The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng

The cynic in me would normally start with how we got here, but that isn’t going to happen on this occasion.  What you need to know is that Gorgui Dieng has seemingly arrived for the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Dieng was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March.  That just begins to tell the story of how much progress the 7 footer has made over the course of his first NBA season.

The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng (Photo credit: Jordan Johnson/Getty Images)

The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng
(Photo credit: Jordan Johnson/Getty Images)

Since starting for an injured Nikola Pekovic (which for the record, is how we got here) on March 16th, Dieng has averaged 11.7 points and rebounds a game (10 games), while shooting 65% from the field and 73% from the FT line!  This includes a 22 point, 21 rebound performance against the Rockets – who were without Dwight Howard’s services that evening, but while facing a formidable opponent in Omer Asik.  What has impressed me the most about Dieng’s offensive game is that he isn’t just a garbage point scorer; he has legitimate, NBA caliber moves in and around the post, as well as a short jump shot.  For example:

His offense isn’t what caught the scouts’ attention going into the NBA Draft, where Dieng “fell” to the 21st pick in the draft for the Jazz and traded immediately to the Wolves.  If the draft were to be held today, rest assured Gorgui would be a lottery pick based simply off of his production over the past month.  Gorgui is/was better recognized for his defensive prowess and that strength and determination is now being seen on a nightly basis for the Wolves.  While he isn’t picking up a ton of blocks in the box score (1.0 per game in the same 10 game span), if you are still watching the Wolves this season, you see his active body flying around rim on the defensive end of the court.

Simply put, that is exactly what the Wolves have been missing for years and exactly what I have been yearning for all season.  The Wolves have a legitimate third big that brings something unique to the table – an above the rim presence on both ends of the floor.  We haven’t seen this in ‘Sota since … you can use context clues to figure that one out or realize that this hasn’t existed since prior to the team trying to combine Al Jefferson and Kevin Love together.

What do you expect out of Gorgui for the rest of the season?  Should we expect to see a three-headed monster for the Wolves in 2014/15?

Timberwolves Struggle in Third Quarter, Fall 104-114 to Griffin-less Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have won 16 of their past 18 games, and their momentum didn’t slow when they rolled into Target Center Monday evening.  Both teams lived up to their high-scoring reputations, but in the end Minny ended up on the short end of the 114-104 final score. Kevin Love led the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds. On the other end, Darren Collison exploded with 28 points and seven assists.

Going into the contest, it Minnesota appeared to hold the advantage. The Clippers were playing the fourth game of a five-game road trip, and they were doing so without Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin, both out with injuries. The first two minutes were scoreless, and then the Wolves took an early 4-0 lead off a slam dunk and layup by forward Corey Brewer. The good feeling didn’t last, however.

LA point guard Chris Paul told his teammates the following: “Fellas, let’s be who we are. We got who we got, let’s keep the train moving [...]. No excuses.”

Wolves_Clips

Despite the Timberwolves being able to make it a competitive game throughout the entire first half, the third quarter proved dismal for the midwest team. The Wolves took a 59-57 lead at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter, but any sense of control was ripped from their grasp. From that point on, Minnesota just could not score. Collison took over, and the Clips went on an unstoppable 31-5 run.

“We just went into the third quarter and it was like we missed every shot we took,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “It’s weird that we scored seven or eight points right off the bat and then we couldn’t score forever. The worst part is that it was like a three-on-two break every single time. It wasn’t like we were making them work. They were just getting layup after layup.”

The Wolves battled back in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to cut the lead to less than eight.  It was actually Minnesota’s reserves that came in and scored 38 points for their team in that final push. Chase Budinger scored 12 points off the bench, and Robbie Hummel and Shabazz Muhammad each added 11.

Nikola Pekovic started the game for the first time in several weeks, but the center played only seven minutes before re-injuring his ankle.  Fortunately for Minnesota, rookie Gorgui Dieng has been playing extremely well since getting his chance to start in mid March. Dieng came in for Pek, and the 24-year old scored 14 points. With Pekovic struggling so consistently with the ankle injury, Wolves fans can expect Dieng to play a major role in the lineup for the remaining games.

