Rockets Blast Past Timberwolves, 120-110

Wolves fans only have to keep their eyes on Andrew Wiggins to enjoy what should be a great future. (Credit: Scott Halleran, Getty Images)

Wolves fans only have to keep their eyes on Andrew Wiggins to enjoy what should be a great future. (Credit: Scott Halleran, Getty Images)

 

Our Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Houston to take on the Rockets Friday night.  Both teams are dealing with a slew of injuries, but only one of them was clinching a playoff spot with a victory on Friday.  Dwight Howard returned to action in the Rockets’ last game, but Houston also lost Patrick Beverley.  With that, Kevin McHale’s starting lineup included Jason Terry, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, and Howard.  Flip Saunders countered his coaching buddy with Lorenzo Brown, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng.

As you may have been able to predict given those starting lineups, the Wolves were overmatched largely throughout.  The Rockets came out flying all over the court, opening up a quick 11-2 run and leading to an early timeout from Flip.  Minnesota scored the next six points, but the Rockets answered with a few three pointers.  It turned into a playground game for the final eight minutes of the first quarter – a good number of turnovers, steals, loose balls, etc.

Looking for a bright spot on the Wolves (outside of Wiggins) and look no further than Chase Budinger, who was 2-2 from the field for five points in five minutes on the court.  Entering Friday night’s action, Chase had scored in double digits in each of the past seven games.

At the end of the first quarter, the Rockets held a 31-22 advantage.  At the end of the first half, the Rockets held a 10 point lead, 60-50.

Halftime highlights:

  • Rockets’ announcer on Wiggins, “He’s the future of the league”.  (True story)  Wiggins got to the line 12 times (9 makes) in the first half.  That’s unreal!
  • Ugly basketball, as the Rockets had 13 turnovers and the Pups had 8 of their own
  • Wolves were killed on the boards, as Houston held a 22-10 advantage

After struggling from the field in the first half, James Harden exploded in the third quarter, hitting his first four three point attempts coming out of the locker room.  When it looked like the Wolves might pack it up, a spark from LaVine and Payne led an 11-3 run to cut the lead to single digits, forcing Kevin McHale to get out of his seat while on the sideline … the horror.

At the end of the third quarter, the Rockets maintained a ten point lead, 90-80.  Both teams put up 30 points in the quarter, led by James Harden who had already gone over 30 points in the game before the final quarter even began.

Every single, small run that the Wolves went on was met with a barrage of three pointers from the Rockets.  In the end, the Timberwolves simply didn’t have enough firepower to stay with one of the better teams in the NBA.  With the victory, the Rockets are now officially in the playoffs.

The final score, Rockets 120 – Timberwolves 110

A few notes from the game:

  • A somewhat quiet double-double for Gorgui Dieng, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds
  • Wiggins finished with 31 points, while Budinger finished with a season high 23 points
  • The Rockets attempted 44 three point field goals (ridiculous) and they made 20 of them (also ridiculous)

 

What the Hell Happened Monday in Utah?

(Via Russ Isabella/USA Today)

(Via Russ Isabella/USA Today)

Seriously, what the hell happened? I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.

Somehow, someway, the Wolves beat the Jazz Monday night in Salt Lake City. Minnesota did it with just 7 healthy players. Of those players, 3 had spent time in the D-League this season (Payne, Kilpatrick, Brown). The only healthy player on the roster who isn’t a rookie or sophomore was Budinger, and should he really even count?

Look, the game certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Wolves inexplicably got the job done. The game featured a combined 39 turnovers, including 7 from Zach LaVine, 6 from Joe Ingles, 5 from Trey Burke, and 4 from Andrew Wiggins. Yet, a game that spent around 47 minutes being a complete mess turned into the Zach LaVine show, as his two 3 pointers in the final minute (one of which came from the parking lot) forced overtime, and the Wolves came away with the victory.

So what did we learn? Not much, but there were a few interesting tidbits from Monday that shouldn’t be glossed over.

