Two Games, One Season, Many Outlooks

Spreak Break in Florida? 

Only fitting, the Minnesota Timberwolves ventured across the state of Florida — from South Beach to Orlando — shortly following last Friday’s thrilling, uplifting victory over the defending champion Miami Heat.

Yes, the Wolves had won a game against arguably basketballs greatest team. However, they were going to need another breakout performance from role players, such as Chase Budinger’s 24 point output in Miami, if they were going to take care of business against one of the league’s worst the following evening. Well, after Budinger went down in the first minute against the Magic, things went awry quickly and never went the way they were supposed to.

Just when it seemed the Wolves had attained some hope, rhythm, and excitement nearing the end of another disappointing season, the proverbial sky was getting darker and the light that shined on the team, via local media outlets, was glooming dark overhead, again. Timberpups did not report on the Daunt Cunningham arrests over the weekend because the legal process has a right to run it’s course, NBA players are apart of the union, and the Wolves did not suspend Cunningham after either arrest. Flip Saunders, in particular, receives the most heat for this decision. He could very easily de-activate Cunningham, but it would be a paid-leave as the team cannot take disciplinary action until he is convicted in a court of law.

He met the team in Orlando, but because the Wolves were without Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, Shabazz Muhammad, and Budinger, for all-but one minute of the game, the efforts of Cunningham and the active Wolves were performed in futility. The Magic avenged a loss from earlier this season, the Wolves opener — 100-92.

Tuesday, back at Target Center

The headlines focused on Cunningham up until Rick Adelman’s pregame presser, when it was announced that Cunningham would be dressed and available to play in Tuesday’s make-up game against the San Antonio Spurs. However, after tip-off, all of the negative light shed on the situation diminished, the Minnesota Wild were competing for their postseason lives across town, and a basketball game — that was never supposed to be played — started with very little looking-on from the seats at Target Center.

Nickola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Shabazz Muhammad were all out, albeit Martin was dressed to play whereas the others sported classy suits. Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Gorgui Dieng welcomed Robbie Hummel to the starting lineup for the first time since the season’s early goings. The Wolves, who had underachieved in the game following an inspirational victory of the prolific Heat (…), faced another one of the league’s best in the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker was sidelined, leaving Corey Joseph to start at point guard — he was accompanied by Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. The Spurs machine usually just plugs-and-plays it’s components as necessary and rarely misses a beat, but Gregg Popovich may have elected to cut the power once they arrived in Minneapolis.

First Half

The Wolves took the lead and never looked back. Rubio led the way in scoring throughout the opening quarter with nine points, he also had two assists but those were negated by two-turnovers. Love, who, dare I say has struggled by his standards as of late, continued to clank the iron and shot only one for seven from the field during the opening frame. Despite the struggle to score, Love’s refined his passing throughout the year as a point of Adelman’s emphasis, and he tallied three assists passing out of the high post and Wolves led the Spurs, 27-19, after the first.

It was Rubio and Brewer that carried the offense throughout the first half, as they combined for 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the field. Brewer added three steals that contributed to easy buckets in transition. The Wolves had captured a 20 point lead on a virtually non-existent Spurs club that showed no interest in trying to win the game. Minnesota allowed just 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season (Utah, 23 in 1st half on Jan. 18). On the night, the Spurs shot only 4-of-17 from three-point range, and they were 0-for-6 in the first half alone. This is a testament to the Wolves effort to contest shots, making everything as difficult as possible for the already lackadaisical visiting opponent.

Second Half 

The Wolves were outscored by the Spurs during the second half, but the margin was a single point and if you’re doing the math at home you’d know that it wasn’t enough to make a difference. San Antonio was flat, and the Wolves played with the same intensity that the State of Hockey’s team was doing across the way in St. Paul. The Pups weren’t performing in front of a very large audience, and the effort they played with on the court was reflective of a team that wanted to win in order to sustain their own moral moving forward.

Love and Rubio combined for 20 in the third, but dissipated bench failed to score. The Spurs, behind eight points in the frame provided by the short-statured Patty Mills, matched and surpassed the Wolves scoring output during the frame. Yet, the game looked emotionless as both teams were content just going through the motions. This inexplicably, and inspirationally, changed during the fourth as the bench could be season screaming, cheering, and applauding the effort of their brethren who were looking to put the hammer down on San Antonio before the game was over.

