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!

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.

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 14

The Wolves have had a long road trip, and the schedule doesn’t exactly get lighter coming up. Minnesota will face another four-game week with road games bracketing a home stance.

The Timberwolves have won three of their last five games, and the team does seem to be pulling things together. There [appears to be] less tension on the floor, and the team is putting up big numbers on offense. In addition, Kevin Love was recently voted in as an All-Star starter, and we have to imagine that the honors will bolster the forward’s demeanor.

Ricky Rubio has been playing solid defense and scoring more points, and he is showing more and more consistency with every game. The most stable factor on Minnesota’s roster currently is center Nikola Pekovic, who is averaging 18.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Fortunately for the Wolves, Pek has been much healthier this season and is dominating on the inside.

If the Wolves stay on their current track, here are my predictions for Week 14 …

 

Game 45: Monday, 1/27 – Timberwolves @ Chicago Bulls (TV: FS North)

The Timberwolves will play final game in a four-game roadtrip when they face Chicago Monday night. They’ve had a good trip so far with two wins a single loss, but a lot rides on Game No. 4 as a “W” would bring Minnesota back to .500. Chicago’s standing in the Eastern Conference (No. 5) may be deceiving; it’s 22-21 record stands at only one game better than the Wolves.  The Bulls are coming off an 89-87 win on the road in Charlotte. The Bulls are in the middle of a hot streak, opening 2014 with 10 wins and only three losses, and Minnesota has historically struggled to come away with wins at the United Center. In order to win, all the pieces must be there for the Timberwolves.  Love, Pekovic and Martin will need to be on their top game and hold the team above 45 percent from the field.

Opponent to watch:

D.J. Augustin – While he may not be the top name on Chicago’s roster, the 26-year-old point guard has played a significant role for the Bulls after they traded away Marquis Teague and were without Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich. ”[D.J.] was ready when this opportunity came around and he hit the ground running,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau. “It’s not just his individual talents but it is also what he is doing for our team. He is running our team well.”

Augustin is currently averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists per game. Rubio will need to be on his top defensive game Monday night.

Predictions:

The Timberwolves will be feeling the effects of a four-game road trip, and the numbers don’t bode well for them. Chicago is ranked No. 2 in the NBA with only allowing an average of 92.9 points from their opponents, and the Wolves are 1-11 on the road when scoring fewer than 109 points. Love was limited by a sore knee in Saturday’s 115-104 loss at Portland, and he may not be back to 100 percent for Monday’s game.

Final score: Bulls 101, Timberwolves 95

 

Game 46: Wednesday, 1/29, 7pm – New Orleans Pelicans @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

Currently holding a record of 18-25, the Pelicans are one place below Minnesota in the Western Conference standings. New Orleans is ranked No. 24 overall for points allowed (102.7), which certainly stands in Minnesota’s favor. Wednesday night will be the first home game for the Wolves in over a week, and the home-court advantage should play a big role in the contest. It will be interesting to see Pekovic matched up against former Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma, who is currently averaging only 2.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in NO.

Opponent to watch:

Anthony Davis – The second-year PF has not disappointed since being drafted out of Kentucky. Davis is averaging 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. His most impressive stat, however? The big man also averages 3.1 blocks per game.

Predictions:

Overall, the Timberwolves are just the better team in this matchup. Love will certainly have his hands full with Davis and will have to work extra hard to drive those baskets inside, but that proves the biggest obstacle. Pek should have no problem guarding on the inside, and if Minnesota can put up another triple-digit game, it should be a win at home.

Final score: Timberwolves 115, Pelicans  92

 

Game 47: Friday, 1/31, 7:00pm – Memphis Grizzlies @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

This will be another close game, as Memphis and Minnesota are currently only two games apart.  Both teams are fighting for that No. 8 playoff spot, and we can’t expect the Grizzlies to roll over on this one. Memphis has a tough defense, ranked just under Chicago in allowing 96 points per game. In addition, the matchup between big men will be one for the books, with Love and Pekovic going up against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

The teams faced each other on Dec. 15 in Memphis, and the Timberwolves came away with a 101-93 win. Love had 30 points that evening, and we hope he can tally at least that many again.