1) Zach LaVine is NOT a point guard

FLIPLAVINE

This should be glaringly obvious, but in case it’s not, let me reiterate. Zach LaVine is a natural and perfect fit at the shooting guard spot. As insanely fast and athletic as LaVine is, he should not be spending the majority of his time as the teams primary ball handler. His dribbling skills aren’t nearly consistent enough, his court vision isn’t the greatest, and his undeveloped decision making skills make him an extremely poor fit at the point guard.

Monday, LaVine spent quality time at the 2 guard, and as a result had one of his best offensive displays of this season. He didn’t have to worry about calling plays or orchestrating the offense, and it led to him making solid cuts to the perimeter where he draining a career-high 5 threes, while also displaying impressive finishing moves as he had a few acrobatic layups when he did drive to the basket.

2) 3 pointers are good

The Wolves were 12-19 from 3 Monday, which for any other team would be nothing more than a side note. But for the Wolves, a team that averages just 5 made 3 pointers a game, it was a miracle. The craziest part, is that it resulted in a victory! It’s almost as if 3 pointers are a more efficient shot than midrange jumpers. Crazy, right? If this really is the case, the Wolves should be shooting this many 3’s every night, and maybe stop settling for 18 footers.

3) Winning is Important, Even if it Costs the Wolves Draft Position

Let’s face it, the Wolves are not catching New York for the worst record in the league, and they will probably end up ahead of either Los Angeles or Philadelphia at seasons end. But simply because the Wolves are in a tight race at the bottom of the standings doesn’t mean the Wolves should be trying to lose. For a team as young as Minnesota, it’s equally important to keep morale high. A happy locker room is good for everyone – players, reporters, the coaching staff, and fans, so why kill a team’s spirits by intentionally losing.

Just look at Wiggins and LaVine hugging! How could you possibly root for them to lose!

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 21

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

How often will we see KG on the court the last few weeks of the season?  (Photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

Setting the stage:

We are now officially into the last month of the season, with 12 games left on the Timberwolves schedule.  It hasn’t been a pretty season to say the least.  The Wolves are taking this one game at a time and have made the (wise) decision to give guys the occasional day of rest here and there.  For Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio, the team is being more than cautious for very different reasons.  It will be interesting to see how much KG plays over the next month, if the Wolves only play him at the Target Center, etc.

Ping pong balls are the craze right now and despite the win in New York this past week, the Timberwolves are in the front seat (if not the drivers’ seat) for the most ping pong balls in the lottery.  I’m not bragging here.

With that in mind, here is a brief preview for another four game week for our Pups:

Game 70: Monday, 3/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: No local TV)

Is someone on the FSN broadcast team not allowed in Utah?  It feels like this is a game that commonly sees the local blackout on TV.  While it would take a miracle to do so, the Jazz have been one of the hotter teams in the NBA.  They remain #1 in the NBA in points allowed and will be a tough match-up for the Wolves, even if they were to play at full strength.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors’ name was showing up in trade rumors last year but I imagine that is over with his performance this season – 16+ppg, 8+rpg and a PER over 22.  If KG sits this one out, it could be a long night for Adreian Payne.

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/25, 7pm – Los Angeles Lakers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Lakers are making a late run for ping pong balls, having shut Kobe Bryant down for the season and showcasing the likes of Wayne Ellington, Tarik Black, and …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – My least favorite lottery pick in Timberwolves’ history!  Johnson is playing just under 30 minutes a night and still can’t score 10ppg or grab 4rpg on average.  Awesome.

Game 72: Friday, 3/27, 7pm – Timberpups @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

Despite losing all three prior contests this season, the Wolves have played the Rockets tough.  This is another opportunity for the Wolves to put on the original blue uniforms against Kevin McHale’s squad … (note: I know this can’t happen, but I still yearn for it).

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate this season (top 5 at least).  He’s putting up about 26-7-6 on a nightly basis and has free reign on the court because … well, he has McHale as a head coach.

Game 73: Sunday, 3/29, 3pm – Timberpups @ New Orleans Pelicans (TV: FS North)

The Pelicans dropped a season high 139 points on the Timberwolves back in November.  With the season winding down and the Wolves’ resting players, what is New Orleans capable of Sunday afternoon?

