Timberwolves-Lakers Preview: WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!

I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.

They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.

Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.

Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.

 

Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.

Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.

Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 6:30 pm CST

See/Hear it: FSN and WCCO AM 830

 

 

 

A tale of two Kevins: Timberwolves down Mavs 116-108

There were two main things that determined tonight’s outcome: 1) Both teams making runs and 2) the abilities of the Kevins Love and Martin to lift the Timberwolves over the Mavericks at home.

Essentially, each team traded runs, but it was Kevin Martin’s three with 5:03 left in the third to put the Timberwolves up by 11 that put them in control of this game. Jose Calderon hit a pair of threes and Jae Crowder hit a layup to bring the Mavs back within three. In the third with the Mavericks threatening, Martin again rose to the occasion, hitting a 20-footer and then sinking two free throws later to put the Timberwolves up 89-83 early in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas would manage to stay close, keeping their deficit within three before Love hit a huge three pointer with 2:12 left and the Timberwolves never looked back.

Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis led the  way for the Mavs. Calderon added 21 points and seven assists, while Ellis added 23 points on 24 shots. Dirk Nowitzki added 14 points in 31 minutes on top of that. For the Timberwolves, Corey Brewer put up 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Martin finished with 32 points and five boards. Ricky Rubio’s six points, four assists and three rebounds may not have stood out, but his three steals made an impact on the defensive end.

However, the real star of the game was Kevin Love, who was threatening to put up his first NBA triple-double in the first half. Seriously, 15-10-7 at halftime? Just unbelievable.

Coach Rick Adelman spoke this offseason about how he wanted to see Love be more of a facilitator than he had been in his career, and now we’re seeing it, and the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits. Love has now dished out five or more assists in a game in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. Adelman’s vision was for Love to not only expand his game, but to make his teammates better and we’re seeing that. Whether it’s rifling a cross-court outlet pass to a streaking Brewer or his pass from the high post to Derrick Williams making a backdoor cut to the basket. And when you have two of your best players, the other being Ricky Rubio, being so willing to pass it’s infectious– the Timberwolves had four players finish with four or more assists last night (Barea and Brewer being the other two).

By increasing his assist totals, Love has not had to sacrifice the other aspects of his game. Love is still scoring at 27.2 ppg and leading the league in rebounding yet again with 14.7 per game. Now in his sixth season, Love’s assists per game average would be twice as high as his previous career high of 2.5 without having to compromise any other area of production. If this sustains itself over the course of the season, Love will not only have established himself as a more complete player, but cement his status as the best power forward in the game. Oh, and he’s only 25, so he will likely continue to improve as he moves towards 30.

Love’s 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists was his second game of the season with at least 30-15-5, while the rest of the league has none. In fact, since entering the league in the 2008-09 season, Love has the most 30-15-5 games in that time while also essentially missing last season. Tonight a few of Love’s teammates had some big games, but Love was pivotal in helping making plays for them. Not to take anything away from Brewer or Martin, but Love played the role of facilitator to near-perfection last night.

Now, the Timberwolves stand at 4-2 after snapping  their two-game losing streak and begin a road back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers beginning Sunday.

Warriors at Timberwolves Preview: We Live in the Past Because it’s Cozy

I almost always enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play whenever they’re on. It helps that they play a fun brand of basketball and have several talented players, especially Steph Curry. Yet, the reason I say almost always is because of the latter reason and because there is a certain faction of Timberwolves fans that would rather complain about how, “We could have had him!” instead of just appreciating Curry and the Timberwolves team that is currently in front of them. Also, we should learn from Warriors fans, whose game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is probably sad enough to keep the average fan in bed for two weeks; hindsight is always 20/20.

Hey, guys! Did you know the Timberwolves could have had Steph Curry but they took Jonny Flynn instead? Even though neither player was a sure thing at the time and it’s four years later, we should make sure to tell everyone this at every opening we get– whether it be Wolves-Warriors games or an exciting playoff series, we should definitely talk over it as much as possible!

