Wolves Fall to Bulls at Home 102-87

With only 5 games remaining in their 2013-14 campaign and the playoffs out of reach, the Wolves hosted the Bulls on Wednesday night. Led by Joakim Noah‘s fourth triple-double of the season, Chicago had little difficulty putting away a lackadaisical Wolves squad and out-scored Minnesota 54-34 in the second half.

Chicago has found a bright spot in D.J. Augustin, a former number-9 overall pick whose career had sputtered after stints with Charlotte, Indiana, and Toronto. A sharp-shooter coming out of Texas, Augustin had trouble getting acclimated to the NBA due to his lack of strength and questionable decision-making as a point guard. It appears that those concerns are behind him now with the mentorship of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, and Augustin has provided the Derrick Rose-less Bulls with a much-needed scoring punch off the bench that has the team vying for the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Wolves were without Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin, J.J. Barea, and Shabazz Muhammad on Wednesday night and dealt with even more problems after Kevin Love hyper-extended his elbow in the first half. Despite having a favorable match-up against Carlos Boozer, Love made only 7 of his 20 shot attempts and was noticeably off.

Playing 30 minutes off of the bench, Augustin scored 21 points on 8-14 shooting while knocking down 4 of his 7 three-point attempts. The Wolves as a whole converted on only 4 of their 17 three point tries. While Augustin made mincemeat of Minnesota’s defense, no player was more outstanding than Noah. With Rose constantly sidelined due to injury, Noah has elevated his game to new heights and notched his league-leading fourth triple-double of the season on Wednesday night with 15 points (7-13 FG), 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a game-high 41 minutes of action.

Six Bulls scored at least 13 points and they went on to handily defeat the Wolves 102-87. Minnesota is set to host the Houston Rockets Friday night at 7pm CT.

Two Games, One Season, Many Outlooks

Spreak Break in Florida? 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, back at Target Center

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

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

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

First Half

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

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

Second Half 

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

 

Timberwolves Fall on the Road to Lowly Magic, 100-92

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Game Summary

Just a day removed from a thrilling double-OT victory against the Miami Heat, the Timberwolves traveled to nearby Amway Arena on Saturday night to face an Orlando Magic team that will be picking near the top of the lottery once again this summer. With the playoffs out of reach, Kevin Love (back spasms), Kevin Martin (foot) and Shabazz Muhammad (knee) had a chance to rest their various ailments while the bench got extended run.

Dante Cunningham filled in for Love in the starting lineup and played 34 minutes despite being released from prison nearly 24 hours before the game. Cunningham was charged Friday with one felony count of domestic assault by strangulation after choking his girlfriend of eight months during a domestic altercation. The Timberwolves organization released a statement Friday concerning the charges:

We are aware of the matter involving Dante Cunningham and are in the process of gathering more information…The Minnesota Timberwolves organization takes the matter very seriously and does not condone the type of behavior that is associated with this situation. However, we need to let the legal process run its course, and will have further comment at the appropriate time.”

Under the NBA’s labor agreement with its players, the Wolves will wait until the legal process unfolds with Cunningham before suspension or any other sort of disciplinary measures are brought by the team and/or league. Cunningham will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and there is a high likelihood that these next few weeks will be the last that he is spotted wearing a Timberwolves uniform.

Following a season-best performance in which he netted 24 points which included 5-7 shooting from beyond the arc, Chase Budinger was forced to leave after the first minute of the contest due to an ankle injury and was unable to return. In his place, seldom-used forwards Robbie Hummel and Luc Mbah a Moute played extended minutes with each getting over 30 minutes a piece.

The Wolves led the Magic 48-46 after the first half. Led by Ricky Rubio taking advantage of a porous Orlando defense, the Wolves built upon their lead in the third quarter and led 72-59 at the 4:45 mark. However, the momentum soon shifted when Rubio went to the bench for a breather as youngsters Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris helped the Magic inch back within 77-72 heading into the final quarter.

Orlando outscored Minnesota 28-15 in the fourth and ended the game on a 10-1 run, ultimately defeating the Wolves 100-92 for their 22nd win of the season. Oladipo and Harris had near identical nights coming off the bench as each player was a +26 on the floor while each shot 7-12 from the field. Oladipo finished with 16 points and 6 assists while Harris tallied 17 points to go along with 6 rebounds.