Opponent to watch:

Anthony Davis – Another legitimate MVP candidate gets to face the Wolves this week.  If you thought Harden’s numbers were impressive, Davis is putting up about 25 and 10 to go with about 3 blocks a night and a PER north of 30.  Let’s hope he can stay healthy because Davis could be the league’s best as LeBron and Durant start to age.

Wrap-up:

A very, very tough week ahead for the Timberwolves … excluding a terrible Lakers team of course.  Let’s go Wolves!

Good Half, but Raptor Crept Away on Win


(AP Photo by Nathan Denette)

It’s not who you play, it’s when. Though the season it mostly over, the Wolves have not faced the Raptors yet this season. Earlier this year, the Raptors were the talk of the league. Lately, they’ve cooled off. #Opportunity

The Raptors and their fans were excited to finally host the Wolves. It is a homecoming for Wiggins and Bennett. Though Bennett was out, he and Wiggins were celebrated tonight #CanadaPride

For the Wolves who have been very short-handed lately, they received great news. Ricky is back! It makes all the difference. #RickyMatters

Highlight!
K-Mart was open in Toronto tonight. The first quarter was unbelievable. Martin was a great first quarter, especially from long distance! It was oddly contagious as even Buddinger nailed a 3 in the first quarter. #NeedDeepMakes

The Wolves played a great first half. Rubio and Brown both played guard well and you can see that Brown was a great pickup in a team needed a boost.

The Wolves were down, but battled back repeatedly. At halftime, it was tied with Martin chipping in 22 of the team’s 54 points.
Budinger scored the last bucket of the half by running in from out of bounds and catching an off-guard defense off their game.

At half, there was much to like. The game was tied, Wiggins was playing decently, and the rest of the Wolves could easily make the difference.

The third quarter was truly an opportunity. The Wolves missed open threes and had great down-low shots that didn’t drop. It was sloppy at times. The Wolves kept close, but the Raptors crept ahead and created a gap that Minnesota couldn’t close. When the quarter ended, the Wolves were up 7 (after an offensive turnover on LaVine’s carry followed by a close miss by Toronto).

The 4th was a great battle. Toronto extended the lead to 10 and the Wolves countered cutting the deficit to 4. A big 3 made it 7 and the Wolves responded with 2 buckets to make it 3. I’m pretty sure Wolves fans felt it wasn’t meant to be when Rubio leads the fast break and gives Budinger the ball on the left only to travel. I’m sure cursing and hair-pulling ensued.

Overall, the Wolves had opportunities, but are not able to translate those chances into buckets. In a close loss, those missed opportunities are key.

This game featured fouls which did not help Minnesota. The Wolves shot 67% making 10 of only 15 while the Raptors shot 85% making 23 of 27 from the free throw line. #GottaMakeTheFreebies

Highlights of the night? There were plenty.

  • Many great shots by Martin #HighlightReel
  • LaVine’s double-pump dunk with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd #SlamDunkChamp
  • Budinger was a contributor and had a couple nice drives to the hoop #NeedGingerProduction

Who’s Boarding?
I’m still lost by the lack of rebounding #NoDoubleDoubles. The Wolves are not an offensive rebounding team. Heck, they are not a good rebounding team at all. Tonight Wiggins led the Wolves with 3. Yes, 3.

That actually isn’t bad, but in the League it is not good. The leading rebounders were Rubio and Budinger. Yes, Rubio, who had 7 defensive rebounds. #TakeThatIn

Missing Ham
Unfortunately, newest Wolf Hamilton was missing tonight due to illness. The game I watched really looked like it needed some of his presence. At the last home Wolves game, I sat next to a fan who was excited about Hamilton’s impact. This game needed his presence. Paul called it saying that Hamilton IS getting a double-double, but we’ll have to wait and see when. I’ll hold onto the hashtag ‪#‎PaulisCorrect‬ for a future game report.

Congrats to Dwayne Casey
I have to say congrats to Raptors coach Dwayne Casey. The ex-Wolves Coach #Underappreciated is leading the Raptors to the #2 seed in the East. Though the East isn’t the West (the Raptors’ record would put them in the 8 spot in the West), the Raptors are still a nice surprise this season.

