Tagged: Phoenix Suns

Playoffs?! – Upcoming Schedule Will Test Wolves’ Determination


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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.

I don’t want to talk about it: Wolves lose 104-103 to the Suns


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Here’s the thing about the Phoenix Suns. They’re like that person who shows up to a dinner at a restaurant that the hosts setup with a reservation ahead of the time. Because there is not enough room for this unexpected guest, the restaurant has to may have to pull up a chair or move a couple of tables around to accommodate the extra person. Of course, this is a metaphor (or something) for the Western Conference, and the Western Conference is crowded so therefore this figurative restaurant is also crowded and this makes everyone uncomfortable. Plain and simple: they don’t belong, but they are here and we have to deal with it.

Don’t get me wrong; the Suns are good. They are also exactly the team that you don’t want to run into coming off of a blowout of a bad team. In the same way you want to have a short memory with a bad loss, it’s helpful to have a short memory with a big win.

The Timberwolves roared out to an early 11-2 lead behind six Kevin Martin points. The Suns saw this and thought this was a terrific idea like that person at the restaurant who orders the same thing as you by going on an 11-2 run of their own. Thanks to Channing Frye, the Suns managed to escape with a modest four-point lead at the end of one.

In the second quarter, Chase Budinger, making his season debut, scored five points, but it was Phoenix’s 12-3 run at the end of the half that would give them the 53-47 advantage.

It was in the third quarter that the Timberwolves continued to do the two things they were successful at in the first half — getting to the line and making threes — and were able to use that to carry them to a lead at the end of the third and eventually a late game lead.

Are you wondering why I skipped over a quarter’s worth of game? Because something happened, again, and I think we need to talk about it. I talked about it on Hardwood Paroxysm over the weekend while the site was down, but I’m willing to open up the conversation again.

Over the course of the game’s final 2: 45 the Suns managed to outscore the Timberwolves 8-1 to seal the game, including a Gerald Green baseline jumper that made you go, “YEAHOKAYWHATEVERGERALDGREENIFYOU’REGOINGTOHITTHAT…” It was tough, a little hard to stomach, but this is not the end of the world. Most of the Timberwolves’ issues are fixable, and while they do have time on their side, the sooner they get fixed the better.

For example, Corey Brewer’s foul on Gerald Green’s jumper with about 2:34 to go. On this play Brewer runs up behind Green as he’s about to release and catches him on the wrist. Why commit that foul then and there? It made no sense and eventually led to two made free throws by Green.

When the Timberwolves would try and run an offense the defense would sag off of Ricky Rubio, jamming the passing lanes and making it more difficult to get into their offense. This led to a rushed Kevin Love turnaround baseline jumper, a bobbled entry pass to Nikola Pekovic and Rubio eventually throwing a pass that was interception right under the basket and eventually helped the Suns seal the game. Even Kevin Martin got a chance to win it with his 10-footer at the end of the game, but it missed and the rest is now history.

Tonight was frustrating, no doubt. However, there is still plenty of time to turn things around being just 34 games into the season. Being in the Western Conference, these games are important so there does need to be a sense of urgency, but their 0-whatever record in late-game situations could wind up not mattering at all come April. The Timberwolves are one game under .500, not 15 games under. Nobody is guaranteed a playoff spot and the Timberwolves are no exception and will have to resolve their issues before it is actually too late.

Tonight is one of those games where you will need a short memory as a team (Probably a fan, too) since the last thing you want to do is compound your problems by letting it take another game from you. It’s not like I’m going to sit here and tell you that tonight wasn’t a disaster of an ending because it was, but that doesn’t automatically make it a predictor of latter season success. The Timberwolves will turn around to do it again against the improved Bobcats on Friday and if they can’t leave this game behind then they will have bigger problems than this.

Notes:

- Love finished with 15 and 12, but on 4-20 shooting and five fouls. Pekovic added 17-12 and Rubio finished with 7-8-8.

- For the Suns, Goran Dragic led the way with 26-8-9 and Channing Frye chipped in 22 points off of five three pointers.

- Both teams finished with 12 turnovers, but the Suns scored 18 off of turnovers to the Timberwolves’ 13. Though the Timberwolves won the points in the battle (42-28) and had twelve more free throw attempts than the Suns tonight. Yeah, they should have won, but late game execution and all…

Happening in Vegas: Suns-Timberwolves Preview


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Good morning or afternoon, depending on where and when you’re reading this! Sitting in my hotel before heading down to Thomas & Mack Arena to watch the Timberwolves and Suns game, and I’m happy to announce the coffee has kicked in for what should be another productive day out here. Hold on. There is one thing I need to address first:

Today’s game will not be broadcast in real time. It will be shown on tape delay tomorrow, Tuesday, July 16th, at noon CST. If you want to watch it in real time, while I don’t readily know where you could, you’ll just have to get resourceful in finding it. Otherwise, feel free to tweet me any questions you have about the game, because I probably know that stuff.

Now, this seems weird to do a preview for a Summer League game, and so far I’ve just rambled for 150 words, but the Suns have a few players of interest heading into this afternoon’s game. The Suns managed to acquire three underwhelming recent lottery picks : Kendall Marshall (13th overall in 2012); Marcus Morris (14th overall in 2011); Markieff Morris (13th overall in 2011). Guard Diante Christmas and forward Archie Goodwin are two other names of note, if for no other reason than hearing them mentioned in passing once or twice.

For the Timberwolves, all eyes will once again be on Shabazz Muhammad. It’ll be cool to see if Chris Johnson, Robbie Hummel and rookie Lorenzo Brown can continue to build that on-court chemistry together. Johnson midrange game, especially in the pick ‘n pop, was really fantastic on Saturday. And since I’d like to have a feel-good Monday at the arena, we hope to see Robbie Hummel do more good things.

Be sure to follow @DerekJamesNBA on Twitter for live, up-to-the-minute updates on the game straight from media row. Of course, there will be a recap to follow as well.