Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.

Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.

“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.

Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.

The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.

Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.

Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.

“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”

Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.

“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.

In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:

“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”

Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.

***

Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

The Dawn of a New Era: Notes from Preseason Game #1

Timberwolves basketball is back. Sort of. The Wolves first basketball game since April ended in a 103-90 loss to Indiana. Since only 14 players can dress for preseason games, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic sat out. Kevin Martin and Anthony Bennett were also inactive, due to minor injuries. Consequently, the majority of the Wolves minutes went to the young guys. The result was fans receiving an unobstructed view of what the future has in store.

(Charlie Nye/ Indy Star)

(Charlie Nye/Indy Star)

[Read more...]

Recap: Wolves Defeat Pelicans in Summer League Finale

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

The Timberwolves finished up their stay in Las Vegas on Friday night, taking on the New Orleans Pelicans. There have been a few up and downs for the Wolves this week and it feels like the product on the floor has taken somewhat of a backseat to the continuing rumors of whether or not Kevin Love will be traded and to which team is the latest to sweeten their offer. That’s a little unfortunate given … you know … live basketball and evaluating young, potential talent for the team.

Our Pups opened up with the following starting lineup: Zach LaVine, Brady Heslip, Matt Janning, Glenn Robinson III, and Gorgui Dieng. Said group got off to a slow start, with the Pelicans jumping out to an 18-8 advantage and forcing Sam Mitchell – tonight’s head coach for the Wolves – to burn a timeout. Further proof of the slow start: [Read more...]

Timberwolves Drop Out of the Las Vegas Summer League Tourney, Fall to Kings

One of these two isn’t likely to be in a Wolves uniform much longer (Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports)

One of these two isn’t likely to be in a Wolves uniform much longer (Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports)

(Note from John: While this is under my name, Lindsey Young carried the load on this recap.  Due to some computer issues, I filled in the blanks for Lindsey.  You can thank her for this recap!)

On Thursday afternoon, the Timberwolves faced the Kings in the Wolves’ first game of the 2014 NBA Summer League tournament. Coming in as the #24 seed, the Wolves were definitely the underdogs against the #8 seed Sacramento. The Wolves put up a valiant effort, but in the end they fell short in the   final score. Shabazz Muhammad led Minnesota with 24 points, while Gorgui Dieng had an impressive 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Minnesota’s starting lineup featured the following: Zach LaVine, Kyrylo Fesenko, Dieng, Shabazz and Brady Heslip. The game opened on a missed alley-oop by Ben McLemore followed by a nice dish by Muhammad to LaVine for the bucket. McLemore redeemed himself on the following play, though, hitting a long three. [Read more...]

Recap: Las Vegas Summer League – Wolves 86, Suns 77

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Summer League started the tournament portion of its competition on Wednesday, kicking off with the #9 seed Phoenix Suns against our #24 seed Timberwolves. Despite being 0-3 in its prior Summer League action, the Pups came out on Wednesday and produced a solid victory to move on in the winner’s bracket.

The Wolves opened up with Zach LaVine, Markel Starks, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Kyrylo Fesenko in the starting lineup. A little “twin tower” action up front for the Wolves and perhaps a preview of things to come in the 2014/15 season. Dieng, Fesenko and LaVine all started off strong, while Shabazz Muhammad got off to a 0-6 start from the field, continuing to move his shooting percentages in the wrong direction in Vegas. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Suns held a 19-14 advantage. [Read more...]

Timberwolves 0-3 in Summer League After Losing to Chicago

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The Timberwolves fought hard in attempt to gain a summer league win, but in the end their offense proved no match against Chicago, and Minnesota came up on the short end of the 107-73 final score. Kyrylo Fesenko and Zach LaVine led the Wolves in scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Bulls boasted an all-around stronger lineup with six of their guys scoring in double digits. No. 11 draft pick Doug McDermott led all scoring with 20 points and six assists.

The contest started out rather evenly, a back-and-forth battle that saw the lead change three times. In the early part of the second quarter, the Wolves delivered a solid performance. Georgetown alum Markel Starks grabbed a three-pointer immediately followed by a Fesenko slam dunk. Minnesota held the lead at 27-24. However, Lance Thomas answered with a long three of his own, and from that point on the Bulls held the upper hand.

Fesenko played well with rookie Zach Lavine, each of them putting up strong numbers this week.  At 7’1″ and 280 lbs, Fesenko could be a huge—pun intended—asset for the Wolves. The Ukrainian has been in the NBA since 2007, but he has struggled to find real success with any team. His longest stint was with Utah, from 2007-2011. He also made appearances with Indiana and Chicago.  It will be interesting to see what relationship the Wolves choose with Fesenko following summer league.

Despite watching Minnesota lose its first three games in Vegas, Timberwolves fans have reason to smile about their team’s No. 13 draft pick. LaVine impressed the crowd at the Target Center scrimmage last week, and he’s continued to draw attention on the road. LaVine averaged 12 points, five rebounds and 2.3 assists over the trio of games. According to Wolves writer Megan Schuster, “LaVine had a few tough baskets in the quarter, taking a leadership role while playing point.”

Both teams scored well from downtown, hitting over 40 percent from behind the three-point line. It was in free throws, though, that Minnesota fell miserably short. Chicago knocked down 13-16 from the charity stripe, while the Wolves made only 12 of 22 attempts. The young lineup also struggled to consistently handle the ball, and 18 turnovers certainly hurt in the end.

Shabazz Muhammad also played well, adding 10 points for Minny. One surprise performance for the Wolves was D.J. Kennedy. Kennedy, who went undrafted in 2011 and has been playing for the Israeli Basketball Super League, tallied nine points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes on the floor.

A few Wolves players never got off the bench—among them third-year guard Alexey Shved.  Shved played well in the first two games this summer, leading the team in scoring. Minnesota fans are anxious to see if his regular season performance improves over last year.

 

Up Next:

 

Minnesota will face Phoenix this afternoon for Game 4. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. CST.