Timberwolves Eclipse Suns, 111-109

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

 

NBA action returned to the Target Center Friday night as the Timberwolves hosted the Phoenix Suns, the first game for both teams since the All-Star break.  Phoenix shook up its roster at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, picking up Danny Granger, John Salmons, Brandon Knight, and Marcus Thornton.  None of those players were available for Phoenix Friday night.  Despite all of those moves, the Timberwolves made just as much noise with one trade at the deadline, acquiring “The Kid” for one last run.  Kevin Garnett will make his debut for the Wolves this coming Wednesday night against the Wizards.

As for Friday night’s action, the Suns opened up with Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.  The Pups countered with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Nikola Pekovic.

Minnesota got off to a quick start, specifically Kevin Martin who scored 8 of the team’s first 10 points.  After two back to back buckets by Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves led 14-9 and led to the game’s first timeout.  The Wolves wound up building a 9 point lead before the Suns started to chip away.  The Morris twins largely led that effort and after the 1st Quarter, the Wolves held a 26-24 lead.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, with about three and a half minutes left in the opening frame, Anthony Bennett was rolled over by two Suns players and had to head to the locker room.

The second quarter was really a thing of beauty for the Wolves and one to forget for the Suns.  Phoenix missed shots, free throws, turned the ball over carelessly and allowed the Wolves build a double digit lead.  Minnesota outscored the Suns 26-18 in the quarter and took a 52-42 lead into halftime.

Here are a few additional halftime notes/stats:

  • Phoenix shot 36% (16-44) in the first half, while Minnesota shot 42% (19-45).
  • The main reason the Wolves only shot 42% was Pekovic’s 1-7 and Rubio’s 2-6 from the field.  Ouch.
  • Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a combined 24 points, with both shooting 5-8 from the field in the first half.

The Suns came storming out (see what I did there?) in the third quarter to tie the game with a 15-5 run within the first six minutes of the quarter.  Things may have been a little more negative had this not happened …

Which was preceded by this from the Timberwolves official Twitter account …

Seriously, let’s just pretend it is 2004 for the next few months.  Deal?  Deal.

Despite giving up 35 points in the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-77 lead into the final 12 minutes as Zach LaVine drove to the basket for a layup and the foul with a second left on the clock.  Unfortunately, LaVine missed the free throw thereby proving that he doesn’t want Wolves fans to only say nice things about him.

The fourth quarter was phenomenal from a fan perspective.  The teams combined for 63 points and went back and forth, trading blows throughout.  After multiple lead changes, the Wolves were in a position to close out the game after a Wiggins layup gave the Pups a 110-107 lead with 17 seconds left in the game.  However, the Wolves missed three of their final four free throws giving the Suns a last second heave to pull off a miracle.  Without a timeout to use the Suns had to launch a shot but decided to throw a pass and hope the clock malfunctioned.  It didn’t and the shot the Suns did put up was after time expired (it missed anyway).

The final score of a highly entertaining game at Target Center: Minnesota 111, Phoenix 109.  The Wolves are now off until Monday’s matchup in Houston against Kevin McHale and the Rockets.  What year is it again?

Game Notes:

  • Markieff Morris led the Suns with 31 points, followed by an 11-10-6 (points-rebounds-blocks) performance from Alex Len.
  • The Timberwolves missed 11 free throws on the evening (27-38) … some things never change.
  • While led by Kevin Martin’s 28 points, Wiggins continues to come up with the big plays when the Wolves need them.
  • While Rubio had a terrible night shooting (2-10), he finished with 10 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.  He deserves at least one vote for 5th place in NBA MVP balloting given how much he means to this club.

 

The Kids Are All Right; Wolves Dominate All-Star Festivities

(Photo Credit: @MNTimberwolves)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine stole the show All-Star Weekend(Photo Credit: @MNTimberwolves)

 

This Valentine’s Day weekend, every Timberwolves fan was treated to a date with their television sets. Unlike an actual date, all fans had to do was sit back and enjoy the show. Nothing else was required.