Following the game, Love summed up the frustration surrounding the team:

“It’s definitely tough right now. We’ve got to try to finish this thing strong and just try to play well. … We’re a little beat up right now, but we still have to come and play and try to give it our best. But that’s a very good team right there.”

Up next, the Wolves will host Memphis on Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline Note:

According to NBA.com, with his made free throw at 2:13 in first quarter, Love passed Tom Gugliotta to become the single-season record holder for the Timberwolves. Gugliotta set his record in the 1996-1997 season.

Love has averaged 27.2 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in the three games against the Clippers this season, but he is only averaging 16.5 ppg in the last four games and scored 20+ points for only the second time in the last five games.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 23

 

Kevin Love & LeBron James ... Olympic buddies Timberwolves head to Miami as part of a tough week ahead (Photo credit: John W. McDonough/SI)

Kevin Love & LeBron James … Olympic buddies
Timberwolves head to Miami as part of a tough week ahead
(Photo credit: John W. McDonough/SI)

 

Setting the stage:

It feels like it has been a while since I wrote a weekly preview.  Despite calling it a season on Super Bowl Saturday, I was still posing the “Can the Timberwolves do it?” question here in this column just a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately, we have answered that question with erratic play and an inability to consistently beat teams that we should and occasionally pull off a few more victories to go on a prolonged winning streak.

Throw in the rumors that are floating around Twitter that Rick Adelman will not be returning to the sidelines next year and you have a pretty dull remaining of the season for our Pups.  Sorry, I can’t sugarcoat this one.  If you are looking for a sliver of hope, look no further than the product Gorgui Dieng has been giving the team while in the starting lineup during Nikola Pekovic’s recovery.  If nothing else, at least it proves that I’m not wrong 100% of the time?

As Warner Wolf used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape” … only there is no video here, just a preview for this week’s games.  I digress …

Game 74: Monday, 3/31, 7pm – Los Angeles Clippers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Clippers have been pretty hot of late and find themselves as the three seed in the Western Conference.  Their stars are performing and Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick have formed a nice combination at the SG position.  I still want to see this team win a playoff series before they receive the accolades.

Opponent to watch:

Blake Griffin – After Monday night’s game, the next time Wolves’ fans see Blake, he may be wearing the Pups’ jersey.  Wait, who said that?!  Griffin is having another solid season, putting up about 24 & 10.

Predictions:

The Wolves play in Brooklyn on Sunday night and come home for this affair.  Even if the season wasn’t over, I don’t think they would have pulled this one off.  Final score: Clippers 112, Timberwolves 102

Game 75: Wednesday, 4/2, 7pm – Memphis Grizzles @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Memphis has also been playing very solid basketball of late and has leapfrogged Phoenix and Dallas in the Western Conference to join the playoff fray.  Wednesday night will be the final game of a five game road trip for the Grizzlies.  Their last home game was, ironically, against the Wolves, where they absolutely hammered our guys, 109-92.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley beat up Minnesota’s PG’s in that meeting, shooting 9-12 from the field for 23 points, while adding 5 rebounds and 6 assists.  The Wolves’ defense from the PG position has been, who do you say “less than desirable” (in Spanish)?

Predictions:

This could be a make or break game for the Grizzlies when all is said and done with the regular season.  They need this game and it really doesn’t matter for the Wolves.  Final score: Grizzlies 107, Timberwolves 101

Game 76: Friday, 4/4, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ Miami Heat (TV: FS North)

Who made this schedule?!  After two tough games at home against Western Conference foes, the Wolves take the show on the road to face the Heat.  This game probably won’t matter to the Heat unless they make up at least a game and a half on the Pacers beforehand.  However, we’re talking about the best player on the planet and the two-time defending champs.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – He’s good.  You may want to watch him play.  Godspeed Corey Brewer.