Yes, Curry is an absolutely brilliant shooter and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make pull-up 27-footers with such ease. It was great to see a finally healthy Curry light up the Denver Nuggets in last spring’s first round series that caused the Nuggets to blow it all up in the summer. Curry’s three point shooting in games three and four was brilliant, shooting .555 percent from deep on 18 attempts.

Curry has only continued to be a threat from deep this season, likely making him a key focal point to the Timberwolves’ defensive strategy. Not only is Curry shooting .500 percent from three, but is doing so on nine attempts per game, which is ridiculous. But it’s not just from three; Curry has converted on .577 of his two point attempts so far this season and is averaging an eye-catching 9.8 per game.

Where is Curry most effective?

Shotchart_1383747556795

 

You see, Curry has been most effective from above and to the right of the break, shooting nearly .730 percent from that spot. We’ve become so accustomed to Curry’s brilliance that when we see numbers like .416 and .375 percent that you almost wonder why he’s struggling from there, but all of those numbers are no worse than, if not above average.

However, Curry is not alone on the wing. Teammate and shooting guard Klay Thompson has also expanded upon a strong playoff series and continued his excellent play. Thompson has shot .600 from the field (Which is high for even a center), .520 from three and .667 of his two-point attempts. While stats for percentage of certain shots assisted is not yet available this season, Thompson was assisted on .945 percent of his three point makes last season, making the Warriors’ backcourt even more dangerous because double-teaming is incredibly risky, yet playing them one-on-one has been problematic for NBA defenses so far.

Looking at the chart below we see Thompson likes to operate in that exact same space above and to the right of the break as Curry with remarkable proficiency:

Shotchart_1383747637064

Really, Thompson has been burning teams from everywhere on the floor this season– inside and out. The Timberwolves will have to continue to be the same team through four games that has been the NBA’s sixth best team in turnovers forced percentage if they hope to throw the Warriors off of their game. This won’t be like being able to put Corey Brewer on Kevin Durant and forcing his teammates to beat you, because Curry and Thompson’s teammates will. Golden State also ranks 28th in turnover percentage with .178 percent, meaning they turn the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time per 100 possessions.

The Timberwolves are also among the NBA’s best at getting to the line and making their free throws where the Warriors are not. Combined with their ability to force turnovers and their propensity for running out on the break as much as possible, look for Minnesota to go after every single easy basket that they can– be it free throws or fast break points. By doing so this will also prevent a decent defensive team in Golden State from getting set and force them to play the Timberwolves’ game.

If the Timberwolves are able to force turnovers and draw fouls they may be able to conceal one of the weaker aspects of their game so far this season, and that is rebounding. So far, the Timberwolves have grabbed .717 and .242 percent of all available defensive and offensive rebounds available, respectively. This may sound pretty good, but it puts them 24th and 21st in all of the NBA in each category. Now, the Warriors are 19th in Defensive Rebounding percentage and 24th in Offensive Rebounding percentage, but they don’t miss a lot as the league’s best shooting team, so defensive rebounds will likely be at a premium.

Both of these teams enter tonight at 3-1 and among the league’s most exciting young teams. With so much talent and so many great players on both teams, this will undoubtedly be an incredible game. Yeah, the Timberwolves don’t have Curry or Thompson, but they do have Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic. You could always spend your time thinking what could have been and what should have been, but what for? Timberwolves fans have spent the last decade hoping and waiting for a return to relevancy and a legitimately good team they don’t have to talk themselves into every season. And now that team is here, finally. So let’s just appreciate it while we can.

Kevin Love stars in new SportsCenter Ad

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1R376Qt1enc

We know Kevin Love has been very marketable in the past in his past spots in Pepsi’s Uncle Drew  and Yahoo! Sports’ Fantasy Sports ads, but he has done it again. This time, he’s the in-studio barista for the SportsCenter anchors with his own signature drink: a Double-Double espresso. And you see the effects of Love’s concoction when the anchors take the air.

Here is Uncle Drew and here is the Yahoo! spot, in case you missed them.

(Also, Happy Birthday to Ricky Rubio today!)

