Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Utah Jazz, 1/2/13

Kevin Love meets his former teammate Al Jefferson in Utah on Wednesday.

Kevin Love meets his former teammate Al Jefferson in Utah on Wednesday.

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves come off another extended break and haven’t played since beating Phoenix Saturday night in front of a packed Target Center.  Am I the only one who enjoyed the lockout condensed schedule where teams definitively played at least three games a week and many times four or more?  I can’t be.  The Wolves seemingly have had these extended layoffs every other week.  In any case, the victory vs. the Suns kept the Pups above the Mason-Dixon Line and moved them to 14-13 on the year.

Ricky Rubio should be back in action on Wednesday night vs. the Jazz after missing Saturday’s game with back spasms.  Not to understate this too much, but he’s desperately needed given the inconsistent to weak performances the team is getting from anyone not named Alexey Shved in the backcourt.  Adelman has all but waved the white flag at this point, using Derrick Williams at the SG position on Saturday night.  That’s right the guy that can’t or won’t be a SF for this team was moved to SG.  Can we please sign a wing player before Shved and Kirilenko literally crumble?

The Jazz come into the game on a three game losing streak, moving the team to 15-17 on the season and into the cellar of the Northwest Division.  For what it is worth this early on, they are 1.5 games behind the Pups (and Blazers) for the 8th seed in the conference.  The Jazz are in the bottom third (22nd) in the league in team defense, giving up 99.6 ppg so far this season.  Former Pup, Big Al (Jefferson, not our very own) “leads the way” for the Jazz, averaging 17 & 10.

In our Western Conference Preview before the season we had the Jazz ranked as the 9 seed in the conference, just behind the Twolves and hinted that their frontcourt was a little too crowded.  This seems to be coming to fruition, as Jefferson and Millsap lead the team in scoring and rebounding, while Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Marvin Williams struggle to find extended minutes and their roles in the rotation.

This is yet another game against a Western Conference opponent that the Pups will be fighting with over rights to go into the playoffs and/or seeding.  It would be nice to hold a few tiebreakers over these teams and we get our first chance to do so against Utah on Wednesday.

Player to watch:

Ricky Rubio – Rubio will be coming off a full week of rest given the back spasms he was experiencing before Saturday’s game.  The Jazz offer up a good opportunity for Ricky to shine in his 24 minutes or so, given their depth chart currently looks like this: Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, and Mo Williams.  Rubio needs to get going and quite honestly, the Twolves need him to as well.

Match-up to watch:

Nikola Pekovic vs. Al Jefferson.  I have always liked Big Al but he has always looked like an above average player that puts up nice stats and can lead a team to mediocrity.  This hasn’t changed since being traded by the Twolves for $0.14 on the dollar.  Pekovic should be able to push Jefferson off the block and keep Al from having a big game down low in the paint.  Actually, since calling Nikola out in early December for inconsistent play, he has been on a tear.  He has scored at least 18 points in 8 of the last 9 games with the Houston game on 12/26 being the one outlier.  He’s also thrown up double digit rebounds in 6 of these same 9 games.  If the NBA hadn’t gotten rid of the “Center” position in the All-Star game, you would probably start to hear some rumbling about Pekovic warranting a spot on the roster.

Predictions:

Given the extended time off and the lack of guard play for the Jazz, this feels like it should be a victory for the Pups and we see big games from Rubio and Shved.

Final score prediction: Twolves 104, Jazz 97

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Alexey Shved
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 114 – Dallas Mavericks 106

Photo Credit: Associated Press - Genevieve Ross

Photo Credit: Associated Press – Genevieve Ross

The Timberwolves returned to Target Center to complete the end of a back-to-back and got the boost they needed from the return of Boy Wonder, Ricky Rubio.  In just 18 minutes of action, Rubio razzled and dazzled the packed house that came to see his return, with 8 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.  Big Al is going to ask me to stop doing recaps if this keeps up because the homerism I project when talking about Rubio is borderline nauseating.

Here’s how things went down.  The Wolves opened up with Ridnour, Shved, Kirilenko, Cunningham, and Pekovic.  Kevin Love was out of the game due to flu-like symptoms, not his injured hand from Friday night’s game in NOLA.  It is a bit interesting that Cunningham got the start over Derrick Williams, but he’s certainly earned it so far this season.  The Mavs opened up with super-villain Derek Fisher, OJ Mayo, Dahntay Jones, Shawn Marion, and Chris Kaman.