Predictions:

This isn’t exactly how you draw up closing the season, is it?  Final score: Heat 115, Timberwolves 109

Game 77: Saturday, 4/5, 6pm – Timberpups @ Orlando Magic (NO TV)

The one game the Wolves are more than likely to win this week and there is no TV coverage for the locals.  The Wolves will finish their rough week by finishing up the journey through Florida.  The Wolves beat Orlando very early on this season, 120-115 in OT, and should be able to carry out the season sweep.

Opponent to watch:

Nikola Vucevic – In recent weeks, Vucevic is battling an extreme disorder like the entire Wolves’ roster.  There are nights when he looks awesome and there are others where you have no idea what to think.

Predictions:

Despite being the tail end of a back-to-back, I can’t have the Wolves go 0-4 this week.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Magic 95

Wrap-up:

We’re closing in on the end of the season and it the streak of non-playoff seasons has hit a decade.  What do you want to see from the Wolves over the few remaining weeks?

Let’s go Wolves!

The Whoa Nelly Recap – Timberwolves 143, Lakers 107

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises! (Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises!
(Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

 

At 35-35 the Timberwolves have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs, although this isn’t official.  The original basketball team from Minneapolis paid a visit to the Twin Cities Friday night, coming in with a 24-47 record and a team whose season was over before it really began.  With Kobe Bryant remaining on the shelf, Mike D’Antoni has apparently been busy floating his name in the college ranks.  There aren’t many more dislikeable head coaches in the NBA, are there?  That said, Wolves Twitter had their own little news today with a little more meat to the potato of Rick Adelman’s departure.  (In short, we’ll cover this at the end of the season when it becomes official, but this could be filed under “no surprise”.  You could also argue that Adelman has mailed it in since the beginning of 2014 … but I won’t … here/yet/now.)

So, with all of those tidbits out of the way, let’s talk about Friday night’s action at Target Center.  Nikola Pekovic returned to action and the starting lineup, which also included Rubio, Martin, Brewer, and Love.  The Lakers started the game with Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.  Good grief Charlie Brown … no Pau Gasol for the Lakers.

First Half

The Wolves welcomed back Pek in a big way, as the Serbian scored the first six points for the Wolves, giving the home team an early 6-2 lead.  After a quick timeout by the Lakers, the Wolves continued to dominate the early stages of the quarter, building a 20-4 lead.  Pekovic played the first seven minutes and was replaced by Gorgui Dieng.  Early minutes for the rookie and I’ll ignore that the Wolves had already built a ~20 point advantage.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 41-24 lead, thanks to Pek’s aforementioned efforts and Kevin Love’s 15, 5, and 4 in the first twelve minutes.

The story of the 2nd quarter was “more of the same”.  The Wolves’ bench played well and helped double up the Lakers to the tune of 60-30 with under 5 minutes to play in the half.  That breaks down to a 19-6 run in the first ~7 minutes of the quarter.  Dante Cunningham had a nice stint on the floor, with 6 points and 3 rebounds during that span.

If there were a mercy rule in the NBA, I think it would have been called at the half.  The Wolves held a 74-43 advantage as the teams went into the locker room.  It was 50/50 if the Lakers would come back out for the 3rd quarter.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • The Wolves put up a season high 74 points in the 1st half, with the bench really contributing.  Fantastic!
  • Conversely, the Lakers are really, REALLY bad.
  • Someone should clip the box score out of the local newspapers tomorrow and tape them to Love’s locker.

Second Half

To answer the question “Did it get any better for the Lakers in the second half?” … the answer is “NO”!  Tonight’s game could not have gone any better for the Pups.  They reached 100 points with about five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  Kevin Love had 19, 9, and 9 in the same amount of time.  At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves held a 111-77 lead, and as an added bonus, Love tracked down a last second rebound to give himself a triple double for the evening.

I’ll save you the suspense, the Wolves managed to hold on to win this one.  The members of the end of the rotation (Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved, etc.) all played heavy minutes in the 4th quarter and everything wound up A-OK.  Final score, Timberwolves with a big win of 143-107 over the Lakers.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Welcome back the big guy!
  2. Kevin Love – Triple double alert!
  3. Wolves Bench– I could easily make the case for Kevin Martin here but I think this one deserves to go to the group of guys who I have personally thrashed much of this season.  Tonight they played with passion and near flawless execution.