Ronnie Turiaf hammered home two, alley-oop dunks within the final five minutes, a heavy-hearted Cunningham seeked to score unruly baskets within the final minute, and Othyus Jeffers even entered the game on the same day as he was signed to, yet another, 10-day contract.

The Wolves defeated the Spurs by 19, and what was most impressive about the victory is that they did it for themselves. There was no sold-out stadium, no role of spoiler to fulfil, and no playoff hopes to sustain going forward. With nothing left to play for, the Wolves did everything they could to win — and with the uncertainty that is this team’s future — that’s the most illuminating thing to take away from the weekend, and into Wednesday.

Three Stars

  • Ricky Rubio — 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He’s progressed, and more importantly, stayed healthy, throughout the year and seems to be improving in certain areas, offensively. I don’t currently have the stats to back it up, but expect a post on it soon.
  • Luc Mbah a Moute — 11 points, 5 of 7 shooting from the field — nice to see him getting playing time against solid opponents like we saw against Miami and last night.
  • Ronnie Turiaf — LOVE his energy, but it’s been missing on-the-court for most of the season. If there’s anyone that can keep this locker room glued going forward, it’s this guy. Seeing him score 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including his emphatic reactions to slams during the final quarter.

 

Wolves Can’t Keep Up for Four Quarters, Fall to Raptors at Home

And here we are.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been playing predominantly well since the All-Star break, but faced a tough Toronto Raptors team on Sunday night. The Raptors entered the game as winners of eight of their previous 10 games, allowing only 96 points per game during those contests. Had it not been for a triple-overtime game against the Washington Wizards, in which Toronto allowed 136 points, that 96 opponents points per game would have been closer to 90 — they’re playing pretty good basketball.

Entering the day the Wolves sat five games back of the final seed in the Western Conference. The Dallas Mavericks (37-26) and Phoenix Suns (36-25) are holding down the final two slots with the Memphis Grizzlies (36-26) only a half-game behind the Suns and Mavs, whilst also standing between the Wolves and their highly optimistic playoff aspirations. The Mavericks were hosting the Indiana Pacers and the Suns were in The Bay Area taking on the Golden State Warriors, Memphis had the night off. Each team, minus the Grizz, faced a tough opponent but the Wolves needed a victory before worrying about the outcome of things beyond their control.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross took the floor for the Raptors while Rick Adelman sent out the usual group of Wolves to start the game. If you’re not familiar by now, that means Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic were the starting five for the Wolves. The pesky, lengthy, athletic core of the Raptors posed problems for the Wolves during their last meeting in Toronto, a game the Wolves did not win.

First Half

The first quarter, well, it seemed sloppy. However, the Raptors made the box score look clean by hitting 13 of 19 shots (68%!!!!). Each Toronto starter scored, but they were led by Ross who scored 10 points and didn’t miss a shot during the opening frame. Love led the way with 12 for the Wolves and the game was all tied up, 33-33.

The second quarter was a game of runs for both sides, and a wave of emotions for fans at the Target Center. Toronto started the quarter off on a 10-0 run, which was really 18-0 dating back to the opening quarter — yikes. However, the Wolves countered with a 17-2 run of their own and before anyone knew anything the game was tied again. The Raptors took a 53-52 lead into halftime, but failed to sustain the momentum they accumulated during the opening quarter and early part of the second. Love lead the way with 13, Pek added 13, Martin scored 11 and the rest of the Wolves managed to score 14 to aid the core in keeping things close.

Second Half

The Raptors started the second half on a 9-2 run, but the Wolves continued to battle. After some nice ball movement around the perimeter, Love found himself open for a three-pointer and buried it; passing Rashad McCants on the list of three’s made by Wolves player. At the 7:00 mark, J.J. Barea missed an easy layup that would have cut the deficit to two. Lowry, thankfully, committed an offensive foul that accounted for Barea’s miss and the game went to a timeout. The Wolves then trailed, 62-64.

Note – Love also broke the franchise record for most three pointers made in a season during this stretch. 

