Recap: Wolves defeat Nuggets, move ahead in win column out West

Earlier this season Rick Adelman described the Timberwolves as a team that hasn’t done anything yet, and for the rest of the way , his team must walk unconquerable path to achieve what some considered to be the ceiling, or highest potential reward, of potential success this season– a postseason appearance. Even to the most hopeful minded optimist, playoff hopes are all-but lost. Yet, there’s always the chance of a certain anomaly that’s unaccounted for, or, circumstantial exemption. Each defeat eliminates another compelling, post-all-star-break, narrative that those refusing to give up still clutch tightly.

The Denver Nuggets, because of injuries, brought a 10-man roster and started Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Durrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried, and J.J. Hickson. Notice, there are no true centers listed for the Nuggets — I’d say this was an easy victory, but, it’s the Wolves. Without the services of Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Martin, the Wolves started Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Ronnie Turiaf.

First Half

The Wolves began the game on a 7-0 run after a Budinger 3pt-shot, a Rubio reverse – wide open layup – followed by an 18-footer from the point guard with a highly criticized jumper. After a pair of Love free-throws, the Nuggets finally got on the board after a Foye 3pt-pointer from the top of the key. After a Budinger three, his second of the game, it was 17-3 and it was like all the disappointment of the season thus far ceased to exist. Well, not really.

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw burned two timeouts before the 7:00 minute mark, that has to be a record.

Shortly before the end of the first quarter, Foye accidentally elbowed Rubio and, after a heated explanation to an arguably blind official (Steve Anderson), Rubio headed to the locker room — he was bleeding from the chin.

The Wolves have reached the 30 point mark during the first quarter 20 times this season, they’re the second team to do so (Houston Rockets). They led 31-19 after the opening period.

A 9-4 run that started the second quarter, and the first quarter in its entirety, led me to believe that the Wolves would have no trouble winning this game, moreover, it inclined me to believe that the Nuggets were incapable of ever, not losing, to begin with. J.J. Barea scored his 6th, 7th, and 8th point of the game on a three with a little over 6:00 to play in the half that put the lead to 22.

This, that, and the other thing happened before the Wolves and Nuggets went into halftime — 61-41.

Second Half

Call it pessimistic, defeatism, or just all around negativity — the second half went by smoothly, yet I felt no excitement. Through three quarters Love had scored 32 points, half of the Nuggets output going into the final frame. Some label these games, blowouts, others call them laughers, the Wolves led Denver 89-64 with only 12 minutes to play. Veteran guard A.J. Price got some run, as did Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Eventually, the game ended. Things, when looking at the bigger picture, didn’t really improve — but there’s still positives to take away going forward.

The Wolves aren’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason, and until they are, every win contributes to overcoming proverbial, insurmountable odds. Wednesday’s victory over Nuggets was exactly what they needed, and in more ways than one — the Wolves jumped over the Nuggets in the win column, and a competing conference foe tallied a loss on the same evening.

Three Stars 

  1. Kevin Love — 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists.
  2. J.J. Barea — 18 points, a perfect 8 of 8 from the field, 2 of 2 from behind the arc and only 1 turnover.
  3. Corey Brewer — 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting, seemed to enjoy getting open in transition against his former club.

Takeaways

Just keeping plugging away is all this team can do. The injuries, disappointments, and doubt going forward regarding Kevin Love’s future, Adelman’s presence – or lack there of – and playoff chances — those can all be set aside.

For the rest of the year, the Wolves have nothing to lose. It’s put up, or shut up, because there isn’t much substance left to nitpick, for now.

 

 

zb

 