The Wolves ran virtually the same play on the offensive end as they did in Friday’s game for an easy layup to start the game.  However, after that opening bucket the Wolves struggled through the next few minutes, falling behind a Derek Fisher led Mavs team that was coming off a horrendous loss the night prior in Toronto.  The defensive effort of the Pups early was awful, allowing the Mavs to do virtually whatever they wanted and building a lead of 20-9.  Minnesota answered with a five point run by Alexey Shved’s three pointer and alley-oop assist to AK47.

With the Wolves down 28-18 and 1:47 left in the 1st quarter, Boy Wonder checked into the game to a standing ovation.  Ricky wore a white brace on his left knee.  His first points came at the FT line after being fouled by Derek Fisher on an in-bounds play.  Adelman went with an interesting lineup to close out the quarter, with Rubio, Barea, and Shved all on the floor at the same time.  Rubio closed the quarter with a nice skip pass to JJ Barea under the basket which led to two points on a goaltending call.  However, at the end of the quarter, the Mavs were still up by 10 points, 32-22.

The Wolves opened the 2nd quarter with the same five that ended the 1st quarter – Rubio, Barea, Shved, DWill, and Stiemsma.  Rubio led the way early in the quarter with a few flashy passes and his first bucket of the season.  After Shved hit a three pointer, the Mavs quickly called a TO.  Over the next few minutes, the Wolves slowly but surely cut into the Mavs lead eventually taking a 40-39 advantage due to another Shved three pointer.

With just over five minutes in the quarter, Stiemsma laid out Derek Fisher on a pick and I couldn’t have been happier.  A few seconds later, Stiemsma blocked Fisher’s shot on a drive but the refs made a terrible call and gave Fisher two FT’s to tie the game at 42.  One minute later, Barea drew an offensive foul on Fisher which led to Carlisle replacing him on the floor.  Things got very chippy in the game and it was a good move by the Mavs coach before things got too far out of control.

The Pups finished the half on a small run to take a nine point lead into the locker room, up 54-45.  Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Ricky Rubio is a golden god
  • I’m slowly talking myself into a Kevin Love trade – more on this later in the week
  • Alexey Shved and Ricky Rubio are golden gods (see what I’m doing here?)

The Wolves and Mavs both opened up the 3rd quarter with the same starting five from the beginning of the night.  Over the first six minutes of the quarter, Minnesota built its lead up to 15 points and it looked like it might get ugly again for the Mavs.  However, instead of quitting, the Mavs put up a quick 7-0 run to cut the lead to 8 points with OJ Mayo guiding much of the run.

Surprise surprise as Ricky returned to the court to close out the 3rd quarter and helped give the Wolves a few easy buckets.  After Marion hit a buzzer beater to end the quarter, the Wolves held an 80-70 lead going into the final twelve minutes … or so you would have thought.

Similar to the Wolves ‘slowly but surely’ run earlier in the game, over the course of the first six minutes of 4th quarter, the Mavs cut into the Wolves lead.  After cutting the lead to one possession a few times, Luke Ridnour provided the answer multiple times; once with a three pointer as the shot clock expired, a second with a running floater.  The incredibly annoying Derek Fisher finally put the Mavs over the top with a four point play, despite the foul call being a “little” questionable.

With two minutes to go, Rubio stepped to the line and missed both FT’s.  On the other end of the court, Ricky was called for a foul on a Derek Fisher jump shot.  Let’s reiterate a “little” questionable on that one as well.  Coming back down the court, Rubio crossed Fisher over and drew his 6th foul and this time, Rubio hit both FT’s to tie the game at 100.

After trading baskets and a lot of confusion between the referees, the Wolves had multiple chances to win the game as the clock wound down.  Rubio missed a three pointer and then Pekovic and AK47 missed a few tip-ins as the clock expired.  Tied at 102, we were heading to overtime.

The Wolves scored the first 10 points of OT led by AK47’s efforts.  That was all she wrote as the Mavs looked gassed, particularly Shawn Marion who had a few awful looking FG attempts.  The Pups were able to grab a few offensive rebounds that prevented the Mavs from making any type of run in the extra frame.

