Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Utah Jazz 107

AlJeffersonGame Summary:

The Minnesota Timberwolves travelled to Utah on Friday night to battle the Jazz in a critical game for Utah’s playoff hopes. With the Los Angeles Lakers and Jazz fighting it out for the final seed in the West, the Jazz looked to their bigs to help them past the lottery-bound Timberwolves.

Nikola Pekovic sat out Friday night’s meeting against the Jazz with an injured left calf. The frontcourt matchup was made increasingly more difficult with the absence of the Wolves starting center. Minnesota defended the interior well in the first period despite facing mismatches in Utah’s favor. The Jazz led 11-10 after the first timeout about midway through the first quarter.

Utah began to expand on their lead following Ricky Rubio’s second foul with around four minutes remaining in the first. The starting Jazz bigs of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap did a nice job of running the floor in transition. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 95, Los Angeles Clippers 111

Blake GriffinGame Summary:

Coming off of a blowout defeat in Oakland on Tuesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to the Staples center the following evening to take on the  Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers, 30-9 at home this season, were playing to clinch their first Pacific Division title in franchise history and one more win at home would give them their largest home win total in franchise history.

Entering the game on a massive shooting slump, Ricky Rubio, who had previously made only 3 of his previous 33 field goal attempts, shot just 2-8 from the field and ended with another tough line of 6 points and 7 assists in 23 minutes.

Rubio had a tough assignment as he was opposite of the consensus top point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul. Paul was masterful against the Timberwolves, absolutely dissecting the defense off the dribble drive while manipulating pick-and-rolls to veteran perfection. Los Angeles carried a 12-point lead into halftime while the Wolves appeared as if they had very little left in the tank in the second game of a back-to-back.

The Pups came back from the break hungry, as they staged a 13-4 run bringing the game within three points in the third period. The Wolves did a better job of limiting turnovers as shown by 9 total team turnovers in the contest. However, the Clippers got things back in check and exploded near the end of the quarter to lead 88-72 going into the final quarter

The Wolves have a very difficult time getting back into game when they struggle so mightily shooting from beyond the arc. It is not a very simple formula: when you excel making shots that are worth more than 2-pointers, it is easier to cut deficits. Somebody tell that to David Kahn!

The Pups ultimately fell in Los Angeles by a score of 111-95. They play next in Utah on Friday night.

Keys of the Game:

  • Shot-blocking - What’s new in the world? The Wolves had a tough time in the interior as the Clippers logged 11 blocks as a team compared to only 4 by the Timberwolves. Ironically, one of the shortest guys on the floor (Chris Paul) logged half as many blocks as Minnesota did as a team, while DeAndre Jordan added 5 himself. Neither of the Pups primary shot-blockers – Greg Stiemsma and Chris Johnson – were able to record a single block.
  • Three-point shooting - I have become a broken record to this point in the season… Los Angeles converted on 11 of their 21 three-point attempts while the Wolves hit only 6 of their 23 tries from deep. The lack of perimeter shooting has greatly limited the Wolves ability to stay in games like the one Wednesday night.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Chris Paul - The best point guard in the NBA logged 19 points (7-11 FG, 2-2 3Pt), 11 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks to go along with a mere one turnover. Certainly an incredible stat line when going against one of the better perimeter defenders in the league in Rubio. CP3 helped to fundamentally change the dynamic for the young Clippers team when they decided to give up Eric Gordon and assets for him, and it has turned out better than anyone could have predicted for the franchise.
  2. Blake Griffin - The other Clippers star played a stellar 30 minutes and finished with 19 points (9-13 FG), 8 rebounds and 7 assists while turning the ball over a game-high times. Now a perennial All-Star, Griffin has flourished against the Timberwolves when Kevin Love has been absent and his athleticism was profoundly unmatched against the Timberwolves.
  3. Nikola Pekovic - One of the sole bright spots of the game came from the play of Pek, who finished with 20 points (7-13 FG) and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes.

Minnesota Timberwolves 89, Golden State Warriors 105

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

Playing in Oakland on Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Golden State Warriors who were playing to clinch a playoff spot with a win on their home floor. A win for the Warriors would symbolize the organization reaching only their second playoff berth over the past 19 years.

The matchup featured a showdown between the top three-point shooting team in the league against the worst in that same category. Minnesota, now without team leader and top scorer Kevin Love for the remainder of the season as he gets some scar tissue cleaned up in his knee, had a very difficult time competing in the interior against the Golden State frontcourt of David Lee and a healthy Andrew Bogut.