 Through Three Quarters

  • 83-76 Raptors
  • Four Raptors players in double-figures (three Wolves)
  • Love — 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists
  • Rubio — 16:38 minutes. Six points, three assists, four fouls

And here we are.

The fourth quarter began and Alexey Shved, who we haven’t seen on the court in a meaningful moment of a game, was playing point guard, albeit he was quickly replaced as Adelman only was trying to get away with what he had done for a small amount of time. Rubio, eager to return, checked in at the 9:21 mark and played — nearly — the remainder of the game, and it made a difference. Although the Wolves weren’t able to keep pace with the Raptors throughout the entirety of the game, the lineups playing when the game is on the line seem to be the combination of players that people want to see. Or maybe that’s just me reading my timeline on the Twitter verse incorrectly.

The Wolves, although narrowing the lead down to as little as two points, were unable to rally and win a game that good teams should expect to win on their home floor.

Three Stars

  • Kyle Lowry — 20 points, 11 assists, 12 rebounds.
  • DeMar Derozan — 25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 of 3 from three-point range — he’s a good player. (Great analysis I know)
  • Corey Brewer — 17 points, 6 steals, 3 rebounds, 3 assists.

Wolves Escape Denver, Despite Nuggets Late Rally

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Denver Nuggets on Monday, ending an important streak of road games on a high note.

The Nuggets entered the game losers of 14 of their previous 20 games, but Ty Lawson made his return after missing nearly a month — Denver is an Eastern Conference team without him. The Wolves, on the other hand, entered riding a train of recent success from destination to destination along the West coast. The game, yet again, was another must win for Rick Adelman and his pack of pups.

First Half

The route was on early, or so it seemed, as the Wolves scored 40 first quarter points and led the Nuggets by 15 after the opening frame. A casual 12 point, 8 rebound quarter for Kevin Love laid the foundation for what seemed as if it were going to be a laugher. The second unit, led as always by J.J. Barea also seemed to think little about the outcome, allowing the Nuggets to keep the deficit to a manageable number. Randy Foye, who played all but two minutes during the first half, carried Denver by scoring 10 points during quarter number two. At halftime the Wolves led by 17.

First Half Notes

  • Kevin Love — 16 points, 14 rebound. Wowza. Has — relatively — struggled from the field lately, and that continued (5 of 12 FT, 1 of 4 3PT FG), but converted all five of his free-throw attempts — free points are a good thing
  • Kevin Martin — 12 points (3 of 7 FG, 0 for 4 3PT FG)
  • J.J. Barea — 11 points, 3 assists. Played more minutes during the first half than Ricky Rubio.
  • Randy Foye — 17 points (6 of 12 FG, 3 of 5 3PT FG)

Second Half

The return of Lawson, albeit the expectations of an optimistic Nuggets fan may have higher, hadn’t appeared to be anything that was going help Denver overcome the large deficit during the second half. Lawson scored two points, both earned at the FT line, missed three shot attempts and negated the three assists he did record with the same amount of turnovers. Back in January, a Star Tribune column listed Rubio as one of the Wolves — many — recent draft mistakes, citing Lawson as a player the franchise ‘missed’ on who would have made a difference earlier in the year. It wasn’t until the third quarter that the aforementioned column appeared to look sensical on this particular Monday evening.

Combined, the Wolves and Nuggets scored a walloping 66 points during the third quarter. Led by Lawson, who had been silent most of the way until that point, the Nuggets chipped a mere two points away from the halftime deficit. The short, exciting score-first point guard was efficient at getting good looks at the rim — Lawson also matched his assist total from the first half (3). For the Good Guys, Love added 11 more to game-leading point total and Nikola Pekovic scored seven points in as many minutes to help sustain the lead.

Fourth Quarter

Yes, this one receives it’s own bold+italic label. The final period, Monday, lasted 43 minutes and spotlighted another example of the Wolves inability to finish games down the stretch. Entering the quarter with a 17 point lead, which grew to as high as 21, things started getting interesting as time went along. Adelman plugged Rubio back into the game with a little over 7:00 minutes to play, implementing the Barea-Rubio backcourt most of us are partial to seeing if Martin isn’t on the floor. Here’s how those two performed from the 7:40 second mark (when Rubio checked in) until Rubio checked out (3:25).