Let’s Talk About March Madness (Definitely Not a Game Recap)

Will Towns slide into the Wolves future plans?

Will Towns slide into the Wolves future plans?

Last night, the shorthanded Wolves were demolished once again, this time at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. Even without a litany of key players, the Wolves could have at least tried, especially on the defensive end. Instead, they gave up 122 points to a team averaging just 96, and allowed Brooklyn to shoot 58% from the floor. It was embarrassing, depressing, and at times, borderline pathetic.

Dissecting the Wolves effort last night on defense would be akin to the time I dissected a smelly, slimy, stinky frog for the first time in 9th grade Science class. Instead I’m going try something different, but still related to the Timberwolves. For this game recap, I’m going to preview some of the top prospects in this summer’s NBA Draft, and tell you what to watch for as March Madness begins.

The Big Names:

Karl Anthony-Towns –  Freshman, 7’0″ PF/C, Kentucky

Per 40 (minutes) numbers: 18.7 points on 56% shooting, 12.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 4.5 blocks, 0.9 steals, 2.6 TO

Karl Anthony-Towns, or KAT, as some refer to him, is as good of a defender as you will find in college. Towns is relentless, going out of his way to alter any shot in his sight. Towns doesn’t back down to anyone, and has the instincts and skill set to be a force at the next level.

It’s not just his defense that impresses. Towns already has the footwork of a professional in the post. He can pivot, spin, pump fake, and do anything else he’s asked of efficiently and effectively. Towns is a tenacious rebounder, and his 7’3″ wingspan allows him to grab boards over almost anyone.

Willie Cauley-Stein – Junior, 7’0″ PF/Center, Kentucky

Per 40: 14.6 points on 58% shooting, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.6 blocks, 2.0 steals, 2.0 TO

There’s quite a bit of hype surrounding Towns, but what about Kentucky’s other 7 foot defensive beast, Willie Cauley-Stein? Cauley-Stein, like Towns, is a defensive monster. Cauley-Stein may not have the footwork and finesse of Towns, but he’s one of the fastest, longest, and agile 7 footers you’ll ever see. His offensive game could use a little work, but his defensive and finishing abilities have led to comparisons to a young Tyson Chandler, which I don’t feel is ludicrous at all. In fact, it’s conceivable that Caulie-Stein could be Tyson Chandler 2.0; an elite rim protecter that can finish like few other big man and can run the floor like a wing. This doesn’t mean he will be the next Chandler, but I think his ceiling is around that level.

Either way, the duo of Towns and Cauley-Stein have proven to be so good defensively that it’s almost unfair for their inferior competition. The Wolves could sorely use either of the two. I mean, just look at Kentucky’s defensive shot chart.

Potential Matchup to Watch: Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Bigs of Purdue (Round of 32)

Once Kentucky destroys their first round opponent, the Wildcats could face a potential second round game with Purdue. Although Kentucky will more than likely handle Purdue with ease, there will be a fun matchup inside to look for. Purdue has two 7 footers in Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. The duo isn’t nearly as athletic as the combination of Towns and Cauley-Stein, but they pose a legitimate threat on defense. Expect Kentucky’s bigs to dominate, and to give Purdue an entertaining and hilarious beat down.

D’Angelo Russell – Freshman, 6’5″ Guard, Ohio State

Per 40: 23.1 points on 46% shooting, 41% from 3, 6.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 3.5 TO

Ohio State will more than likely only play a game or two in the tournament, so if you want a look at him, you should make sure to catch their first game vs. VCU. If Towns is the best defender in the draft, Russell is the most complete offensive player. There’s very little he can’t do on the offensive end. He can drive, dish, rebound, shoot, and cut with ease.

The best way to describe Russell’s style of play is smooth. Russell makes it all look easy, and there’s a flow to his game that’s impossible to replicate. He’s fast, initiates the offense quickly, and has handles well beyond his years.

