Wolves Injury Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

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

First Half

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

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

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

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

Second Half

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

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

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

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

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

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

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

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

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

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

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 18

 

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix (Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix
(Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The NBA trade deadline came and went without any roster movement for the Timberwolves, so it is up to the roster that started the season for the Pups to week through the bumps and bruises the rest of the way and try to sneak into the playoffs.  I say “sneak in” because there is still a lot of work to do and when the Suns are beating down the Spurs like they did this past week, making the playoffs is going to be no easy task.  In fact, that brings us right to this week’s first game.

Game 58: Tuesday, 2/25, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

Both teams will be coming off of games on Sunday night.  The Wolves find themselves 6.5 games behind the Suns (and Mavs) for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.  I still believe Phoenix is the one team that could slip up the rest of the way.  You have to think that Minnesota absolutely needs to win this game if you have any hope or belief that the team will make the playoffs.  With one loss to the Suns already on this season’s belt, the Wolves can’t drop this one.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic very easily could have been an all-star in New Orleans last week.  He is putting up monster numbers for the Suns, averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game to go along with a PER over 22.  Can Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea (insert snide comment about the trade deadline here) contain Dragic and give the Wolves a chance in this one?

Predictions:

This will be the third road game in four nights for the Wolves.  The Suns have been playing every other night at home for the past week going into this game.  The Wolves postseason hopes may depend on this game … but I’ve already declared those hopes to be DOA.  Final score: Suns 107, Timberwolves 104

Game 59: Saturday, 3/1, 9pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FS North)

In somewhat of a scheduling quirk, the Wolves will have off three days before Saturday’s game in Sacramento.  It will be interesting to see if the team flies back to Minnesota or stays on west coast time for the break in action.  The Kings will come into this game off of a Friday night meeting with the Lakers in LA.  Back in January, the Rudy Gay led Kings upset the Wolves at the Target Center – one of less than a handful of games that we can look back at and say “that shouldn’t have been a loss”.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – Cousins is having a terrific season from a stats perspective, leading the Kings in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals.  (Steals?!)  Cousins had a solid game against the Wolves earlier in this season with 20 & 11 but also found himself in foul trouble going against Nikola Pekovic – who should be rounding himself back into form.

Predictions:

It is time to return the favor from January’s home loss.  With several days off, the Wolves should have no problem in this one.  The concern might be coming off of a deflating loss in Phoenix and seeing woeful body language and demeanor on the court.  Final score: Timberwolves 112, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

Well, you know my thoughts on the Wolves’ season and the rest of the way.  Tuesday’s game in Phoenix will either give the positivity police an opportunity to tell me to “go screw” or will have several more fans jumping off the bandwagon.  You may want to avoid Twitter on Tuesday night …

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Blow Out Jazz Behind Love’s First Career Triple-Double

Lovetripledouble

Game Summary

Still without starting center Nikola Pekovic and starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, the Timberwolves played their second game since the All-Star break in a matchup against the lowly Utah Jazz. Utah received some unwelcome news that starting center Derrick Favors would miss Saturday night’s contest with a hip injury, and in his place, 21-year-old Turkish center Enes Kanter would get the start. Despite his improved play as of late, there is no denying the struggles the Jazz have had when Kanter has been in the starting lineup this season. Being matched up with Kevin Love did not appear to help, either.

With Pekovic sidelined for the eleventh straight game with bursitis in his right ankle and Ronny Turiaf out indefinitely with a knee injury, Minnesota went smaller with the 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham starting alongside Love in Minnesota’s frontcourt. Faced against a clearly inferior opponent, the Wolves lack of size did not pose any serious mismatch problems given the disparity in talent between the two clubs. [Read more...]

2014 All Star Weekend Wrap-Up: Kevin Love Spotlight

This past weekend, Kevin Love represented the Minnesota Timberwolves in New Orleans for the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend. On Saturday, Love competed in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest in an attempt to take home a second title. The following evening, Love scored 13 points in his first All-Star game as a starter.  Despite Love’s and his team’s effort, the West came up on the losing side of the 163-155 final score.