With All-Star weekend in New York City this season, expectations were high for the players to put on a show. They delivered, and several Timberwolves stole the show – most specifically Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. It started Friday night with the Rising Stars game.

Rising Stars:

The appetizer of All-Star weekend. It’s the first event of the weekend (Celebrity game doesn’t count), and usually the least anticipated. However, with an NBA record four Timberwolves on this years rosters, as well as the likes of Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and Nerlens Noel, among others, highlight plays were guaranteed.

A new format was introduced for the game, as the rookies and sophomores of the United States took on the World. In total, team World featured players from five continents (sorry South America and Antarctica) and nine different countries. The change in format turned the game into a battle for bragging rights, and a fun one at that.

The game consisted of two 20 minute halves with running clocks, but that didn’t stop both teams from easily reaching triple digits in the scoring column. It was also a sloppy affair, with a combined 51 turnovers and heat checks being put up regularly.

Still, highlights were everywhere, and so were Wolves.The Wolves don’t play on TNT this season, so this was Minnesota’s best opportunity to put on a show on a gigantic stage. As a whole, Minnesota’s four players (Dieng, Bazz, LaVine, Wiggins) all scored in double digits. In total, they accounted for 29% of the games points, 29% of the assists, and 23% of the rebounds. Overall, the Wolves left quite the impression on those watching.

Shabazz and Gorgui made significant contributions in the game, and there were plenty of positives to take away from that. It was the ‘The Bounce Brothers,’ though that ended up stealing the show. Both Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins provided the dazzling plays that make exhibitions fun. LaVine posted 22 points and a couple of dimes.

LaVine’s top play was a nasty transition dunk that put his speed, athleticism, and ball handling on display.

Wiggins, the other ‘Bounce Brother,’ wasn’t bad either. He displayed perfect shooting form and a great sense for the floor, going 8/11 shooting, along with 4 assists and 6 rebounds. With the World winning the game, the Canadiens strong stat line was more than enough for him to take home the MVP trophy. He became just the 2nd Wolf  (Wally Szczerbiak, 2001) to be awarded with the Rising Stars MVP.

Overall, the Wolves left quite an impression on those watching, and they weren’t done yet.

Dunk Contest:

LaVine came into the dunk contest as the overwhelming favorite, 46″ vertical and all. He was supposed to put the dunk contest “back on the map.” For a 19 year old rookie, those are massive expectations. He could’ve faltered. Instead, he left the crowd feeling incredulous.

Dunk #1 for LaVine was dubbed “Space Jam Dunk.” When LaVine was introduced, the Space Jam theme began playing. LaVine kept looking back into the tunnel, making sure everything was ready. Seconds later, Quad City came out to center court to rap the end of the song, and LaVine took off his Wolves jersey, choosing instead to don Jordan’s ‘Toon Squad’ jersey. LaVine seemed more worried about making sure Quad City heard their cues than he was about his own dunk.

After taking a moment to measure his dunk, LaVine took flight. Starting from the right wing, LaVine threw a slow an arcing pass that landed just outside the restricted area. With his back turned from the basket, LaVine jumped off both feet before grabbing the ball with his left hand, at which point he went between the legs and throwing down a right handed reverse. The result – a perfect score of 50.

The crowd couldn’t contain themselves. They spent the rest of the night anxiously waiting for LaVine’s turn. All that the Brooklyn crowd wanted for LaVine to continue doing the spectacular. When LaVine dunked, the masses rose to their feet, and each time LaVine’s dunk was finished, spectators were so amazed that they couldn’t control their body.

Among the crowd reactions:

Giannis and his brother had to hold themselves back, while Harden and Westbrook were riding an imaginary rollercoaster.

Hawks point guard Jeff Teague looked like he just took a huge whiff of New York street meat.

