Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 17

 

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend (Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend
(Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

 

Setting the stage:

While we wait with baited breath for tonight’s All-Star Game (…), let’s take a look at the week ahead for the Timberwolves as they will have to come out of the break swinging.  With the win against the Nuggets before the break, the Wolves moved to 25-28 on the season and jumped percentage point(s) ahead of Denver, good for 10th place in the Western Conference.  The team is a full six games behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for the 8 seed.

If you haven’t given up on the Wolves yet, you definitely want to keep an eye on the Suns, as they are seemingly more likely to come back to earth after the break.  The Suns did however win at the Target Center back on 1/8, so the Wolves are in that much more of a hole to dig out of.  The teams will face off two more times this year: 2/25 in Phoenix and 3/23 at Target Center.

Let’s get to this week’s games …

Game 55: Wednesday, 2/19, 7pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & ESPN)

Tough way to begin your post all-star break for the Wolves, who will host the Eastern Conference leading, 40-12 Indiana Pacers this coming Wednesday.  The most complete team in the NBA in my opinion and proving it night in and night out.

Opponent to watch:

Paul George – Do I need to go there again?  You know what, I won’t.  George’s coming out season, after last year’s playoff run, has been a joy to watch.  22ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.4apg, and 1.79spg.  Imagine if this guy was on the Wolves?  Wait, he could have been?  (KAHNNNNN?!?!?!)

Predictions:

Even though the Pacers have a game on Tuesday night against Atlanta, they are too deep and too talented.  If the Wolves get back Nikola Pekovic and/or Kevin Martin, I still don’t think it is enough.  Final score: Pacers 96, Timberwolves 89

Game 56: Saturday, 2/22, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Wolves won a home-and-home against the Jazz in late January and there isn’t much to suggest this game should be any different.  The Jazz will be in Portland Friday night for a road game and will then have to fly back to Utah to take on our Pups … who should be well rested for this game.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors is pretty quietly having a decent year now that the logjam in the Jazz frontcourt has worked itself out – maybe too much though.  Favors is averaging 12.9ppg, 9.0rpg and over 1 block per game.  Favors injured his hip this past Wednesday night and we’ll see how quickly he can get back to 100%.

Predictions:

All games moving forward for the Wolves are “must-win” – they cannot afford to lose one like this whatsoever.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Jazz 92

Game 57: Sunday, 2/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Portland Trailblazers (TV: FS North)

The Blazers are a ridiculous 19 games over .500 (36-17) at the all-star break and that is only good for the 5th seed in the Western Conference.  As a team, they are first in scoring and rebounds per game in the NBA, and fourth in assists per game.  Their defense is a liability and I still don’t see how this team is this good.  I must have a mental block on the Blazers, but I just don’t see them doing anything in the playoffs.

Opponent to watch:

LaMarcus Aldridge – Get ready for your now weekly, “who is the best power forward in the NBA?” rhetoric.  It seems like whoever has the ESPN game that night is anointed the best for 24-48 hours.  I like Aldridge as a player … if Love is going to be traded, I would highly prefer that LMA comes back to the team vs. Blake Griffin.  But neither is as good as Kevin Love.  Period.  Period!

Predictions:

Blazers will have Saturday night off to prepare for the Wolves and rest.  Final score: Blazers 114, Timberwolves 110

Wrap-up:

My predictions above aren’t exactly how you want to come out of the break and make your run towards the playoffs.  However, I just don’t see the Wolves making ground this week with two very tough opponents sandwiching what should be a victory in Utah.  Doh!

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Pelicans 98, Timberwolves 91

pelicansmascot

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 24-25 and are looking at the next four games before the all-star break as an opportunity to get a few games above the Mason-Dixon Line.  That sounds like a good plan, no?  The team traveled to New Orleans for Friday’s encounter with the 21-27 Pelicans.  While under .500 for the season overall, the Pelicans were 12-12 going into the action Friday night.

The Wolves got back a few starters after they missed Wednesday’s game, opening up with: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Turiaf.  Nikola Pekovic remains out with his injury.  The Pelicans are dealing with a slew of injuries of their own, but their starting lineup Friday night was: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca.  Added bonus for future trivia: tonight was the first game in the “Smoothie King Center”. Let’s just move on …

First Half 

Game got off to a slow start in the scoring department. As an added “bonus” for Wolves fans, Kevin Love seemed to tweak something early and looked slow and banged up. Going into the first timeout with just over 5 minutes left in the opening frame, the Pelicans held a 14-12 lead, led by the Unibrow, who got it going early with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. (Congrats to the ‘Brow on being named to the Western Conference All-Star team – more than deserved!)