The Warriors size advantage was impossible to ignore from the tip, as Warriors head coach Marc Jackson put 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson on Ricky Rubio, making penetration tough for the Spaniard off the bat.

The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, Nikola Pekovic entered the game averaging a dominant 22.7 points and 10.9 rebounds over his past seven games. The Warriors game planned well and Bogut did a very good job of denying Pek the ball on the low block. With Minnesota doing a poor job of finding ways to get the ball to their center in the paint, the Wolves were forced to focus the offense on scoring from the perimeter – something that they usually struggle mightily with.

It was Klay Thompson who provided the majority of Golden State’s points early on, as he was red-hot from beyond the arc. Shooting an impressive 40% from three in only his second NBA season, Thompson hit his first four shot attempts and he led the Warriors with 10 points with the Warriors leading 20-17 with 2:55 remaining in the first period of play. Minnesota looked for backside cuts for much of their offense and went into the second period tied 26-26.

Thompson continued to light it up from all over the floor in the second quarter as he stayed perfect hitting his first 8 field goal attempts with 5 of them being three-pointers nearly halfway through the second. Despite the superb performance Thompson was giving for Golden State, Minnesota held a 40-39 lead with nearly seven minutes remaining in the first half. Stephen Curry had a difficult time getting in a rhythm and was mostly passive throughout the first half and even had to be careful on the defensive end as he picked up his third personal foul with around 3 minutes left in the second quarter.

Having a hard time gaining separation from Thompson, Ricky vied for open jumpers dribbling off screens but his shot looked very flat and he shot 0-5 in the first half. With Rubio unable to create offense for himself and the Warriors baiting him to take longer jump shots, the Pups fell right into Golden State’s gameplan as the Wolves worst shooter continued to brick shots off of the rim while Nikola laid hungry on the low block.

A late run in the first half highlighted by a transition dunk by Harrison Barnes gave the Warriors a 55-54 lead entering halftime. The first half was essentially the Klay Thompson show, who put on an absolute clinic shooting the ball as he went 9-11 from the field on his way to 25 first half points. The Washington State product certainly played a critical role in keeping the Warriors afloat providing nearly half of the team’s points in the opening half of play.

In the second half, Golden State continued their initial game plan of denying Pekovic on the low block while baiting Ricky to shoot jump shots. After averaging such prolific numbers over the past seven games, Pek was unable to get into any sort of rhythm in the paint while facing very impressive interior defense.

With the game only separated by six points, Luke Ridnour and Thompson got into a small shoving match which ultimately resulted in a technical foul against Luke causing a shift in momentum in the opponents favor. From that point on the Wolves started their collapse as the Warriors fed off of each others energy in transition leading to a 19-4 run for Golden State. With Rubio ice cold and unable to score on anything besides free throws, the Warriors gained significant control of the game with just less than four minutes to play in the third period as they led the Pups 78-64.

Not only was Pek held in check scoring-wise, but he was also unable to contribute on the offensive glass as the Warriors did a fantastic job of getting multiple bodies on the 290-pound monster. This inhibited the Timberwolves from creating second chance opportunities and the Warriors held a large advantage in the rebounding battle. Stephen Curry began to heat up in the third period scoring 13 points in the quarter. Chase Budinger was able to provide a spark offensively off of the bench as he scored 10 points in first 12 minutes on the court. However, Golden State controlled the perimeter and interior battles and led 86-70 heading into final period of play.

The fourth quarter was much of the same as the Wolves continued to struggle shutting down any of the Warriors several weapons, and the countdown to the final buzzer was on for much of the fourth quarter. With the clock ticking down, Warriors fans received the 105-89 victory with chants and cheers as they witnessed their team secure a playoff spot for only the second time in 19 seasons. As hard it was to watch Golden State cap off their impressive season with a playoff berth while the Timberwolves are in the midst of finishing their tumultuous 2012-13 campaign, it was a good sight watching a small market club cheered on by a sellout Oakland crowd overcome significant adversity to ultimately grab a playoff spot in the upcoming NBA postseason. While Timbewolves’ fans know that it coulda been, shoula been us, we must continue to look to the future and have confidence that our bit of luck has yet to come.

 

Keys of the Game:

Rebouding - The Warriors out-rebounded the Timberwolves 60-44 while holding a 12-6 advantage on the offensive glass. Lee, Barnes and Bogut each recorded at least 10 rebounds while Greg Stiemsma led the Wolves with 9.