 

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest (Saturday, Feb 15)

Although the league’s top three-point shooters tend to be guards, the 6’10″ Love breaks the trend as a long-ball-shooting power forward. In 2012, Love won the Footlocker Three-Point Contest after an intense shootout with Kevin Durant. Following that contest two years ago, NBA’s Shaun Powell wrote the following:

“Love is the strangest of power forwards–someone who can change a game either in the paint or beyond the arc. Someone who rebounds with abandon but also has the touch of a diamond-cutter from deep.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

This year, Love hoped to take back the title. Prior to the contest, No. 42 told Timberwolves web editor Mark Remme that the one thing he didn’t want was to shoot first. “I jinxed myself,” said Love when he found himself called on to lead off the event. Love scored 16 points in the contest, but it proved insufficient to move past the first round.

Remme explains how this year’s competition looked different in a few ways. The East and West were grouped individually, and the first-round leader from each conference  advanced to the championship. Another adjustment was how the ball racks and money balls were arranged. Four racks had four regular balls with one money ball, while one rack—placed in any of the five spots around the arc that the shooter wants—had five money balls. All money balls were worth two points, while regular balls were worth one.

Unfortunately for Love, he couldn’t wrack up those bonus points.

After the first round, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli advanced over Love with 19 points, and Washington’s Bradley Beal moved on with 21. Each player scored 19 apiece in the finals, spurring a tie-breaker. In the end, Belinelli walked away with 24 points and the 2014 title.

“My first time, it was a lot of fun,” Love said. “Second time, just as fun. Well, I shouldn’t say just as fun—I didn’t walk away with the trophy or a win. But I still got in there and enjoyed myself, that’s what it’s all about.”

 

2014 NBA All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star game was, as always, a battle of the offenses. Flawless passes, full-court lobs, and high point totals highlighted Smoothie King Center on Sunday evening. This year’s starting lineups were as follows:

 

West

East

F Kevin Durant  (OKC) Paul George  (IND)
F Blake Griffin  (LAC) Carmelo Anthony  (NYK)
C Kevin Love  (MIN) LeBron James  (MIA)
G James Harden  (HOU) Dwayne Wade  (MIA)
G Stephen Curry  (GS) Kyrie Irving  (WAS)

Irving led the East with 31 points, while Durant and Griffin each added 38 points for the West. Love tallied 13 points (including two three-point buckets) and nine rebounds in 32 minutes on the floor.

“It was great to be part of it,” Love said. “It was a lot of fun—my first time starting in the game and also my first time finishing.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Although the Western Conference teams hold overall better records and seem to consistently be the better of the two conferences, it was the East that delivered a stronger performance in the All-Star game. It can be expected that most players don’t take the All-Star game too seriously — after all, no one wants to suffer an injury in such a contest. However, there was definitely an edge of competition Sunday evening.  ”We wanted this win,” James said post game. “They beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights, so to be able to come through being down 18 was huge.”

“We took this [game] personal a bit,” Irving added.

Irving shot an incredible 82.4 percent en route to his final numbers of 31 points, five rebounds and 14 assists. Not surprisingly, the Washington guard took home the 2014 All-Star MVP honors.

True to tradition, the game exchanged leads a few times throughout the first three quarters.  The score even remained close during most of the fourth quarter. In the end, however, the East proved the stronger shooters. Overall, the East shot 60.9 percent from the field (to the West’s 51 percent), 31.8 percent from behind the three-point line, and 100 percent from the charity stripe. Only 17 free throws were attempted cumulatively, as the All-Star defense was true to form: barely present.

(photo credit: kare11.com)

(photo credit: kare11.com)

Love noticeably enjoyed his court time with fellow All-Starsboth teammates and opponents. At one point, Love and Irving shared a playful elbow bump on the court; the moment reflected a friendship the two have undoubtedly formed after starring together off the court in Pepsi MAX’s Uncle Drew series last season.

“Kyrie played awesome tonight,” Love said post game. “It was a well-deserving MVP, and there are a lot of guys that put on a show tonight. I think the fans got their money’s worth.”

This year’s All-Star performance was flashy in more ways than just the slam dunks and full-court passes. True to New Orleans’ fashion, all the players donned colorful socks and tennis shoes that reflected a Mardi Gras atmosphere. The Western team wore red and purple socks, the Eastern team wore blue and green socks, and all the jerseys featured the city’s well-recognized fleur-de-lis.