  • 7:02 — Rubio grabs a rebound, Pekovic is fouled on the following possession — two points for the Wolves.
  • 6:40 — Shabazz Muhammad collects a rebound, outlets to Barea, who quickly commits and offensive foul resulting in a turnover.
  • 6:22 — Muhammad, again, attains a rebound.
  • 6:07 — Rubio is called for traveling, with no dispute, and chalks up another turnover.
  • 5:00 — Rubio called for a shooting foul
  • 3:58 — Barea misses a 15ft turnaround jumper, with the shot clock winding down, that resulted in turnover.
  • 3:32 — Rubio’s pass stolen by Kenneth Faried.
  • 3:25 — Timeout is called by Adelman, Martin substitutes in for Rubio.

So, if you’re not keeping track at home, during this brief stretch Rubio and Barea managed to turn the ball over four turnovers. What had once been 21 point lead had now been cut to only 10.

Denver initiated the foul-game shortly after the substitution that placed Martin into the game for Rubio. Four Denver three-pointers, some free-throws, a made basket and Kevin Martin stood at the line with five seconds to play in the game — the lead had dissipated to two points. He makes both FT’s and the game ends; Wolves win — 132-128.

Yikes.

“A Win is a Win” — many people, somewhere

Three Stars

  • Kevin Love — 33 points, 10 of 21 FG’s, 11 of 13 on FT’s.
  • Kevin Martin — 22 points, 16 of 17 FT’s — made 8 of 8 within’ the final 30 seconds of the game.
  • Ty Lawson — 31 points, 29 of them coming in the second half.

 

zb.

 

Wolves Defeat Kings, 108-97

Before we get into things I’m going to display a few photos. One of these pictures you might be familiar with, as i’ve used it in recent recaps, but the other is something new.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

Remember this? I determined that 7 of the 10 games following the all-star break were ‘winnable’ games by Wolves standards. Halfway through the stretch, Minnesota is 4-1 with victories over the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings became the latest victim of the Wolves recent success. (I’ll get to that other picture in a little while)

First Half

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup after each played missed notable amounts of time due to injury.

Pekovic left the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 27th and the Wolves went 7-7 during his absence. A short time after Pekovic was sidelined, on the 7th of February, Martin played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans but fractured a finger at some point during the game. The Wolves played 8 games missing both Martin and Pekovic, but emerged victorious in all but three of those outings.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Corey Brewer trotted out with Pekovic and Martin and matched up against Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Some could argue that the Kings victory over the Wolves in January, at the Target Center, was the worst loss for Minnesota this season.

So, call it the revenge game if you must. Martin got things going without any further ado, shooting six of seven from the field and scoring 14 first quarter points. Pekovic, playing on a minute limit, was replaced by Dante Cunningham after six minutes of playing time. Despite the outburst by Martin the Wolves trailed the Kings at the end of the opening quarter, 30-31, as Gay nearly matched “K-Mart (K-Target)” basket for basket — Gay scored 12 points in the 1st quarter on five of six shooting from the field. Pekovic found his rhythm in the 2nd quarter, but Gay didn’t skip a beat and the Wolves were outscored by the Kings and trailed at the half; 53-56. Here are some quick notes from the games’ first two quarters.

  • Pekovic and Martin — 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting
  • Love couldn’t get much going but found ways to contribute. He was an abysmal one of six shooting but scored nine points after converting on six of eight free-throw attempts. Love also helped keep the game close with four assists.
  • Rest of team — 15 points
  • Rudy Gay — 22 points 8 of 11 FG, 4 of 6 3PT FG, 2 of 2 FT. This is something that shouldn’t happen.

Second Half

The 3rd quarter was a ‘whole different ball game,’ as the cliche goes. After the game was over, Love and Adelman both mentioned – on the Fox Sports North broadcast – that the team rallied in the locker room to play with a sense of urgency after halftime. Whatever happened in the visiting locker room at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night should be repeated over and over again for the remainder of the season. The starters trotted out in surefire form and outscored the Kings 31-14 during the third frame. Rubio, who only had three assists by halftime, tallied five ‘dimes’ distributed among the other five Wolves players that scored in the third. However, the offense wasn’t flashy as we’ve known it to be — the Wolves went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting on 9 attempts, and forced the Kings into six turnovers.

