Bulls Charge Past Wolves, 96-89

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

 

Two nights after the most exciting game at Target Center in years, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to the court to take on the Chicago Bulls.  Before the game started, the teams announced that key players would be missing from both squads.  Most importantly for Wolves’ fans, Kevin Garnett was ruled out of Friday night’s game in Chicago.  Prior to tip-off, the Bulls announced that Pau Gasol would miss Friday’s game, after also announcing that Derrick Rose had successful surgery earlier in the day and may be able to be back on the court in 4-6 weeks.

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, an on-fire in recent weeks Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Nikola Pekovic.  The Bulls made the appropriate adjustments due to the aforementioned injuries and countered with Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah.

The Bulls got off to a quick start, taking a 15-8 lead and forcing Flip Saunders to burn an early timeout.  Chicago had seven assists on their first seven made field goals.  However, the Andrew Wiggins show started to warm up shortly thereafter, as the rookie scored seven points in a row (for the Wolves) to cut the Chicago lead to 21-19.  At the same time the Bulls were forced to take a timeout as Taj Gibson was injured (and subsequently ruled out for the remainder of the game).  For the remainder of the quarter both teams slowed things down and plodded along a bit.  Chicago took a 27-23 lead into the second quarter.

In typical Bulls’ fashion, the game continued to a somewhat ugly pattern or form well into the second quarter.  If the Wolves were looking for a silver lining, they may look no further than Gary Neal.  Halfway through the quarter and Neal scored or assisted on all but two Timberwolves’ baskets and led the charge giving the Wolves a 37-34 advantage.

That timeout sparked a 10-2 by the Bulls, giving them a 44-39 advantage, sparked by two three pointers from Mike Dunleavy.

For the second consecutive quarter, points became a premium in the final three minutes of the half.  Chicago took a 51-44 lead into halftime and the Wolves were a little lucky it wasn’t worse, as Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler worked the offensive end of the floor but couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the basket.

The Bulls came out of the locker room and couldn’t have looked more lethargic.  The Wolves tied the game at 51 in the first three minutes of the game thanks to the efforts of Rubio and Martin.  After the timeout, the game became a Free Throw contest, with both teams leaving a good number of points on the table.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Bulls held a 73-67 advantage.

Zach LaVine entered the 4th quarter with two minutes gone by and tried to take over the game.  It worked for a little while, but with the Wolves down by two points on two different occasions, LaVine turned the ball over that led to a Jimmy Butler layup and then grabbed a defensive rebound and dribbled the ball all the way down the court and took missed an off-balance layup.  LaVine then made and assisted on the Wolves next two baskets, but subsequently didn’t rotate or get his hands up on a made three-pointer from Aaron Brooks.

Flip Saunders saw the same thing and called a timeout, replacing LaVine with Rubio.  The moral of the story?  We are still seeing the ups and downs on a minute by minute basis with the rookie.

That three-pointer from Brooks opened up an 84-79 lead for the Bulls and could have been the dagger.  However, the Timberwolves scored the next six points to take an 85-84 lead with about five minutes to play.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they went cold from that point forward, missing shots, turning the ball over, and most frustratingly, missing free throws.  The combination of all three led a 12-4 Bulls charge past the Timberwolves and a 96-89 victory for the home team.

A few notes from the game:

  • Two Wolves had double-doubles – Pekovic with 12 points / 11 rebounds and Rubio with 15 points / 10 assists.
  • Andrew Wiggins was only 4-10 from the line, with the team going 21-31 from the stripe for the evening.  That is a nice way to lose a close game.
  • Gorgui Dieng had 3 turnovers in 25 minutes, but it feels like Flip has way too quick of a leash on the second year pro relative to others.
  • Unrelated to Friday’s action specifically, RIP Earl Lloyd, the first African American to ever play in the NBA who passed away on Friday at the age of 86.

 

Wolves Victorious in Garnett’s Return

KGReturn

April 9th, 2007; the last time Timberwolves legend Kevin Garnett suited up in his number 21 jersey. Starting alongside Garnett were Marko Jaric, Ricky Davis, Mike James, and Mark Blount. Besides Garnett, only one player on the 2006-2007 roster is still in the league (Randy Foye).

Obviously, much has changed since then, but what hasn’t is the Wolves lack of roster stability, as well as a penchant for losing. In fact, Minnesota has never had winning season without Kevin Garnett.

Which may be why Flip brought Garnett back. Garnett is the ultimate symbol of stability – he’s been in the league since 1995, has appeared in 1420 NBA games, and has always been a defensive force. When it comes to his legacy as a Timberwolf, it is unparalleled. No player has come close to matching the consistent greatness of Garnett’s first tenure as a wolf.

