Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Los Angeles Lakers 111

Road To LegendGame Summary

The opening of a weekend back-to-back started Friday night at the Target Center with the old habitants of the Minneapolis area in for a visit.  The Timberwolves opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Lakers countered with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, and Pau Gasol.

As a quick aside, I have to say that the Wolves’ home crowd has been pretty impressive in recent weeks, particularly when considering the struggles the team have been going through.  Let’s give kudos to @TwolvesArmy and others!  That said, a lot of Lakers fans were in the crowd Friday night.  This can be best summed up by Ryan Tanke – Timberwolves SVP of Ticket Sales and Premium Seating.

 

The Lakers got off to a red hot start, opening up a quick 13-4 lead and forcing Adelman to use an early timeout.  Let’s move on, you are more likely aware of the reasons for these struggles and they have been common themes over the past few weeks.  Minutes later, Steve Nash blocked a jumper attempt by Ridnour and the tone had been set for the evening.

Going into the second timeout, the Lakers held a 27-12 lead.  The reason is simple – the team was “en fuego” from the field.  Asking Ridnour to match up with Kobe Bryant is quite unfair.  After the second timeout, Adelman finally made the switch and brought in Alexey Shved.  Despite Shved’s shooting efforts to end the quarter, it wasn’t enough to slow down the Lakers, who shot a scorching 68% in the first quarter.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers held a 37-24 lead.  This would have been a great quarter of basketball if the Wolves were ahead.

The 2nd quarter was a lot of the same – very entertaining basketball but much more enjoyable if you are/were rooting for the Lakers.  Late in the quarter, the Pups went on a nice run to make the game a heck of a lot more interesting going into halftime.  This included a beautiful fast-break that had Rubio ahead of the pack and throwing a behind the back pass for a DWill slam.  At the half, the Lakers held a 68-53 lead.  As always, here are my HT thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • This team does a tremendous job of putting itself in holes and finding a way of keeping your interest piqued
  • Rubio looks light years ahead of where he was just a few weeks ago
  • Please trade JJ Barea

At the start of the 3rd quarter, the Pups were able to cut the lead down to ten points with several jump shots falling for AK47, DWill, and Ridnour.  It could have been even closer if DWill had any ability to finish at the rim these days – he missed a few in the paint, including a dunk.  This was followed by a 7-0 run by the Lakers to increase the lead back up to 15.

While it got a little ugly in the last few minutes, the Twolves were able to claw their way back to a single digit deficit.  Alexey Shved hit a three pointer from about 26 feet to cut the lead to nine points going into the final frame, with the Lakers holding an 85-76 lead.

The 4th quarter was incredibly frustrating, as the Twolves had a number of chances to cut the lead down further and further and were inches away from making it a one possession game.  Then everything fell apart for the team.  The Lakers made enough plays to extend their lead and wound up holding off the Wolves to win 111-100.  (I do not feel like complaining about JJ Barea or the fact that we still have to limit Rubio’s minutes any further.)

Keys of the Game

  • FT Shooting – Again.  8-18 from the FT line and that is, for the lack of a better word (or cursing), pathetic.
  • Offensive Rebounds – The Lakers finished with 17 offensive rebounds and that is just offensive.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Pau Gasol – Finished with 22 & 12 and really set the tone for the Lakers in the first half.
  2. Kobe Bryant – He’s good.  17 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists.  I actually have to say that the few rebounds that stand out in the game were provided by Kobe.  He destroyed Luke Ridnour early on in the game.
  3. Alexey Shved – Shved had a very nice game despite the low shooting percentage (6-16).  He finished with 18 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds and hit a number of shots from the outside to give the team some life.

Minnesota Timberwolves 101 – Denver Nuggets 97

Photo Credit: Minnesota Timberwolves

Photo Credit: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Twolves got right back on the court Thursday night in Denver, coming off an embarrassing loss to Utah less than 24 hours prior.  No surprises in the starting lineups tonight.  With Rubio remaining on the sidelines, the Pups opened up with Ridnour, Shved, Kirilenko, Love, and Pekovic.  The Nuggets countered with Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and Kosta Koufus.

The Wolves were on the board first with a three pointer by Alexey Shved and I was hoping that was a sign of things to come.  The visitors got off to a decent start, opening up a 9-4 lead, but that quickly diminished.  There was a decent flow to the game, with the first timeout coming just over halfway through the quarter and the Wolves holding a 15-13 lead.