The Wolves scored six fast break, and five second-chance, points. The Kings were limited to zero fast break points and didn’t shoot one FT during the third, the home team was beat in almost every aspect of the game on each possession. Things got interesting, as they usually do, during the 4th quarter and after entering the final 12 minutes with a 14 point lead — the score narrowed and fans watching at home began to worry, and had every right to do so. Four minutes went by and the Kings outscored the Wolves 14-6 in the short span.

Albeit his performance since returning from knee surgery has oft been criticized, Chase Budinger performed well in these four — crucial — minutes of the game. Budinger had two key rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) and four pivotal points while the starters rested and waited to get back into the game. Martin, Brewer, and Love entered the game at the 8:34 mark by replacing Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, and Luc Mbah a Moute. J.J. Barea and Cunningham remained on the floor. The Wolves led by nine, 90-81, but the Kings push was imminent. It may have been close to a double-digit lead, but the game was not at all out of reach for Sacramento — the home crowd could sense it and tensions rose during the final minutes. — I’m not sure if Rick Adelman will continue going to Rubio to close out games, but he needs to start doing so — there’s been many, many calling for this to happen — because BareaBall isn’t always the answer. — The lead now down to eight, Rubio checked into the game for Barea with the score at 93-85.

After a string of hair-pulling events, the lead was narrowed down to two. The crowd was on their feet and a streaking Rudy Gay headed toward the basket for what seemed as if it would be a game-tying layup — he did everything but make the easy basket. Love grabbed the defensive rebound, Rubio brought the ball upcourt, dished it back to Love who missed a three-point attempt. Pekovic grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by Cousins. Pek made both free-throws and the lead was extended to four.

After a steal by Rubio, and some ball movement along the perimeter, Ricky fired a three from the right wing, with the shot clock winding down, that fell through the bottom of the net and the Wolves were in business. The dagger put the lead at eight with less than a minute remaining. The Wolves prevailed over the Kings, 108-97.

Here’s that other picture. 1620760_10202709983145019_561495350_n   Currently, Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas are the teams rounding off the Western Conference Playoff spots. The Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6, are five-and-a-half games out of the 8th seed in the West. The Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, and Grizzlies are all 2-2 in their previous four games. For the Wolves, albeit the door is slamming shut, have a chance to slide a proverbial foot over the threshold and into the postseason picture. Tonight, Minnesota is in Denver to face the depleted Nuggets, they’ll be 5-1 in games after All-Star Weekend with a victory.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Martin — 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Although only going 1 for 5 from three-point land, he converted seven of eight from the charity stripe. The free points were, and are always, important.
  • Nikola Pekovic — 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Pek recorded nearly 27 minutes of action and Adelman can be quoted, saying after the game, that he used the 295 pound center returning from injury — and still playing through pain — more than he would have liked.
  • Kevin Love — why not? 22 points on a horrible shooting night (4 of 12) but 12 of 14 from the FT line, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

zb

Wolves Injury Update

Tonight, the Timberwolves are in Phoenix to take on the Suns for the third game on this a six game road trip. Still no sign of Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Martin, and Ronny Turiaf remains out indefinitely with a bruised right knee.

Before departing on this venture, Kevin Love’s Instagram account informed us that the Wolves resident Bruise Brother, Pekovic, would be returning sometime during this — pivotal — stretch of the season. Martin also remains sidelined with a broken left thumb, but saw a specialist in Los Angeles yesterday. After having things looked at Monday, as well as last Friday, @TWolves_PR has informed us that Martin is progressing well.

As for Pekovic, he participated in shootaround this morning in Phoenix. His status for tonight is labeled as questionable. Pekovic was active pregame in Utah before Saturday’s meeting with the Jazz, but did not play — which, admittedly, led me to believe that he would be active in Portland for the Wolves meeting with the Blazers the following evening.

