Wolves Defeat Kings, 108-97

Before we get into things I’m going to display a few photos. One of these pictures you might be familiar with, as i’ve used it in recent recaps, but the other is something new.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

Remember this? I determined that 7 of the 10 games following the all-star break were ‘winnable’ games by Wolves standards. Halfway through the stretch, Minnesota is 4-1 with victories over the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings became the latest victim of the Wolves recent success. (I’ll get to that other picture in a little while)

First Half

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup after each played missed notable amounts of time due to injury.

Pekovic left the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 27th and the Wolves went 7-7 during his absence. A short time after Pekovic was sidelined, on the 7th of February, Martin played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans but fractured a finger at some point during the game. The Wolves played 8 games missing both Martin and Pekovic, but emerged victorious in all but three of those outings.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Corey Brewer trotted out with Pekovic and Martin and matched up against Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Some could argue that the Kings victory over the Wolves in January, at the Target Center, was the worst loss for Minnesota this season.

So, call it the revenge game if you must. Martin got things going without any further ado, shooting six of seven from the field and scoring 14 first quarter points. Pekovic, playing on a minute limit, was replaced by Dante Cunningham after six minutes of playing time. Despite the outburst by Martin the Wolves trailed the Kings at the end of the opening quarter, 30-31, as Gay nearly matched “K-Mart (K-Target)” basket for basket — Gay scored 12 points in the 1st quarter on five of six shooting from the field. Pekovic found his rhythm in the 2nd quarter, but Gay didn’t skip a beat and the Wolves were outscored by the Kings and trailed at the half; 53-56. Here are some quick notes from the games’ first two quarters.

  • Pekovic and Martin — 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting
  • Love couldn’t get much going but found ways to contribute. He was an abysmal one of six shooting but scored nine points after converting on six of eight free-throw attempts. Love also helped keep the game close with four assists.
  • Rest of team — 15 points
  • Rudy Gay — 22 points 8 of 11 FG, 4 of 6 3PT FG, 2 of 2 FT. This is something that shouldn’t happen.

Second Half

The 3rd quarter was a ‘whole different ball game,’ as the cliche goes. After the game was over, Love and Adelman both mentioned – on the Fox Sports North broadcast – that the team rallied in the locker room to play with a sense of urgency after halftime. Whatever happened in the visiting locker room at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night should be repeated over and over again for the remainder of the season. The starters trotted out in surefire form and outscored the Kings 31-14 during the third frame. Rubio, who only had three assists by halftime, tallied five ‘dimes’ distributed among the other five Wolves players that scored in the third. However, the offense wasn’t flashy as we’ve known it to be — the Wolves went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting on 9 attempts, and forced the Kings into six turnovers.

The Wolves scored six fast break, and five second-chance, points. The Kings were limited to zero fast break points and didn’t shoot one FT during the third, the home team was beat in almost every aspect of the game on each possession. Things got interesting, as they usually do, during the 4th quarter and after entering the final 12 minutes with a 14 point lead — the score narrowed and fans watching at home began to worry, and had every right to do so. Four minutes went by and the Kings outscored the Wolves 14-6 in the short span.

Albeit his performance since returning from knee surgery has oft been criticized, Chase Budinger performed well in these four — crucial — minutes of the game. Budinger had two key rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) and four pivotal points while the starters rested and waited to get back into the game. Martin, Brewer, and Love entered the game at the 8:34 mark by replacing Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, and Luc Mbah a Moute. J.J. Barea and Cunningham remained on the floor. The Wolves led by nine, 90-81, but the Kings push was imminent. It may have been close to a double-digit lead, but the game was not at all out of reach for Sacramento — the home crowd could sense it and tensions rose during the final minutes. — I’m not sure if Rick Adelman will continue going to Rubio to close out games, but he needs to start doing so — there’s been many, many calling for this to happen — because BareaBall isn’t always the answer. — The lead now down to eight, Rubio checked into the game for Barea with the score at 93-85.

After a string of hair-pulling events, the lead was narrowed down to two. The crowd was on their feet and a streaking Rudy Gay headed toward the basket for what seemed as if it would be a game-tying layup — he did everything but make the easy basket. Love grabbed the defensive rebound, Rubio brought the ball upcourt, dished it back to Love who missed a three-point attempt. Pekovic grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by Cousins. Pek made both free-throws and the lead was extended to four.