The rest of the quarter was comprised of two mini-runs.  The Nuggets went on a 10-0 run first, led by former Pup Corey Brewer.  Naturally, he hit two long jumpers, one from three point range.  The Wolves were able to answer, going on an 8-2 run to close the quarter, trailing 25-23 after one.

At the start of the second quarter, my NBA League Pass account went haywire and I drove myself crazy for much of the quarter trying to toggle between a laptop, tablet and phone comparing which device was the most up to date.  This truly could be a definition of “first world problems”.

The Pups received nice efforts from Shved and Derrick Williams in the second quarter, doubling up the Nuggets 14-7 through the first six plus minutes of the quarter, opening up a five point lead.  During that same time, the Nuggets failed to make a basket for more than five minutes of game time, going cold from the field.  Kevin Love came to life in the final few minutes of the half, with several rebounds and a few buckets, finishing the half with a double double (13 & 13).

At the half, the Wolves led 47-43, after outscoring the Nuggets by six in the second quarter.  Here are two quick halftime thoughts:

  • I beg of someone to be fully dedicated to optimizing the NBA’s League Pass package and the respective apps that are available across platforms.  Please!
  • My first train of thought going into halftime was of doubt.  Could the Nuggets be contained as well as they were in the first half and/or would the Wolves slow down given the Denver air and the prior night’s game?

Those concerns quickly came to fruition and the Nuggets jumped on the Wolves with an 8-2 run, forcing Adelman to burn an early timeout.  After the timeout, Gallinari drilled a three pointer and the Wolves continued to miss … jump shots.  I’m going to start charting the shot selection for the Wolves if this continues much further.  We need to get the ball down low to more players beyond Pekovic.  The rest of the quarter continued to “stink” as the Wolves settled for jump shots and gave up buckets to the Nuggets in the paint.  You know, exactly what they should have been trying to do.

As my inner complaints continued to form, we had a stoppage in play with around four minutes left in the quarter.  Why?  Man down … and it is Kevin Love and his hands again.  Love went to the locker room with the trainer and it was later reported that he sprained a finger in his shooting hand.  While he didn’t return to the game, hopefully this is nothing more than a quick break and Love doesn’t miss any more time.  However, this does nothing to help his shooting.  (Here’s where I’ll point out that it would be fantastic, and hysterical, if this actually turns out to be a turning point in Love’s shooting woes and he starts to move those percentages up over the next few weeks.)

After the injury timeout, the Nuggets went cold and the Wolves were able to cut the lead to four points (66-62).  What could have been the offensive or defensive play of the night, turned into an anticlimactic moment that can easily be shrugged off.  Corey Brewer had a breakaway and Dante Cunningham had him in his path.  Cunningham got a piece of the ball but also fouled Brewer.  However, Brewer’s dunk attempt was broken up and just had to force it in off the glass.  Naturally, he missed the FT that followed.

The Nuggets continued to struggle to close out the quarter, while Alexey Shved started to shine again.  To end the quarter, Shved drew a foul on his Russian comrade (too easy?) Timofey Mozgov, cutting the Nuggets lead to one point (70-69) going into the final frame.

The first six minutes of the fourth quarter were a very nice showing from both teams; good tempo, made baskets, etc.  The Pups got a little hot (helped by a lack of defense from Denver) and took a two point lead (89-87) into a timeout.  Shved, JJ, Luke, and DWill had a nice rhythm together on the court.  Luke and JJ continued that strong play through the remainder of the quarter.  After back to back three pointers from Barea, the Wolves led 97-91.

In the final minute, Iguodala had an opportunity for a three point play and to cut the lead to one possession, but missed a FT.  The Wolves were able to rebound the ball on Nuggets missed FG attempts and hit a few FT’s.  On a Denver possession with ten seconds to go, Ty Lawson wasted an incredible amount of time dribbling the ball and then decided to take it to the hole, despite being down by 5 points.  That more or less sealed the fate of the game, with the Pups pulling out the 101-97 victory!

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. JJ Barea – big shots tonight from JJ
  2. Kevin Love – 12 & 17 in 24 minutes
  3. Dante Cunningham – stat stuffer; 6 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists & game high +22 +/-

The Pups return home for a match-up against another division rival – the Blazers – on Saturday.

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.