Stanley Johnson – Freshman, 6’6″ Forward, Arizona

Per 40: 19.9 points on 45% shooting, 37% from 3, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 3.1 TO

I’m not sure what to think about Stanley Johnson. Yes, he’s an incredibly gifted scorer, rebounder and athlete, but I feel like we may have another Arizona tweener on our hands. At the college level, his skills are perfectly suited for domination, but I’m not so sure how good of a fit he is in the pros. His handles are a work in progress, as is his shot. He’s definitely not tall enough to be a power forward in the NBA, so is he a 2 or a 3?

One thing you can’t deny about Johnson is his defense. Johnson’s skills defensively are outstanding, especially off the ball. He’s great at deflecting passes and smart enough to only gamble when he’s sure the end result will be a positive.

Potential Matchup to Watch: D’Angelo Russell vs. Stanley Johnson (Round of 32)

This matchup needs to happen. No, they wouldn’t be guarding each other, but a matchup of these 2 top-10 prospects would have fans and scouts jumping out of their seats, for obvious reasons.

Jahlil Okafor - Freshman, 6’11” Center, Duke

Per 40: 23.2 points on 67% shooting, 11.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.0 steals, 3.4 TO

Jahlil Okafor was nearly consensus number one pick when this season began, but not anymore. His flaws defensively have led to him dropping, although he is still in the top 3 in most mock drafts. Okafor came into this season with massive expectations, and his offensive game hasn’t disappointed. Okafor isn’t the fastest or most athletic big in the draft, but both his footwork and touch are nearly perfect. His spin moves are as polished as you’ll find in college. When he’s being guarded one-on-one in the post, Okafor always seems to pull another move out of his arsenal of post moves, and before you know it he’s found a way to get to the rim.

Once he gets to the rim, it’s all but over. Okafor can finish at the rim like few others. He has the soft touch needed to finish layups in close, while also having the strength to dunk on guys if need be. Although his defense needs work, if you’re looking for a player who can contribute immediately on the offensive end, Okafor is your choice.

Potential Matchup to Watch: Jahlil Okafor vs. Georgetown’s Joshua Smith (Sweet 16)

Joshua Smith is a 6’10” load of a man. He’s a bully in the post, and uses his brute force to get whatever he wants down low. His per 40 numbers are strikingly similar to Okafor, and if this matchup happens, Okafor will have quite the challenge on his hands.

Conclusion:

With every Wolves loss, the likelihood that one of the players above ends up on the Wolves increases. If you want an early peek at the future, you’re better off enjoying March Madness than watching Minnesota play out the last month of their turbulent and disappointing season.

Spurs Face Leftover Wolves in San Antonio #TexasToast

(photo credit: nba.com)

(photo credit: nba.com)

If you love basketball, I’d say it’s impossible to not be impressed by this Spurs team. While other teams are collecting superstars, the Spurs draft guys and put together a team that performs. They occasionally sign a free agent you may know, but it’s never the giant splash or giant trade that makes you notice San Antonio.

Instead, they just perform great team basketball. In a showy league, those boring Spurs just play basic basketball and win.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in the off-season for the Spurs, but until then, this team just keeps rolling.

For the Spurs, the starters tonight were Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, & Tiago Splitter. Kawhi made himself a household name in the last Finals, but it’s amazing to think that this set of names is a threat to repeat.

For the Wolves, injuries continue to be the story of the season. The Wolves started their 24th different lineup (credit @WolvesRadio) while big names Rubio, KG, & Pek sat out.

Even with the ideal starting lineup, winning in San Antonio is not easy feat (Wolves are 1-19 in last 20 according to the broadcast team).

The final result was never really much of a question. The final score of 97-123 isn’t a surprise, but this is definitely a building year. Tom Hanneman said it best, calling it “Texas Toast.”