After a steal by Rubio, and some ball movement along the perimeter, Ricky fired a three from the right wing, with the shot clock winding down, that fell through the bottom of the net and the Wolves were in business. The dagger put the lead at eight with less than a minute remaining. The Wolves prevailed over the Kings, 108-97.

Here’s that other picture. 1620760_10202709983145019_561495350_n   Currently, Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas are the teams rounding off the Western Conference Playoff spots. The Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6, are five-and-a-half games out of the 8th seed in the West. The Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, and Grizzlies are all 2-2 in their previous four games. For the Wolves, albeit the door is slamming shut, have a chance to slide a proverbial foot over the threshold and into the postseason picture. Tonight, Minnesota is in Denver to face the depleted Nuggets, they’ll be 5-1 in games after All-Star Weekend with a victory.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Martin — 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Although only going 1 for 5 from three-point land, he converted seven of eight from the charity stripe. The free points were, and are always, important.
  • Nikola Pekovic — 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Pek recorded nearly 27 minutes of action and Adelman can be quoted, saying after the game, that he used the 295 pound center returning from injury — and still playing through pain — more than he would have liked.
  • Kevin Love — why not? 22 points on a horrible shooting night (4 of 12) but 12 of 14 from the FT line, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

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Timberwolves Defeat Suns 110-101 Behind Shabazz’s Career Night

shabazz Game Summary

On a night where Kevin Love posted another stunning line of 33 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists, he was hardly the focus on the post game analysis of Minnesota’s 110-101 come-from-behind victory in Phoenix. Disregard the fact that he had his fifth straight game of 30+ points (which happens to be a franchise record) and the fact that he also notched his 32nd 20-10 game of the season. When the buzzer sounded and the Wolves were left victorious, the spotlight was on rookie Shabazz Muhammad and his career-high 20 points (10 of which were in the fourth quarter) that helped spark a team who has had glaring problems during fourth quarters this season.

With Love the consistent offensive force that he is, we have become greatly desensitized to his ridiculous stat lines and have come to expect him to get his 25 points and 13 rebounds a game. What we have not come to expect from this team is volume scoring (aside from the rare J.J. Barea outburst) from a bench unit that has had a very inconsistent season. As Alexey Shved has fallen out of favor with Rick Adelman due to his inefficiency on offense and mediocrity on defense, it has opened the door for Muhammad to take advantage of the hole at shooting guard that Kevin Martin left when he broke his left thumb. During this current three game road trip, we are beginning to see the thought process behind as to why Flip Saunders decided to forgo the opportunity of drafting Trey Burke in order to roll the dice on the one-and-doner out of UCLA.

I believe that Zach Harper summed up Shabazz’s play excellently tonight in this post-game tweet:

To keep the recap relatively brief, let’s skip ahead to the fourth quarter at just around the 7:30 mark. After having trailed by as many as 9 points in the third quarter, the Wolves found themselves trailing the Suns 91-83 and desperately needing a spark. As Minnesota began clawing back by scoring on two straight possessions, a Ricky Rubio interception followed by a nice lead pass to Muhammad resulted in a gritty and-1 by the athletic swingman. However, Shabazz failed to convert at the line which put the game at 91-90 in favor of Phoenix. As the two teams continued to trade leads with the game heading down the wire, Minnesota caught a huge break when Goran Dragic, who was in the midst of a tough game, drew his sixth foul after attempting to get his own rebound following a missed shot. With the game being constantly traded between mid-range jumpers from both sides, the Wolves were finally able to gain a cushion thanks in large part to the energy and hustle from Muhammad, who worked his tail end off in order to gain inside position on a missed K-Love three-pointer in order to come down with a key offensive rebound, of which he immediately rallied to a cutting Corey Brewer who put the Wolves up by 5, effectively securing the win for the Pups.

Final Score: Wolves 110 – Suns 101

The Wolves improved to 28-29 and play next on Monday night in Denver. Let’s hope that Shabazz can build on his success as Nikola Pekovic and Martin are both likely to remain out.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Shabazz Muhammad - ‘Bazz truly earned first star as he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter while showing tremendous energy playing without the ball and on the defensive end. All the pre-draft knocks on his work ethic and motor on defense were totally unsubstantiated by Tuesday nights performance and the lack of consistent playing time during the first half of the season apparently has only made him work harder on improving his game. If Shabazz can take the next step and develop a perimeter game, he has the potential of becoming a great scorer in the league.
  2. Kevin Love - It’s pretty tough to give a guy second star when he comes one assist shy of a triple double while scoring over 30 points, but it was truly a special night from Shabazz and I’m sure K-Love did not mind all of the post game attention on the fellow UCLA alum. Love is currently on a torrid pace and is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, as shown by the following tweet from Alan Horton.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Ricky struggled during much of the first half of the game, but came on late to play a very effective fourth quarter and finished the night with 7 points, 11 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds. It was good to see Ricky on the court to finish the game as Coach Adelman has often preferred to go with Barea running the offense late in the fourth quarter. I have a sense that we are going to be seeing a lot more of La Pistola in fourth quarters from this point on in the season.

Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

The Wolves landed in Portland just before midnight, Sunday, after departing from Utah shortly after their victory against the Jazz. After the Pups demolished the Denver Nuggets (Blazers burn, demolish Denver — these are horrible, but i grin none-the-less), we determined victories against other Western Conference foes competing for playoff contention are the wins that will prove to have the most value during the course of the remainder of the season. Minnesota had a chance to catch the Portland Trail Blazers, without LaMarcus Aldridge, reeling to sustain the success captured earlier in the season, and steal a victory at the Moda Center. Here’s this picture again.

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Of the first three games, two were deemed as ‘winnable’. Fortunately, the Wolves defeated the Indiana Pacers at home — this was not considered one of those winnable contests. However, because the Blazers were without their All-Star power forward I did consider last night’s matchup in Portland as one that could – and maybe should – have been a victory. Nikola Pekovic, who participated in some pregame warmups, remains out until further notice — although he is expected to play sometime on this roadtrip (per Kevin Love’s Instagram account) — he did not play last night against the Blazers. The Wolves rolled out the small-ball starting lineup, again, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Kevin Love. The Blazers countered with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez.

First Half

Only a minute and some change into the game, Love gave the Wolves a lead after hitting a jumper and things were moving along smoothly on the offensive end. Love scored 13 in the first, Budinger added 3 (1-3 from the field, 1-1 3pt), Cunningham and Brewer — together — accounted for 10 on 5 of 8 FG, while Rubio added 5 and the Wolves led after the opening quarter — 34-26. In addition to his scoring contributions, Rubio assisted on 7 of the Wolves 14 baskets. J.J. Barea started the following quarter with a three and the Wolves continued rolling through most of the second frame. Rick Adelman elected to keep Alexey Shved on the bench, which isn’t a decision I’m prepared to dispute, but this meant playing Robbie Hummel alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng.

Without having Kevin Martin, who remains sidelined due to injury, Barea has free reign of the second unit — this is not a good thing, in my opinion. Because Budinger was moved to the starting shooting guard slot, Hummel is the wing player Adelman has decided is best fit to stretch the defense when the second unit is on the floor. Hummel is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc this season, and is only averaging three points a game. Would playing Shved make more sense? I’ll leave that up to you.

‘Bazz,’ who has shown he has the ability to hit the outside shot — in the D-League and with the Wolves — and make plays posting-up smaller defenders, didn’t play very well during the seven minutes of action he saw in the second quarter. Muhammad was one-of-five from the field, and only scored two points.

A little over the 5:00 minute mark, Barea knocked down two free-throws and the Wolves were in business — on the road and ahead by 18 points. Although the starters had checked back in, the game began turning into a gothic horror story as things were winding down in the first half. Thomas Robinson, who replaced the struggling Wright, came off the Blazers’ bench and showed anyone watching what it means to be a hustler. In the final two minutes of the first half, Robinson scored four points and snatched four rebounds, he relentlessly earned the right to play the majority of minutes at forward, in Aldridge’s absence, throughout the remainder of the game. Portland ended the half on an 8-0 run, but the Wolves led at halftime — 60-52 — by a mere 8 points, despite, at one point, having created a significant deficit.

Second Half

After grabbing an offensive rebound, Rubio found an open Budinger and the Wolves opened up the scoring after halftime after Bud’s three-pointer fell through the net. After that, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run and the score remained close during the third quarter. However, Portland’s effort on the boards and in the paint was the difference throughout the remainder of the game. The Blazers attained 12 points in the paint, while the Wolves — lacking any presence at the center position — managed to score only four. Portland had out-rebounded Minnesota in the frame, 15-7.