 Key Takeaways

  • Tonight’s 143 points were a franchise high in points for the Timberwolves
  • The Lakers are really, really bad.  There is absolutely nothing on this roster that would warrant trade rumors of Kevin Love going to this team via trade.  Repeat, NOTHING!
  • I hope the Wolves enjoy this one because they now enter a four game streak of potential doom (Nets, Clippers, Grizzlies and the Heat).

Timberwolves, Dieng Roll Past Hawks at Home 107-83

Carlos Gonzalez / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Carlos Gonzalez / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Game Summary

Another game, another big night for Gorgui Dieng. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta, the Timberwolves’ rookie first-round pick had previously notched double-doubles in four of the past five contests while demonstrating significant improvement from his earlier play this season. Provided with a big opportunity in front of him given the continued absences of Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf, Dieng has really hit his stride over the past week and a half and has started to attract national attention due to his impressive work on both ends of the floor. The tandem of Dieng and Kevin Love made mincemeat of an Atlanta frontcourt lacking depth and Minnesota went on to outscore the Hawks 42-28 in the paint, ultimately defeating them 107-83 in what was essentially a meaningless game to Minnesota’s place in the final standings.

The Wolves, 35-35, are currently locked in at the tenth spot in the Western Conference with a very unrealistic chance at gaining a playoff berth. Currently, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns are tied for the final playoff spot in the West as both sit at 43-29, each seven games ahead of Minnesota with just twelve games to play for the Wolves. And while the playoffs are a pipe dream, the Wolves are almost guaranteed to keep their top-13 protected draft pick that they traded to the Suns in the same move that shipped Wesley Johnson out of town. Not the worst consolation when considering that the 2014 draft is considered by many to be one of the top drafts over the past decade.

On Wednesday night, the Wolves took complete control of the game in the second half after leading by a relatively modest seven points at halftime. Corey Brewer led the team with 12 points at the break with 2 of his baskets coming as buzzer-beaters to end each of the first two quarters.

In the first quarter, Ricky Rubio was forced to leave the game after taking an elbow to the upper lip which required 15 stitches before he was able to return to the game. However, he was able to overcome a bum lip and a tough shooting night to effectively contribute, tallying 10 assists while swiping 6 steals in 31 minutes.

No player was more notable than Dieng for the Wolves. The former national champion out of Louisville scored 15 points on 6-8 shooting while grabbing 15 rebounds in the process. Playing a game-high 41 minutes, it is clear that Wolves head coach Rick Adelman has gained a good comfort level with his rookie in the middle, and why shouldn’t he have? Gorgui has been on an absolute tear and Jim Peterson said it best when he exclaimed during the game broadcast, “Gorgui alone is worth the price of admission.”

While Wolves fans have been getting their happy fill of Dieng, one Wolves rookie has had a tougher time carving out a consistent role in Adelman’s rotation. On a night where Dieng posted 41 minutes of run, Shabazz Muhammad found himself on the floor for a mere 4 minutes despite hitting his only field goal attempt – a three-pointer – while notching 1 assist to boot. With the future cloudy for fellow rookie Robbie Hummel as he can be let go with no implications to the cap after this season, he quietly had a nice night for Minnesota as he scored 9 points (3-6 FG, 2-3 3pt) with a +10 on the floor.

Chase Budinger, another guy that Minnesota fans would like to see hit a groove to end the season, enjoyed a very nice performance off the bench as he recorded 14 points (5-8 FG, 2-5 3pt) and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes. After nearly being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies at the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Chase heading into a big summer of decisions for the Wolves.

Minnesota will host the Los Angeles Lakers this Friday night at the Target Center at 7:00 CT.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Gorgui Dieng 
  2. Chase Budinger 
  3. Ricky Rubio

Timberwolves Losing Steam, Fall to Grizzlies on the Road

Memphis is hot. Minnesota is not.