The final score was 114-106 with the Wolves moving their win streak to four games going into a big week, visiting Florida (don’t send anyone home between the Orlando and Miami games please) and then hosting Oklahoma City.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Ricky Rubio (come on man!)
  2. Nikola Pekovic
  3. Alexey Shved

Preview: Wolves/Mavs – The Return of Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio returns to game action since he fell to a torn ACL on March 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo Credit: Fox Sports)

Ricky Rubio returns to game action since he fell to a torn ACL on March 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo Credit: Fox Sports)

Setting the stage:

First and foremost, if all goes to plan, allow me to start with the following: He’s baaaaaaaack!!!  Ricky Rubio is scheduled to make his season debut tonight for the Pups against the Mavs!  Boy wonder will look to test his leg and self-confidence for the first time and I couldn’t be happier.  If there is a late change in this plan and Rubio doesn’t suit up the Wolves, pretend this paragraph never happened.

The Pups are back in Minnesota after a quick trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game, which stretched the team’s winning streak to three games and puts them two games over .500 and in 6th place in the Western Conference.  The Wolves have shown a better ability to put the ball in the hoop this week and have gone over 100 points in each game.  Their team defense remains very strong when AK47 is in the lineup and maintains its 4th place ranking in the NBA in points allowed per game at 93.1.  At the time of this writing, there is no new news on Kevin Love’s right hand.  The x-rays taken last night were negative, so unless something pops up when the players arrive at Target Center, I would expect him to play tonight.  (We’ll keep you updated in the Comments section below once an announcement is made, one way or the other.)

The Mavs come into Target Center off of an embarrassing loss in Toronto on Friday night, losing 95-74, scoring less than 20 points in each of the final three quarters.  Ouch.  I very clearly overrated the Mavs this season, even without Dirk Nowitzki.  Maybe this is an overstatement, as they are also treading water, just not as well as the Pups have thus far.  The Mavs are only one game below .500 right now.

While Dirk Nowitzki continues to sit, the Mavs are being led by OJ Mayo and several old timers, particularly Vince Carter and Shawn Marion.  Mayo is, of course, the one player that I would have liked to have seen David Kahn and company pursue this past offseason.  When he signed his two year contract with a player option, I wasn’t sure why or how we missed out on him.  While turning the ball over a bit too much, his overall play this season has been superb.  While we wait and see how and when Brandon Roy will return to action, one can only continue to wonder if the Wolves will go after Mayo a bit harder this coming offseason if he does in fact opt out of his contract.  (Please!)

Player to watch:

Ricky Rubio – Seriously, did you think it would be anyone else?  Rubio’s return should light a spark on this club and move beyond this week’s negative headlines and sound bytes from its other cornerstone.  It will be interesting to see how Adelman handles Ricky’s time on the court.  You want the guy playing enough to get into a groove and to start improving his conditioning.  At the same time, you still need to be careful of overworking him too soon.  Much of Ricky’s performance will depend on his self-confidence with the knee, particularly on cutting to the basket and horizontal movement and shifting on the defensive end.  I would love to see him drain a three pointer on his first shot attempt just to get everyone up and out of their seats (again).

I’m not sure I’m adequately detailing how exciting it is to have Rubio back in the lineup.  Just know that I’ll likely be giving a standing ovation from a living room in New Jersey tonight.  Don’t judge me.

Match-up to watch:

Nikola Pekovic vs. Chris Kaman.  Pek has had his ups and downs so far this month, with a few quiet games on the offensive side of the ball.  It will be important for Pek to get going early and often.  He’ll need to control the paint and try to draw a few fouls on Dallas to get them in trouble, as they lack depth at the Center position.  Despite limited minutes and an off night on Friday, Kaman is on an incredibly productive run for the Mavs, shooting the ball at an efficient clip (53% on the season) and putting up a career high PER right now at 17.4.  He might be a tough matchup for Pek given his desire to face up to the basket and hit short jumpers in and around the paint.

Predictions:

The Mavs will be looking for revenge after we beat them in Dallas earlier in the season, but there is no way the Pups lose at home on the night Ricky Rubio returns to the court.