Dr J, one of the greatest dunkers in history, was left speechless.

It would’ve taken a miracle for him to lose. LaVine threw down four slams in total, and each was a masterpiece.

The judges gave him a combined score of 194 out of a possible 200, and LaVine had barely even broken a sweat. The dunk that Andrew Wiggins said made him faint? LaVine decided to save it for later.

LaVine became is the first Timberwolf to win the dunk contest since 1994, when Isaiah Rider won in front of an ecstatic Target Center crowd. LaVine became the 2nd youngest dunk contest winner in history (Kobe Bryant was 18 when he won in 1997). He has firmly cemented himself as the best dunker in the league, and at only 19, he could end up being one of the best dunkers to ever walk the Earth by the time he’s done.

Minnesota has won a mere 11 games this season, yet they have been the talk of the Friday and Saturday of All-Star weekend. In the seasons to come, the rising Wolves will attempt to check Sunday off their All-Star to do list.

 

Timberwolves Come Up Short, Fall 94-91 to Golden State

(photo credit: wizofawes.com)

(photo credit: wizofawes.com)

In a game that came down to the wire, the Timberwolves had a legitimate chance to pull off a win over the weary Golden State Warriors. In the end, though, Minnesota came up on the short end of the 94-91 game. Kevin Martin led the team in scoring with 21 points, followed closely behind by Ricky Rubio with 18. On the other side, Stephen Curry had another huge night with 25 points.

“We had a chance,” head coach Flip Saunders said following the game. “If we come out better from the beginning, we might have had a better opportunity.”

“We didn’t start the game very well especially against one of the best teams in the league,” Rubio said. “We’ve got to learn from this game that we have to play 48 minutes.”

The game had close moments throughout the first three quarters, and the Wolves held Golden State starters Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes to a combined 11 points on the evening. Even though the Warriors looked a bit more lackluster than usual, the 41-9 squad gradually pulled away from its opponents.

At the 7:30 mark of the fourth quarter, the Wolves trailed by 14. It seemed certain that the game would pull away from them. Rubio lit a spark of energy, however, and the team battled back to have a legitimate chance at winning. With Minnesota down 92-91, Nikola Pekovic missed a crucial layup that would have given his team the lead with less than 10 seconds left. Following the missed shot, Andrew Wiggins fouled Curry in a last-ditch effort to keep the Wolves in the game. Curry made both shots from the charity stripe, extending the lead to 94-91. With one final chance to throw up a three and tie the game, Klay Thompson tipped an inbound pass intended for Chase Budinger with 1.4 seconds left, and the game was over.

It was the reserves crew that made a difference Wednesday night. The Warriors led Minnesota 32-14 in bench points and shot 17 for 30 from the field.

“[Their reserves] won the game for them,” Saunders said, “and our bench didn’t match what they were able to do throughout the game.”

Minnesota’s bench players scored only 14 points as a unit, including a disappointing performance from Gorgui Dieng. The center 0-of-5 from the field and grabbed only two rebounds in almost 14 minutes of play.

The home loss dropped Minny’s record to 11-42 on the season. This was the final game heading into the All-Star break, so the team will get some much-needed rest. Up next, the Wolves will host Phoenix on Feb. 20.

Hawks Prove Too Much For Wolves

(Photo Credit: Star Tribune/Jeff Wheeler)

(Photo Credit: Star Tribune/Jeff Wheeler)

A glorious as it was, it had to end sometime. On Monday night, the Wolves season long 3 game winning streak came to a screeching halt. The Atlanta Hawks were simply too much for Minnesota to handle.

The first half was surprisingly close. In his first game back after injuring his abdomen, Shabazz Muhammad was relentless. He attacked the rim with the force fans have come to expect, scoring 10 points in the half, and kept possessions alive with 2 offensive rebounds in just 10 minutes of play.

Wiggins had a superb first half as well. Not only did he put up 13 points, but he also showcased his expanding skill set. He had 2 assists and 5 rebounds and a block, without committing a single turnover.

