Minnesota Timberwolves 97 – Sacramento Kings 89

Photo Credit: CSN Bay Area

Entering Tuesday’s matchup in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped to end a five-game skid on the second to last game of their West Coast road trip. With the help of Kevin Love and his 23 point, 24 rebound performance, the Timberpups did just that defeating the Kings by a score of 97-89.

Feeding off of Love’s energy and physicality in the paint, the rest of the Wolves starting frontcourt – Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic – helped to brutalize a less than dominant Sacramento frontcourt. Kirilenko enjoyed his best performance in some time after enduring a slight shooting slump over the past three games. AK-47 finished the night with 14 points (5-12 FG), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks in 41 minutes of action. Kirilenko played tremendous wing defense while creating scoring opportunities from his passing and lane penetration. To put it simply, AK was a perfect complement to both Love and Pek last night.

Pekovic was a game-high +10 on the floor and finished with 16 points (6-13 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block in 36 minutes. Pek ran the floor very well in transition and demonstrated his soft hands when catching and scoring quick passes into the post. The frontcourt defense brought by the Kings was very subject, and Pek was able to effectively maneuver past Demarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson fairly easily. Overall, nice game for Nikola.

A much improved game for the Timberwolves starting backcourt, as they too enjoyed softer defense than they had previously been experiencing this season. In 30 minutes of play, Luke Ridnour scored 18 points (8-13 FG) and tallied 5 assists while only turning the ball over twice. Ridnour was a veteran amongst boys when faced up against an immature Kings backcourt, and used his intelligence to effectively dissect the opposing defense while properly identifying when to score one-on-one. Alongside Ridnour in the starting backcourt was Malcolm Lee yet again, who nailed two of his three three-point attempts on his way to 10 points (4-6 FG) in 21 minutes.

Backing up Ridnour and Lee were JJ Barea and Alexey Shved, who were both very effective against an inferior Sacramento second unit. Shved converted 2 of his 5 three-point attempts while also grabbing 2 steals. Barea played a relatively brief 18 minutes but dished out 6 assists while grabbing 4 boards, turning the ball over once.

Derrick Williams received another DNP-CD, and the mystery regarding his future with the club continues to grow. Who could have predicted that the former number-two draft choice could have fallen so far out of favor with head coach Rick Adelman that he would virtually not be receiving any playing time this season. Surely, his trade value has taken a definite hit with the recent events.

As a team, the Pups outrebounded the Kings by a tally of 51-36 led by the frontcourt trio of Love-Pekovic-Kirilenko. Love was the key to the Timberwolves victory, as he was simply relentless in his pursuit of rebounds on the offensive and defensive ends. K-Love went without his protective black glove on his shooting hand, and his 23 points and 24 rebounds were the key to stopping a sensational performance by Tyreke Evans on the other end.

The Pups conclude their road trip in Los Angeles tonight as they face off against the Clippers at 9:30PM CT. Last but not least, here are my three stars of the game (of which I predicted perfectly in the preview):

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings

The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Sacramento Tuesday for the third game of their present road trip and take on a Kings squad fresh off a win against the Utah Jazz. Minnesota, who is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, has had a tough time acclimating to the return of All-Star Kevin Love, who has played well despite regaining strength in his right shooting hand. On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, Love threw his protective black glove to the sidelines in frustration and played the remainder of the game with no restrictions on his right hand, and it appears that he is officially done with the protective glove.

Andrei Kirilenko was a main component of the Timberwolves unexpected 5-2 start, but has had a tough time getting in a rhythm since the return of K-Love. In the past three games, AK-47 has shot a tough 9-29 from the field after starting the season red-hot. Kirilenko sat out practice on Monday due to back spasms, but states that he is fine to start tonight against the Kings.