Timberwolves Media Day: “It’s a New Season”

If there was one common theme among Timberwolves players at media day it was that this was a new season. The injuries, the missed games and consequential losses are things that the team is looking to put behind them as they move towards the coming season. In fact, most players brushed back most questions regarding the injuries with the same dismissive answers that make you wonder if they got together and planned out their answers. That’s alright. With so much promise to this coming season the Timberwolves have little reason to look back.

Even when pressed about what they thought of injuries already rearing their ugly head as it has with Chase Budinger, the player’s expressed sympathy for their teammate, but were far from dejected. Where some fans have already begun with the “Here we go again…” diatribe, the Timberwolves reminded us that injuries are a part of professional sports and that players will miss some games. In short, they’re not paranoid, and they’re not checking underneath their beds for the Injury Boogeyman every night.

Kevin Love, who arguably endured the most trying season of all last season, was perhaps the fastest to close the door on any questions concerning last season. When pressed about his relationship with former general manager David Kahn and Flip Saunders, Love just said that “The past is the past,” and went on to praise the job that Saunders has done so far. When asked if he had a message for fans for this coming season he just said that it was a new season– a sentiment many of his teammates also wished to stress to their fans.

Love and the Timberwolves know that how far they go will be dependent in part to the growth of their All-Star power forward. Rick Adelman said that he wanted to see Love expand his game to becoming more of a facilitator and more of a factor on defense. This wasn’t Adelman calling Love out, either. Love said he knew what his coach was talking about and added that he knew that he wanted him to setup a few more plays for teammates (Love called his approach to passing as able, but not always willing.) and — along with his teammates — work to improve as defenders. J.J. Barea added in his availability that Love’s leadership will be a big determinant of their success will also be Love’s growth as a leader and that it has to be him to step in to that role.

Adelman himself said that he is looking forward to having Kevin Martin in the fold, who has he coached during much of the guard’s career. Interestingly enough, Adelman said that Martin came to him last season asking when they were going to reunite. Adelman believed this to be indicative of how much Martin believes in his system and said that now that he has the personnel, he is looking forward to adding more Motion sets to their predominantly Pick ‘n Roll attack from a year ago in hopes of being able make their attack more dynamic.

Additionally, the team addressed concerns over their ability to get defensive stops by saying they expect their to be  a great focus in camp on team defense, not just individual defense. Much of that will be helped by communicating and playing together over time, or as some people may call it: chemistry. Despite their improved offense, the team is aware of their flaws on defense, but it’s encouraging that they appear to be on the same page about how to limit the damage on that end of the court.

If anything, there was a sense of excitement; not just over the new acquisitions or having a new decision maker at the helm, but over the return of last year’s injured players and finally getting an extended look at their three best players on the floor together. Also, you cannot understate the morale boost that Rick Adelman’s return to the bench gave the players. With their best players and one of the game’s best coaches in hand, the Timberwolves have all of the reasons in the world to look at the road ahead.

Weight Watchers

Of course, you can’t talk about the Timberwolves without talking about the weight of their players. Even I fell victim to this trap on Twitter when Love came up to the microphone with his face noticeably slimmed down in what appears to be the best shape of his career. Derrick Williams was also one of the offseason’s biggest losers, having dropped from 250 pounds to 235 pounds with the idea to be better-suited to play the small forward position in a  stacked power forward rotation. Yet, the funniest moment regarding player weight questions was when Shabazz Muhammad and Barea were on the stage together when Muhammad was asked about his weight and Barea turned his head and laughed.

It’s the offseason, JJ. We know it’s not important, but we are out of things to talk about at this point!

Way Too Early, Super-Tentative Opening Night Starting Lineup

This was one thing that Adelman let out that gave us a better idea of where the Timberwolves are headed in the wake of Budinger potentially missing extended time. Adelman said that the guards will probably be Ricky Rubio and Martin; Pekovic and Love at the four and five; but then finished off by saying “probably Corey at the three.” If Budinger winds up missing camp and/or preseason it might make sense to have Brewer start the season as the starting small forward to ease Budinger back into things.

So here is the way too early, super-tentative opening night starting lineup for the Timberwolves:

PG: Ricky Rubio (Duh.)