With their primary scorers out, Rubio was forced to take on a larger offensive role and attempted 18 field goals, converting 7 of them on his way to a game-high 18 points and 10 assists in 33 minutes. Gorgui Dieng continued to build upon a tremendous past three weeks and he finished with 12 points (5-9 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 36 minutes.

Minnesota lacked aggressiveness against a clearly inferior opponent on Saturday night. The Wolves held nearly every advantage statistically as they committed only 13 turnovers to the Magic’s 23 while Orlando committed 23 personal fouls to only 10 by Minnesota. However, the Magic out-rebounded the Wolves 40-30 while netting 9 of their 17 three-point attempts. Minnesota, conversely, shot a ghastly 1-15 from long range.

The Wolves (38-38) are set to host the first-place San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night and have just six games remaining for the 2013-14 season.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Victor Oladipo
  2. Tobias Harris
  3. Ricky Rubio

A Fantastic Double OT Win for the Timberwolves over the Heat, 122-121

LeBron James selfies ... odd (Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

LeBron James selfies … odd
(Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

 

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 37-37 on the season, but only 15-22 on the road.  The Miami Heat have pulled into virtual tie with the Indiana Pacers for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference over the past week and came into Friday’s game with a 30-6 home record.

There were a boatload of injuries to report going into tonight’s game.  For the Wolves, Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Marin (sore right foot) were unavailable.  The Heat were without Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden.  Adelman sent out Rubio, Barea, Brewer, Love, and Dieng to start the game.  The Heat countered with Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh.

First Half

Fast start for both teams who flew up and down the court for the majority of the first six minutes of the quarter and heading into the first timeout.  The Heat held a 16-12 lead going into the break as both teams displayed a balanced attack on offense and defense.  It is worth noting that Gorgui Dieng stood out once again with four buckets early and strong effort on both ends of the floor.  (In case you missed the article from earlier this week, we talked about Dieng’s emergence in recent weeks.)

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Heat held a 29-24 lead.  The Wolves were able to cut a 10 point lead in half in the final few minutes of the quarter.  However, it could have been worse for the Heat, as the Wolves struggled from three point range (0-4) and free throw line (2-7) in the quarter.

Minnesota continued their strong play in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, taking a three point lead with a little over five minutes to play in the half.  Unfortunately for Pups fans, the Heat flipped the switch and went on a 13-0 run to retake a 10 point lead, 52-42.  Coming out of a timeout, the Wolves ripped off 10 in a row to tie the game at 52 and did enough to stop LeBron at the buzzer.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Very nice flow to the game and nice to see the Wolves not fold their hand when they went down by 10 points (either time)
  • Shabazz Muhammad injured his knee in the first half and would not return to action
  • Another strong performance from Dieng, but a surprisingly strong performance from Chase Budinger

Second Half

Kevin Love came to life about midway through the 3rd quarter, scoring 8 straight points for the Wolves and helping them build a 70-63 lead.  That run seemed to wake up LeBron a bit as he went on his own little run, scoring 12 points in a row for his team.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Wolves held a 77-75 lead.  It could have been even more damaging as LeBron missed a three pointer at the buzzer and that would have very likely caused the arena to explode.

A returning from injury Ray Allen apparently needed a few quarters to get his legs under him, as the lethal shooter hit back-to-back three pointers to tie the game at 82 with under 9 minutes to go.  Combined with his old Sonics counterpart (Rashard Lewis) the Heat took a 1 point lead before JJ Barea and Budinger hit back-to-back three pointers of their own to give the Wolves their own 5 point lead.

The remainder of the 4th quarter can be best described as “chaos”.  Both teams would go on runs, then both teams would stink up the gym for 90 seconds.  With the game tied at 97 and just a few ticks on the clock, Love got a three pointer off as time expired, only to see it go in and out.

In overtime, the teams continued to trade baskets and the lead.  Chase Budinger nailed a three pointed to give the Wolves a 107-106 lead and forced the Heat to take a timeout with 1:19 left to play.  After a few no-calls from the referees, a foul was called on the Wolves as Chalmers was sent to the line for two free throws to potentially win the game.  He missed the first and made the second to tie the game at 109.  Once again, the Wolves went to Kevin Love as time expired and once again the shot clanged off the rim to send the game to double overtime.