While many have begun to panic due to the Timberwolves continued losing despite the addition of Love, the notion that this team is better without Love in the lineup is absolutely unjustifiable. Yes, the team has seen poorer defensive efficiency numbers from their star in the middle and K-Love has had a tougher time shooting due to his strengthening wrist, but it is obviously going to take time before the offense and defense gains the appropriate chemistry they missed out on when Love sat out the preseason and start of the season.

An important thing to note is the success that the Timberpups had when playing without their main offensive focus, and how they used good ball movement and cutting to beat tougher opponents. With Love back in the mix, there has been less ball movement and more one-on-one basketball, and this has likewise caused players like AK-47 to play a much different kind of basketball than they were used to. This adjustment will unquestionably take time, and a few losses, in order to get back up to speed.

I have no problem with Love taking 20 shots a game, for he is certainly the best scorer on the team and gets to the free throw line at a very effective rate. However, within Adelman’s corner offense, I would really like to see more passing out of the superstar PF. Love is a more than capable passer and sees the floor as well as anyone on the team, and the success of the offense relies on passing and cutting from the high post, where Love is used to getting the ball. Just as Kobe has begun to adjust with the Lakers new offense, when the focus of the opposing defense is to shut Love down, there will be many more backdoor cutting opportunities for players like AK and Dante Cunningham which could create for an increase in high-percentage scoring chances.

Since I am a Timberwolves fan, I am ultimately going to constantly compare Kevin Love to our former superstar, KG, whether it is unfair or justified. The main difference I see in their games at this stage in their development is that Garnett started to become a world-class passer and was better at identifying when to score and when to find his teammates.  Love is averaging just 1.7 assists per contest, while Garnett averaged 4.3 in his fourth season in the league. In order to truly be a complete offensive force, K-Love must follow KG and evolve from a high-usage scorer to a true floor general. As we have seen from the effects of Ricky Rubio, a main key to the Timberwolves winning games lies in passing and ball movement, and the Wolves have certainly not done a good job of that since getting Love back in the lineup.

Tonight, the Pups face a vastly inferior opponent and should benefit from the opposition’s immaturity and lack of confidence. I want to see better rotations on defense and for Love to get AK more involved in the offense. Here is my prediction for the three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors

After beginning the season 5-2, the Timberwolves are in the midst of a 4-game skid as they prepare for Saturday’s matchup in Oakland. Despite getting Kevin Love back this past Wednesday, the Pups fell to both Denver and Portland and will need to gain chemistry as a unit after getting back their top offensive weapon.

Golden State, 7-6, has seen tangible improvement due to a healthy unit led by Stephen Curry and David Lee. The Warriors are still waiting on the debut of Andrew Bogut, who has been hampered with ankle problems over the past few seasons. Adding Bogut to a frontcourt that already consists of Lee, rookie Festus Ezeli, and six-man stud Carl Landry could make Golden State one of the best low post teams in the West.

The Pups recently got both Nikola Pekovic and JJ Barea back from injury, but the team has looked very disoriented in their offensive and defensive sets with the newly healthy roster.

The Timberwolves still anxiously await the return of PG phenom Ricky Rubio, as the platoon at PG including Ridnour, Barea, and Malcolm Lee has proven to be deficient on both sides of the ball. Facing a Golden State backcourt that can really shoot the long-ball, the Wolves will need to bring tremendous intensity on defense in order to slow down sharp-shooters Curry and Klay Thompson.

Rookie Harrison Barnes has come into his own as of late, and previously scored 18 points in their earlier victory over the Wolves merely a week ago. Derrick Williams has received two consecutive DNP-CD since K-Love returned on Wednesday, and his long-term future with the Timberwolves is currently under hot debate. Despite ranking in the top-ten in defensive efficiency, Williams is in Adelman’s doghouse and how he will get back into the rotation remains a mystery.