Final score prediction: Twolves 104, Mavs 98

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Ricky Rubio (I’m a complete homer on this one, only once though, I promise.  Maybe.)
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. Chris Kaman

Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 105 – Philadelphia 76ers 88

Timberwolves’ Alexey Shved hit 4 of 7 three-point attempts and powered Minnesota past the 76ers (Photo Credit: Howard Smith/USA Today Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves stormed into the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night and nailed a remarkable 13 three-pointers en route to a 105-88 victory on the first night of a road double-header. Alexey Shved led the way for the Wolves, contributing a very impressive 17 points (5-8 FG, 4-7 3FG), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 3 turnovers in 29 minutes of action.

The Russian free agent acquisition was virtually unstoppable tonight and clearly had the hot hand for Minnesota. Shved dazzled a Philadelphia crowd that witnessed the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA shoot a combined 13-25 from beyond the arc, good for 52%. With the game separated by double-digits in favor of the Pups for what felt like the entire contest, Shved and backup PG JJ Barea did a tremendous job of managing the game in the second half and never allowed a doubt about what team was going to walk away with the W. Barea was a game-high +12 on the court and finished with 11 points (5-10 FG), 10 dimes, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and only 2 turnovers in 27 minutes.

The first half of play was about as one sided as they come, as Minnesota nailed 7 of their 12 three-point attempts and led the 76ers by a score of 65-57. Remarkably, Philadelphia committed only 3 more turnovers than the Wolves and was nearly even with the Pups on both rebounds and assists. However, the Wolves shot nearly 60% from the field with 10 Timberwolves scoring in the first half alone.

Although I feel like the top performance of tonight’s game goes to Shved, it is very difficult to ignore the performance that Josh Howard gave the Pups tonight. From the get go, Howard was constantly in positions to score and did a great job anticipating passes and getting his arm in passing lanes. He played with the relentless fire that we had grown used to seeing during his All-Star days in Dallas, and quite honestly he was everything the player he used to be in this game. In 29 minutes, Howard scored 16 points (7-12 FG, 2-3 3FG) while grabbing 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of his Timberwolves career. Howard simply out-hustled every player on the court, his own teammates included, while his jumper was clearly on. It was extremely satisfying to witness Howard give a performance like this, given how saddening it was to never see Brandon Roy play like his former self while in a Wolves uniform.

This might be the longest I have gone in a game recap without mentioning Kevin Love. The reason for this is that somehow, some way, the team did not need any of Love’s duties tonight. Playing only 26 minutes, K-Love scored a season-low 6 points to add with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Confusingly, Nikola Pekovic also ended the night with 6 points and 5 assists, while playing 27 minutes. The Wolves shot so well from nearly everywhere on the floor, especially from three-point range, that they appeared to have no use for their impressive frontcourt duo. Instead, the Pups went with smaller looks as Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham both played key roles in tonight’s blowout.

Dante Cunningham played his role to near perfection, consistently getting open for 18-20 footers that he has been able to knock down so effectively this season. Cunningham finished with 13 points (6-10 FG), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and no turnovers in 25 minutes. Every day I love the swap of Cunningham for Ellington more and more.

Williams, who is often the casualty of Minnesota’ frontcourt depth, took advantage of 16 minutes of playing time and nailed 3 of his 4 three-point attempts, finishing with 10 points, 4 rebounds and not a single turnover. It was great to see D-Will get in a groove from beyond the arc, because if he can start to gain a rhythm shooting the ball, he could be a tremendous asset to Minnesota down the line.

The Timberwolves bench outscored the 76ers bench 57-23, and completely dominated with either unit in the game. Although both of Minnesota’s starting guards played very well, the Wolves second unit guards played so well and were able to give both Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee a breather before their matchup in Boston tomorrow night. Both Ridnour and Lee finished with 10 points apiece and played 21 and 19 minutes, respectively.

I cannot fail to mention Greg Stiemsma, who fed off the energy and optimism and provided solid interior defense in 18 minutes. Despite committing 3 fouls in such a short amount of time, the Stiemer was very effective and provided 6 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block.