The highlights tonight were plentiful:

  • The Youth Movement continues to get quality NBA action. #YoungGuns
  • Hamilton gets the start (showing this move happened just in time). #HamInItUp
  • Lavine nails a turnaround 3 as the clock expires in the first. #Baller
    Payne has a nice shake-and-back turnaround & made an awkward running rainbow. #Promise
  • Martin is showing his distance shooting is on. #Shooter
  • Wiggins is working hard every night. #ROY
  • Hamilton can pass, too #PaynefulSlam
  • Spurs did not reach their highest score of the season #3Short

The lowlights were easy to find:

  • Spurs make your defense look worse. #BlastWithThePass
  • Buddinger has almost disappeared. According to the broadcast, his last make before tonight’s 3 was Jan 31st! Yikes! His absence really hurts the development of the group in building a solid inside-out game. #MilkCarton
  • Martin blocked by Ginóbili? #NoCommentNeed
  • 2nd half starts with a turnover, then an and-one by Leonard #Ugh
  • The third quarter #Down20More

The Wolves will be back at it tomorrow. Grab your green and see you at Target Center! #CutDownTheNets

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 20

The Wolves’ youngsters have a few more weeks to absorb everything from KG. (Credit: NBAE/David Sherman Getty Images)

The Wolves’ youngsters have a few more weeks to absorb everything from KG. (Credit: NBAE/David Sherman Getty Images)

Setting the stage:

If nothing else, the Timberwolves have my attention the rest of this season due to the Kevin Garnett and Gary Neal trades.  To say that the team is playing more enjoyable basketball over the past couple of weeks would be an egregious understatement.  While players have returned from injury, the two that have mattered the most are Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio.  Everything else is just gravy along the rest of the way through this season.

With the Pups playing better, there are several chances for the team to walk away with a few victories this week.  Here is a brief preview for this week’s four games:

Game 66: Monday, 3/16, 7pm – Brooklyn Nets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

It may not be too surprising to see the Nets’ season go down the tubes since the trade deadline.  The team essentially threw in the towel and the results since have the team looking below them in the standings to see if anyone else in the Eastern Conference will pass them by.

Opponent to watch:

Thad Young – This will probably be the last time I ever mention Thad on this board, so might as well take the opportunity.  The former Pup takes on his former team at the Target Center.

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/18, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ Toronto Raptors (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Raptors have yet to play this season, but the crowd should be engaged in this one as Andrew Wiggins (and Anthony Bennett) return to the homeland.  Toronto has a double digit lead on every other team in its division and has run away with the Atlantic division.  However, the standings are tight and they can’t afford to drop a home game against the Wolves.

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Lowry – Lowry is having a career best year, leading the Raptors in steals and assists, while second on the team with over 18 ppg.  He will give Wolves’ PG’s fits, particularly if he can get Rubio into foul trouble.

Game 68: Thursday, 3/19, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ New York Knicks (TV: FSN Plus)

Tankapalooza takes its next step as the Wolves head to Madison Square Garden to take on the (dreadful) Knicks.  A win by the Wolves should lock up a better season record vs. New York, as Minnesota already defeated the Knicks in early November.

Opponent to watch:

Alexey Shved – Welcome back to Timberpups.com Alexey Shved!  Someone is likely telling him to “change your face” on a nightly basis having to play for this awful franchise.

Game 69: Sunday, 3/22, 6pm – Charlotte Hornets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Al Jefferson may be destined to never play meaningful minutes in the playoffs.  There is no reason for the Hornets to miss the playoffs and lose a spot to the likes of the Pacers.  This team is going to continue to underachieve until Michael Jordan is forced out of retirement again, aren’t they?

Opponent to watch:

Mo Williams – Williams has played incredibly well for the Hornets since being traded by the Wolves.  Consistently seeing over 30 minutes per game may not be a great way to keep Williams fresh for the end of the season, but the Hornets have no other option at this point.

Wrap-up:

It is a week of returns for ex-Pups players and facing their former team.  The Wolves should be able to pull at least two victories out of this coming week.  Let’s go Wolves!

Thunder Pull Away From Timberwolves, 113-99

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a Kevin Durant-less Thunder squad who continues to fight for their playoff lives.  The Wolves gave their own big gun, Kevin Garnett, the night off as well.  Enough foreplay, let’s get to the action!

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng (i.e. still no Nikola Pekovic).  The Thunder mixed things up a bit in an effort to get more offensive firepower in the starting lineup, going with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Mitch McGary.