Interior Defense - The Warriors held Minnesota’s starting frontcourt duo of Williams and Pekovic to a collective 10 points on 4-16 FG and 7 rebounds. Bogut recorded 3 blocks and together he and Lee posted 17 points and 26 rebounds.

 

Three Stars of the Game: 

  1. Klay Thompson - Thompson was unconscious in the first half knocking down his first 5 three-point attempts and his first 8 field goals in total. The long shooting guard was two points off of his career high for scoring as he finished with 30 points (10-19 FG, 6-10 3Pt) to pair with 5 steals in 36 minutes on the floor.
  2. David Lee - Golden State’s workhorse in the paint continued his tremendous 2012-13 campaign and recorded another double-double of 15 points (6-12 FG), 12 rebounds and 5 assists in 33 minutes. Lee has been arguably the Warriors most important player this season and he will finally get an opportunity to compete in the playoffs after eight NBA seasons.
  3. Stephen Curry - After a subpar first half, Curry got hot in the third quarter and ultimately finished with 24 points (9-21 FG, 2-9 3Pt), 10 assists and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes. Curry has done a great job of staying on the court this season after several arthroscopic ankle surgeries over the past few seasons. It is no question that Golden State is a fundamentally different team with Curry in the lineup than when he is on the bench with injury.

Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Detroit Pistons 101

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

The Timberwolves hosted the Detroit Pistons at the Target Center on Saturday night with Rick Adelman receiving another opportunity to win his 1000th career victory in his 22nd season as an NBA coach. The Pups came within a few points of achieving the feat the previous night against Toronto, but ultimately fell by a score of 95-93 leaving Adelman at 999 career victories.

Detroit boasted their tough frontcourt of rising star Greg Monroe paired with rookie phenom Andre Drummond, it was no easy task for Minnesota starters Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams on the interior. The centers matchup of Pekovic and Drummond was sure not to disappoint, as it was a matchup of Minnesota’s polished bruiser against Detroit’s young Amar’e Stoudemire clone.

For the last time this season, it was a Spaniard vs. Spaniard PG matchup as buddies Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon faced off for the final time of the regular season. While both are familiar from their participation on the Spanish National team, each player possesses their own unique style. The long time Raptor Calderon focuses his scoring from long mid-range jumpers stretching beyond the arc, and due to his lack of elite quickness uses precision in his movements to make plays. On the other end, Tricky Ricky as many call him threads passes through tight windows while using his eyes to lead defenses one way while he does what they least expect him to. Despite the different styles, both Rubio and Calderon have enjoyed very good campaigns in 2012-13.

Detroit got running in transition early, as they were very active at getting hands in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. They did a nice job of pushing the ball hard down the floor following steals, but they had a difficult job of finishing at the rim with the advantage in transition.

Derrick Williams got off to a strong start as he netted 6 of the Wolves’ first 14 points as Minnesota led 14-6 with 7:36 remaining in the first quarter. Ricky had  a tough time getting penetration in the first period as Detroit showed strong resilience as a unit on the defensive end. However, the Wolves advantage in transition allowed them a 33-25 lead at the culmination of the first quarter.

Detroit got nice bench contributions from Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey in the second quarter and the Pistons and Wolves went back and forth in the second period. Coming off the bench, JJ Barea came right back and provided a great spark for the Wolves, creating off the dribble and doing a great job of mixing up pull up jumpers and shot fakes for easy buckets off of the drive. Continuing to flow the offense through their 290-pound mammoth, Minnesota headed to the locker room with a 61-55 first half lead.

The second half continued to be a dog fight as Detroit outshot the Timberwolves, but continually committed careless turnovers on the offensive end which led to some easy transition buckets for Minnesota. The Pups dug deep for their head coach and held on to a three point lead heading into the final period of play.

With six different Pistons finishing with at least 3 turnovers last night, it is easy to understand why Minnesota ultimately won the game 107-101. However, a win is a win and Rick Adelman was quick to rush over to his wife Mary Kay who awaited him in the corner of the court. Despite all the health issues that Mary Kay and Rick have fought together, they were both on the court on Saturday night to witness Rick become the eighth coach in NBA history to reach the 1,000 mark. All of the Timberwolves players joined in celebration following the home victory and fans relished in something meaningful during an anticlimactic and disappointing season. Go Rick, you deserve all the credit you get.