The evening had no shortage of music, either.  The rosters and starting lineups were introduced through a concert by Pharrell Williams. The show also featured artists Nelly, Busta Rhymes, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Love.  ”Hopefully I’ll be back in New York next year and enjoying the festivities again.”

 

In-Arena Moment:

Following the first quarter, former NBA All-Star Magic Johnson encouraged the other All-Star players to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who turned 80 on Sunday.

 

 

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 17

 

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend (Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend
(Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

 

Setting the stage:

While we wait with baited breath for tonight’s All-Star Game (…), let’s take a look at the week ahead for the Timberwolves as they will have to come out of the break swinging.  With the win against the Nuggets before the break, the Wolves moved to 25-28 on the season and jumped percentage point(s) ahead of Denver, good for 10th place in the Western Conference.  The team is a full six games behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for the 8 seed.

If you haven’t given up on the Wolves yet, you definitely want to keep an eye on the Suns, as they are seemingly more likely to come back to earth after the break.  The Suns did however win at the Target Center back on 1/8, so the Wolves are in that much more of a hole to dig out of.  The teams will face off two more times this year: 2/25 in Phoenix and 3/23 at Target Center.

Let’s get to this week’s games …

Game 55: Wednesday, 2/19, 7pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & ESPN)

Tough way to begin your post all-star break for the Wolves, who will host the Eastern Conference leading, 40-12 Indiana Pacers this coming Wednesday.  The most complete team in the NBA in my opinion and proving it night in and night out.

Opponent to watch:

Paul George – Do I need to go there again?  You know what, I won’t.  George’s coming out season, after last year’s playoff run, has been a joy to watch.  22ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.4apg, and 1.79spg.  Imagine if this guy was on the Wolves?  Wait, he could have been?  (KAHNNNNN?!?!?!)

Predictions:

Even though the Pacers have a game on Tuesday night against Atlanta, they are too deep and too talented.  If the Wolves get back Nikola Pekovic and/or Kevin Martin, I still don’t think it is enough.  Final score: Pacers 96, Timberwolves 89

Game 56: Saturday, 2/22, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Wolves won a home-and-home against the Jazz in late January and there isn’t much to suggest this game should be any different.  The Jazz will be in Portland Friday night for a road game and will then have to fly back to Utah to take on our Pups … who should be well rested for this game.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors is pretty quietly having a decent year now that the logjam in the Jazz frontcourt has worked itself out – maybe too much though.  Favors is averaging 12.9ppg, 9.0rpg and over 1 block per game.  Favors injured his hip this past Wednesday night and we’ll see how quickly he can get back to 100%.

Predictions:

All games moving forward for the Wolves are “must-win” – they cannot afford to lose one like this whatsoever.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Jazz 92

Game 57: Sunday, 2/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Portland Trailblazers (TV: FS North)

The Blazers are a ridiculous 19 games over .500 (36-17) at the all-star break and that is only good for the 5th seed in the Western Conference.  As a team, they are first in scoring and rebounds per game in the NBA, and fourth in assists per game.  Their defense is a liability and I still don’t see how this team is this good.  I must have a mental block on the Blazers, but I just don’t see them doing anything in the playoffs.

Opponent to watch:

LaMarcus Aldridge – Get ready for your now weekly, “who is the best power forward in the NBA?” rhetoric.  It seems like whoever has the ESPN game that night is anointed the best for 24-48 hours.  I like Aldridge as a player … if Love is going to be traded, I would highly prefer that LMA comes back to the team vs. Blake Griffin.  But neither is as good as Kevin Love.  Period.  Period!

Predictions:

Blazers will have Saturday night off to prepare for the Wolves and rest.  Final score: Blazers 114, Timberwolves 110

Wrap-up:

My predictions above aren’t exactly how you want to come out of the break and make your run towards the playoffs.  However, I just don’t see the Wolves making ground this week with two very tough opponents sandwiching what should be a victory in Utah.  Doh!

Let’s go Wolves!

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.

 

 

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Trail Blazers drop injury-depleted Wolves 117-110

(Photo: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Game Summary

The shorthanded Timberwolves hosted the Trail Blazers on Saturday night in the first game of a four game home stand without three of their starters and approximately 60% of their total offense. With both Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Love (quad) already sidelined, matters were made much more difficult after Kevin Martin sustained a broken left thumb against the Pelicans on Friday night. The Blazers, having lost six of their past ten games, faced off against an impotent Minnesota offense of which included Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf in the starting lineup.