Both teams came out firing on the offensive end, putting up points with very little regard for the defensive side of the ball.  Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins put the Wolves on their shoulders in the first quarter, with the rookie drawing fouls and going to the line 10 times and making all 10!

However, the Wolves frontcourt defense left more than a little to be desired.  Adreian Payne struggled to cover his man or rotate when necessary.  The lack of prowess led to a quick timeout from Flip Saunders in the quarter, but he pretty much gave up hope shortly thereafter, allowing play to continue throughout a few rough patches.  While the future Rookie of the Year kept his team in the hunt, the Thunder took a 31-26 lead into the second quarter.

Zach LaVine had another “I’m not a PG and stop making me play one on TV” start to the second quarter, with a missed 23 footer, a turnover, and allowing DJ Augustin go off to build the Thunder’s lead to 39-28.  With that, Flip burned another timeout and brought back in the Unicorn.  This sparked a 12-0 run to give the Wolves a 40-39 lead.

As goes the Wolves season, Kevin Martin blew a layup on the next possession and bricked a three-pointer after a nice block from Dieng.  That seemed to give OKC some life as they went on a 5-0 run and were consistently beating the Wolves on the boards.  The Thunder scored 11 points in the final 2:45 of the half and took a 55-49 lead into the locker room.

Halftime highlights include:

  • Gorgui Dieng already amassed a double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds … to go with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 assist.  Please stop “tinkering” (PG-rated) with Gorgui’s minutes and role.  He should be a part of the long term plan.
  • Adreian Payne … I don’t see it.  11 minutes and a game low -14.  I know he has shown a few sparks, but to give up a future 1st rounder for the guy is not likely to end well.
  • Aided by Wiggins’ 10-10, the Wolves finished the half 13-13 at the FT line, while the Thunder went 8-8.  Nice, fundamental basketball there!

Aside from a few Justin Hamilton highlights (pick-and-pop made jumper, emphatic dunk) the first six minutes of the third quarter were an abomination for the Wolves.  The Wolves had four points in the first five minutes of the quarter before realizing that the second half started.  After trailing by as many as 14 in the quarter, the Wolves fought back to cut the lead in half heading into the final frame – 79-72.

With the Wolves continuing to trail by seven points, 87-80, the Wolves PR crew sent out the following:

(Insert stomach punch / game over)

As you might expect, this was the actual end of the game as the Thunder pulled away quickly thereafter.  While the Thunder announcers praised the potential for the Wolves, at some point this needs to turn a corner.  Here are a few thoughts from Twitter …

The final score, Thunder 113 – Timberwolves 99 

A few notes from the game:

  • Russell Westbrook barely missed a quadruple-double – 29 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and 8 turnovers
  • Following up on the halftime notes – Dieng finished with 21 and 14, while Payne finished with a -22 in 20 minutes of action
  • Justin Hamilton finished with a career high 17 points and added 10 rebounds
  • Enes Kanter continues to be a thorn in the Wolves’ side, finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds

Wolves Flameout in Phoenix

(AP/Rick Scuteri)

(AP/Rick Scuteri)

I sincerely hope you didn’t watch last night’s game. Playing game number two of a four game road trip out west, the Wolves simply didn’t seem very interested, especially on the defensive end.

Sure, the Wolves were shorthanded. KG decided to rest for the night and Pekovic didn’t appearing in the second half after the pain in his leg became too much to bear. That, however, is no excuse. The Suns haven’t been the same since the trade deadline, and their prized acquisition, Brandon Knight, didn’t even play in this contest. Overall, effort was missing. Even Rubio and Wiggins, the most reliable staples the on the roster, looked lethargic at times.

All you have to do is take a peek at the box score to see how bad it really was. As a team, Minnesota shot 1-13 from three, were out rebounded by 11, and allowed Phoenix to shoot an even 50% from the field. Individually, Minnesota allowed five Phoenix players shoot at least 50% for the night, including letting Markieff Morris go 10-15, while some guy named TJ Warren went 8-10 shooting in just 19 minutes of play.

