Timberwolves Return Home, Defeat Knicks 115-99

After 18 days away, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally returned home to the Target Center Wednesday night to welcome the New York Knicks. Despite missing several valuable players, Minnesota outscored New York in all but the final quarter to power through to a 115-99 win. Kevin Martin led the Wolves with a career-high 37 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad with 17. On the opposing side, old faithfuls Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire scored 20 and 19 points, respectively.

The Target Center crowd of just over 15,000 started out fairly quiet, but the energy quickly rose as the Wolves jumped ahead to an early lead. With Thad Young being away from the team following the passing of his mother and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic sidelined due to injury, the starting lineup looked a bit different Wednesday. In fact, despite both teams having low win totals, Minnesota was probably the underdog with such a thin roster. No one told the Wolves that, apparently.

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

Martin lit up immediately, notching 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-point baskets. Just a few hours prior, Martin had been listed as “questionable” due to illness.

According to Wolves writer Dane Mizutani, Martin sent head coach Flip Saunders a text around 3:30 saying he would probably miss shootaround because he had been throwing up all night. Regardless, the forward knew he would play in the game.

“There wasn’t even a thought,” Martin said. “I realized the situation and know that guys work so hard … so there was never a thought of not playing.”

The Wolves struggled with rebounding for the evening, only grabbing 12 boards. They made up for it, though, in shooting and creating turnovers. Minny shot 49.4 percent from the field, and they averaged an even more impressive 50 percent from behind the arc. At the end of the night, the team had 11 3-point buckets, seven of those from Martin.

Minnesota controlled the ball fairly well, holding itself to 14 turnovers. New York committed 23. The Wolves’ defense flourished all four quarters, with Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer combining for 11 steals. Brewer’s name floated around in trade rumors last week, as the Wolves apparently have been looking into a deal with Cleveland for the forward. Brewer says the rumors don’t bother him, though. He likes playing for Minnesota, and he will just continue focusing on basketball. Timberwolves fans did share their opinion on the matter–at one point during Wednesday’s game, a cheer began in the TWolves Army fan section: “Let’s Keep Corey Brewer.”

Andrew Wiggins and Mo Williams delivered strong performances as well. Wiggins continues to play well in his rookie season, as he tallied 12 points on the evening and joined with Anthony Bennett for a couple flashy plays. Williams plays more as a quiet threat, but the veteran stepped up to replace Rubio in the starting lineup and did not disappoint. Williams scored 14 points and dished out 13 assists en route to the win.

The victory was a much-needed lift for team spirits after Minnesota lost five of its six road games. Bennett said the following after the game:

“I just don’t want to get used to feeling this feeling, you know, losing basketball games, games that we should be winning. Just letting it slip out of our hands, regardless if it’s early in the season or not.”

The Wolves will enjoy a bit of time at home now, as they prepare to face Tim Duncan and the Spurs Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Visit Mexico City, Lose Third Straight Game

With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely, the Timberwolves lost their third straight game Wednesday night. The final score was 113-101.

The contest was technically listed as a home game for Minnesota but was played in Mexico City. The Wolves held their own against the Rockets during the first half, but in the end the young squad could not matchup against Dwight Howard and James Harden who led Houston with 22 and 23 points, respectively. Corey Brewer came off the bench to lead Minnesota with 18 points, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 15.

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The teams’ stat lines actually line up fairly evenly. The Rockets scored a little higher from the floor, 48 percent to the Wolves’ 44 percent, but the number of rebounds, assists and turnovers were almost identical. The area where Minnesota was entirely outdone, however, was the three-point line. Houston landed an impressive 13 shots from downtown, while the Timberwolves made only six. Rockets reserves Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou were 100 percent with their three-point shots, and Papanikolaou scored a career-high 14 points.

Houston and Minnesota battled back and forth for two quarters, matching most shots and pacing each other well. At halftime, the Wolves fell short just slightly in the 53-49 score. So far this season, the third quarter has proved the most electric for the Wolves. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned as Houston pulled away after halftime. The Rockets outscored Minny 31-21, and their entire lineup seemed to be scoring. Howard, who had been sick earlier in the season, gave the Mexico City fans exactly what they had been looking for. Howard said the following after the game:

“It’s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort. I’ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end … I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.”

Head coach Flip Saunders implemented a large lineup in the fourth quarter—Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Robbie Hummel, and Ronny Turiaf all seeing some minutes—in an attempt to stave off their opponent. The plan was short-sightedly successful, as the Wolves scored 31 points in the final quarter, but ultimately it was not enough to grab the win.

Despite the tough loss, there were several positive takeaways from the game.

Brewer, who notched his 51-point game against the Rockets in April, came out strong again. The 28-year-old went 7-for-7, grabbing his 18 points in only 24 minutes on the floor and adding four rebounds and a steal. Wiggins continues to grow more and more comfortable on an NBA court, and excitement surrounding the 19-year-old will only continue to grow.