I do not expect the Pups to shoot 53% FG in tomorrow’s matchup in Boston, and the team will need to continue to move the ball and rotate on defense as well as they did tonight. Pekovic and Love were able to get some good rest tonight, and that should help them against a Celtics team that has been called “soft” by some this season. Here are my Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Alexey Shved
  2. Josh Howard
  3. JJ Barea

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Milwaukee Bucks 85

Jim Mone – Associated Press

Tonight’s game from the Target Center featured two of the colder teams in the league.  I don’t mean the weather in their hometowns, but how they were playing coming into the game.  Both teams have been struggling to win games more recently and both teams have been woeful in their respective three point shooting – percentage wise, the worst two teams in the league.

Earlier in the day the Wolves announced that Andrei Kirilenko was going to miss another game due to his back spasms.  As if that weren’t enough, the team also announced that Kevin Love would be a game time decision due to food poisoning.  Love decided to give it a go and the Pups opened up the game with Ridnour, Barea, Howard, Love, and Pekovic.  Barea got the nod tonight over Malcolm Lee in an effort to better match up with the Bucks’ backcourt of Jennings and Ellis.  After ruining 40% of the following sentence, Milwaukee opened up with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, John Henson, and Samuel Dalembert.

Early on, both teams looked good on the offensive end of the floor and/or woeful on the defensive side.  John Henson had three offensive rebounds and tip-ins in the first three minutes of the game, largely out-jumping Love on the board.  However, Love had his jumper going, hitting his first two shots, including one from beyond the arc.

A very entertaining 1st quarter ended with the Bucks leading 30-29.  Pekovic had a monster quarter for the Wolves with 12 & 8 playing the entire twelve minutes.  Had I written a summary after the first six minutes, I would have said JJ Barea had a nice quarter, as he had 4 quick assists earlier in the quarter.  However, as soon as Ridnour went to the bench and Barea moved over to PG, he morphed into “pound the ball on the floor and then do something annoying” JJ Barea.  Probably not to anyone’s surprise, the Bucks backcourt combined for 14 points in the quarter.  Also worth noting, Larry Sanders finished the quarter with 6 blocks.  Six!  Granted, there was a flurry of activity that led to a few of these, but that is still impressive.

Both teams took a significant step backwards in the first six minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Going into the first timeout of the quarter, the Wolves had retaken the lead 41-38 and it felt like no one had done much of anything positive in twenty minutes (real time).  Minnesota was able to turn it around in the final minutes of the quarter while also holding Milwaukee to 17 points for the quarter.  At the half, the Pups held a 57-47 lead, which included an off balance three at the buzzer by Barea.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • After poking fun at John Henson in the game preview, it should have been assumed that he would have a nice half (10 & 7, largely from the 1st quarter though)
  • Derrick Williams had a nice half as well, with 4 points and 5 rebounds
  • The Twolves continue to miss too many FT’s, hitting 11 of 16 in the half
  • Love had a nice half but only played 15 minutes – the food poisoning limiting his time on the court

The Wolves opened up the 3rd quarter with the same starting five that began the game and had two bad offensive sets.  On the first, the ball was swung around and Love missed a three pointer.  On the second, Love threw the ball away.  In fact, Love had a really bad quarter which led to the following perspective:

You may never see that again.  In fact, let’s hope we never see that again.

If the 2nd quarter was slow, the 3rd quarter could be defined as sluggish.  With less than three minutes to go in the quarter, the teams combined for 15 points.  The Wolves went over six minutes without scoring a basket in the quarter.  Thankfully, the Bucks weren’t much better.  At the end of the quarter, the Wolves held a 68-63 lead despite scoring 11 points in the quarter.

The 4th quarter came to a halt when Beno Udrih drove to the lane and fell into the baseline cameras.  Udrih rolled his ankle and to be honest, I gagged a little when the Bucks broadcast put the replay in slow motion.  Hope that isn’t too serious for Beno but it wasn’t pretty.

Alexey Shved played quality minutes in the early stages of the 4th quarter, with good team defense and making a few baskets to help maintain the lead.  The sequence of the game came from JJ Barea with just over three minutes to go.  Love, who had another terrible shooting night, missed a jumper but JJ grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out.  Seconds later, Barea got the ball back and drove to the basked, hitting a runner in the paint to increase the Wolves lead to 11 points.