Lillard and Batum, who together accounted for 27 of the Blazers 52 first-half points, began heating up after halftime and scored 10 apiece, shooting a combined 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from ‘downtown’. Batum managed to grab four rebounds and also had two assists, while Lillard showed his ability to pass also — ‘the Dame Monster’ had three assists of his own.

This following sequence essentially encapsulates the way things went after the Wolves found themselves up by 18 points during the second quarter. The Blazers simply worked, hustled, and made everything harder for the visiting team.

With just over two minutes to play until the final quarter, after six lead changes and having been tied four separate times thus far, Batum drained a three-pointer (assisted by the still-hustling Robinson) that gave the Blazers an edge, 82-80. Shortly after a Barea miss and – yet another – Robinson rebound, the ball found a streaking Batum and the frenchmen scored the final points of the third and Portland took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

  • Rubio and Cunningham sat on the bench.
  • Love was the only starter to score, he had three points.
  • Shabazz played all 12 minutes, didn’t score once, and was 0 for 3 from the field.
  • Budinger played 18 seconds. Yes, that is correct — 18 seconds.
  • Barea, although being a major reason the game was a contest for as long as it was, committed five fouls (FIVE) and made some of the usual boneheaded plays we’re used to seeing him make when things go awry. (He scored six points on 2 of 6 FG shooting)

No, the Wolves didn’t overcome the small, four-point deficit that they faced entering the quarter — nor was there a moment where it looked as if they were going to do so. It was worse than watching paint dry, and it took every ounce of fanship inside of me to refrain from turning the game off and flicking on the True Blood (which I didn’t watch live because of the game, and my commitment to covering this team).

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

  • Damian Lillard — 32 points, 11 of 17 FG, 5 of 8 3PT FG, 5 of 5 from the charity stripe. The guy, he’s good.
  • Kevin Love — The game was ugly, but not ugly enough for me to spite the Wolves by leaving them out of the ‘Three Stars’ portion of this recap. Love scored 31, albeit on only 11 of 21 shooting (with a less than stellar shot selection) and grabbed 10 rebounds
  • Thomas Robinson — 14 points in 32 minutes. 18 rebounds (11 defensive and 7 offensive) and a +/- rating of +19. Look at this way, Brewer’s +/- was -19. Because math is hard, I did it for you — that’s a difference of 38.

For the optimistic, Pekovic is expected to return at some point during this road trip — my guess is Martin will, too. Tomorrow night the Wolves play the Phoenix Suns, who were defeated last night by the Houston Rockets; this keeps hope for the 8th and final playoff slot in the superior Western Conference alive. If Pek and K-Mart (K-Target to some) don’t make their return tomorrow, in Phoenix, they’ll have three additional days to recover before the Wolves play the Kings – in Sacramento – on Saturday. Here’s a tweet from John letting you know how things stand.

Timberwolves Blow Out Jazz Behind Love’s First Career Triple-Double

Lovetripledouble

Game Summary

Still without starting center Nikola Pekovic and starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, the Timberwolves played their second game since the All-Star break in a matchup against the lowly Utah Jazz. Utah received some unwelcome news that starting center Derrick Favors would miss Saturday night’s contest with a hip injury, and in his place, 21-year-old Turkish center Enes Kanter would get the start. Despite his improved play as of late, there is no denying the struggles the Jazz have had when Kanter has been in the starting lineup this season. Being matched up with Kevin Love did not appear to help, either.

With Pekovic sidelined for the eleventh straight game with bursitis in his right ankle and Ronny Turiaf out indefinitely with a knee injury, Minnesota went smaller with the 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham starting alongside Love in Minnesota’s frontcourt. Faced against a clearly inferior opponent, the Wolves lack of size did not pose any serious mismatch problems given the disparity in talent between the two clubs. [Read more...]

Game Recap: Wolves-Pacers (But really, it’s way more than that)

 

I may speak for many other Wolves fans — but by no means do my opinions represent the thoughts of the entire fanbase — when I say that I’m pretty much over the, “Kevin Love is going to eventually go elsewhere, so the Wolves better just sell him while they can still get something of value,” baseless thought process. Most of the time, because of the tireless narratives, it’s the ignorant, and oblivious, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers that are responsible for these warrantless rumors. Yesterday morning, Love was quoted in GQ saying something that allowed those who share my opinion to exhale — for the time being.

“People think it’s so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” Love said. “And I’m not shitting on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.”

Yesterday, I tweeted out a picture of the Wolves upcoming 10 games. This is that picture.