Kevin Love picked up a quick second foul and that led to Dante Cunningham’s early arrival in the game. For the record, Love probably should have taken a seat when he couldn’t get past half court to play defense, but you know … Adelman. (I’m quickly turning to the dark side.) Before I get in trouble, the Wolves held a 26-25 lead over the Pelicans at the end of the quarter. Corey Brewer led the Pups with 9 points and creating chaos, including one of the ugliest fast-breaks you will ever see in NBA history; however, it ended with a Kevin Martin three pointer, so no complaints here.

The early minutes of the second quarter can be summarized with this:

It isn’t like we signed this guy to a new contract this past summer or anything, right? (Crickets) Beyond this little tidbit, the Wolves played a Pelicans-inspired slowed down pace, outscoring the home team 21-17 in the quarter and taking a 47-42 into the locker room.

Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Despite not scoring in 14 minutes of action, Dante Cunningham had a nice half of basketball with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal
  • Kevin Love had 10 & 8 at the half and was solid offensively, but Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 17 points at the same time – interesting match-up!
  • Ronny Turiaf – defensive presence!  (3 blocks by halftime!)

Second Half 

Despite Kevin Love looking like a broken body multiple times in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves played a solid final few minutes to increase their lead a bit.  Love was fouled (but not called) by Greg Stiemsma and looked like he was going to need to be scraped off the floor after a few attempts in the paint on the ensuing possession after not being able to get back on defense.  There is going to be a time when we are going to regret this.  However, it wasn’t through the third quarter, as the Wolves built a 71-61 lead going into the final frame.

All of the good from the 3rd quarter came to a screeching halt with the Pelicans going on a massive run to begin the 4th quarter, going up 78-77 – a 17-6 run before Adelman finally called a timeout.  The onslaught continued as the Pelicans poured it on in the 4th quarter, while the Wolves found ways to increase their deficit – bad defense, terrible shot selection, and overall bonehead play.  With about 2.5 minutes to go, the Pelicans held an 89-82 lead, outscoring the Pups 28-11 to this point in the quarter.  Let’s hit the fast forward button because nothing positive happened the rest of the way for our Pups.  They continued to fall flat on their face and wound up giving up 37 points in the 4th quarter, losing to the Pelicans, 98-91.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Anthony Davis – great game for the ‘Brow, 26 & 10 and looked like a leader on the floor
  2. Eric Gordon – huge second half for Gordon, who finished with 20 points and it felt like he threw two or three daggers at the Wolves
  3. Kevin Love – who I am somewhat expecting to hear “trade request” from this all-star break.  26 & 18 for the starting PF in the Western Conference … 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves continue to shoot three pointers for no apparent reason other than “it’s flashy” … 4-17 in tonight’s game, including a 0-6 from Love.
  • Huge advantage for Minnesota at the FT line, going 31-37 on the evening, compared to NOLA’s 12-16.  Somehow, someway, the Wolves still managed to lose this game.
  • Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer create havoc on both ends of the floor … however, their lack of fundamental defense (along with Kevin Martin’s lack of any defense) is killing this team.  This already feels like a very long second half of the season.

Can the Wolves Survive Without Nikola Pekovic?

 

From the classic "Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic" video

From the classic “Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic” video

In case you missed it, Nikola Pekovic left Monday night’s game in Chicago and was originally listed as “Doubtful” to return later in the game.  We now have word that Pekovic is “Out” for the next 7 to 10 days and will be reevaluated at that time due to bursitis in his right ankle.  Here is the official announcement from the team on Twitter:

 

Well, that certainly doesn’t make you feel very well, does it?  Maybe the most concerning part, beyond him definitively missing the next 7-10 days, is the “He will be sidelined indefinitely”.  Pek has missed a number of games in season’s past, but had appeared in all 44 games thus far this season, averaging a career high 18.4ppg and 9.3rpg.  As you are also well aware, Pek is in the first year of his new 5 year, $60 million contract – and if all of this doesn’t make Wolves’ fans nervous, I’m not sure what will.  (Maybe numb?)