Minnesota would have had a chance to win, but the Hawks are too damn good. I mean…

There’s a reason people have dubbed the Hawks “Spurs East.” Their plethora of depth at all positions, brilliant spacing, and selfless passing make them the best team in the Association.

When the 2nd half began, Atlanta turned their game up to 11. Atlanta forced the Wolves into 11 2nd half turnovers. All 11 turnovers were the result of the Hawks stealing the ball. 9 different Hawks had a steal in the second half. DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford carried the load offensively for Atlanta, scoring 17 and 19, respectively, going a combined 12/18 from the floor and 11/11 from the line.

Minnesota has just 1 game remaining before the All-Star break. The Wolves face the Warriors this Wednesday, where they’ll have 1 final chance to pull a major upset before the week long break.

No Rubio, No Problem; Wolves Streak Reaches 3

(Photo Credit: AP/Duane Burleson

(Photo Credit: AP/Duane Burleson)

The Timberwolves can’t be stopped.

Yes, the statement above is accurate. As weird as it feels to type, it’s true – the Timberwolves are on a winning streak, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. After beating the Pistons 112-101 Sunday night, the Wolves winning streak reached a current league best of three.

Impressively, the Wolves were able to pull off the victory without the services of Ricky Rubio, who has not yet been cleared by doctors to play back to back games. Surprisingly, without Rubio, it was the guard play, combined with Pek’s monster night, that fueled Minnesota’s victory.

The Wolves never trailed, which was in part because of their hot start from the floor. Minnesota put up 32 points in the first quarter, 22 of which were from the trio of Pek, Mo, and Thad. The Wolves out rebounded Detroit 12-5 in the frame, as Pistons big Andre Drummond found himself in foul trouble early, picking up two quick fouls in the first five minutes of the game. Also notable were the two highlight plays produced by Wiggins and LaVine.

Quarter number two belonged to one man – Kevin Martin. Kevin Martin played the entire period, and he looked like his old self, putting up 13 points on 6/10 shooting. Martin provided the instant jolt of offense that they had lacked with him out of the lineup. His easy offense lowered the burden on the rest of the team. Detroit now had a man they had to keep their eyes on for the rest of the game. As a result, Detroit was less willing to double Pekovic, and Minnesota had more space for the offense to work. At the half, Minnesota had a 61-51 lead.

The third period was owned by Andrew Wiggins. He put up eight points in the third, shooting 2-3 from the floor and 4-5 from the line. His improved vision was also on display, as he put up two assists in the frame. For a player that had one assist throughout all of Summer League, Wiggins dished 5 assists in this game alone.

When the fourth quarter came around, Pekovic decided to assert his will. He was back to his old Peksecutioner ways. The most improssive shot Pek his was a spinning fade his fadeaway. Not even the Timerwolves own twitter account could believe it.

Pek tied his career high for points in a quarter with 15. It seemed like everything he was putting up found the basket. Whenever Detroit tried to keep the game within reach, the Wolves would throw it into Pekovic in the post, who hit with outstanding accuracy. Pek even went 7-8 from the stripe, including knocking down key free throws when Detroit had resorted to intentional fouling.

The win ups the Wolves record to 11-40. With the victory, the Wolves surpass the woeful Knicks (10-41) in the win column. Monday night features the red hot Wolves taking on the East leading Atlanta Hawks, and with Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad hopefully playing, the Wolves will have an opportunity to send shockwaves throughout the NBA.

Timberwolves Stand Tall, Defeat Grizzlies 90-89

Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol shared a few pleasantries on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: David Sherman, NBAE via Getty Images)

Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol shared a few pleasantries on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: David Sherman, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Both teams started the season with a 0-0 record and when they faced each other on opening night, the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves had reason for optimism.  Since losing opening night in Memphis, the Timberwolves have faced a series of injuries and unfortunate events week by week.  At 9-40, the Wolves are looking at the forthcoming All-Star Weekend as a time to recharge their collective battery.