Here is my prediction for the three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. David Lee
  3. Andrei Kirilenko

Minnesota Timberwolves 90 – Dallas Mavericks 82

Photo Credits: SunHerald.com

Somehow, some way, the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to win games. Following yesterdays news that SF Chase Budinger suffered a lateral torn meniscus in his left knee, the Wolves suffered yet another key injury in the third quarter of tonight’s matchup in Dallas as Nikola Pekovic suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and was unable to return. On top of that, JJ Barea and Brandon Roy were unavailable tonight with day-to-day injuries, and Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be missed until approximately mid-December. Despite all of the adversity, the Timberpups gave a gutsy performance and went on to take one from the Dallas Mavericks on the road, winning by a score of 90-82.

Before leaving the game in the mid-third quarter with a sprained left ankle, Nikola Pekovic was the focus of Minnesota’s offense as he scored 20 points (8-13 FG) while racking up 6 boards and posting a game-high +21 on the floor. Pek made mincemeat out of the defense brought by Dallas centers Chris Kaman, Brandan Wright, and Bernard James, and used a bevvy of post moves to near perfection. He has elevated his post game to a superior level of intelligence and proficiency, and although he stated that his ankle is fine and that he should be ready for Wednesday’s matchup against Charlotte, the thought of losing Pek for any amount of time remains very concerning.

As the Timberwolves were once again without second unit PG Barea, Luke Ridnour was called upon to be a major part of the offense – and he answered effectively. Ridnour did not play his best game, but he did enough on both sides of the court to get the better end of a tough matchup against Darren Collison. Ridnour finished the game with 12 points (3-9 FG, 2-5 3PFG), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and an impressive 4 steals in 37 minutes of play.

The chemistry between Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko was extremely evident tonight, as both players were crucial to tonight’s victory. Shved, coming off the bench as one of the Pups primary reserve players, was vital in the fourth quarter due to his defense and playmaking abilities on the offensive end. Shved reminded me a lot of Rubio tonight, as he scored 16 points on just 3-12 shooting, but was able to effectively change the flow of the game with an intangible presence that seemed to guide the team during crunch time. He was very smart with the ball and dished out 5 assists to pair with 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and only 2 turnovers in 33 minutes of action. The Toni Kukoc look-alike got it done at the free throw line as he sunk 9 of his 11 attempts, and did a very good job attacking the rim and not settling for poor looks. I cannot say enough about Shved and I dream of the day that we are able to witness him paired in the backcourt with Ricky.

What can I say about AK-47 that I do not say about him every time I write a game summary. The thing that astounds me about Kirilenko is his consistency on a game-by-game basis. It seems as if he ends with the same stat line every night, and his presence is felt on almost every possession that he is in the game for. The defense that he brings coupled with his poise and veteran acumen on offense has effectively guided this team to where they are now. Although he is a forward, he has been the “quarterback” for the Timberwolves and continuously creates opportunities for his teammates to be successful. At 31, AK-47 is as wise as he ever was and is as physically nimble and elegant as during even his best years for the Jazz. If MVP was to be voted on right now, I truly believe that Kirilenko would get votes. Now that is saying something.

Before tonight, Dallas was previously averaging 116 points per game on their home floor. However, things did not go as swimmingly against the T-wolves as they combined to shoot a miserable 29-80 as a team from the field. Minnesota played tough, scrappy defense as a unit, but were not the reason behind Dallas’ 4-16 from three-point range. The Mavs missed far too many wide-open looks in a game that was well within reach, and they were unable to gain any momentum when the Wolves continued to do them favors following Pekovic’s injury.

Dante Cunningham continues to bring the Wolves a much needed lift off the bench and posted another solid line of 14 points (6-9 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a mere 1 turnover in an efficient 33 minutes for the Pups. Cunningham has thrived in his role in the offense and continues to knock down top of the key and mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll. He looks extremely comfortable with what is being asked of him and continues to build on his previous performances. Although his game is not the sexiest, it is of intangible value to the Pups.