What does this mean for the team moving forward?  Well, in the next ten days, the Wolves play seven games, starting tonight at the Target Center against the Pelicans and finishing on Saturday, 2/8, home against the Blazers.  Excluding the game on 2/1 against the Hawks, the Wolves will face foes from the Western Conference – the Pelicans twice, Grizzlies, Lakers, Thunder, and finishing up with the Blazers.  To say this is an important stretch of games for the team is an understatement, given their current 11th place seeding in the conference.  They are a game and a half behind the Grizzlies in the W/L column, so that is a huge game.  They will need to find a way to beat the Pelicans and Lakers, or at least take two of those three.  The Thunder and Blazer games might be too much to handle, but if they can split those two, that would be a plus.

Beyond the games ahead, and the uncertainty of when a much-needed Nikola Pekovic will return to the lineup, there might be one silver lining in all of this.  There is playing time to be earned from this and two of the items I mentioned in our half-season review might be coming to fruition quickly.  First, this basically forces Adelman’s hand a bit in giving some playing time to Gorgui Dieng.  While Ronny Turiaf will certainly receive extended minutes, Dieng will likely be seeing the floor more over the next two weeks and showcase his talents.  Second, we might see a bit more of Kevin Love at the Center spot, playing alongside Dante Cunningham and LRMAM.  At least one of these two is going to have to step up and play to, at least, their potential, as both have struggled mightily this season for the Pups.

I don’t want to mince words, the loss of Pek is significant.  The team must take a ‘next man up’ attitude and battle through the next few weeks.  We can hope that Pek returns in that ~10 day diagnosis, but the league isn’t going to shuffle the schedule for us and the team needs to push through this.  A couple of questions for consideration:

  • Do you think this will knock the Pups out of the playoffs?
  • Who do you envision stepping up over the next two weeks?

Let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

"VICTORY!" for the Pups in a close game!

“VICTORY!” for the Pups in a close game!

The Timberwolves traveled further west for two weekend games, starting with Friday night’s game in the Bay Area to take on the 26-17 Warriors.  The Warriors took care of the Wolves earlier this season at Target Center and it was time for the team to redeem themselves.  Friday night was also another opportunity for the Wolves to reach the .500 mark with a win.

After lacerating his finger earlier this week, Kevin Martin was a little bit of a question mark.  However, no surprises as it got closer to tip-off in the Pups starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  Similarly, there were a few question marks going into tonight on the Warriors lineup given a few minor injuries.  However, no surprises there either, as the team sent out the following lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. [Read more...]

Timberwolves Half-Season Review and Grades 2013/2014

Timberwolves bench

There’s a lot to think about midway through the 2013-14 NBA season (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Well, we technically should be at the halfway point of the season, if not for the cancellation of the Timberwolves / Spurs game in Mexico City.  As requested in this week’s preview, let’s not get too caught up in the minutia and say that we are halfway there and it is time to provide a few thoughts on the halfway point of the season.  Below are a few thoughts about each player on the current roster and an overall grade for their efforts.

With the team struggling to get over the hump of .500 ball, things have looked a little underwhelming thus far this season.  With a 19-21 record going into this week’s action, our Pups are currently in 11th place in the Western Conference and have a good amount of work to do to catch Dallas and Phoenix, and surpass Memphis and Denver to get into the top eight of the Conference.  Can they do it?  Yes.  Will they do it?  I honestly don’t know. [Read more...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 13

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

First, let me clarify a technicality.  Due to the cancellation of the game in Mexico City against the San Antonio Spurs, the number of each game is off by one game, relative to adding up the wins and losses for the Wolves to this point in the season.  When we get to the Spurs game on April 8th, we will be calling that “Game 20”.  Please just agree that this is “fair”.  Why?  Because I want to leverage this week’s preview as a place to rant about how the Wolves are looking “halfway through the season”.  Let’s pretend that we aren’t 49% of the way there and are at 50%.  Sound good?  Thanks!

This past week included two bad losses to the Kings and Raptors.  The Wolves salvaged the week with a blowout victory against the Jazz on Saturday, but remain below .500 for the season – 19-21, now sitting in the 11th position of the Western Conference.  The team is 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8 seed in the Conference, with the Grizzlies and Nuggets also ahead of them.  Let’s agree that this is an underperforming group right now, despite the few injuries that the team has endured. [Read more...]