At 37-12, the Grizzlies may want to hold off on the All-Star break, as they have been red hot since hitting a midseason bump in the road in late December, early January.  Since January 11th, Memphis has won 12 of 13 games they have played.

The teams met again on Friday night in the Target Center and here is a look at the action.

Since covering last Friday’s massacre in Philadelphia, the Wolves got their Unicorn back and the team has been remarkably more appealing to watch.  Minnesota opened up Friday night with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Nikola Pekovic.  The Grizzlies countered with Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol.

Both teams got off to a slow start on the offensive end, which probably could have been predicted the way the Grizzlies typically slow the pace down.  The Wolves also lost Pekovic early to two fouls.  However, Gorgui Dieng filled in admirably throughout the first quarter.  Coming out of the first timeout of the game, the Wolves went to Andrew Wiggins often and he continued to come through scoring the next four baskets for Minnesota and giving his team a 14-10 advantage.  One other note from the start of the game – Ricky Rubio assisted on each of the team’s first five baskets.  Have I mentioned it is nice to have Ricky back yet?

Would you like another example of the benefit of having Rubio on the floor?  With 30 seconds left in the quarter, Mo Williams launched a 24 foot jumper in order to set the Wolves up for a 2-for-1.  It missed badly.  After a steal on the defensive end, the Wolves had a chance to play for the last shot.  Williams pulled the ball out of what seemed like a potential bucket in transition, launched a 25 foot jumper as time expired and missed everything.  The score at the end of the 1st quarter was 24-23, Minnesota’s advantage.

With Pekovic back on the floor and Anthony Bennett at the Power Forward spot, the Timberwolves came out of the chute nicely in the 2nd quarter, at one point building a ten point lead, 37-27.  The highlight of the run came on a loose ball scramble where Wiggins tracked down the ball and whipped a pass to Bennett for a dunk.

All good things come to an end this season.  That ten point lead quickly evaporated with the Grizzlies going on a 10-0 run of their own.  During the run the Wolves committed three turnovers and missed badly from the floor.  At the half, the teams were tied at 43.

Here are a few additional halftime notes/stats:

  • The Timberwolves scored on only three of their final fifteen possessions of the half
  • Wiggins led the Wolves with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 21 minutes of action … rookie wall will have to wait until after the All-Star break apparently
  • In his 9 minutes on the floor, Zach Randolph didn’t take a single shot and was scoreless in the half

The Timberwolves opened up the second half on a 10-3 run which was capped off with a Rubio three pointer from the top of the arc.  In the midst of the run however, Pekovic picked up his fourth foul and would be forced into very limited action for the remainder of the evening.  Once again, the Grizzlies came storming back to take a 58-57 lead, forcing Flip Saunders to burn another timeout.

With Ricky Rubio still on a minute limitation, Flip had to turn to Mo Williams again for PG duties, who promptly turned the ball over two times in a row trying to feed the post.  This led to the following:

At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies held a 69-65 lead.  The Timberwolves offensive execution in the final minutes was fragile at best, highlighted by the final possession of the quarter that saw Mo Williams dribble at halfcourt for too long, feed a terrible pass to Kevin Martin right on the three point arc, and then seeing Martin launch an off-balance jump shot that clanged off of the rim.

Early in the 4th quarter the Wolves got another scare.  With a 77-73 lead, Thad Young threw a pass in the open court to Rubio who connected on a layup.  Ricky was fouled on the play but a whistle never blew, despite him crashing into the padding under the baseline.  Almost immediately, Ricky ran to the locker room but was back on the floor in under five minutes.  (Collective “Phew …”)

With Rubio’s return, something seemed to happen with the Wolves on the court.  It may have been confidence, it may have been his calmness.  Whatever it was, it worked.  After a few minutes of back and forth basketball, the Wolves found themselves down 85-78 with a little over two minutes to play.