With Cunningham thriving, Derrick Williams appears to be in Rick Adelman’s doghouse. Despite starting tonight, D-Will logged only 12 minutes and attempted only 2 FG in that short span of time. His only points of the night came on a spectacular first-quarter reverse slam that wowed the Dallas crowd, and I believed that it would be enough to loosen up the former number-2 pick to have a decent ballgame. However, Williams made a few mental mistakes and looked lost on defense, and Adelman held very little patience for the Arizona product. With Cunningham playing well, Williams saw very little time beyond the first half.

With Williams struggling, it opened the door for Lou Amundson to see his highest single-game minutes as a Pup. In 15 minutes, Amundson worked his tail off defending the much bigger and stronger Kaman, and I am pleased with what he was able to provide in relief. Although he failed to score a point, Amundson grabbed 3 rebounds and was a +3 on the floor.

Malcolm Lee made his first start of the season and logged 22 minutes, scoring 4 points on 2-6 shooting while grabbing 3 rebounds. Lee made a game-securing steal on OJ Mayo at the end of the game, but was otherwise a neutral force in this one. I do like what Lee has shown thus far in his career, and I do believe that he is competent enough defensively to have a future as a serviceable backup combo guard.

Finally, Greg Stiemsma and Will Conroy each received very limited time on the floor tonight. Stiemsma, who has been very effective thus far, committed 4 fouls in only 8 minutes and was left out of the rotation for the second half. Conroy made a single free throw in 4 minutes and was otherwise a non-contributor.

When breaking down the team numbers, the Wolves were able to outrebound the Mavericks 49-35, and much of it was due to the outhustling of the Mavs frontcourt by the Pups bigs. Although shot-blocking was a tremendous need for Minnesota last season, it has been a major plus this year and the Wolves out-blocked Dallas 7-2. All of this was vital for Minnesota, and was enough to overcome the Wolves 17 turnovers compared to only 8 for Dallas.

More will be known on the extent of Pekovic’s injury tomorrow, and he will most likely be questionable heading into Wednesday nights home matchup against Charlotte. All in all, great win for the Pups. Get well soon, Wolves nation. Here are tonight’s three stars of the game.

  1. Andrei Kirilenko
  2. Luke Ridnour
  3. Alexey Shved

Minnesota Timberwolves 80 – Chicago Bulls 87

Following a tough game vs. Indiana, the Timberwolves were on the road to complete the back to back against Chicago.  The Pups starting lineup had a slight change due to the inactive Brandon Roy and his chronic knee problem.  We’ll probably be typing that a lot this year.  The starting lineup included Ridnour, Budinger, AK47, DWill, and Pekovic.  No changes or surprises in Chicago’s starting five – Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah.

Going into the first TO of the game, the Bulls held a 12-8 lead.  The Bulls big men were leading the way early while DWill started the game 0-3 from the field, all on jump shots.  Pekovic was active against Noah, but seemed “off” – for the lack of a much better word – with a missed defensive rotation, an offensive foul, and a blown layup.  However, Noah wound up with a laceration on his knee and had to sit out the rest of the quarter.  At that point, Pek took over, finishing the quarter with 10 and 6.

At the end of the 1st, the Wolves trailed by one point, 20-19.  Aside from Pek turning it around, the story of the quarter was the lackluster shooting, particularly from DWill (0-5) and AK47 (1-4).  As mentioned in the game preview, I thought we needed to counter Chicago’s big men and that shooting percentage wasn’t going to cut it.  Chicago was led by Deng, Noah, and Rip, who had all but 1 of Chicago’s 20 points in the quarter.

About four minutes into the 2nd quarter and the Wolves second unit’s net production was again, very positive.  Dante Cunningham had four quick points and the Wolves took a 25-24 lead into the first TO of the quarter.  Unfortunately, this was followed by a Bulls run and a mini outburst from Nate Robinson.  The Wolves had to burn a TO to stop the bleeding, as they fell six down, 31-25.  True to form, over the course of the following few minutes Nate Robinson became the Wolves MVP with a few careless TO’s allowing the Pups to regain the lead.