Game Preview: Dane Carbaugh tells us about the Blazers

There’s not much Dane Carbaugh can’t tell us about the Portland Trail Blazers. He is the All Everything of A Young Sabonis, which may eventually be published to paperback depending on how the Blazers finish their season, and does video breakdowns over at Blazers Edge.
Carbaugh is good people, follow him on Twitter. Click the link to do so, here.
If you wish to read what I had to say about the Wolves at a Young Sabonis, you may venture down that dark tunnel at your own risk.
1. Before we get going on tonight, how confident are Blazers finish with a top four seed in the Western Conference Playoffs this season?
I’m not sure they will finish in that place since they have been struggling against teams lately due to an increase in game tape on their offensive strategies. The other part of it is that the Blazers have a ridiculously tough March where they basically play everyone in the Western Conference playoff race without getting more than 1 day off for the duration. Of course, the Blazers have played the other top teams in the West quite well, so I’m not sure that would be a disappointment. Just so long as they avoid the Phoenix Suns in the first round — they are Portland’s kryptonite.
2. What will they do to expose the absence of Nikola Pekovic on offense? How do you believe they will attack Ronnie Turiaf who is starting in his place?
The best way to tell if Stotts is going to get Lopez involved early is to see if he has a play drawn up for him in the first two possessions. If he goes to him that early you can expect it throughout the game.
3. Why all the chatter surrounding Nicholas Batum and his defensive game? Who does he match up against tonight, and what worries you when looking at the Wolves available roster?
Don’t ask me about why, other than the fact that people like to push narratives. Two years ago people were still likening him to Scottie Pippen which is absolutely ridiculous. Other than shooting the three ball, there’s nothing Batum does better than Pippen did. Physically, his defense is all about his length. He’s not as laterally mobile as many think, and that gets him caught out. He gets put on opposing point guards because they aren’t quick enough to get around his arms and his first step combined.
That being said, it’s not as though he’s a bad defender, he just doesn’t live up to the impossibly-high Hall of Fame comparison unfairly placed upon him. Really, Batum can step up his game when the time comes he can lock a guy down. My guess is he gets put on whoever starts at SF to start the game but could transition to Kevin Martin if he gives Portland the same amount of trouble he game them last  time these two teams met. I don’t think Stotts moves him to Rubio unless Lillard is really having an off night defensively.
4. How do you prepare to defend the Kevin Love to Corey Brewer connection in transition? Besides making baskets, is there anthing – as an opponent – that can be done in terms of X’s and O’s to prevent such uncontested baskets?
That’s all down to whether the Blazers have scouted them properly. Portland’s transition defense has been everywhere from average to atrocious this year, and they have a habit of ball-watching when shots (threes) go up. Squaring the floor on the rotation is key — making sure there are always two wings above the break with a designated safety — and making sure that Brewer doesn’t leak out will most likely Batum’s assignment. The real improvement in their transition D has come when Batum is playing middle linebacker, directing traffic. He needs to be alert tonight since Love is such an elite talent with his passes.
5. How do you believe playing a physical, overtime game against the Indiana Pacers last night will affect tonight’s game? (If at all)  and who do you believe will emerge victorious?
That depends. I think it was a tough game but I don’t suspect the Trail Blazers are feeling deflated. They rode the Pacers the whole game and when it came down to crunch time, they basically had a few bad mistakes and a few bad blows of the whistle allow the game to slip through their fingers. Saying “good teams find ways to win those games” is sort of ridiculous, considering Portland has literally won those games this season. You win some, you lose some. And sometimes the Thunder lose to the Magic on a last-second breakaway dunk.
These teams have history and with Jay-Z reported to be in attendance, you best believe Damian Lillard will be looking to impress. I think Portland gets a win in a fairly ordinary game, 103-95.

Grizzlies grind-it-out, defeat Wolves at home

The Wolves hosted the Memphis Grizzlies last night in what a notable amount of buzz considered a, “must win,” for the home team. The Grizz have been one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, Memphis entered as winners of four-consecutive while also emerging victorious in 9 of their last 10 games. They’ve been surging since the return of Marc Gasol, and it makes sense — he’s one of the most versatile centers in the league.

A few beat-writers focused on the Grizzlies head coach, Dave Joerger, returning home to Minnesota. Joerger is from Staples, also known as Cabin Country to Suburban Folk, and it would be his first time coaching in the Target Center. But during morning shootaround I caught up with the other Minnesota native playing with Memphis — Jon Leuer.

Leuer told me he was excited to be back in Minnesota, this was the place he grew up watching the Wolves and dreaming about playing in the NBA. He returned to his home in Long Lake the evening before for a dinner with his family, cooked by Mom of course. Leuer said he had about 20 tickets for family and friends and was hoping to get some playing time. In preseason of his rookie year, Leuer went toe-to-toe with Kevin Love (as much as a rookie can, anyway) by scoring 18 in a loss to the Wolves at Target Center back in January of 2011.

Admittedly, it was my first time covering a Wolves game as a member of the media and things were somewhat nerve-wracking.

First Half

It was a rugged, grizzly, start for both clubs — the difference? This is the way Memphis plays. Adelman said during the postgame that the ball-movement was awful and I am going to go ahead and confirm that. The Wolves offensive motion was putrid and the only reason things were close was because of Kevin Martin. Martin was five for eight from the field and scored 10 of the Wolves 22 first quarter points and the Grizz were ontop after the opening quarter — 30-22.

By the end of the second Gasol and Zach Randolph, aka Z-Bo, had combined for 18 points (nine apiece) but it was Courtney Lee – who isn’t a decaying skeleton, afterall – that lead the way for Memphis with 12. The absence of Nikola Pekovic was apparent and the Wolves weren’t getting production, scoring wise, in his absence. Ronny Turiaf was held scoreless and Gorgui Dieng turned the ball over three-different times and things were ugly, real ugly. The Grizzlies led 50-37 at the halfway point. The brutal, physical, and however else you wish to describe the type of basketball Memphis plays was taking it’s toll.