This column by Mark Remme states that Pekovic isn’t feeling any more pain in his ankle, however, that does not mean the pain isn’t there. Pek is suffering from bursitis, an inflammation caused by repetitive, minor impact on the affected area, or from a sudden, more serious injury. Because of abuse the game of basketball places on an athletes knees (specifically the bursa, tendons and cartilage) it’s unlikely that Pekovic, or any athlete for that matter, that suffers from bursitis will ever completely heal. Age also plays a role. As tendons age they are able to tolerate stress less, are less elastic, and are easier to tear. He can play, but that doesn’t mean it will be a painless experience.

Pekovic had this to say to media shortly after shootaround. (Per Remme Practice Report)

“I would like, if I could play minutes today, but I still have to do some things today so we’ll see how it goes.” – Pekovic

The Wolves are 5-7 since Pek was removed from the Wolves meeting with the Chicago Bulls late in January. They are 3-3 since Martin joined him on the sideline.

Gorgui Dieng, still being used sparingly, is averaging 11 minutes per game over the previous five games. Dieng is still a very raw, young, and developing player but has at least been serviceable in the absence of Pek and Turiaf. He is averaging 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block per game during the recent stretch.

 

 

zb

Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

The Wolves landed in Portland just before midnight, Sunday, after departing from Utah shortly after their victory against the Jazz. After the Pups demolished the Denver Nuggets (Blazers burn, demolish Denver — these are horrible, but i grin none-the-less), we determined victories against other Western Conference foes competing for playoff contention are the wins that will prove to have the most value during the course of the remainder of the season. Minnesota had a chance to catch the Portland Trail Blazers, without LaMarcus Aldridge, reeling to sustain the success captured earlier in the season, and steal a victory at the Moda Center. Here’s this picture again.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

Of the first three games, two were deemed as ‘winnable’. Fortunately, the Wolves defeated the Indiana Pacers at home — this was not considered one of those winnable contests. However, because the Blazers were without their All-Star power forward I did consider last night’s matchup in Portland as one that could – and maybe should – have been a victory. Nikola Pekovic, who participated in some pregame warmups, remains out until further notice — although he is expected to play sometime on this roadtrip (per Kevin Love’s Instagram account) — he did not play last night against the Blazers. The Wolves rolled out the small-ball starting lineup, again, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Kevin Love. The Blazers countered with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez.

First Half

Only a minute and some change into the game, Love gave the Wolves a lead after hitting a jumper and things were moving along smoothly on the offensive end. Love scored 13 in the first, Budinger added 3 (1-3 from the field, 1-1 3pt), Cunningham and Brewer — together — accounted for 10 on 5 of 8 FG, while Rubio added 5 and the Wolves led after the opening quarter — 34-26. In addition to his scoring contributions, Rubio assisted on 7 of the Wolves 14 baskets. J.J. Barea started the following quarter with a three and the Wolves continued rolling through most of the second frame. Rick Adelman elected to keep Alexey Shved on the bench, which isn’t a decision I’m prepared to dispute, but this meant playing Robbie Hummel alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng.

Without having Kevin Martin, who remains sidelined due to injury, Barea has free reign of the second unit — this is not a good thing, in my opinion. Because Budinger was moved to the starting shooting guard slot, Hummel is the wing player Adelman has decided is best fit to stretch the defense when the second unit is on the floor. Hummel is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc this season, and is only averaging three points a game. Would playing Shved make more sense? I’ll leave that up to you.

‘Bazz,’ who has shown he has the ability to hit the outside shot — in the D-League and with the Wolves — and make plays posting-up smaller defenders, didn’t play very well during the seven minutes of action he saw in the second quarter. Muhammad was one-of-five from the field, and only scored two points.

A little over the 5:00 minute mark, Barea knocked down two free-throws and the Wolves were in business — on the road and ahead by 18 points. Although the starters had checked back in, the game began turning into a gothic horror story as things were winding down in the first half. Thomas Robinson, who replaced the struggling Wright, came off the Blazers’ bench and showed anyone watching what it means to be a hustler. In the final two minutes of the first half, Robinson scored four points and snatched four rebounds, he relentlessly earned the right to play the majority of minutes at forward, in Aldridge’s absence, throughout the remainder of the game. Portland ended the half on an 8-0 run, but the Wolves led at halftime — 60-52 — by a mere 8 points, despite, at one point, having created a significant deficit.