Last night’s road game proved brutal for the Timberwolves as they found themselves unable to keep up with Mike Conley and his crew. Although the Wolves are ranked No. 4 in the league for scoring and are averaging 106.5 points per game, Memphis held them to just 92 points while taking the win with 109. Kevin Love led the team with lower-than-usual numbers of 16 points and seven rebounds. Rookie Gorgui Dieng delivered another strong performance with 11 points and 17 boards.

According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies are 8-0 since Dec. 25 when playing against teams who played the previous day. ”We caught a good team on the second night of a back-to-back,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

After playing several games in which they scored over 30 points in the first quarter, the Timberwolves tallied just 15 against Memphis. Both teams struggled a bit out of the gatesMemphis made just four of its first 15 shotsbut the Grizzlies soon found their groove. The first basket didn’t come until the 9:55 mark, but it came at the hands of the Grizzlies, and they never looked back. Conley had 23 points and six assists, and Marc Gasol added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“We didn’t want to give them too much leeway,” Conley said. “We’ve been in the same shoes. You’re coming in off a tough game, and you kind of walk through the first part of the game.  We just wanted to jump out there as early as we could, set the tempo and try to get ahead of them.”

Minnesota seemed disoriented across the board, no one player having a fantastic game. Love shot just 6-of-18 from the field, and the team as a whole shot 38 percent. The Grizzlies had complete control of the game, driving the pace and offense. At halftime, they led the Wolves 57-39.

The Timberwolves found a bit of a spark in the third, going on a 15-4 run to close the quarter and lessen the deficit. They just couldn’t keep up with their shooting, though, and Memphis drove the win home.

“They played physical,” Love said. “When you play a team like that on a back-to-back, especially this late in the season, especially without Pek and Ronny and some depth, it’s tough.”

Forwards Corey Brewer and Dante Cunningham had the best luck on the floor percentage-wise, adding 15 and nine points, respectively. It wasn’t enough, though.

Monday night’s loss pushes the Wolves seven games behind Dallas and Phoenix. At this point, it seems safe to say that finding the postseason is like a needle in a haystack for the Wolves… it’s not mathematically impossible, but losing these last two games seemed to seal Minnesota’s fate. Finishing the regular season strong is now the team’s main focus. ”We just have to be competitive. That’s the biggest key right now — get through the end of the season and play each game competitively,” forward Chase Budinger said. “That’s how you have to look at it.”

Up next for the Wolves is a home game Wednesday, when they welcome Atlanta.  The Hawks are clinging to a No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the contest promises to be a close one. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Lose 22-Point Lead, Fall to Phoenix 120-127

In an afternoon home stand, Minnesota seemed to have a win sealed up on Sunday. At one point, the Wolves held a 22-point advantage over Phoenix. Minny knows the feeling all too well, though, of watching a victory slip through its fingers. In the end, it was the Suns’ reserves that gutted it out and came out on top of the 127-120 final score. Kevin Love led the Wolves with 36 points and 14 rebounds, followed by Kevin Martin with 25 points. At the other end, Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 25 points.

Love_Suns

Keeping up with their recent trend, the Timberwolves played an above-average first quarter and tallied 41 points. Love, Martin and Corey Brewer led the way with 10 points and nine a piece, respectively.  The Wolves were unstoppable on offense, and they appeared the overall stronger team. At halftime, Minnesota had a stable 11-point lead.

Defensively, however, Minnesota could not capitalize. Despite the double-digit lead at the half, the Wolves had also allowed the Morris twins to score a combined 24 points–shooting 9-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the 3-point line. In the third quarter, the Wolves shot just 20 percent to open the half.  The Suns gained their footing and brought the deficit to five points at the 4:43 mark, but Minnesota pulled away once again to lead by 10 going into the fourth. Target Center fans breathed a momentary sigh of relief.

In the final period, though, things fell apart for the Wolves. Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker hit a jump shot to start the fourth, and the basket started a 14-3 run by the Suns to turn the game around. Minnesota stood by and watched as the lead dwindled and then disappeared.

“What was the biggest difference (between the third and fourth quarter)? We didn’t score,” head coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s probably the biggest difference.”

For each team, Sunday’s game meant a chance at the postseason. It seems to have ultimately come down to the squad who could finish the game, and Phoenix refused to let go.