In his 20th season and at the age of 38, Garnett is not the player he once was. What he is, however, is a walking icon. To countless Minnesotans, Garnett is a figure that represents the times when it was cool to be a Timberwolves fan. With eight playoff appearances, an MVP award, and a conference finals appearance, in addition to a vibrant personality and a trash talking game like none other, KG made going to Target Center a must for even the most casual fans of sports.

So when KG made his return last night, it might as well have been 1995. The atmosphere at Target Center wasn’t just electric, it was rejuvenating. Garnett, the wily veteran, admitted the crowd made him feel like he was a rookie again.

When Garnett was introduced, the 19,856 people in attendance roared. It was a moment 8 years in the making, but ‘The Big Ticket’ was finally back.

The spectacle of it all nearly overshadowed the game itself, which might help explain the Wolves dismal start once the contest got underway. Minnesota started the game shooting 1/14, and with 4:18 remaining in the first quarter, found themselves down 18-3. Nerves were apparent, and the Wolves would need to settle down if they had any hope of a comeback.

It wouldn’t take long. The lid on the basket quickly opened up, and shots started falling. The 15 point deficit was neutralized by halftime, and the Wolves went into the locker room with the score tied at 42.

KG wasn’t the only star making a comeback. Rapper Montell Jordan was the surprise halftime performer. He sang his hit song “This is How We Do It,” which was released in 1995 (there’s a theme here). Jordan even changed up some of his lyrics in light of the occasion.

Once the 2nd half began, the floodgates opened. Minnesota outscored Washington 55-35 in the half, dominating the Wizards in every statistical category. With every basket, the cheers grew, and the Wolves looked to be legitimately enjoying themselves on the court.

This team didn’t feel like the one that had struggled for the first 55 games of the season. There was a new presence, if not a familiar one. KG was constantly in the ears of his teammates (not literally), was a vocal leader on the defensive end, and overall, milked every second of his return for all its worth. The best moment came during a timeout, where a portly fan without a shirt danced like you would probably expect him to. KG looked over and promptly saluted.

Garnett’s stat line wasn’t eye-popping by any measure. He played a shade over 18 minutes, logging 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a pair of highlight blocks. What was and will continue to be significant, more than the stats or the trash talk or anything else, is that KG is back. And this time, he’s here to stay.

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Poor Offense Brings 113-102 Loss in Houston

(photo credit: chatsports.com)

(photo credit: chatsports.com)

Minnesota’s defense looked a lot better in the road contest against Houston Monday night, and it was only defense that kept the Wolves in the game as long as it did. The Timberwolves’ offensive performance was abysmal, and they fell 113-102 to James Harden and his squad. Rookie Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a career-high 30 points on his 20th birthday.

Harden was the story of the night, notching yet another triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He didn’t start out that way, however. Harden played 12 minutes in the first quarter and went 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. Houston kept the game going and patiently waited for its super star to catch up–which he certainly did.

“When I get my teammates confident to shoot their shots and be aggressive and get them in their rhythm, I can get into mine and that makes everything easy,” Harden said.

On the other side, it was an entire team that shot poorly. The Rockets held Minnesota to a season-low 33 percent from the field, including just 28.5 percent in the second half. The Wolves’ best quarter was the second, in which they shot 52.4 percent and tallied 31 points. If they could have kept the game going at that pace, a win would have been in the cards for the young team.

Kevin Martin added 21 points for the team, a solid contribution, but even he wandered from his usual consistency and made only 32 percent of his shots. Martin also committed six turnovers, which combined with the 20 total errors Minny made on the night.

Ricky Rubio has been playing well since his return from injury, but he struggled to find a groove Monday. The point guard made all 10 of his attempts from the free-throw line, but he was only 2-0f-13 in his other shots. The Associated Press’ Jon Krawzcynski posted on Twitter during the game:

The Wolves did hang on for most of the game, thanks in large to Wiggins, and they trailed by only a single point with under four minutes remaining. Unfortunately, though, Minnesota ran out of steam. Houston went on a 14-2 run in the final minutes of the game, and it was over.

“They kept getting us down, but we kept on fighting,” coach Flip Saunders said. “But we just didn’t have enough there at the end.”

Adreian Payne made his first NBA start on Monday, and the center played much better than he did in Friday night’s contest. Payne finished the game with a double-double, adding 11 points and 10 rebounds. The rookie started in the absence of the injured Anthony Bennett, who is slated to be out for two weeks with an ankle sprain.

The biggest news for Minnesota remains the return of Kevin Garnett to the team that drafted him. The 38-year-old Garnett will have his first practice with the team Tuesday, and he will be officially introduced in a presser at 3 p.m. The team has announced that Garnett will make his debut in Wednesday’s home game against Washington. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

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.