Since losing Rubio to a severely sprained ankle on Friday, rookie Zach LaVine has been called up. LaVine entered this season with the most skepticism from critics, as he appears to be the most raw of the young players. It stands to be reasoned that he would not have seen much playing time had Rubio not been injured, but he has taken the responsibility well. In two games starting at point guard, LaVine has tallied 13 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.

“I got [the confidence] from my dad,” LaVine told CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “My dad was a professional athlete so he instilled that in me. All the greats are really, not to say cocky, but confident. I want to be great, so I guess I have that mindset.”

Saunders commented on LaVine’s preparedness after Rubio suffered the sprain:

“Zach is part of what our future is. There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”

LaVine and the rest of the squad will have to continue learning, and fans hope they can break in a few more wins soon. Minnesota has two more stops on its three-week road trip: New Orleans on Friday (7:00 tipoff) and Dallas on Saturday (7:30 tipoff). The Wolves will then enjoy some time off before returning to the Target Center to welcome the Knicks on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Timberwolves Battle Back, Suffer Heartbreaking Loss to Bulls

(photo credit: yahoo)

(photo credit: yahoo)

Saturday’s home stand against the Bulls proved an emotional roller coaster for the Timberwolves and 19,000+ fans in attendance. Kevin Martin delivered a huge performance, leading the team with 33 points.  Minnesota overcame a difficult first half and gave the Bulls a serious run for their money. In the end, though, the Wolves fell just short in a last-second 106-105 loss.

Both teams shot almost 50 percent on the evening, but it was the first half that initially buried the Wolves. Head coach Flip Saunders played Nikola Pekovic for a majority of the first two quarters, but he once again struggled beneath the basket. Pek tallied only eight points (of his final 17) during this time, and perhaps more surprising was the fact that he entered halftime with only three rebounds in over 15 minutes on the floor. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who played just eight minutes in the first half, grabbed five boards.

Minnesota as a team struggled to rebound. Despite finishing the game with a solid 42 rebounds, only 17 of those occurred over the first two quarters. In addition, the Wolves allowed Chicago to sink an incredibly 68 percent of its baskets. Rookie Andrew Wiggins had an incredibly quiet start, and Rubio struggled to make his shots. Thad Young scored eight points, but he left the game at the end of the second following a nasty collision with Jimmy Butler. At halftime, Minny trailed 49-63.

In the third quarter, however, things turned around. Wiggins continued his trend of coming to life in the third quarter, grabbing four points and two steals. Martin showed no signs of slowing down as he scored nine points in the third, and second-year Anthony Bennett added six.

The Wolves were behind for a majority of the game, but in the second half they continued to battle back and keep the point gap to single digits. The highlight of the game came when Martin nailed a three-pointer from the left side to put the Wolves up 105-104 with only 2.9 seconds left in the game.  The crowd exploded, feeling as if the Wolves had stolen a last-minute win.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Butler drew Wiggins in for a foul with .2 seconds remaining, and the guard easily made both free throws to seal a Chicago victory.

Following the game, Wiggins was clearly taking responsibility upon himself for the loss.

“I could’ve changed the outcome of the game,” Wiggins said. “It was a learning experience for me. It hurt, but the good thing about the NBA, I’ve got another game in a couple days.”

Martin, however, took the pressure off his teammate. The veteran forward explained that it was a team effort and a situation that the entire roster needs to learn from.

“I told [Andrew] that we lost that game in the first half,” Martin said. “It had nothing to do with that last play. We’ve got to come in here and have a better effort in the first half so we’re not trying to climb uphill.”

An arena focus on Saturday night was Rubio’s recently signed four-year extension. Announcements were made, and the score board highlighted the news a few times throughout the night. During the starting lineup, Rubio received–by far–the largest amount of support by a very excited crowd. Despite scoring only six points on the evening, Rubio dished out an incredible 17 assists. In addition, he played well on defense and committed only three turnovers, an area he has historically struggled in.

“It’s nice to see my teammates making shots and I’m going to look for them every night, but all I want to do is win,” said Rubio.

 

Up next: The Timberwolves leave for a 12-day, six-game roadtrip. The next home game will not be until Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.

Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.

“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.

Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.

The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.

Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.

Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.

“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”

Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.

“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.

In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:

“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”

Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.

***

Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

Timberwolves Trade Rumors: Should Minnesota Keep or Deal Chase Budinger?

Budinger

According to a Yahoo! Sports article posted on Oct. 16, the Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping around small forward Chase Budinger.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported that two teams possibly interested in working out a deal are Detroit and Houston. The Pistons are without shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who is expected to miss eight weeks with a fractured back, and Budinger could be one option to fill the vacant spot.

The elephant in the room, however, is Budinger’s contract. The 26-year-old is guaranteed $5 million for the current season, and his contract also includes a $5 million player option for 2015-2016. Any team negotiating with Minny will need to assess if that type of contract will make sense for the return.

Last season, Budinger averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in his second year with the Wolves. He performed slightly higher during the 2012-2013 season, averaging 9.4 PPG.