“It’s unreal,” said Phoenix forward Tucker. “I don’t know what it is, but we got really slow starts. (It”s like) we have to get down first to be able to play hard and start talking and communicating and executing our game plan.”

“They are ahead of us (for the playoffs). Obviously we looked at that,” Love said post game. “That was our playoffs right there and we lost. This one hurts a lot more than all the others.”

The Timberwolves will look to finish up their season strong in the coming week. Next for the squad is a road game against Memphis Monday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. While the playoffs are no longer on the table for Minnesota, the team can certainly be a spoiler. A win over Memphis could seriously jeopardize the Grizzlies’ playoff spot.

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 22

Setting the stage: 

My wins-losses prediction for last week was correct.

Unfortunately for me—and Wolves fans everywhere—that means that Minny fell to Houston Thursday night, and the playoffs are really looking to be just beyond reach.

Saying good-bye to the postseason is always painful, and it seems particularly difficult this year when things started out well and it seemed—for a short while—that we had compiled the right puzzle pieces.

That being said, however, the Wolves are working for a strong end to the season.  Several positive things happened this past week:

  • Ricky Rubio had the game of his career against Dallas Wednesday evening, notching his third career triple-double with 22 pts (67%), 15 assts and 10 rebs. On top of that, he added four steals and a block.  To view highlights of the game, click here.
  • Kevin Love stepped up his defensive performance in the last few games. Specifically against Dallas, Love put some solid coverage on Dirk Nowitzki.
  • Rookie Gorgei Dieng started in Nikola Pekovic’s absence, and the rookie surprised everyone. Over two games, Dieng tallied 32 points 32 rebounds.

Can the Wolves keep up a strong finish?  Minnesota has four games this week, two of which are at home. Let’s take a look…

 

Game 69: Sunday, 3/23, 2:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberwolves (TV: untelevised)

Phoenix is one place above Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, and lately the Suns have been making it easier for the Wolves to catch up. The Suns have a busy week as well, playing five games in the next week. They will face Detroit on Friday before travelling to Minnesota. Phoenix is only two games out of slot No. 8, and the Wolves can expect a tough opponent for Sunday afternoon’s game.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic is averaging 20.4 points and six assists per game, and he will be a challenging matchup for Rubio. In his previous two matchups with Minnesota, Dragic scored 26 and 16 points, respectively.

Predictions:

Phoenix and Minnesota prove pretty equal opponents, and it may just come down to the team more hungry for a win. The Wolves do have home-court advantage, though, and they’ve been playing stronger as a team. I’ll take Minny for the win.

Final Score: Wolves 105, Suns 95

(photo credit: wtop.com)

(photo credit: wtop.com)

 

Game 70: Monday, 3/24, 7:00pm – Timberwolves @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

The Wolves are 1-1 with Memphis so far this season, and they will play them twice more before the close. The Grizzlies are currently slotted at No. 7 in the playoff race,* but they could use a few more “W’s” to bolster their confidence.  They have had a solid month so far, losing only two of their last 10 games.

Opponent to watch:

Marc Gasol – Gasol is only averaging 13.8 points a game, but right now he will probably be the Wolves biggest challenge as starting center Nikola Pekovic continues to be sidelined.  At 7’1″, Gasol definitely has a size advantage over Dieng, who has been filling in for Pek.  Fortunately for Minny, Dieng has done more than held his own over the past two games. Monday night’s contest could be a true test for the young rookie.

Predictions:

Plain and simple, Memphis is on a roll.  In all reality, the Grizzlies have more to gain from a win than Minnesota, and I think that will make the difference. It’s the end of the year, both teams are tired, and the Grizzlies hold the momentum card at this point in the game.  I expect a close game at the Target Center, but it seems likely that the Grizz will take this one.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Grizzlies  106

 

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/26, 7:00pm – Atlanta Hawks @ Timberwolves (TV: Fox Sports North Plus)

In my opinion, Wednesday’s game against Atlanta will prove the most exciting of the week. At 31-35, Atlanta is barely clinging to that No. 8 spot in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Hawks and the Wolves have shared a similar type of season, but their difference in location spells completely different stories. The teams are 1-1 against each other on the season.  Atlanta is ranked No. 5 in the NBA for three-point shooting, and Minnesota comes in way behind at No. 26.  Kevin Martin and JJ Barea will need to be more than present for the Wolves to keep up with the long-range game.

