trying to work on his game and exerting effort on defense. This worked last season and Adelman praised him for it, but it appears this was always going to be his role on this team had everyone been healthy as they are now. It’s just where Derrick is at this point in his career, and he can have success in the NBA, but it just won’t be here.

As Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reports, the deal will go through tomorrow pending physicals and Derrick Williams’ time as a Timberwolf will be done. Sacramento isn’t traditionally known as a hotbed for player development, but DeMarcus Cousins has made strides and Williams’ attitude and work ethic gives him as good of a chance for success as any. If this goes through, expect it to be a straight deal with no picks or cash being exchanged.

 

 

Wake me up when November ends: Pacers-Timberwolves Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When: 6pm

See/Hear it: FSN/WCCO AM 830