Second Half

After grabbing an offensive rebound, Rubio found an open Budinger and the Wolves opened up the scoring after halftime after Bud’s three-pointer fell through the net. After that, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run and the score remained close during the third quarter. However, Portland’s effort on the boards and in the paint was the difference throughout the remainder of the game. The Blazers attained 12 points in the paint, while the Wolves — lacking any presence at the center position — managed to score only four. Portland had out-rebounded Minnesota in the frame, 15-7.

Lillard and Batum, who together accounted for 27 of the Blazers 52 first-half points, began heating up after halftime and scored 10 apiece, shooting a combined 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from ‘downtown’. Batum managed to grab four rebounds and also had two assists, while Lillard showed his ability to pass also — ‘the Dame Monster’ had three assists of his own.

This following sequence essentially encapsulates the way things went after the Wolves found themselves up by 18 points during the second quarter. The Blazers simply worked, hustled, and made everything harder for the visiting team.

With just over two minutes to play until the final quarter, after six lead changes and having been tied four separate times thus far, Batum drained a three-pointer (assisted by the still-hustling Robinson) that gave the Blazers an edge, 82-80. Shortly after a Barea miss and – yet another – Robinson rebound, the ball found a streaking Batum and the frenchmen scored the final points of the third and Portland took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

  • Rubio and Cunningham sat on the bench.
  • Love was the only starter to score, he had three points.
  • Shabazz played all 12 minutes, didn’t score once, and was 0 for 3 from the field.
  • Budinger played 18 seconds. Yes, that is correct — 18 seconds.
  • Barea, although being a major reason the game was a contest for as long as it was, committed five fouls (FIVE) and made some of the usual boneheaded plays we’re used to seeing him make when things go awry. (He scored six points on 2 of 6 FG shooting)

No, the Wolves didn’t overcome the small, four-point deficit that they faced entering the quarter — nor was there a moment where it looked as if they were going to do so. It was worse than watching paint dry, and it took every ounce of fanship inside of me to refrain from turning the game off and flicking on the True Blood (which I didn’t watch live because of the game, and my commitment to covering this team).

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

  • Damian Lillard — 32 points, 11 of 17 FG, 5 of 8 3PT FG, 5 of 5 from the charity stripe. The guy, he’s good.
  • Kevin Love — The game was ugly, but not ugly enough for me to spite the Wolves by leaving them out of the ‘Three Stars’ portion of this recap. Love scored 31, albeit on only 11 of 21 shooting (with a less than stellar shot selection) and grabbed 10 rebounds
  • Thomas Robinson — 14 points in 32 minutes. 18 rebounds (11 defensive and 7 offensive) and a +/- rating of +19. Look at this way, Brewer’s +/- was -19. Because math is hard, I did it for you — that’s a difference of 38.

For the optimistic, Pekovic is expected to return at some point during this road trip — my guess is Martin will, too. Tomorrow night the Wolves play the Phoenix Suns, who were defeated last night by the Houston Rockets; this keeps hope for the 8th and final playoff slot in the superior Western Conference alive. If Pek and K-Mart (K-Target to some) don’t make their return tomorrow, in Phoenix, they’ll have three additional days to recover before the Wolves play the Kings – in Sacramento – on Saturday. Here’s a tweet from John letting you know how things stand.

Game Recap: Wolves-Pacers (But really, it’s way more than that)

 

I may speak for many other Wolves fans — but by no means do my opinions represent the thoughts of the entire fanbase — when I say that I’m pretty much over the, “Kevin Love is going to eventually go elsewhere, so the Wolves better just sell him while they can still get something of value,” baseless thought process. Most of the time, because of the tireless narratives, it’s the ignorant, and oblivious, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers that are responsible for these warrantless rumors. Yesterday morning, Love was quoted in GQ saying something that allowed those who share my opinion to exhale — for the time being.

“People think it’s so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” Love said. “And I’m not shitting on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.”

Yesterday, I tweeted out a picture of the Wolves upcoming 10 games. This is that picture.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

 

The Wolves, with trade rumors and Love drama swirling about the twitter verse, just need to keep things together if they hope to start, and complete, an improbable – post All-Star break – run into the postseason. If they were going to whether to storm last night’s game against Indiana, at home, would be a nice place to start.