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Korver – Korver is the sole reason that Atlanta has the three-point game it does.  At 33 years old, the veteran averages 2.7 three-point buckets per game, landing him at No. 1 in the league overall.  On Feb. 1, Korver scored 24 points (half of those from behind the three-point line) against Minnesota.

Predictions:

Wednesday’s game should be a pretty even matchup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a bit chippy.  The big key to a Wolves win will be defense.  Minnesota has struggled on that end of the floor all year, but lately it has improved.  If Rubio and Barea can stick to Korver, and if Love can step it up and offer coverage beneath the basket, I think the Wolves ultimately have the stronger team here.

Final score: Timberwolves 101, Hawks 98

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

 

Game 72: Friday, 3/28 7pm – LA Lakers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are a far cry from the team they once were.  In fact, only four teams in the NBA currently hold worse records than the Lakers.  When is the last time that happened? The Wolves are 2-1 against the Lakers this season, and Friday night should add one more win in Minny’s favor.  The Lakers have no more to play for this season … except maybe a higher draft pick …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – As much as it pains me to say this, I’m naming Wes Johnson as the player to watch in Friday’s game.  After leaving Minnesota, the 2010 No. 4 draft pick has actually done quite well on the West Coast. Johnson is currently averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.  While not staggering stats, it’s common for players to feel the “something to prove” attitude when playing their old team.  I expect Johnson to have a big game in return to his former stomping grounds.

Predictions:

If Minnesota can keep things rolling the way it has, Friday’s home stand should be a win over LA.  I’m going out on a limb and calling it a big win.

Final score: Timberwolves 111, Lakers 89

 

Wrap-up:

Playoff hopes aside, Wolves fans hope to see Minnesota play its remaining games with gusto.  This past week provided a lot of momentum for the Wolves, and I expect it to continue in the four-game week.

 

 

 

Recap – Timberwolves 123, Mavericks 122 (OT)

Sky hook master Gorgui Dieng (Photo: ESPN.com)

Sky hook master Gorgui Dieng
(Photo: ESPN.com)

 

 

The 33-32 Timberwolves took to the road to start a back-to-back in Dallas Wednesday night.  The Mavs entered the game at 41-27 and are holding on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference.  Coming into Wednesday night’s match-up, the Wolves had taken two of three against the Mavs this season.

Nikola Pekovic was ruled out for the Pups so the starting lineup looked like this: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Dieng.  The Mavs opened up with Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Samuel Dalembert.

Here’s a look at how things went down …

First Half 

Rick Carlisle called an early timeout only 2.5 minutes into the game, as the Wolves scored a few easy baskets and jumped out to a 9-5 lead.  That early warning for his team didn’t work out to well as Minnesota continued to jump on their opponent, leading to another timeout with over seven minutes still left in the opening frame.  Ricky Rubio led the charge early with an early basket, but also already had 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block!  What?!

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held an impressive 37-24 lead, receiving big scoring punches from Kevin Love (13 points) and Corey Brewer (11), who may have been looking for a little bit of revenge against his former team.  I would also like to point out the solid 11 minutes from the rookie, Dieng.  He had 6 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and was 1-1 from the field for his 2 points.  I have only been asking for him in the rotation since mid-December.  At the very least, this improves the learning curve.

Words cannot describe my excitement with the early stages of tonight’s game.  Adelman was giving extended minutes to Dieng and he was highly effective – including a running sky hook in the 2nd quarter that found nothing but the bottom of the net.  At the same time, Coach gave JJ Barea minutes at the SG position, allowing him to play with Rubio and not dominate the ball for 22 seconds of the shot clock.  I have been “slightly” critical (understatement of the year) of JJ this year, but I don’t mind him at the SG position without the ball in his hands.