At the half, the Pups had the lead 41-40.  Their lack of TO’s (3) relative to Chicago’s (8, including 5 from Nate Robinson) was the crux of why the Pups were leading.  While it pains me to say this, the Bulls with and without Noah on the floor is night and day.  Here were my halftime thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • As mentioned earlier, Pek dominated while Noah was out and led the team with 14 & 6 at the half.
  • Dante Cunningham had a very nice half and the expectation is to see less of DWill in the final 24 minutes.
  • Again, you don’t realize it and then you look at the box score and AK47 has 4-6-4-2-1.  I’m not even going to provide context there for what each number is in the box score, just know he continues to do a bit of everything.

The 3rd quarter consisted of sloppy, but competitive basketball.  There were a number of lead changes throughout the quarter, but the Bulls wound up outscoring the Pups 23-18 to take a 63-59 lead into the 4th quarter.  The one consistent: DWill missing shots, finishing 0-10 from the field through three quarters.  Ridnour and Budinger kept the Wolves in the game, while Noah and Robinson did the same for Chicago.  Also of note, Kirk Hinrich never came out for the 2nd half for Chicago after straining his hip.  Again, doesn’t there seem to be a lot of injuries this season?

The 4th quarter opened up with a barrage of three pointers from Marco Belinelli to help the Bulls open up a nine point lead.  Unfortunately, during the quarter, Chase Budinger became the latest Pup to go down to an injury and is having an x-ray taken of his leg.  Again, what is with the injuries?!

Still down by nine with just a few minutes left in the game, the Wolves had the ball and Shved hit a three pointer that was waived off due to a moving screen from Cunningham.  This felt like the dagger, but the Wolves continued to fight, with AK47 scoring five straight points for the team, cutting the lead to five points with a minute left to play.

With the ball, tonight’s nemesis Joakim Noah, posted up Pek and hit an up and under to stretch the lead to seven.  After a wild scramble, the Wolves were able to cut it back to five with a layup from Cunningham with just over thirty seconds to play.  From that point, it was just a matter of the Bulls closing it out and they were successful in doing so.  Another hard fought game from the Pups, but they just didn’t have enough firepower to pull out a win.

The loss drops the Wolves to 4-2, with their next game on Monday night in Dallas.

Here are my Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Joakim Noah
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Luol Deng

Until Monday … Wolves fans need to come up with some type of ‘good health’ rain dance.

Minnesota Timberwolves 107 – Brooklyn Nets 96

Photo Credits: Skyler Reid

Coming off a 19-point loss in Toronto last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves played the latter of a back-to-back road trip in the sparkling new $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and came back from a 22-point second-half deficit to defeat the new-look Nets 107-96. The Timberpups offseason additions played crucial roles in fueling the comeback, and the Wolves went on to outscore the Nets 32-10 in the game-defining fourth quarter.

Minnesota’s offensive and defensive struggles were on full display in the first half as the Pups trailed Brooklyn 62-47 after the first half of play. The Wolves allowed the Nets to shoot an absurd 60% FG including 8-13 (62%) from beyond the arc in the first-half alone. Deron Williams led the charge for the revamped Nets with 8 first-half assists while 11 different Nets players scored. The Timberwolves did a much better job of limiting turnovers than they did the previous night in Toronto, but only knocked down 19 of 43 shot attempts (44%) including a miserable 1-8 from three-point range. Things got worse in the third quarter as these trends continued out of the break, but the Wolves found a spark nearing the culmination of the third quarter.

After suffering a mild concussion last night, JJ Barea was able to pass the necessary NBA-mandated concussion tests before the game and was very effective in the second half. Despite recording a modest line of 6 points and 6 assists in just over 29 minutes of action, Barea did a great job of game management in the fourth quarter and was very smart with his passes and shot selection.