SG: Kevin Martin (Kinda duh now with Budinger possibly out.)

SF: Corey Brewer (Wasn’t so duh a week ago.)

PF: Kevin Love (Duh)

C: Nikola Pekovic (Duh.)

Ronny Turiaf is the Man (And You Won’t Convince Me Otherwise) 

Seriously. He’s my new favorite player and he hasn’t even played a minute of basketball for the Timberwolves.

Perhaps the best moment was when him and Derrick Williams were supposed to hold their press conferences jointly and Derrick was late, so we proceeded without him. Mid-question, Turiaf notices Derrick standing off to the side and tells him to join us. Derrick says he wanted to make sure he wasn’t interrupting, which is funny because this exchange probably interrupted things more than it would have if he just pulled up a chair next to him.

Turiaf and Williams went on fielding questions from the media for another seven minutes or so. Derrick had the same jaw surgery that Kevin Love had awhile back with the same doctor that corrected his bite and said that he was feeling great because it helped his breathing. Turiaf, was not only an entertaining interview, but also mentioned that he’s made money so he’s only here to make something special happen, which was cool.

As they were getting up to leave, Williams before Turiaf, Ronny calls out, “Thanks for joining us, Derrick!” You might’ve had to be there, but it was perfectly timed.

#TwolfRank: #2 Ricky Rubio

Photo: StarTribune.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. We’re down to our final three players. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here

(Disclaimer: 1) I’m not saying that Kobe Bryant intentionally tried to hurt Ricky Rubio. Don’t be so sensitive; 2) Read Jonah’s post so you have any idea what I’m talking about here before you read this.)

For two seasons Ricky Rubio has been dazzling Timberwolves fans with his spectacular passes and warming their hearts with his charming personality. Yet, very few people know the true story of the Origins of Rubio. Or the Genesis of Rubio. Whichever sounds cooler.

Long ago and an ocean away, there was once a land called, well, España. Since the Middle Ages Kings fought battles in the name of an enchanted unicorn named Ricardo Rubio I Vives. Before the arrival of Ricardo, the water was unpotable and the land had been devastated by famine, poverty and illness.

One day a hoofed, woodland creature emerged from the forest surrounded in an aura of light. Upon his arrival the townspeople warmly greeted the creature as it nourished the land, cleansed the water supply and healed the sick. Additionally, it was a favorite of the maidens of the land, much to the chagrin of the gentlemen of the land. A revelation of this nature would not stay hidden for long and other lands would soon hear the news of Ricardo Rubio I Vives: The Mystical Unicorn of Spain.

Royalty from all over the world came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the magical unicorn and witness his magical powers. Ricardo Rubio I Vives proved to the skeptics that he was no myth or legend as they watched him heal the land and restore hope, almost singlehandedly.

After several years had passed, the unicorn soon realized that other regions were in greater need of his help than Spain. Soon, Ricardo Rubio I Vives would travel overseas, across the great ocean to a land that had been devastated by the decisions of it’s rulers. Beforehand, he appeared to the great Nikolai Pekorov in a dream to summon him ahead of time to join the natural born King, Kevine Love III, also known as Devine Kevine.

Pekorov and King Kevine had struggled to restore peace to a once great land to it’s past greatness, and before long the great unicorn knew it was his time to make his voyage to the North.

Immediately, the unicorn adapted to his new land. Gracing Pekerov and King Kevine with his presence, their individual abilities grew seemingly overnight upon his arrival. Even in time he would give the young lion Derrick Williamsburg a purpose and direction, in addition to making the rest of the North’s fighters even better with his remarkable vision.

After watching Ricardo Rubio I Vives help Pekerov take down Howardsano the Terrible, the uprising army in the North caught the eye of Los Angelitos emperor, Kobeus Bryantus. Bryantus was the power hungry ruler of the West whose obsession with being the greatest was notorious across the land. And these uprisings, like the one in the North, were viewed by Kobeus as a threat to his potential legacy.