Notable Performances:

Alexey Shved played only 4 minutes and scored 0 points after failing to attempt a field goal. It has been a disastrous second half of the season for the 24-year-old Shved, who after lighting it up in the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star weekend has fell to near the bottom of Adelman’s rotation. It will be a crucial summer for Alexey as he needs to regain the confidence and swagger that he displayed throughout much of the first half of the season.

Ricky Rubio shot just 1-13 from the field, but was nonetheless a +17 on the floor while notching 6 assists, 5 steals, and 5 rebounds in 32 minutes. Games like these remind everybody watching what Ricky’s offseason priority must be: taking as many jump shots in the gym as possible.

Rodney Stuckey has come on strong in his past four games, averaging 20 points over that very span. After receiving a 5-year, $50 million deal Stuckey has fallen very short of his expectations and has become an afterthought of the common Pistons fan. Regardless of the past, the 6-foot-5 combo-guard played a solid 28 minutes and finished the night with 20 points (8-15 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers.

Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe combined for 25 points and 16 rebounds, but were unable to contain Pekovic as he recorded yet another double-double. The 22-year-old Monroe and 19-year-old Drummond together may be the most exiting future frontcourt in the NBA, and each could prove perfect compliments to the others game as the Pistons move forward in their rebuilding efforts.

Keys of the Game:

  • Free throws - Coming into the game fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, the Timberwolves attempted 17 more free throws than Detroit while hitting at a similar percentage as their counterparts. However, the total trips to the line proved to be a key advantage as the Pups netted 29 of their 38 attempts compared to 15 of 21 for the Pistons.
  • Turnovers - In and out of injuries for much of the second half of the season, Andrei Kirilenko appears to be 100% as far as his health goes and it was evident tonight on the defensive end where the Russian recorded 7 of Minnesota’s 16 steals. Rubio was also able to add 5 steals of his own while Detroit only managed 10 as a team on their way to 24 Pistons turnovers to only 14 by the Pups.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Rick Adelman - I had to, right? Congratulations to Minnesota’s head coach who became just the eighth coach all-time to hit four digits in the wins column, and while his future surrounding his potential retirement clouds his future as the Wolves’ head coach, the Pups are very lucky to have a historic coach at the helm in the meantime.
  2. Nikola Pekovic - Boy has Pek been on a tear as of late. The Timberwolves man in the middle has flourished as the Timberwolves primary scorer with Kevin Love potentially done for the season with his broken hand, and Pek has taken full advantage of the spotlight as he auditions for a huge contract this summer. Finishing the night with 20 points (7-15 FG) and 13 rebounds while possessing a game-high +20 in 36 minutes on the floor, there is no question that Pek has been producing as a top-tier center in the NBA over the past month. The biggest question is if the oft-injured center who is in just his third NBA season will be worth spending a probable $10+ million per year contract on as he nears restricted free agency this upcoming summer. With the notoriously cheap Glen Taylor running the team, there are no guarantees that we will see our Montenegrin big man in a Timberwolves uniform next season.
  3. Brandon Knight - This was a tough decision between Rodney Stuckey and Knight as each player provided a huge impact in their own respect. I ultimately gave the nod to Knight as he was able to make a huge impact from beyond the arc as well as driving to the basket. The second year combo-guard out of Kentucky has had a somewhat difficult transition from college to the NBA, but his versatility gives him the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. He ironically is a very similar player to his overpaid backup in Stuckey, but remains five years younger and much more consistent despite having had much less professional experience. In 41 minutes, Knight scored a game-high 25 points (9-15 FG, 3-4 3Pt) to pair with 6 assists and 2 steals.

Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Milwaukee Bucks 98

NikolaPekGame Summary

The Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves just a five hour drive away from Minneapolis on Wednesday night as they faced off against the Bucks in the Bradley Center of Milwaukee. With some help from Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic the Wolves were able to knock off the playoff-destined Bucks, winning by a score of 107-98.

Wednesday night featured an intriguing matchup between Nikola Pekovic and Bucks’ center Larry Sanders, who in his third NBA season has really begun to establish himself as one of the premier shot-blockers and interior defenders in the Association.

From the get-go, Pek established himself on the low block and was especially effective on the offensive glass. Minnesota’s 290-pound bulldozer did a heck of a job against a top-flight defender in Sanders, and he continues to produce in a big way as the focal point of the Timberwolves’ offense with Kevin Love sidelined.