I didn’t give you any of the Wolves first-half numbers on purpose because they weren’t very good, at all.

Second Half

It must have been a Rick Adelman speech, or something, that motivated the Wolves to play tougher; though I sincerly doubt it. Maybe it was just Love’s superhuman talent that rallied the troops, you decide. Nah, don’t worry about it — the answer to any problem during the first-half caused by the Grizzlies was indeed K-Love. The tweet from Wolves PR below really just says it all.

Nearing the end of the 3rd quarter momentum was in the home team’s favor in a proverbial must-win conference game a few games prior to the halfway mark of the season. After, yet another, Love three-pointer the game now a one-possession affair. Yet, as a defeatists fate would have it, Grizzly reserve Nick Colathis drained a cold-blooded three that extended the memphis lead to five. Dante Cunningham and J.J. Barea would both make critical baskets at the end of the quarter and the Wolves – surprisingly enough – had the lead going into the final frame — 67-66.

Kyle Ratke, Timberwolves’ Web Editoral Assistant and Friend of the Program (Also a huge help in ensuring I didn’t get lost during my rookie night as a media member) summed up how I feel about recapping the way things ended, this tweet describes how he felt during the final battle at Target Center. Yes, that was a Mortal Kombat reference.

Love and the Wolves really just ran out of gas at the end of the game, the controversy during the final eight-minutes was something fans are familiar with — Adelman went with Barea, and not Ricky Rubio, as the PG that would close the game. Barea hit two-huge three’s between the 8:00 and 7:00 minute mark that kept things close. A voice echoed from the bleachers, “PUT IN RUBIO.” When, earlier, a voice similar in sound and from seemingly the same area could be heard saying, “BAREA YOU SUCK!”.

Give the Puerto-Rican some credit, he was playing well. Barea assisted on a Love turn-around jumper that put the Wolves up three with a little over 5:00 to play. After a Randolph jumper and Mike Miller layup (Yes, Mike Miller was trying to score on the Target Center floor. Many fans remember his distribution phase that convienently came in his time with the Timberwolves) the Grizzlies went up by one, 80-81, but Barea found Cunningham – who hit a jumper – for two and the Wolves regained the lead.

Z-Bo hit another jumper, this time from 17 feet, and the Grizzlies never looked back. Insert debate.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Love — Dude, you are a beast. The numbers Love posted in the first half don’t display how well he played, defensively, against the Grizzlies tandem of Gasol and Randolph. That third quarter, man — quiet a performance to witness live.
  • Zach Randolph — Played 40 minutes and scored 26 points. The guy didn’t hardly even participate during shootaround and drank a hot chocolate beforehand, it’s true — I saw him at the Starbucks. He made Pekovic laugh, beasted down-low, and was the Grizzlies closer down the stretch.
  • J.J. Barea — People are going to hate me, and I don’t care. He shot four of seven from the field and scored 10 second half points, didn’t turn the ball over once, and kept the Wolves in the game by hitting big-time shots and making passes when he needed to. The Wolves are 0-5 when Barea finishes the game at PG and last night was another one of those times, but other things contributed to the loss also.

Takeaways

You guys seem to want to talk about it, so here it goes. This quote is from Adelman’s post-game press conference regarding why he played Barea over Rubio during the final minutes of a close game, again.

I thought he (J.J.) was the best option for us to win. I asked people around me and they felt the same way.

Sure, that’s fine and even if this was justifiable and accepted by fans — Adelman needs to start playing Rubio at PG because that’s how R.R. is going to learn how to succeed in those situations. Not only does he need to learn them now, Rubio must know how to execute or this club won’t sniff the playoffs.

In Adelman’s defense, Mike Conley was went down with a leg-injury in the waning moments of the game and the Grizzlies had a lengthy lineup on the floor in his absence. Part of Adelman’s thought process, and I can only speculate, may have been that Barea could penetrate and create better at that point in the game. Love, Turiaf, and the rest of the Wolves were tanked (out of energy) and having someone that can create off-the-dribble and collapse the defense wasn’t all that bad of an idea — in theory.

Yes, Rubio should be playing at the end of games. Yes, I think we can all agree — live and die by your future leader. We’ll see what happens going foward. The Wolves are in Atlanta to face the Hawks and tip-off is only a few minutes away.

 

zb.

 

Suns Scorch Wolves Late, blahblahblahblah (103-104)

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Wednesday the Minnesota Timberwolves welcomed the Phoenix Suns to Target Center. The game was nationally televised, but I stuck with the usual WolvesRadio broadcast – per usual – due to work obligations and a general disliking for the ESPN game callers.