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The Wolves, with trade rumors and Love drama swirling about the twitter verse, just need to keep things together if they hope to start, and complete, an improbable – post All-Star break – run into the postseason. If they were going to whether to storm last night’s game against Indiana, at home, would be a nice place to start.

The Pacers entered the Target Center last night as an overwhelming favorite, tied in the loss column with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and fighting to keep the NBA’s best record. As we know, the Wolves are still scrambling to come up with an identity. The game tipped-off with less than 24 hours remaining until the trade deadline. Rick Adelman rolled out Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger (part of a rumor that would package him and J.J. Barea and send them to the Memphis Grizzlies), Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Ronnie Turiaf to matchup with George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert.

First Half

Typically, the Pacers rugged, slow-paced grindhouse style of basketball compensates for mistakes made on the offensive end. However, Indiana turned the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes and the Wolves took advantage by getting up-the-floor in transition en route to eight fastbreak points. Love made three, of four, three point attempts and scored 12 points in the frame and the Wolves led the Pacers by 12; 30-18.

Wolves bench players; Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng, didn’t necessarily need to gain ground, but were going to need to withstand a veteran Pacers second-unit to withhold the early lead while Love and the starters rested — this would be a theme throughout the game.

Barea, Cunningham and Shved accounted for 14 of 22 second quarter points (Love tacked on eight) and Mbah a Moute played stifling defense against Lance Stephenson to help hold Indiana to only 21 second-quarter points. Both squads had 24 points in the paint, the Pacers held the advantage in second-chance points (6-2) but the fastbreak continued to be the difference; Rubio, Brewer, but mainly Love’s outlet passing, gave the Wolves a 12 to 2 advantage in fastbreak points. At halftime the scoreboard read, 52-39, in favor of the Pups. 

Second Half

Any fan in attendance yesterday could justify paying face value for a ticket, even if they only caught the third-quarter. Love and George, each team’s superstar, went shot-for-shot – basket-for-basket- as both played all 12 minutes — the two each scored 18 points. There are some who say Love is less of a superstar than he is a stat-sheet stuffer; a good player on a bad team with an opportunity to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s quarters like this one that prove otherwise.

Through three Love had 37 and the Wolves led the Pacers by 10, 82-72, but, because of the things we’ve seen happen during the final quarter — no lead is safe, ever. Yet, to the relief of fans – and bloggers – alike, there was no tragic fourth-quarter collapse. Pacers coach Frank Vogel waived the proverbial white flag with around three minutes to play. The Wolves won a game they weren’t expected, and weren’t supposed, to win — keeping that sliver of hope for a postseason appearance intact.

 

 

This is the type of crap that allows unfounded rumors to exist. If you don’t know Peter Vecsey, well, neither do I — he’s a guy I, and many others, follow on Twitter — but never had I thought of him as a media member. He would continue.

 

 

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Vecsey do anything like this, or it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed — either way, it’s garbage. Vecsey was soon debunked by Flip Saunders.

For now, the season isn’t a complete loss — nor is there reason to give up hope completely. Wolves beat the Pacers, the NBA’s best team, on national television. Love, without the aid of Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic, led the Wolves over the Pacers in front of a national televised audience. You’re reading that correctly, so — are the pieces in place around K-Love not good enough? I doubt it. They just haven’t gotten it done, some blame the players — some point to the coaching — but health has been the issue.

Earlier this season Turiaf went down to an elbow injury, Rick Adelman then went and played Pekovic more minutes than Pek had ever played before. Eventually, the Wolves 295 pound center would succomb to an injury of his own. It’s unfortunate timing, really. Martin will be evaluated tomorrow and is traveling with the team on the upcoming five-game road trip. We don’t know when Pekovic will be back, he missed 20 games last season and it’s likely he won’t be back for another week or so. I will notice that the previous sentence is speculation, not an accurate report.

– The 2:00PM CST trade deadline came and left without the Wolves making any moves. Rumored players on their way out the door, Barea, Budinger and – as always – Love — they’re all still here. Earlier today Wolves PR gave us more about Love and what he thinks about all of this, turns out he’s tired of it too.

 

Here’s that picture again.

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The Trail Blazers will be without LaMarcus Aldridge until early next week, so Saturday’s matchup in Portland is toss-up. The Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, and Toronto Raptors are the difficult games during this stretch, while the Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks are all reeling at this point in the season.

The Wolves will need to keep winning in order to keep bad press away, last night’s win against the Pacers was a good, though unexpected, place to start.