Our Montenegrin man in the middle has really turned heads in the NBA community due to his strong play over the past month. Although he has been vulnerable to a myriad of injuries just in his third NBA season, when healthy Pekovic is one of the top centers in the Western Conference. By always fighting on the offensive glass, big Pek creates second chance opportunities that backup Greg Stiemsma has been unable to provide in his first season playing for Minnesota.

Milwaukee entered last night’s game with a respectable 36-37 record, good for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. 6 games up on the nitnth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers with 8 more games to play, the Bucks’ are a virtual lock to make the playoffs to likely face the heavily favored potential championship winners, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

The awkward combination of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis – two players with virtually the same exact skill set – in the Bucks’ backcourt has been a joy and a nightmare for Milwaukee  fans to watch this season, as both players look like they are trying to each assume the same role in the offense as each other. Ellis has been mum on whether he will exercise his pricey price tag for next season or if he will use his early termination clause in order to become a free agent to sign a long-term deal this summer. I do not see the Bucks bringing him back unless he is willing to take a big pay cut or if Jennings himself heads elsewhere regardless of his status as a pending restricted free agent. Whatever the case ends up being, it is more than likely that either Ellis or Jennings will be headed for greener pastures this summer while the Bucks use some of their cap space on recently acquired sharpshooter JJ Redick.

The Timberwolves led 34-23 after the first quarter while the Bucks looked stagnant on defense for much of the last 5 minutes in the first period. The Wolves extended that lead to 40-26 thanks to a big Pekovic and-1 less than two minutes into the quarter. However, Brandon Jennings sprinted right back down the court and gave the Milwaukee bench a surge of energy following an and-1 of his own.

Two things that particularly stood out to me in the second quarter was the Pups’ impressive floor spacing and ball movement in the halfcourt offense against a tough defensive opponent. The Wolves opened up good looks for their shooters and took advantage of poor close outs from the Bucks’ perimeter defenders to hit 5 of their first 8 attempts from long range, with Tricky Ricky knocking down two of them.

Milwaukee answered back beginning around the 5 minute mark to eventually take a 48-46 lead with 2:40 to play in the first half. The Bucks’ new six-man Redick provided a nice spark with his shooting and overall veteran acumen in the backcourt. I am not alone in believing that the Milwaukee offense flows much more productively when pairing a true shooting guard like Redick with either of their play-making guards running the point.

Who said Ricky can’t shoot? Despite owning shooting percentages of 37% and 27% from the field and beyond the arc, respectively, Ricky knocked down each of his first 5 attempts – yes, you read that correctly – from long range in the first half as the Wolves headed into the locker room with a 55-52 lead at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Rubio’s improved scoring since the All-Star break has been extremely satisfying to witness as he struggled mightily in his first month back after recovering from ACL surgery. Rubio led all Wolves in the first half with 15 points on 5 three-pointers.

I could not help but wonder if Rubio’s hot shooting had anything to do with Jennings’ comment of “the dude is just all hype” when he was asked about playing against him in Europe during his solo year playing abroad. While Ricky is not one for verbal or physical confrontation, I believe his game spoke for itself as he forced the Bucks’ point guard to eat his past words on Wednesday night.

The Timberwolves doubled their halftime lead and led the Bucks 87-81 heading into the final period of play. Milwaukee’s frontcourt toughened up to begin the final period, fighting on the offensive glass while doing a good job of creating second chance opportunities. However, on the other end Minnesota’s man in the middle continually established great inside positioning on the low block and Pek found himself closing in on a monster stat line of 27 points and 8 rebounds all the while facing a strong defensive Milwaukee frontcourt.

A 12 foot Larry Sanders jumper made it 95-91 with just less than 6 minutes to play. The Bucks attempted to get the momentum back in their favor, but they were ultimately unable to stop Pekovic on the low block and they did a poor job as a team of getting hands in passing lanes. The Pups went on improve their record to 28-48, winning by a score of 107-98. Ersan Ilyasova’s led all scorers with 29 points.

Keys of the Game

  • Three-point shooting - How many times have we seen it this season that when the Timberwolves convert on their open threes that they usually walk off the court with the victory. They have been especially ineffective from deep on the road sporting a 9-27 record away from the Target Center this season, so it was particularly enjoyable to see them not knock down 8 of 13 three-point attempts on their way to their tenth road victory this season. The Bucks needed 10
  • Ball Movement - Minnesota recorded a ridiculous 33 assists as a team on 44 made field goals – think about that for a second – to just 19 from Milwaukee. Jennings led the Bucks with 8, but no other Buck was able to record more than 4.

 Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic - This one was a pretty tough choice between Pek and Rubio given that Ricky was only 2 steals away from recording a triple-double. However, the Spaniard also turned the ball over 8 times while Pekovic converted on 11 of his 14 field goals attempts while turning the ball over only once. If Pek keeps playing this well and stays healthy the rest of the season, he should receive contract offers this summer in the $50 million range for four years.
  2. Ricky Rubio - As I mentioned above, Ricky nearly notched another triple-double and he finished the night with 19 points (7-12 FG, 5-6 3Pt), 12 assists, 8 steals, 4 rebounds while turning the ball over 8 times in 34 minutes. Ricky greatly outplayed Jennings and helped the Wolves complete a season sweep of the Bucks.
  3. Ersan Ilyasova - The Turkish stretch-4 had a very nice night knocking down 12 of his 21 attempts on his way to a game-high 29 points. After a rough start to the season, Ilyasova is back in the prime form that netted him the big contract he received last summer.

Minnesota Timberwolves 86, Memphis Grizzlies 99

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Summary:

The Memphis Grizzlies blew out the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter to sweep the season series between the two squads and to extend the Grizzlies’ win streak over the Pups to 11. Leading the way was Marc Gasol, who helped overcome a big performance on the other end from close friend and fellow Spaniard Ricky Rubio.

Gasol, who has been playing through injury after suffering a torn abdominal muscle just a couple weeks ago, took advantage of the short-handed Wolves who were missing big man Nikola Pekovic to a sprained ankle. The 7-foot-1 center has played a big part in what has become an impressive Memphis season this year.

With Minnesota taking a 67-65 lead into the final period of play, the Grizzlies ignited to blow out the Pups 34-19 in the fourth quarter and Memphis improved to 49-24 on the season. The frontcourt options for Memphis were seemingly endless for a team that had enough time covering for Pekovic’s 290-pound body in the paint.

Memphis survived a near triple-double from Tricky Ricky as he fell one assists shy of his second career triple-double. The Grizz fought back with 50% field goal shooting as a team and 60% marksmanship from beyond the arc. Backup forward Darrell Arthur added 14 points (6-9 FG) off of the bench to spark a strong second unit bunch and point guard Mike Conley controlled the pace in the final period to help extend the Grizzlies’ dominance over the Timberwolves.

Keys of the Game:

  • Steals - The Lionel Hollins-led group did an excellent job of getting hands in the passing lanes and really interfered with the Wolves ball movement in the fourth quarter especially. Out-stealing Minnesota 9-3, six different Memphis players recorded at least one steal in an impressive show of defense.
  • Turnovers - Whenever you give the other team extra opportunities to score, you are shooting yourself in the foot and that is exactly what Minnesota did as they committed 16 turnovers to only 9 by the Grizzlies. Memphis does an excellent job of lateral ball movement in the half court offense and displayed excellent patience by working the shot clock to find the open man on the offensive end.
  • Shooting - The Grizzlies were precise in their shot looks as they nailed 6 of their 10 attempts from long-range and 37 of 73 looks from the field.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Marc Gasol - The loss of Pekovic from Minnesota’s frontcourt proved to be the dagger in this game as the Pups had a very difficult time containing Gasol with the combo of Greg Stiemsma and Chris Johnson. Well regarded as one of the top passing big men in the NBA, Gasol tallied 6 assists while also converting on 8 of his 12 field goal attempts as he notched 21 points and 8 rebounds. While many feared he may be lost for the season following his recent re-injury of his abdomen, Gasol has come on strong over the past few games and continues to give his squad momentum as they eye a playoff run in the following weeks.
  2. Ricky Rubio - Ricky truly played another fantastic game despite little support from his teammates in the final period, and unfortunately fell only 1 assist shy of notching his second career triple-double. In 40 minutes, Rubio finished with the line of 23 points (6-12 FG), 10 rebounds and 9 assists. Ricky provided more scoring than he is used to and carried the team offensively throughout much of the game.
  3. Mike Conley - Memphis’ point guard really set the tone for the Grizzlies offense in the final period of play and did an excellent job of pushing the ball up the floor for transition buckets. The former Ohio State standout finished with the line of 19 points (8-15 FG, 3-3 3Pt) and 4 assists in 33 minutes.

Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Los Angeles Lakers 120

08^740919 05WOLF032813.jpgGame Summary:

Before spoiling the big ending between the Timberwolves and Lakers on Wednesday night, let me set up the context to what would ultimately be one of the most controversial endings to this NBA season. With 5 and a half to play in the final period of play, the Wolves trailed LA 106-94 playing in the Target Center. The Pups were hanging by a thread as Dante Cunningham was playing hero due to his red-hot mid-ranger game and Ricky Rubio doing everything to find him for 15-18 footers. With just around 3 minutes left to play, the Timberwolves switched things up and took part in the infamous hack-a-Dwight strategy. Fouling Dwight on every LA offensive possession, the strategy worked brilliantly as the big man hit only 2 of his 8 free throws over the course of the next minute while Minnesota cut their deficit to only 7 points with right around 2 minutes to play. Dwight, who is shooting 49% from the charity stripe on the season, has been unable to significantly improve his free throw shooting since joining the NBA as a 19-year-old, nearly 8 years ago.

Here’s where things got insane. With 3.4 seconds left and Kobe shooting the second of his two foul shots, Minnesota was out of timeouts and was in need of some serious luck in order to extend the game into overtime. As Kobe released the free throw, the ball bounced graciously off of the front of the rim as Rubio found himself able to easily the ball falling right in front of his face. Racing down the court with no timeouts, Ricky dashed the length of the court in order to get up a last second three-pointer in hopes of tying the game and taking it into overtime in front of the screaming Target Center audience. Just as Ricky approached the three-point line in the midst of a race to beat the clock, Kobe’s arm extended from behind Ricky’s head and came down upon the Spaniards’ left arm just as he was releasing the ball. On the right side, Dwight Howard made significant contact with Ricky’s other side before the shot was released, and Minnesota fans paused for a split second before seeing their hopes for three free throws and a shot at overtime go straight down the drain. No foul was called, despite one official having a clear view of the contact right next to Ricky and Kobe quickly headed through to the lockerroom as the game was official, 120-117 in favor of Los Angeles.

I could go on and on about how the referees blew the game and that Minnesota got jipped, but what good would that do? The fact is that the Wolves waited until the very end of the game to stage a run and ultimately came up a hair short to a player and organization that is clearly favored by the National Basketball Association. It would be ignorant to say that the NBA does not want Los Angeles to grab the eighth seed in the playoffs, because if the Lakers are able to grab the final spot there will be a lot more money in this year’s postseason than there would be if, say, Utah jumped ahead of LA.

Regardless of the finish, I was happy to see Minnesota finish this game with some pride while also saving their best play for last. This 24 game losing streak to LA, however, needs to end soon.

Keys of the Game:

  • Shot-blocking - The Lakers out-blocked the Timberwolves 9 to 3 as D-12 did an excellent job of setting the tempo in the interior for Los Angeles. With Greg Stiemsma an inefficient bench option and Pekovic lacking vertical leap, the Timberwolves are essentially without a shot-blocker in their current rotation with Chris Johnson warming the bench for the foreseeable future.
  • Three-point shooting - After draining 14 threes the night before in Detroit, the Timberwolves were only able to knock down 5 of their 17 attempts while the Lakers nailed 10 of their 22 looks from beyond the arc. Kobe, Nash, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison all hit at least 2 threes for Los Angeles

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Kobe Bryant - What’s new? Kobe dominated the Timberwolves for the umpteenth time of his career in route to extending the Lakers current win streak over Minnesota to 24 games. While he definitely got away with a foul on Rubio which could have sent the game into overtime, it was Kobe who did just enough to keep LA from imploding after the hack-a-Dwight debacle cut the Wolves deficit late in the fourth quarter. Kobe finished the night with a line of 31 points (12-21 FG), 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 38 minutes.
  2. Dwight Howard - Yes, Dwight shot a horrendous 7-17 from the free throw line and was being laughed at by many Wolves fans in attendance, but he also completely dominated the paint in the fourth quarter and finished with 25 points (9-13 FG), 16 points, 5 steals and 5 blocks in 34 minutes.
  3. Dante Cunningham - Cunningham was Minnesota’s spark in the fourth quarter and his mid-range game was red-hot. Cunningham faced very soft close outs from LA defenders and responded by draining jumper after jumper in the faces of defenders. DC Hustle scored 18 points (9-15 FG) to pair with 4 rebounds in 19 minutes off of the bench.