Anyway.

Jacob Padilla, of Bright Side of the Sun (A Suns Blog), and I exchanged emails for some insight prior to the game. Learn about the Suns, here, and see what I said about the Wolves — here.

Phoenix entered the game on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost to the Bulls – on Tuesday – in Chicago. For the Wolves it was a chance to start the climb over the proverbial hump over .500. The Suns, if the season ended today, would qualify for the playoffs and are playing better than expected, the Wolves are underperforming. It’s a game I expected to win. Eric Bledsoe, the Suns star point guard, was inactive and Chase Budinger’s return to the Wolves lineup was announced just two hours prior to the game. Rested,  with the forgiving portion of the schedule approaching, it’s time for the Timberwolves start playing as we expect them too — this was their chance to start. [Read more...]

An Exchange with the Enemy: Jacob Padilla, Bright Side of the Sun

Seeing how we haven’t had a guest lately, and Wolves-Suns is always exciting – for me – because of personal reasons — Timberpups welcomes Jacob Padilla of Bright Side of the Sun. Padilla is an editor at BSoS, and because both sites are reciprocation stations, you can find me in an email exchange over there answering a few questions. I can’t entirely suggest you will like what you see, though.

I’m calling this the first edition of, “Exchange with the Enemy.” It may also be the last time we call a preview that, it’s up for debate. I asked Padilla six questions hoping to get a little closer to the Phoenix Suns, they’re in town tonight to play the Timberwolves — let’s begin.

I hate the term tanking, but like everyone else, the ‘method’ is an unavoidable topic and the term was tied to the Suns entering the season. Is it safe to say Jeff Hornacek feels as strongly as I do about this subject? How much of the success is thanks to Hornacek? He’s a clear front-runner for Coach of the Year, but what’s something he does for the Suns personnel, in terms of X’s and O’s, that makes this team a threat to make the playoffs? How does he have this team winning when nobody expected them to?

 Magic. I’ve taken to using the #HornacekWIzardry hashtag on Twitter to describe how the Suns are winning. Jeff hornacek really has done a phenomenal job getting guys to play to their strengths. I’m not really exaggerating when I say that nearly every single player on the roster is having a career year, and Hornacek deserves a lot of the credit for that. He has designed a system that puts everyone on the team in position to succeed. He encourages them to run on every play as transition is really where they do the most damage, and he has conditioned guys to take good shots.

The Suns are shooting mostly 3-pointers and shots around the basket, which is what you want your team to do in today’s NBA. Channing Frye, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green are bombing away from deep, P.J. Tucker is killing teams from the corners and making the hustle plays along with Miles Plumlee, and Goran Dragic is doing his Dragon thing on and off the ball.  I haven’t even mentioned Markieff Morris, who is legitimately in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. Hornacek isn’t doing anything super complicated from what I can tell. He’s just encouraging his guys to do what they do best.

As for the tanking, it’s not all Jeff Hornacek. It looks like the Suns went into firesale mode and got rid of all their veterans, but I don’t think the return on those moves has been all luck. Ryan McDonough saw something in Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee and he has been proven right with their play this season. We don’t call him McMiracle (among several other nicknames) for no reason. The team’s may be a complete surprise to almost everyone, but I don’t think it caught McDonough off guard at all. [Read more...]

Recap: Wolves Fall to Thunder, Drop Another Close Game

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder met for the third time this season Saturday night.

The Thunder entered the game 25-7, losers of two-consecutive, and without All Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson, filling in for Westbrook, averaged 4.8 assists in addition to 13 points – per game – in the Thunder’s previous five games. On the season, Jackson has scored 1 ppg less making appearances off-the-bench, but, as a starter — he averages nearly two-more assists per game — Jackson’s assists account for 8.6ppg (According to NBA Stats).

When these teams met in November the Wolves jumped out to an early, 34-19, first quarter lead and coasted the rest of the way. Kevin Love’s double-double included 24 points and 12 rebounds, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic combined to score 29 points, and Kevin Durant was held to only 13. The Wolves rolled the Thunder by 19, 81-100. [Read more...]

Recap: Wolves Devour Frozen Pelicans 124-112.

Wednesday the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-16) hosted the New Orleans Pelicans (14-15). These teams entered the game struggling to rise above the .500 mark with a combined record of 29-31, but one of them would have the same amount of victories as defeats at the sound of the final buzzer.

The somewhat infamous Pierre the Pelican, New Orleans mascot, did not travel with the team, preventing a certain heated exchange between the Pelican and Crunch. Maybe the Wolves can send Crunch into the Bayou later this season. I only say that because this is a mascot battle I need to see at some point in my life. The spectacle of mascots doing mascot things will always entertain me. [Read more...]