The Bucks made a small run with a few minutes left to go in the game to cut the lead to 8 points, but Shved answered the Bucks call again with a 27(-ish) foot dagger with the shot clock running down.  From that point, it was just a matter of semantics.  However, kudos must be given to the Bucks’ Larry Sanders, who scored a garbage bucket with seconds remaining to give himself a triple double, with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocks.  Wow!

The final score of the game was 95-85, as the Pups did enough to win in the 2nd half with a few key plays and never giving the Bucks too much momentum or confidence to push themselves over the hump.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. Larry Sanders

The Twolves are off for the next few days and swing over to the East coast (bias!) for games on Tuesday in Philadelphia and Wednesday in Boston.

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Los Angeles Clippers 101

Jeff Gross – Getty Images

Oh, how different the Staples Center is without Ricky Rubio on the court. Fresh off a win in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves marched into Los Angeles on Wednesday night to face the Clippers in the fourth and last game of their current road trip. Minnesota, who learned yesterday that star PG Ricky Rubio had been cleared to begin unrestricted practice with the team, was simply unable to contain Clippers perrenial All-Star Chris Paul and ultimately fell by a score of 101-95. CP3, who thrived in his matchups against Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea, did a masterful job of closing out the game for the Clippers and exploited Wolves guards for fourth-quarter mental mistakes that we were not used to seeing with Rubio on the floor late in games last season. Paul finished the night with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, 11 dimes, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of action.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Timberwolves guards played well as a whole throughout the entire contest. To sum up the performances of a few players based on a few late-game critical mistakes would be unfair and simply irrational, given their solid play throughout most of the game. Beginning with Ridnour, he forced the issue on a few passes in the final 4 minutes in a game that was ultimately seperated by a few points. Obviously, many people will rush to the judgement that Ridnour “played like crap” and should be either traded or dumped in some way, but what people are missing is that he is a valuable and integral part of this team and was outplayed in crunch time by possibly the best closer in the NBA, Chris Paul. There are no excuses for a couple of Ridnour’s 4 turnovers, but it must be understood that Ridnour is currently the first option at PG because of the absence of Ricky Rubio. Rubio, not Ridnour, will soon be the PG on the floor in the fourth quarters for the Wolves, and Ridnour will continue to serve as a very serviceable and above average backup PG once Ricky returns in a few weeks. Ridnour finished the night with 13 points (5-9 FG), 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes of play.

While the top storyline of Clippers-Wolves matchups is almost always the matchup of superstar PFs Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, it was neither of the two players who decided the outcome of this game. Love had a relatively poor night shooting as he converted on only 3 of his 12 FG attempts, while Griffin was restricted by foul trouble for a good portion of the second half. K-Love had a good night at the free throw line scoring 12 of his 19 points from the charity stripe to pair with 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes. Griffin ended with a line of 18 points (9-17 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 33 minutes on the floor.

Turnovers and defense were keys to the Clippers victory, as they committed only 10 turnovers to the Timberwolves 18, despite being heavily outrebounded by Minnesota 52-35. Clips center DeAndre Jordan had another wonderful game to add to his fantastic 2012-13 campaign, scoring 15 points while missing only 1 FG attempt and playing tremendous interior defense. Nikola Pekovic had his work cut out for him paired against the hyper-athletic 7-foot Jordan, and was only able to convert 5 of his 13 FG attempts on his way to 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In my personal opinion, Alexey Shved had the best performance out of all Timberwolves players as he was extremely effective in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Shved, who continues to backup Malcolm Lee at the off-guard position, scored 17 points on 5-12 shooting but knocked down 3 of his 6 three-point attempts, all of which seemed to come at crucial momentum-swinging points in the game. Shved has clearly gained the coaches trust to finish games, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunities given to him. Lee, who started at SG, played only 25 minutes while Shved logged 36, and I wonder if we will see another Russian added to the starting lineup in the coming weeks.

Andrei Kirilenko sat out Wednesday night’s game due to back spasms, and in his place Josh Howard received his first start of his young Wolves career. In 26 minutes, Howard finished with 7 points (3-9 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist.