 

 

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2014 All Star Weekend Wrap-Up: Kevin Love Spotlight

This past weekend, Kevin Love represented the Minnesota Timberwolves in New Orleans for the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend. On Saturday, Love competed in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest in an attempt to take home a second title. The following evening, Love scored 13 points in his first All-Star game as a starter.  Despite Love’s and his team’s effort, the West came up on the losing side of the 163-155 final score.

 

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest (Saturday, Feb 15)

Although the league’s top three-point shooters tend to be guards, the 6’10″ Love breaks the trend as a long-ball-shooting power forward. In 2012, Love won the Footlocker Three-Point Contest after an intense shootout with Kevin Durant. Following that contest two years ago, NBA’s Shaun Powell wrote the following:

“Love is the strangest of power forwards–someone who can change a game either in the paint or beyond the arc. Someone who rebounds with abandon but also has the touch of a diamond-cutter from deep.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

This year, Love hoped to take back the title. Prior to the contest, No. 42 told Timberwolves web editor Mark Remme that the one thing he didn’t want was to shoot first. “I jinxed myself,” said Love when he found himself called on to lead off the event. Love scored 16 points in the contest, but it proved insufficient to move past the first round.

Remme explains how this year’s competition looked different in a few ways. The East and West were grouped individually, and the first-round leader from each conference  advanced to the championship. Another adjustment was how the ball racks and money balls were arranged. Four racks had four regular balls with one money ball, while one rack—placed in any of the five spots around the arc that the shooter wants—had five money balls. All money balls were worth two points, while regular balls were worth one.

Unfortunately for Love, he couldn’t wrack up those bonus points.

After the first round, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli advanced over Love with 19 points, and Washington’s Bradley Beal moved on with 21. Each player scored 19 apiece in the finals, spurring a tie-breaker. In the end, Belinelli walked away with 24 points and the 2014 title.

“My first time, it was a lot of fun,” Love said. “Second time, just as fun. Well, I shouldn’t say just as fun—I didn’t walk away with the trophy or a win. But I still got in there and enjoyed myself, that’s what it’s all about.”

 

2014 NBA All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star game was, as always, a battle of the offenses. Flawless passes, full-court lobs, and high point totals highlighted Smoothie King Center on Sunday evening. This year’s starting lineups were as follows:

 

West

East

F Kevin Durant  (OKC) Paul George  (IND)
F Blake Griffin  (LAC) Carmelo Anthony  (NYK)
C Kevin Love  (MIN) LeBron James  (MIA)
G James Harden  (HOU) Dwayne Wade  (MIA)
G Stephen Curry  (GS) Kyrie Irving  (WAS)

Irving led the East with 31 points, while Durant and Griffin each added 38 points for the West. Love tallied 13 points (including two three-point buckets) and nine rebounds in 32 minutes on the floor.

“It was great to be part of it,” Love said. “It was a lot of fun—my first time starting in the game and also my first time finishing.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Although the Western Conference teams hold overall better records and seem to consistently be the better of the two conferences, it was the East that delivered a stronger performance in the All-Star game. It can be expected that most players don’t take the All-Star game too seriously — after all, no one wants to suffer an injury in such a contest. However, there was definitely an edge of competition Sunday evening.  “We wanted this win,” James said post game. “They beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights, so to be able to come through being down 18 was huge.”

“We took this [game] personal a bit,” Irving added.

Irving shot an incredible 82.4 percent en route to his final numbers of 31 points, five rebounds and 14 assists. Not surprisingly, the Washington guard took home the 2014 All-Star MVP honors.

True to tradition, the game exchanged leads a few times throughout the first three quarters.  The score even remained close during most of the fourth quarter. In the end, however, the East proved the stronger shooters. Overall, the East shot 60.9 percent from the field (to the West’s 51 percent), 31.8 percent from behind the three-point line, and 100 percent from the charity stripe. Only 17 free throws were attempted cumulatively, as the All-Star defense was true to form: barely present.

(photo credit: kare11.com)

(photo credit: kare11.com)

Love noticeably enjoyed his court time with fellow All-Starsboth teammates and opponents. At one point, Love and Irving shared a playful elbow bump on the court; the moment reflected a friendship the two have undoubtedly formed after starring together off the court in Pepsi MAX’s Uncle Drew series last season.