Luke Ridnour once again got the start for the Wolves at PG, and had the toughest matchup of the night opposite perennial All-Star Deron Williams. Ridnour simply does not possess the physicality to stay in front of the shifty-strong Williams, and D-Will did a very good job of chipping away at Ridnour. Deron was able to consistently penetrate the lane and had multiple options sitting on the perimeter ready for open three-point attempts, of which the Nets converted at an extremely high rate through 3 quarters of play. However, Rick Adelman made an excellent second-half adjustment by putting the 6-foot-6 Alexey Shved on Williams on the defensive end, and Shved did just enough to slow down the superstar point guard.

Three cheers for the Russian combo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved tonight, as both were significant keys to the Wolves comeback victory. To begin, AK-47 played the most complete game of any player to step on the court tonight, as he was able to keep the team breathing even in the midst of their enormous third-quarter deficit. Kirilenko finished with another fabulous stat line of 16 points (7-11 FG), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal in nearly 33 minutes on the court. Kirilenko continues to use the ball-fake to perfection, consistently keeping his defender off balance and gaining enough separation to effectively drive past his opponent to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his fellow teammates. As long as AK-47 is healthy, he is worth his $10 million price tag.

Alexey Shved made two clutch three-pointers down the stretch for the Wolves and played a great game in the primetime. Shved ended with 10 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds while really coming into his own at the end of the game. He was not scared of firing off pull-up threes and it proved to be beneficial for the team. I wonder if AK-47 and Shved were motivated by the desire to defeat fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov – the very man who tried signing both of them this offseason. I’ll let you decide that one.

Nikola Pekovic established himself on the low block early and exploited Brook Lopez’s poor post defense throughout the game. The Nets tried bringing double teams at Pek, but he did a very good job at seeing the court and was able to escape Brooklyn’s attempts to slow him down. With virtually no perimeter option to look to as a second option, Pek was virtually Minnesota’s only offensive option throughout much of the first half, and his 17 points on 7-9 shooting was one of the only things keeping this game from getting out of hand in the first half.

Pek continued his post dominance in the second half and we were even able to witness how much better he has gotten at running the floor, which is a testament to all of the hard work and conditioning the big center endured over the offseason. Pekovic finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting while grabbing 7 boards.

Despite facing a 22-point deficit in the third quarter, the Timberpups did not go gently into the dark. Andrei Kirilenko fueled a Wolves run near the end of the third quarter and the Pups were able to cut the Nets lead to 86-75 heading into the last quarter of play.

From that point on, the momentum completely shifted in the Pups favor and Minnesota was able to gain their second lead of the game – the first lead of which was early in the first quarter – with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Pups set the tone defensively and held Brooklyn to only 96 points after allowing 62 first-half points on their way to their second win of the season and first win on the road.

Enough cannot be said about the importance of Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger tonight and in the second half especially. Cunningham was fierce on the low block and played remarkable defense, shutting down both Kris Humphries and even the 7-foot Brook Lopez. The 6-foot-8 Villanova graduate was extremely active on the offensive and defensive glass and was able to be very aggressive while not committing unnecessary fouls. It has only been three games, but I am absolutely sold on the Cunningham for Wayne Ellington deal. Cunningham was +18 on the court and logged his first double-double as a Pup of 11 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of play.

Budinger had by far his best performance as a Pup and was very good at moving without the ball and creating options for his teammates. Budinger is at his best when he is attacking the glass and filling openings on the perimeter for his driving teammates to look to, and he did just that tonight. His shot was falling and he looked very composed on the floor at the end of the game, which is something I could never say about Michael Beasley. I should not fail to mention that C-Bud played tremendous defense down the stretch and was apart of a total team effort on that particular end of the floor. The Arizona product ended the night with 16 points (7-10 FG) and 6 rebounds.

After failing to convert on a field goal in 22 minutes last night, Brandon Roy played better – but not by much – and was mainly a neutral force in this game. Even before his knee problems, Roy has always been a subject defender, and when matched up against 6-foot-7 Joe Johnson he definitely had his work cut out for him. Even so, Roy did a nice job as a distributor on the offensive end and logged 7 dimes to go with his 6 points (3-7 FG).