Overall, last night was a good indicator of what Minnesota is missing from their point guards, and it will be tough to compete with teams that possess a closer like CP3 without Tricky Ricky. But do not worry Wolves fans, the time is almost near for our floppy-haired savior to return to game action. Here are the three stars of the game:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. DeAndre Jordan
  3. Alexey Shved

Minnesota Timberwolves 98 – Golden State Warriors 106

The Minnesota Timberwolves were back on the Target Center floor Friday night, hosting the Golden State Warriors.  Little change on the injury front for the Wolves, with Barea, Roy, and Pekovic all taking the night off again, perhaps due to the break the team has coming up (they don’t play again until Wednesday).  Josh Howard passed his physical and suited up for the team.

Tonight’s starting lineup for the Wolves was consistent with the past few games – Ridnour, Lee, Kirilenko, DWill, and Stiemsma.  Golden State opened up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, and Festus Ezeli – who has the greatest first name in the league … obviously.

The game opened up with a nice pace.  AK47 got off to a hot start with the team’s first seven points.  Similar to what I’ve said much of this week, DWill got off to a tough start with a few misses in close.  However, within two minutes he hit two jumpers near the top of the key, allowing the Target Center crowd to breathe a sigh of relief.  Just seeing the ball go through the hoop seemed to have paid off, as Derrick continued to shine, finishing the quarter with thirteen points.

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Pups held a five point lead, 27-22.  DWill and AK47’s output matched the Warriors in the quarter, accounting for the vast majority of the offense for the Wolves.  The Warriors scoring was evenly distributed throughout those that saw the floor in the quarter, with the only noteworthy piece for the opponent being that David Lee struggled from the field against DWill, shooting 1-5 from the field for two points.

The Wolves started the second quarter with a very different lineup, excluding Ridnour.  Shved, Howard, Cunningham, and Amundson joined Luke on the floor.  It was a quick start for the newest Pup, Josh Howard, as he grabbed a quick offensive rebound and hit a jump shot to open up the quarter.  Welcome to the Wolves!

Adelman’s second unit played very nicely in the quarter.  Shved, Howard, and Cunningham all played good defense, hit open shots, and helped build the lead to double digits.  However, the lead was short lived, as GS chipped away in the back half of the quarter, largely led by Carl Landry and David Lee.  At the half, the Warriors led 53-50 as the Wolves really fell apart in the final two minutes or so.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Derrick Williams, the Awakening?  15 points, with a strong outside jumper falling
  • Alexey Shved with another great showing – 12 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes.
  • David Lee and Carl Landry combined for 20 points and 10 rebounds in the half, Stiemsma is going to have to commit a hard foul in the 3rd quarter (he didn’t)

Both teams opened the second half with the same starting lineups, but the Wolves were completely outplayed to begin the quarter.  Shved replaced Malcolm Lee pretty quickly and I suspect that is (and should be) the end of the ‘Malcolm Lee as a starting SG’ plan.  The Wolves had to burn a quick timeout as the Warriors built the lead to nine.

Unfortunately for the Pups, momentum remained with the Warriors for the rest of the quarter, as the visitor extended its lead to 13 points at the end of the quarter, leading 82-69.  The Wolves continued to give up way too many points in the paint and went cold on the offensive end of the floor.  In a change of pace from the first half, the Warriors guards and wings led the way in the 3rd quarter, with Curry, Thompson, and Barnes all contributing.  In fact, at the end of the 3rd, all three of them were at least +17 on the floor for the game.  Ouch.

The first few minutes of the 4th quarter was a continuation of the 3rd.  The Warriors continued to hit from both the inside and outside.  Any time the Wolves would make a play or two to get the lead to around ten, the Warriors answered.  This lasted for the first six minutes of the quarter and then the Wolves came to life.  The latest comeback effort was led by, of course, Alexey Shved.

Alexey continues to be the sparkplug for this team in the 4th quarter.  He’s dishing and scoring and quite honestly, seems to have ice in his veins.  Maybe it is Russian Vodka?  In any case, Shved, Cunningham, and DWill all had strong 4th quarters cutting the lead to a one possession game at one point.  However, the Warriors didn’t lose their composure and were able to do enough to secure the win.  In the final minutes, the Pups missed a few shots from long range and a layup or two, leading to the team’s second consecutive loss on its home court.

Let’s hope the four nights off forthcoming allow the Pups to get healthy and this team can come out swinging next week and into the end of the month.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. David Lee
  2. Derrick Williams
  3. Alexey Shved