I’m back from Mexico City in time to carry on the “tradition” of Friday night game previews for Timberpups in collaboration with bloggers from opposing teams. The scheduling gods have put the Timberwolves in New Orleans on a Friday night with off days prior and immediately after. Hopefully Bourbon Street is kind to Ricky Rubio. I digress.
Given this is the second Friday night game against the Hornets/Pelicans; we have reconnected with Christian Blanks again from Swarmandsting.com. Both teams have been hit by the injury bug time and again this season, so this should give us a chance to get the latest from the Hornets’ side of things.
The Pups come into Friday’s game off of a blowout loss in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, moving the team back to .500 on the season at 16-16. The Hornets enter the game on a three game winning streak but with a 10-25 record on the season. Can the Twolves stay at or above .500 despite the injury to Kevin Love, who is scheduled to miss 8-10 weeks with a broken hand.
Let’s just move on, here’s our Q&A …
Hornets Question #1 for Christian:
How has Eric Gordon looked so far this season since returning from his injury in late December? Should we expect him to look a little rusty?
Eric Gordon has been playing exceptionally well. I don’t think anyone could have expected him to be playing as well as he is considering all the time he has missed. Gordon has played in 4 games so far and is averaging just over 18 points and 4 assists per game. While Gordon is producing, his field goal percentage could improve greatly. Right now, Gordon’s shot percentage is a mere .35%. In the Hornets previous win against the Spurs, Gordon shot 9-22 from the field, although he was 6-6 from the free throw line and scored 24 points.
So “Yes”, expect Gordon to be a tad rusty, but he will still play like the star player that he is. Gordon will not shy away from taking his shots, it is just a matter of how many of them will he make.
Pups Question #1 for John:
The Hornets have been on a little hot streak with Eric Gordon in the line-up, winning 4 of his first 5 games back. With Kevin Love out, do you see the Timberwolves having the same chances of beating the Hornets as they did in their first match-up? Who will be the Timberwolves key player that makes the difference?
As this season wears on, I’m having a tougher and tougher time predicting Wolves’ wins and losses. We just don’t know who is going to be playing and who isn’t, night in and night out. With Love now officially gone for an extended period of time, this is Derrick Williams’ time to shine. Over the past few games he has produced admirably.
As long as Ricky Rubio is playing on Friday night, the Wolves should be able to pull out the win. Ricky’s defense is going to be needed against the Hornets guards and his floor leadership is the key in getting the ball to the remaining healthy bodies where they need it on the floor. I do expect a win on Friday night from the Wolves, preventing them from falling under .500.
Hornets Question #2 for Christian:
In our first Q&A you had mentioned that you didn’t expect Austin Rivers to necessarily show marked improvement by this game, but would think it should start to happen in the spring? I’ve seen a few clunkers from him in the past few weeks. Any update on his progress or overall thoughts on what is / is not working for him?
Despite Austin Rivers exploding for 27 in the Hornets first meeting with the Timberwolves, he has not improved at all since we last talked. He had a few solid games here and there but those should be expected of a player if he is starting and playing 25-40 minutes a night consistently. In more recent games, Rivers has taken an expected back seat to Eric Gordon and has not seen the floor as much. This may be a good thing as Rivers just simply needs more time to develop. At one time the Hornets were expected to go out and get another shooting guard to fill the void while Gordon was out. Rivers will find his place with the Hornets to make him more effective; he is use to being a primary ball handler and that is not his role on this team. Rivers just needs to become a better stand still shooter and learn how to drive the lane in the NBA.
Pups Question #2 for John:
Were you expecting Ricky Rubio to take this long to get it together? I wouldn’t say he is playing “bad” but he is certainly not the same player he was before the injury. Do you see him making progress toward that point or has his role changed with all the time he has missed?
I’m not really sure what my expectations were for Rubio outside of the fact that the team needed him on the court to lead the offense, as well as being somewhat of a better defender than anyone previously available on the roster at the PG spot. You’re right though, he isn’t the same player he was last year, but that should be somewhat expected. Hopefully his confidence continues to grow in the leg and his ability to make cuts on both ends of the floor.
I absolutely see him making progress through the remainder of the season as he adjusts his playing style, becomes more confident in the knee itself, and acclimates himself to all of the new members of the Wolves roster. I would like to see him taking (and making) more shots as this season progresses as well, given the scoring we are now missing with Love and others out of the lineup. Acclimating himself to his new teammates is crucial for Rubio, who can make the difficult passes look easy. Once he begins to pick up on teammates’ tendencies, he’ll look better and better as the weeks go by.
Hornets Question #3 for Christian:
Greivis Vasquez is starting to win me over. Where did this play come from? Were there signs that he could play at this level in the past?
Yeah, I’m sure Greivis is winning over a lot of people at this point. I would have to say it’s quite impressive that Vasquez has 14 double-doubles thus far in the season. I’m sure Vasquez has always been capable of this kind of production he just needed the confidence and opportunity. He showed signs of this at the end of last year when the Hornets were giving their younger players significantly more minutes. Vasquez has always been playing behind Jarret Jack who is definitely a starting PG in this league. This season the Hornets traded away Jack for pretty much nothing (his contract expires after this season) and put the ball and team in Greivis’ hands. It was a huge responsibility and Vasquez has responded very well.
Pups Question #3 for John:
With all of the unexpected injuries the Timberwolves have to be eyeing some possible trades before the deadline. Do you see the Timberwolves possibly being able to pull off a trade that would still allow them to make a run at the playoffs? I’m sure the injuries have lowered the short-term value of many players on their roster so do you see any positive outcomes for the T-Wolves in making their team better for the playoffs?
I consistently go back and forth on this one. This season has been completely derailed by injuries, particularly Love’s and Budinger’s. Anyone could have predicted Roy would miss some time, but it is concerning to see just how much he is missing already. Ricky’s return was very much needed, but as mentioned above, he isn’t anywhere close to 100%. This doesn’t even account for the games Pekovic and AK47 have missed here and there, Josh Howard’s season ending injury, and whatever is going on with JJ Barea.
The playoffs are still a possibility, but I can’t see this team doing anything once it gets there without everyone being at or near the top of their game. That wasn’t my opinion just a few weeks ago. With Love’s latest injury, I do think it is possible for Kahn to pull off a small deal, but I don’t see the team dealing Derrick Williams at this point. You might see Barea or Ridnour sent out for a more complementary player for the roster (a SG/SF). However, if I were Kahn, I wouldn’t be willing to throw in any picks or make a panic move to “ensure” the team makes the playoffs. I’m currently of the belief that the team should do a minor tinkering move or two if they are available to balance the roster, but I would rather just ride this season out and see what happens vs. doing some type of high risk / reward move.
We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Hornets. Again, you can read more from Christian at swarmandsting.com and/or follow him on Twitter. You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter as well.