On the offensive side, the Wolves were arguably just as awful. Minnesota’s leading scorer was Kevin Martin (good), but he only took 8 shots on the night and scored a whopping 16 points (bad). Kevin Martin’s 8 attempts were less than Rubio (11), Wiggins (11), Payne (9), and even new acquisition Justin Hamilton (12), who incredulously led the team in attempts. Obviously, that distribution isn’t exactly a winning recipe, as last night proved.

Only two players stood out for the Wolves, and they were the most unlikely candidates – Justin Hamilton and Chase Budinger. Budinger rose like a Phoenix out of the ashes to score 10 points on 5-7 shooting, along with 5 rebounds. His off-ball movement was surprisingly decent, and his beard was as ginger as ever.

(Screengrab taken from FSNorth broadcast)

(Screengrab taken from FSNorth broadcast)

But it was Justin Hamilton, playing just his second game for Minnesota, who truly impressed. With Payne and Dieng struggling and Pekovic sitting most of the night, Hamilton was called on to provide minutes in the post. Hamilton responded, recording the Wolves only two blocks of the night on defense. He was just as solid on offense, scoring 15 points and making the only three of the night for Minnesota. During the 28 minutes Hamilton spent on the floor, Minnesota outscored Phoenix by 10, while in the 20 minutes he sat, they were outscored by 19. His performance made him deserving of an epic nickname, so we gave him one. From now on, Justin Hamilton shall be referred to as Hambo.

hambo2

Unfortunately, the duo of Bud and Hambo weren’t enough for the Wolves, as they fell by a final score of 97-106. The loss drops the Wolves to a putrid 14-49 record on the season, good for last in the west and third worst in the NBA. The schedule doesn’t get easier either, as Minnesota will end the road trip with trips to the surging Thunder and Spurs before heading home. At least we have Hambo.

 

Poor Shooting Leads to Timberwolves Loss to Clippers

(photo credit: therepublic.com)

(photo credit: therepublic.com)

Minnesota shot only 37.3 percent Monday night in its first of four road games this week. The team held its own throughout the first half, but in the end the Clippers pulled away with the 89-76 win in LA. The Wolves’ big men each had solid nights: Newbie Adreian Payne led the team offensively with 16 points and 15 rebounds, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The Clippers were without All-Star Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, and Chris Paul was restricted to only two points in a supporting role, his injured knee clearly bothering him. The point guard went only 1-for-6 from the floor and committed four turnovers. While Paul couldn’t get to the rim, however, he still effectively ran the ball and dished out 15 assists to his teammates for automatic points. JJ Redick and Deandre Jordan stepped up to the plate, combining for an impressive 46 points.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I would like to,” Paul said after the game. “It just shows the depth of our team. … I’ve just got to be smart about it. I don’t want to hurt the team, but if I can contribute and help the team, we need all the bodies we can get.”

The first quarter went extremely well for Minnesota, as Pekovic and Andrew Wiggins scored eight points apiece and led their team into the second quarter tied with LA.

 

Following halftime was when the Timberwolves really began to struggle, specifically against defending the wing. At the end of the third quarter, the Clips had tallied seven buckets from behind the 3-point line, while the Wolves found themselves unable to sink a long-range shot. Minnesota was given a chance in the final quarter to regain its footing as LA scored 15 points, but Minny answered with only 14 points of its own and watched the clock drain with little to show for it.

Kevin Garnett sat out Monday’s game to rest, and his presence was missed below the basket on defense. Payne did a decent job filling in, though, and continues to show a lot of upside for the Wolves.

“We just didn’t come out with enough energy today,” Payne said. “We’ve just got to continue to keep fighting and keep playing through the whole game. We have a lot of talent, and we’ve got a high ceiling.”

Ricky Rubio, who has been notching solid numbers as of late, finished the game with only two points on nine attempts. The point guard did have 12 assists on the evening, but he said after the game that they had played “selfishly” and didn’t do a good enough job defending the basket.

The loss drops Minnesota’s record to 14-48 on the season. Up next, the Wolves will face Phoenix Wednesday night, OKC on Friday and San Antonio Sunday. Wednesday’s game is a 9 p.m. (CST) tipoff.

Listen to Payne’s post-game here.