As the days turned to fortnights, Bryantus’ own people became speaking more of this mystical creature spreading joy and wealth across the frozen land. The emperor couldn’t stomach the thought of wealthy peoples and he soon became crazed with jealousy. In his envious mind he convinced himself that the unicorn must be stopped and would soon travel to the North to do battle with Pekorov, King Kevine and Ricardo the Unicorn.

The Los Angelitos army arrived in the snow covered land of the North halfway through the battle season looking to stifle this rebellion once and for all. The unicorn-led militia began to pick apart the invading Los Angelitos army, but soon found to be nearly overmatched by the rebels. The villagers cheered and applauded as their heroes went blow-for-blow with the great army and the invaders were quickly becoming overwhelmed by their surprise attacks.

Emperor Kobeus was exhausted, angry and embarrassed. He had not lost to this nation very much and didn’t intend to again. Desperately, he encountered the unicorn one-on-one in an attempt to stop the heart of the rebellion.

The unicorn majestically galloped around the attacks of the emperor, frustrating the ruler even more. Enough was enough the emperor decided, so Kobeus struck Ricardo Rubio I Vives above the hoof as the onlookers stood in stunned silence as the Los Angelitos army took the advantage and swept through to calim victory over the North once again.

However, Kobeus had only wounded the unicorn, not slayed him. He would return once again to finish the work he had only begun to start.

As the unicorn worked to heal himself following the attack, but gloom soon returned to the North. King Kevine had been struck with his own wounds, as well as Pekorov before the battle season. All of this dampened the spirits of the once jubilant town’s folk as they watched their heroes recover and the losses in battle pile up. Ricardo Rubio I Vives knew he couldn’t be gone long and willed himself to good health just in time.

Upon his return part way through the battle season, Ricardo the Unicorn called upon Williamsburg to help him salvage as many of the battles as they could. Yet, this proved to be a difficult task with no marksmen. Even the rugged, veteran defense master Andrei “The Great” Kirilenkolev could not stop of all of the losing, but the rebuilding group managed to have their best battle season in nearly a decade.

But the tale goes on. With the future unforeseeable, Ricardo the Unicorn has been granted the gift to spread wealth among his people. The comrades at his side shall never fret for Ricardo’s gift is here. Paired with his will to overcome adversity, the land in the North shall soon rule the land, including that of the evil West.

What? You don’t remember this happening either? This is right around the same period as Jonah’s tale of Nikola Pekovic’s tattoo. Know your history or be doomed to repeat it…or something. Geez.

Anyway, Ricky Rubio is number two on our 2013 #TwolfRank. He may not be the team’s best player. No, he’s really not at all, but he is arguably their most valuable player, especially given the “gifts” already mentioned in his arsenal. With his defense and his incredible passing ability he makes his teammates better by earning extra possessions and then using his vision to setup his teammates for the best possible opportunities. And incredible doesn’t really do what Rubio does justice; it’s like he sees passing lanes that are undetectable to the normal human eye. Everything Rubio does great makes teams become that much better, which is oddly refreshing. Too often have we seen teams revolve around a one-man show (Kobe and the Los Angelitos Army). Rubio’s style equates that of winning basketball, which hopefully turns fortune around in Minneapolis this season.

The weaknesses are obvious such as hit perimeter shooting. But in the mean time, he does enough of the other things well enough to make him well-worthy of his unanimous number two ranking.

More on Ricky Rubio and unicorns.

Rubio's USA debut

Last night, Ricky Rubio played with some of the NBA’s best in a charity game for the Drew Gooden Make A Wish Foundation.

Stars like Demar Derozan, James Harden, Anderson Varejao, Dorell Wright, Shawn Marion and plenty more took the court alongside the Spanish phenom and helped raise over $10,000 for Gooden’s charity.

Rubio’s skills were undeniable. His court vision and passing skills were unfathomable. He was even able to hit open shots when given the opportunity. Granted that defense in these kinds of pick-up games are a lost cause, Rubio was able to dazzle on court and put a show on for the fans.

Clearly he’s something special and keeping him off of NBA courts is a sin. Hopefully the lockout can get cleared up soon before it’s too late and he changes his mind to flee home to Barcelona.