With a 50-28 lead things were looking pretty good for the Pups.  Therein lies your problem.  As with every single good thing that happens to this team, bad things quickly follow … and are usually much worse.  The 22 point lead was cut to 3 points with several minutes remaining in the half.  Thankfully, the Wolves were able to withstand the stomach punch and built their lead back up to 10.  The 54 year old Vince Carter hit a three pointer at the buzzer to cut the Wolves lead to 66-59.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Excluding Barea, the Wolves bench was failing big time.  Chase Budinger … yikes!  0-2 from the field, he lost a few loose balls and was a team low -9 in his five minutes on the floor.  Dante Cunningham was 0-3 from the field and didn’t collect a single rebound or assist either.
  • Still leading the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki went old school against Robbie Hummel and hit a rainbow fade away jumper from about 12 feet.  It was a thing of beauty.

Second Half 

The 3rd quarter was highly entertaining basketball, as both teams traded punches.  However, with just over 3 minutes to go, Gorgui picked up his fourth foul and had to head to the bench.  This was preceded with another strong 8+ minutes from the rookie, who was having a positive impact on both ends of the floor.  He left the floor having already collected his second double-double in as many starts and was a team high +15 at the time of his departure.

The Wolves were able to maintain their advantage however, as they took a 94-87 lead into the final quarter.  The Mavs were able to hit a buzzer beater for the second quarter in a row, with Brandon Wright hitting a floater to cut the lead to seven.

All that was good in the 3rd quarter quickly fell apart in the 4th as both teams looked incredibly sloppy – missing easy baskets, offensive fouls, etc.  With a 12 point lead with about 7 minutes to go, the Wolves let the Mavs back in the game one more time.  The Mavs went on a 15-5 run to cut the lead to three points.  It got worse for Wolves fans, as Monta Ellis caught fire and gave the Mavs a 113-111 lead with 90 seconds to play.  The end of regulation came with the teams tied at 113 thanks to a number of missed jump shots by both teams.  What happened to attacking the rim with the game on the line?!

Adelman sent out the same five that ended the game (on a sour note) to start OT.  Feel free to try to explain that to me in the comments section below.  The Mavs went on a small run and built their largest lead of the game of 5 points.  However, the Wolves didn’t quit as Kevin Love drew a 6th foul on Vince Carter and tied the game by hitting three FT’s.  Love then hit one of two FT’s to give the Wolves the lead again at 121-120.  After a Mas bucket the Wolves force fed Love the ball with under 30 seconds to go and after a handful of “moves”, he somehow snaked his way through and hit a baby hook to give the Wolves the lead for good!  Dirk missed a shot and there was a little bit of a scrum for the ball as time expired.  No matter!  Wolves win 123-122!

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Ricky Rubio – Triple double alert!  22 points on 8-12 shooting, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds!  Throw in 4 steals and a block for the Unicorn!
  2. Kevin Love – This was all set to be #3’s spot until OT.  Love finished with 35 points and owned OT.
  3. Gorgui Dieng – Finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but for some reason completely disappeared from the rotation.  He LED the team in the first three quarters, along with Rubio.  

Key Takeaways

  • Barea had a very solid first half and then went all Jekyll and Hyde on us again in the second half.  I’m glad Adelman didn’t go back to him in OT.
  • Dieng had a phenomenal three quarters and earned/deserved time at the end of the game.  Hummel somehow got the call, with the Wolves going small and moving Love to the 5.  Between this and the decision to DNP-CD Shabazz Muhammad, I still have no idea what is going on in Adelman’s mind.
  • All of this is null and void for tonight at least, as the Wolves pull off the minor upset and keep some glimmer of hope alive.

 

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 21

Setting the stage: 

Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.

The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof.  Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.

Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?

It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.

Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…

 

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest.  However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins.  Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.

Predictions:

Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.

Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96

rudy gay

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week.  The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker. 

Opponent to watch:

Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night.  Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.

Predictions:

This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks  100

 

Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.

Predictions:

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here.  Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111

james harden

Wrap-up:

It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.

 

*records current as of 3/14/2014