Tonight’s win is a true display of just how much this team changed over one offseason, and how the subtraction of a few players and addition of high-energy, fundamentally-focused team players can dynamically change a team. Coming back from 22 points in a tough, New York atmosphere to win by double-digits is something that I honestly could not have predicted from the Timberwolves. But perhaps I was wrong about this team possessing enough firepower and guts to do what previous Timberwolves teams could not do, which is winning without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. And for that we all owe a big thanks to Rick Adelman – and ya, even David Kahn… a little bit. The Wolves are now set to host Orlando on Wednesday, and here are my three stars of tonight’s game:

  1. Andrei Kirilenko
  2. Dante Cunningham
  3. Chase Budinger

Minnesota Timberwolves 86 – Toronto Raptors 105

Richard Lautens/Toronto Star

Coming off a Friday night victory against the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Toronto on Sunday and fell to a much-improved opponent by a score of 105-86. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan finished with 22 points apiece and were the keys to taking down a Timberwolves team that is in desperate need of scoring leadership.

Through one half of play, Minnesota trailed Toronto by a score of 56-47. As bad as it was to watch, the Wolves were very lucky to only be trailing by 9 given that Minnesota committed 16 turnovers compared to only 3 by the Raptors. The Pups stayed afloat in the first half by out-rebounding Toronto 21-15, while even out-shooting the Raptors 56% to 45%.

Brandon Roy was nowhere to be found in the first half as he netted two free throws – while failing to attempt a field goal – in 13 minutes of play. He even committed a miserable 5 first-half turnovers. Roy was exploited defensively by guards DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson, and the two opposing SGs netted a combined 23 points in the first half. Although Roy did not commit any additional turnovers in the second half, the veteran SG failed to convert a field goal and finished with a disappointing line of 4 points, 5 turnovers, 1 steal and 1 rebound in 22 minutes. The Wolves signed Roy to be their closer, and he was anything but that tonight.

Andrei Kirilenko was one of the only bright spots for the Pups in the first half as he scored 10 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting while even blocking 3 shots. JJ Barea was playing well until leaving the game in the middle of the second quarter due to a head injury sustained after hitting his head on Dante Cunningham’s foot following a nice drive and layup. It was later learned that Barea suffered a mild concussion, and he likewise was unable to return for the second half. JJ remains doubtful for Monday’s matchup in Brooklyn, which could potentially pose an even greater problem to Minnesota’s current offensive deficiency.

Nikola Pekovic had his hands full matched up against 7-foot rookie Jonas Valanciunas, and had a tough time establishing inside position on the former number 5 overall draft selection. Valanciunas held Minnesota’s top offensive weapon to only 15 points on 6-11 shooting and provided tough interior defense in his 23 minutes on the floor.

After three quarters of action, the Timberwolves trailed 79-73 and were still within reach of making a fourth-quarter comeback in order to salvage the game. However, the turnover and shooting woes continued into the fourth and the Pups managed to score only 13 fourth-quarter points compared to Toronto’s 26.

Alexey Shved scored his first points of his career tonight, finishing with 8 points (2-6 shooting), 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 22 minutes. Shved looked much better tonight than he did against the Kings, and the terrible play of Roy contributed to Shved’s increased role tonight. There were glimpses of his performances with the Russian national team occasionally tonight, but Shved was once again unable to get in a rhythm and was ultimately ineffective.

To keep this short and crisp, the only player on Minnesota that truly played an effective and complete game tonight was Andrei Kirilenko. AK-47 was all over the court tonight, finishing with a characteristic stat line of 17 points (6-7 shooting), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal in 29 minutes of action. AK excelled with the ball fake and similar to his performance against the Kings, is able to effectively and consistently get his defender to bite, allowing him to penetrate the lane and either score or set up a teammate with an open look. Kirilenko was about the only thing about the Timberwolves that was fun to watch tonight, and they will need to get their acts together if they want to have a chance against Brooklyn tomorrow night.