“Kyrie played awesome tonight,” Love said post game. “It was a well-deserving MVP, and there are a lot of guys that put on a show tonight. I think the fans got their money’s worth.”

This year’s All-Star performance was flashy in more ways than just the slam dunks and full-court passes. True to New Orleans’ fashion, all the players donned colorful socks and tennis shoes that reflected a Mardi Gras atmosphere. The Western team wore red and purple socks, the Eastern team wore blue and green socks, and all the jerseys featured the city’s well-recognized fleur-de-lis.

The evening had no shortage of music, either.  The rosters and starting lineups were introduced through a concert by Pharrell Williams. The show also featured artists Nelly, Busta Rhymes, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Love.  “Hopefully I’ll be back in New York next year and enjoying the festivities again.”

 

In-Arena Moment:

Following the first quarter, former NBA All-Star Magic Johnson encouraged the other All-Star players to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who turned 80 on Sunday.

 

 

 

Recap: Wolves defeat Nuggets, move ahead in win column out West

Earlier this season Rick Adelman described the Timberwolves as a team that hasn’t done anything yet, and for the rest of the way , his team must walk unconquerable path to achieve what some considered to be the ceiling, or highest potential reward, of potential success this season– a postseason appearance. Even to the most hopeful minded optimist, playoff hopes are all-but lost. Yet, there’s always the chance of a certain anomaly that’s unaccounted for, or, circumstantial exemption. Each defeat eliminates another compelling, post-all-star-break, narrative that those refusing to give up still clutch tightly.

The Denver Nuggets, because of injuries, brought a 10-man roster and started Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Durrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried, and J.J. Hickson. Notice, there are no true centers listed for the Nuggets — I’d say this was an easy victory, but, it’s the Wolves. Without the services of Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Martin, the Wolves started Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Ronnie Turiaf.

First Half

The Wolves began the game on a 7-0 run after a Budinger 3pt-shot, a Rubio reverse – wide open layup – followed by an 18-footer from the point guard with a highly criticized jumper. After a pair of Love free-throws, the Nuggets finally got on the board after a Foye 3pt-pointer from the top of the key. After a Budinger three, his second of the game, it was 17-3 and it was like all the disappointment of the season thus far ceased to exist. Well, not really.

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw burned two timeouts before the 7:00 minute mark, that has to be a record.

Shortly before the end of the first quarter, Foye accidentally elbowed Rubio and, after a heated explanation to an arguably blind official (Steve Anderson), Rubio headed to the locker room — he was bleeding from the chin.

The Wolves have reached the 30 point mark during the first quarter 20 times this season, they’re the second team to do so (Houston Rockets). They led 31-19 after the opening period.

A 9-4 run that started the second quarter, and the first quarter in its entirety, led me to believe that the Wolves would have no trouble winning this game, moreover, it inclined me to believe that the Nuggets were incapable of ever, not losing, to begin with. J.J. Barea scored his 6th, 7th, and 8th point of the game on a three with a little over 6:00 to play in the half that put the lead to 22.

This, that, and the other thing happened before the Wolves and Nuggets went into halftime — 61-41.

Second Half

Call it pessimistic, defeatism, or just all around negativity — the second half went by smoothly, yet I felt no excitement. Through three quarters Love had scored 32 points, half of the Nuggets output going into the final frame. Some label these games, blowouts, others call them laughers, the Wolves led Denver 89-64 with only 12 minutes to play. Veteran guard A.J. Price got some run, as did Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Eventually, the game ended. Things, when looking at the bigger picture, didn’t really improve — but there’s still positives to take away going forward.

The Wolves aren’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason, and until they are, every win contributes to overcoming proverbial, insurmountable odds. Wednesday’s victory over Nuggets was exactly what they needed, and in more ways than one — the Wolves jumped over the Nuggets in the win column, and a competing conference foe tallied a loss on the same evening.

Three Stars 

  1. Kevin Love — 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists.
  2. J.J. Barea — 18 points, a perfect 8 of 8 from the field, 2 of 2 from behind the arc and only 1 turnover.
  3. Corey Brewer — 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting, seemed to enjoy getting open in transition against his former club.

Takeaways

Just keeping plugging away is all this team can do. The injuries, disappointments, and doubt going forward regarding Kevin Love’s future, Adelman’s presence – or lack there of – and playoff chances — those can all be set aside.

For the rest of the year, the Wolves have nothing to lose. It’s put up, or shut up, because there isn’t much substance left to nitpick, for now.

 

 

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