Pekovic and Jeff Green traded jumpers, followed by a Rubio three pointer.  After Courtney Lee and Wiggins traded two made free throws, Rubio hit another three pointer to cut the Grizzlies lead to one point, 89-88.  On the Grizzlies next possession, the Wolves forced a turnover led by … you guessed it, Ricky Rubio.  Inexplicably, Zach Randolph fouled Rubio to put him on the line for two shots.  Ricky hit both to give the Wolves a one point lead, 90-89.  With a swarming defensive set, filled with solid rotations and a total team effort, the Wolves forced one final turnover to hold onto the victory.

The final score: Minnesota 90, Memphis 89 – the first back-to-back victories for our Pups this season!

Game Notes:

  • All five starters for the Wolves in double figures, led by Wiggins’ 18 points and 6 rebounds, Rubio’s 17/5/5/3 line, and Thad’s 14 points and 8 rebounds
  • The Grizzlies were only 2-12 from three point range tonight
  • Despite his 10 rebounds, Zach Randolph only scored 6 points and was a game low -10 in +/-

Timberwolves Grab Win Over Miami in Nail-Biter Finish

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

It seems that things are finally starting to come together for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as three starters who have missed weeks due to injuries are finally back in the lineup. With Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and [finally] Ricky Rubio all healthy, games have suddenly become a lot more competitive. Wednesday’s home game proved to be a real nail-biter down to the final seconds, but Minnesota came up with the 102-101 victory over Miami. Martin led the Wolves in scoring with an impressive 30 points, and Thaddeus Young added 16 points to the effort.

Martin proved the biggest highlight of the game, shooting 47.8 percent from the field and knocking down the game-winning shot off an assist from Young.

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said. “He’s been doing that for 10-12 years. We all know he’s going to step up when we need it.”

Rubio also had a strong performance in his second game back. The point guard tallied eight points on the evening and also dished out nine assists. Prior to the game, head coach Flip Saunders emphasized that he would keep Rubio in the 21-22 minute range as he transitions back. In such a close game, however, Saunders bent his own rules a bit. He left Rubio in during the end of the game, and Rubio helped control the pace of the game.

“We’re just a different team with him,” Saunders said post-game. “I was just excited to come and watch Ricky play with our guys to see what he can do with some of these guys. We haven’t had a chance to see that a lot this year.”

Mo Williams also returned after missing a few games, and he came off the bench to contribute 10 points and 10 assists.

The Wolves held a lead for much for the first half, but in the third quarter things started to unravel in an all-too-familiar fashion. Miami controlled the ball for much of that quarter, outscoring Minnesota 32-23 and capitalizing off turnovers. Just when it seemed that the game may end up like so many other games this season, Timberwolves fans saw the momentum switch heading into the fourth.

During the final quarter, Minny scored 26 points. Even more significant, though, the Wolves held Miami to just 18 points—including just a single bucket during the deciding seven-minute stretch.

Despite being out-rebounded 47-32 by the Heat, Minnesota made 51 percent of its shots and gutted out the night for a much-needed win. Although the Wolves season is arguably “over” at this point, as far as the postseason is concerned, each victory improves team morale and offers a glimpse into the future of the team if anyone remains healthy.

And if nothing else, the Wolves certainly acted as spoilers Wednesday. The loss dropped Miami’s record to 21-28, and the Heat are in a must-win situation. Forward Chris Bosh, who added 14 points for Miami, said the following after the game:

“Hell yeah, it’s a missed opportunity. We’re not going to get it back. That’s one thing about this league: If you’re in a situation where you can’t really afford to lose any games, things are slipping away from us […] We’re about to be out of the playoff race. I mean, not the race, but as far as the seeding we’re about to be out. And we’re not concentrating. I don’t understand that.”

The Timberwolves improved to 9-40 on the season, and they will remain home to host Memphis Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.