The Pacers entered the Target Center last night as an overwhelming favorite, tied in the loss column with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and fighting to keep the NBA’s best record. As we know, the Wolves are still scrambling to come up with an identity. The game tipped-off with less than 24 hours remaining until the trade deadline. Rick Adelman rolled out Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger (part of a rumor that would package him and J.J. Barea and send them to the Memphis Grizzlies), Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Ronnie Turiaf to matchup with George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert.

First Half

Typically, the Pacers rugged, slow-paced grindhouse style of basketball compensates for mistakes made on the offensive end. However, Indiana turned the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes and the Wolves took advantage by getting up-the-floor in transition en route to eight fastbreak points. Love made three, of four, three point attempts and scored 12 points in the frame and the Wolves led the Pacers by 12; 30-18.

Wolves bench players; Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng, didn’t necessarily need to gain ground, but were going to need to withstand a veteran Pacers second-unit to withhold the early lead while Love and the starters rested — this would be a theme throughout the game.

Barea, Cunningham and Shved accounted for 14 of 22 second quarter points (Love tacked on eight) and Mbah a Moute played stifling defense against Lance Stephenson to help hold Indiana to only 21 second-quarter points. Both squads had 24 points in the paint, the Pacers held the advantage in second-chance points (6-2) but the fastbreak continued to be the difference; Rubio, Brewer, but mainly Love’s outlet passing, gave the Wolves a 12 to 2 advantage in fastbreak points. At halftime the scoreboard read, 52-39, in favor of the Pups. 

Second Half

Any fan in attendance yesterday could justify paying face value for a ticket, even if they only caught the third-quarter. Love and George, each team’s superstar, went shot-for-shot – basket-for-basket- as both played all 12 minutes — the two each scored 18 points. There are some who say Love is less of a superstar than he is a stat-sheet stuffer; a good player on a bad team with an opportunity to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s quarters like this one that prove otherwise.

Through three Love had 37 and the Wolves led the Pacers by 10, 82-72, but, because of the things we’ve seen happen during the final quarter — no lead is safe, ever. Yet, to the relief of fans – and bloggers – alike, there was no tragic fourth-quarter collapse. Pacers coach Frank Vogel waived the proverbial white flag with around three minutes to play. The Wolves won a game they weren’t expected, and weren’t supposed, to win — keeping that sliver of hope for a postseason appearance intact.

 

 

This is the type of crap that allows unfounded rumors to exist. If you don’t know Peter Vecsey, well, neither do I — he’s a guy I, and many others, follow on Twitter — but never had I thought of him as a media member. He would continue.

 

 

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Vecsey do anything like this, or it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed — either way, it’s garbage. Vecsey was soon debunked by Flip Saunders.

For now, the season isn’t a complete loss — nor is there reason to give up hope completely. Wolves beat the Pacers, the NBA’s best team, on national television. Love, without the aid of Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic, led the Wolves over the Pacers in front of a national televised audience. You’re reading that correctly, so — are the pieces in place around K-Love not good enough? I doubt it. They just haven’t gotten it done, some blame the players — some point to the coaching — but health has been the issue.

Earlier this season Turiaf went down to an elbow injury, Rick Adelman then went and played Pekovic more minutes than Pek had ever played before. Eventually, the Wolves 295 pound center would succomb to an injury of his own. It’s unfortunate timing, really. Martin will be evaluated tomorrow and is traveling with the team on the upcoming five-game road trip. We don’t know when Pekovic will be back, he missed 20 games last season and it’s likely he won’t be back for another week or so. I will notice that the previous sentence is speculation, not an accurate report.

– The 2:00PM CST trade deadline came and left without the Wolves making any moves. Rumored players on their way out the door, Barea, Budinger and – as always – Love — they’re all still here. Earlier today Wolves PR gave us more about Love and what he thinks about all of this, turns out he’s tired of it too.

 

Here’s that picture again.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

 

The Trail Blazers will be without LaMarcus Aldridge until early next week, so Saturday’s matchup in Portland is toss-up. The Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, and Toronto Raptors are the difficult games during this stretch, while the Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks are all reeling at this point in the season.

The Wolves will need to keep winning in order to keep bad press away, last night’s win against the Pacers was a good, though unexpected, place to start.

 

 

zb