A trade does not seem imminent at this point; however, the Wolves have quite a few wing players on their squad, making it feasible for a trade to be in the books at some point. The question is this: is Budinger the best player to be dangling as trade bait? Should Minnesota continue looking to deal No. 10, or is he a stronger asset on the roster? One player who plays a similar role to Budinger is Corey Brewer. If presented with the opportunity, should the Timberwolves keep one over the other?

brewer

When comparing the two SFs, Brewer better fits the Wolves’ need.

As much as I appreciate Budinger’s style and temperament both on and off the court, he is more of a question mark. And in the NBA, a question mark equals dispensable. Minnesota originally brought Budinger in to improve the young team’s perimeter shooting. He showed promise early on, and Wolves fans looked forward to seeing how his development would improve the squad offensively. Since coming here, however, Budinger has missed a substantial part of each season due to knee injuries. In 2012-2013, he played only 23 games. Last year, he managed to participate in 41 games. The Timberwolves anticipate him having a healthy season, but knee injuries can be a never-ending problem.

Brewer, on the other hand, has remained healthy—missing only one game over the past two years. Injuries can happen at any time, but overall Brewer is the more physically stable player. 

Budinger’s numbers fell a bit last season, and his point totals fall short of Brewer’s. Brewer averaged 12.3 PPG in his return to Minnesota for the 2013-2014 season. In addition, Brewer is one of the most explosive defenders in the Wolves’ lineup. The Florida alum averages 1.9 steals per game, and he fires on all cylinders game after game.

Minnesota cannot afford to lose Brewer’s energy, especially heading into a season with so many new players and variables.

If a team is willing to absorb Budinger’s contract and the trade rumors come to any fruition, it would be an efficient way to move one of the many wings and add depth to the Wolves roster and allow more opportunities to utilize Brewer for the upcoming season.

Kevin Love to Cavs Appears Done Deal, Wiggins to Join Wolves

Well, there you have it. It appears that the trade buzzed about for weeks will finally go through. According to multiple media outlets, the Timberwolves have reached an agreement with Cleveland that will send All Star forward Kevin Love to the Cavs in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick.

The deal took so long to materialize because Love vocalized hesitation to sign an extension with any team he signed with. Less than a week ago, things were not looking too ideal for the Wolves. On Aug. 1, Bob Finnan wrote the following“[Love] can get far more money if he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2015 and re-signs with the team in which he is traded. That puts considerably more risk in a trade, especially if the Cavaliers are giving up a prospect like [Andrew] Wiggins.” This is the largest reason Love did not end up in Golden State, although earlier rumors implied that a deal came close to being made. The transaction fell through when the Warriors refused to include Klay Thompson as part of the package. No team wants to risk trading 1-2 of its top players to acquire a guy who may walk after one season. 

Cleveland, however, appeared the most likely of teams to convince Love to stay. The team expressed interest in Love earlier in the offseason, but only after LeBron James announced his return to the Cavs did Love express a desire to play there as well. According to Yahoo! Sports, Love will commit to opt out of his contract in 2015 and re-sign with Cleveland next summer for five years and $120 million-plus.

(photo credit: huffington post)

(photo credit: huffington post)

As with any major NBA deal, varying opinions continue to pop up across all social media platforms. In general, though, the consensus of Minnesota seems to be a giant “thumbs up.” It’s always difficult to watch genuine talent leave one’s city for a rival squad. But in this case, Love’s attitude ate away like a cancer to the team. Bridges were burned, and it became painfully clear that the UCLA alum would opt out following this season anyway–so Wolves fans could only hope to see a trade rather than walking away empty-handed.

This is absolutely the best-case scenario.

Love and LeBron certainly hold the cards to make a championship run next season (I’m not convinced they’ll succeed, but that’s a story for another time). Cleveland is taking the instant-gratification route, while this transaction offers Minnesota a very real chance at building a team the right way.

Some fans may be concerned that Wiggins will resent being traded to the Wolves, but that is likely an inaccurate assumption. In an interview earlier this week, Wiggins told ESPN that he wants to play where he’s most desired and appreciated. “I just want to play for a team that wants me. So whichever team wants me, I’ll play for.” Wiggins has clearly known for awhile now that being moved to Minnesota was a very real possibility. AP‘s Jon Krawczynski said he was “told that [Wiggins] had his reps start lining up local endorsement opportunities.” 

While the rookie would admittedly have a better chance at a championship in Cleveland, he would be living in the shadow of much larger names. Joining the Wolves offers Wiggins a very real chance at creating a league name for himself, becoming a standout athlete in a smaller market.  ESPN’s Royce Young tweeted the following Thursday afternoon:

 

The trade should be s done deal, but nothing will be official until Aug. 23, as league rules prohibit players from being traded until 30 days after signing a new contract. Wiggins’ rookie contract was signed July 24.

Countless Minnesota fans are expressing excitement over the deal, and it looks to be a great foundation for the “rebuild” talked about for several seasons. Welcome to Minnesota, Mr. Wiggins.