The lack of offensive weapons opened the door for Ricky Rubio to assume a much greater role in the teams scoring efforts and he began the game very aggressive on the offensive end. The early returns were fruitful for the Spanish point guard as he hit four of his six shot attempts while not shying away from mid-range jump shots. It was very encouraging to watch Rubio gaining confidence in creating his own shot and he did a very nice job with both his elevation and release point on his shots. For Rubio, he will need to find consistency in his release in order for him to begin to take the next steps as a scorer.

The Timberwolves kept the score close during most of the first quarter until allowing an 8-0 Trail Blazers run to end the quarter. Portland led 28-23 after one.

During the second half, Coach Rick Adelman called on rarely-used rookie Shabazz Muhammad to inject some energy into a stagnant Minnesota offense, and he did not disappoint. Within a few minutes, Muhammad had already eclipsed his former career-high points total with 7 first-half points while demonstrating an ability to go to work on the low block. The first-round pick out of UCLA was criticized for his back-to-the-basket play during the draft process, and it was immediately evident that he has been putting in time on his post moves. He strongly favored a left-handed hook shot and cleared space through the use of a couple of crab dribbles followed by a sharp right pivot, but went to the move almost predictably down the stretch of the game. Regardless, Muhammad lifted Minnesota’s bench and looked confident while on the floor and he will be needed during this current stretch of misfortune for the Wolves.

The Wolves trailed 55-54 at the half despite being clearly overmatched in terms of talent. Cunningham and Turiaf provided reasonable interior defense and helped keep LaMarcus Aldridge to 10 points. Rubio led Minnesota with 14 points while Shabazz  brought good energy to Wolves players and fans alike.

Against all odds, Minnesota continued to fight for any points and rebounds they could and jumped ahead 82-75 with 1:50 left in the third quarter, despite having trailed for much of the first half. However, another late-quarter run by Portland put the game tied at 83 heading into the final period.

Leading 87-85 with just under ten minutes to play in regulation, the Wolves soon ran out of steam hanging onto the fleeting offensive production of Rubio and Corey Brewer. The surging Blazers proceeded to go on a 13-1 run, effectively putting the game out of reach for the battered Wolves.

Perhaps the most pivotal play of the game occurred with just under seven minutes remaining with the Timberwolves on a 2-on-1 fast break advantage that initially appeared to culminate in an and-1 layup by Shabazz. However, the young swingman was instead called for a questionable offensive foul for swinging his right arm into the chin of Wesley Matthews. The opportunity for Minnesota to cut the score to 92-90 was denied, and Portland subsequently kept the momentum and quickly extended their lead to 10 points. Budinger’s third three-pointer of the night cut the game back to a 5-point differential at the 4 minute mark, but that was as close as the game would come for the Wolves as they fell to the Blazers 117-110.

Leading the way for the Wolves was Rubio with a career-high 25 points (8-19 FG, 2-4 3pt) and 9 assists in 39 minutes. Both Brewer and Budinger enjoyed arguably their best performances of the season as Brewer recorded 26 points (11-23 FG, 0-1 3pt) and 7 rebounds in 39 minutes while bringing tremendous energy on the defensive end. Budinger netted 19 points (6-12 FG, 3-6 3pt) to pair with 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. Turiaf added 8 points (4-8 FG), 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in 38 minutes.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. LaMarcus Aldridge - Aldridge scored 16 second-half points giving him 26 points (12-16) and 9 rebounds in 34 minutes and was the key for Portland’s late victory on Saturday night. Combined with his 6-foot-11 stature and high release point, Wolves defenders had no answer for the Blazers’ All-Star power forward. Aldridge’s ability to consistently drain 18 to 20-foot jumpers makes Portland’s high-low offense lethal when clicking.
  2. Wesley Matthews – Matthews got the most out of his matchup against Budinger and posted 21 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3pt) and 6 assists in 33 minutes. Portland’s starting shooting guard is now shooting 41.7% from long range and poses a serious threat whenever playing against the defensively-incompetent Minnesota shooting guards.
  3. Ricky Rubio - Despite shooting a poor percentage yet again, Rubio scored a career-high 25 points and tallied 9 assists while looking the part of a scorer in the first-half.

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

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.