Opponent to watch:

Marc Gasol – At 28 years old, Gasol shows no signs of slowing down. He is currently averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and at 7’1″, he is taller–and a bit more athletic– than the 6’11″ Pekovic. Gasol was inactive for the Dec. 15 game, so he could very well be the difference maker in Monday’s matchup.

Predictions:

I’m going to predict this as the closest game of the week. Both teams have strong offenses, and if players are healthy on both sides, I expect there to be six digits in the final score. Memphis does hold a stronger defensive game than Minnesota, but the Timberwolves are ranked No. 2 in the NBA for points scored. The Wolves seem to be gelling much better as a team, and I think the home-court advantage will carry them through in the end.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Grizzlies 101

 

Game 48: Saturday, 2/1, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ Atlanta Hawks (TV: FS North)

Atlanta’s record isn’t exactly outstanding (23-20 as of 1/27), but it’s good enough for a No. 3 seat in the Eastern Conference. Across the board, the Hawks prove to be a slightly above-average team, but they often come out of the woodwork and surprise their opponents. Last week, the Hawks snapped Miami’s 9-game losing streak.

This will be the first matchup for Minnesota and Atlanta this season. In 2012-13, the Hawks averaged 103 points against the Wolves, and Minnesota had an extremely difficult time shutting down Al Horford, who is no longer with the team.  

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Korver – Averaging 11.9 points per game, Korver is not the top scorer on the team, but he can be hot when you least expect it, and he is the top three-point shooter in the league.  In fact, Korver has gone over 100 games without missing a long ball. The Timberwolves tend to struggle defending the outside, and Korver will be a major threat in that aspect.

Predictions:

I may get some flack for this, but I foresee Saturday’s road game being one that the Wolves let slip through their fingers. It will be the end of eight games over a two-week stretch, and Atlanta has been playing extremely well. I don’t think Minnesota has what it takes to defend the Hawks and Korver’s crazy three-point game.

Final score: Hawks 100, Timberwolves 89

 

Wrap-up:

This will be a challenging week for Minnesota, but the Wolves will enjoy having back-to-back home games. Ideally, they will prove my prediction wrong and beat Atlanta on the road before enjoying two days off.

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 13

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

First, let me clarify a technicality.  Due to the cancellation of the game in Mexico City against the San Antonio Spurs, the number of each game is off by one game, relative to adding up the wins and losses for the Wolves to this point in the season.  When we get to the Spurs game on April 8th, we will be calling that “Game 20”.  Please just agree that this is “fair”.  Why?  Because I want to leverage this week’s preview as a place to rant about how the Wolves are looking “halfway through the season”.  Let’s pretend that we aren’t 49% of the way there and are at 50%.  Sound good?  Thanks!

This past week included two bad losses to the Kings and Raptors.  The Wolves salvaged the week with a blowout victory against the Jazz on Saturday, but remain below .500 for the season – 19-21, now sitting in the 11th position of the Western Conference.  The team is 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8 seed in the Conference, with the Grizzlies and Nuggets also ahead of them.  Let’s agree that this is an underperforming group right now, despite the few injuries that the team has endured. [Read more...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

Turiaf expresses my thoughts on how this season is going so far ... (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Turiaf expresses my thoughts on how this season is going so far …
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Setting the stage:

The Pups come into the forthcoming week with an 18-19 record, falling to the Spurs last night and failing to get above .500 for roughly the 98th time this season.  As I have stated a number of times in recent weeks, this team must go on a run and put together a string of victories and make up some ground on the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference.

The Wolves are currently in tenth place in the Conference, a game and a half behind the ninth seeded Denver Nuggets and three and a half games behind the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks for the seventh and eighth seeds.  They have beaten the Mavs in two of three games this season, but have lost two already to the Nuggets and just lost to the Suns this past week.  I’m no rocket scientist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night … but that isn’t good.

Coach Adelman’s crew continues to put up points and allows their opponent to do the same.  The team remains second in the league in scoring at 107ppg, but is giving up 102.4 points a night.  It is more than a little concerning that the team either blows opponents out or loses close games.  Some of this goes on the coaches, but the players have to find a way to execute and close out games.  The returns of Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger may help this a bit, but the Wolves’ starters are really the ones accountable. [Read more...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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