Fast forward a few minutes … with 30 seconds left in double overtime, Love had another opportunity and nailed a three pointer to give the Wolves a 119-117 lead.  JJ Barea reentered the game and subsequently hit two free throws to give the Wolves a 121-118 lead.  Less than two seconds later (of playing time), Chris Bosh hit another three pointer to tie the game at 121.  After bobbling the ball, Love threw up a pass to Corey Brewer around the rim and he was fouled on the shot attempt to go to the line.  Brewer subsequently hit 1 of 2 and this game was destined to end no matter what happened in the 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  Ray Allen wound up with the last shot of the game and missed a fall away jumper, giving the Wolves the 122-121 win in Miami!

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Chase Budinger – This one goes to Budinger who had, by far, his best game of the season; 24 points on 7-9 shooting (5-7 3PT’ers), to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals
  2. LeBron James – The best player on the planet finished with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block
  3. Ricky Rubio– The Unicorn finished with 13 points and 14 assists     

Key Takeaways

  • Honorable mention to Kevin Love with 28 & 11.  I still think he is taking too many 3PT FG’s, but he is the clear leader of this team.
  • I have no idea why Gorgui Dieng only played 25 minutes tonight.  None.
  • In a double overtime game, ex-Pup Michael Beasley received a DNP-CD.  Amazing.

 

Minnesota Acts as Spoiler, Takes Down Grizzlies 102-88

After back-to-back losses to Brooklyn and the Clippers, the Timberwolves rolled to an easy home win over Memphis Wednesday night. The Wolves continued their season trend of hitting 100+ points, and Kevin Love notched his third triple-double of the year with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Martin added 21 to the board. The 102-88 final score brought Minnesota’s record to 37-37, and the Grizzlies are barely clinging to that No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis came in to the Target Center for the last of a five-game road trip, and the Wolves took advantage of this.

Minnesota shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the floor, and the team also grabbed five three-point buckets on the night. Fan favorite Ronny Turiaf made his return Wednesday, and the big guy added the energy and enthusiasm needed for the Wolves, who are out of the playoffs and just fighting for a strong end to the season. Turiaf was 100 percent from the field, tallying 11 points, seven points and three blocked shots. There’s no doubt about it, having Turiaf back immediately improved Minnesota’s defensive game.

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

Head coach Rick Adelman said the following after the game:

“Just a quality win against a quality team. It is nice to see us play a team that grinds it out and we were able to do the same thing back to them, defend them well and executed offensively. Thirty-one assists. And I thought Gorgui (Dieng) and Ronny were terrific at protecting the basket. And, of course, Kevin had a triple-double. It was a nice solid win.”

Rookie Shabazz Muhammad also had another solid performance.  The 21-year-old went 4-for-5 to tally eight points in just 14 minutes on the floor. Those numbers combine with his last four home games for a very impressive stat: 13/14 shots for 93 percent shooting. Since Muhammad has gotten more playing time in the last few weeks, he has certainly showed the potential for which he was drafted. Point guard Ricky Rubio also pulled his weight on scoring, grabbing 14 points and dishing out seven assists. Rubio tends to play inconsistently, but he found his groove–for the time being–against Memphis.

In contrast to Minnesota’s offensive effort, the Grizzlies appeared disjointed and sluggish. The team didn’t play well together, and the players collectively made petty errors that kept them out of the game.

“A lot of time zones. A lot of traveling. A lot of battles,” said Memphis’ Mike Conley. Conley, who is currently averaging 17.1 PPG and is historically one of the biggest threats against Minny, shot only 20 percent and finished the contest with seven points.

kevin love_memphis

Overall, Wednesday was a win the Wolves needed to keep team morale high. Despite being out of the playoffs themselves, the team can now act as a spoiler. If nothing else, the fact that the Grizzlies were one of the Wolves main competitors for the postseason gave them an extra drive for the “W.”

“We wanted to find some sense of motivation and that’s what we found tonight,” Love said. “We just wanted to knock off a team that is fighting right now.”

Adelman echoed the idea, saying, “”Everybody else has something on the line [...] So we want to go out and play as well as we can and spoil it for them and see if we can’t be a factor in it.”

The Grizzlies will return home to face Denver Friday night, while Minnesota will head south to take on LeBron James and the Heat Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.

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