Timberwolves Fall Short to Oklahoma City Thunder

(photo credit: SI.com)

(photo credit: SI.com)

OKC’s Kevin Durant missed Monday night’s game with a sprained toe, but even several close points of the game, Minnesota couldn’t pull out a win. The 92-84 loss dropped the Timberwolves’ record to 1-12 in Oklahoma City over the past few seasons. Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with 23 points, followed by Thaddeus Young with 22. Center Gorgui Dieng had a big night beneath the basket, grabbing 18 boards.

Oklahoma City felt the absence of Durant, who has never missed a game against Minnesota and typically averages 28 points per game when playing the Wolves. Minnesota’s defense proved above average in keeping Russell Westbrook‘s point total down (18 compared to the 25 PPG he has been averaging).

It seems the Wolves can never get everything to work together, however. On a night of decent Minnesota defense, it was a battle of poor shooting from both teams. The Wolves shot just 34.1 percent from the field, while the Thunder made 41.9 percent of their attempts.

Young had another solid performance, giving Minnesota an early 4-2 lead. Monday marked the second consecutive game that head coach Flip Saunders has started Young at the small forward position. Young said he’s enjoyed playing there, as the position helps him see the floor and move the ball more effectively.

Minny held the Thunder to just 2-of-11 to start the game, and Westbrook was a non-factor throughout most of the first quarter. However, OKC fought back and held a decent lead for most of the first half, going on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

At one point, the Wolves fell to a 15-point deficit as Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins both added a spark off the Thunder bench.

Minnesota battled back to within three, trailing 54-57 at the 5:29 mark of the third quarter, but the excitement for Wolves fans was short lived as Oklahoma City continued to make buckets that its opponents could not answer to.

The game got a bit chippy on more than one instance, and Saunders received a technical foul at one point over a controversial penalty called on Wiggins. The energy was certainly high on the Wolves’ bench, and the team did give a valiant effort to regain a lead in the fourth quarter, scoring 28 points in the final period. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

The biggest area in which Minnesota struggled was 3-point shooting. The Timberwolves shot less than 16 percent from behind the arc, Mo Williams making only one of six attempts from downtown.

Oklahoma extended their home win streak to six, while the Wolves lost their 19 out of 21 games and fell to 7-37 overall.

Up next, Minnesota will return home to host the Celtics Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Happy Birthday Crunch – Wolves Lose to Pelicans 92-84

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter - @WolvesCrunch)

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter – @WolvesCrunch)

 

The 7-34 Minnesota Timberwolves completed their brief homestand on Friday night against the 21-21 New Orleans Pelicans.  Both teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions but one is clearly still playing for something this season while the other continues to receive more bad news.  Reports have surfaced that Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury is worse than originally thought.  That quickly took all of the steam out of Nikola Pekovic’s return to action on Wednesday night.  The Pelicans have been struggling with their own injury news of late with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missing time recently.

The two teams met early on this season in New Orleans, with the Pelicans undressing the Wolves to the tune of 139-91 – the worst loss in Wolves’ franchise history.

Looking for a reason to celebrate Wolves’ fans?  The Wolves celebrated Crunch’s birthday Friday night at the Target Center.  So at least there’s that for those in attendance.

Let’s take a look at how Friday night’s action went down at the Target Center.  The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Pelicans countered with the following starting five: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, ex-Pup Dante Cunningham, the aforementioned Davis, and Omer Asik.

The one Pup that I have consistently laid into this season (Thad) started off a house of fire, accounting for 7 of the Wolves first 11 points, which led to NOLA Coach Monty Williams to call a very quick timeout with his team down 11-1.  While the Wolves continued to hustle and play relatively well coming out of the timeout, the shooting percentage came back to earth and the Pelicans were able to tie the game at 18, forcing Flip Saunders to burn the Wolves first timeout with just over three minutes left to play in the 1st Quarter.

With Wiggins and Pekovic a combined 1-8 in the opening quarter for the Wolves, the Pelicans took a 24-20 lead into the break.  As time expired in the 1st, Chase Budinger drew a foul on a three pointer, only to see the referees swallow their whistles.  It has been a rough enough season for Chase, he doesn’t need any help from the zebras.

After taking a 32-29 lead in the 2nd Quarter on a beautiful post move from Gorgui Dieng, the Wolves turned the ball over on consecutive series and quickly gave up their lead.  Concentrating on the positive for a moment, Dieng’s offensive game continues to grow stronger as the weeks continue to pass by.  If for no other reason, and I can’t think of another one, Pekovic’s injury has had at least one benefit for the Wolves and that is the improvement in Dieng’s all around game (and likely his confidence).

At the half, the Wolves trailed 45-44.  Halftime notes/stats:

  • Thad Young with a team high 11 points on 5-8 shooting … but 0 rebounds
  • Conversely, Dieng finished the half with 8 points and 7 rebounds
  • The Wolves shot 44% from the floor in the 1st half, while the Pelicans shot 59%
  • Pups only got to the free throw line six times in the half – as did the Pelicans – but only made two of their attempts

The 3rd Quarter seemed to slog along with some ugly basketball being played.  Through the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wolves had one made basket and two free throws.  After Dante Cunningham made two long range jump shots, Flip Saunders called a timeout to try to straighten the ship.

The Pelicans opened up a double digit lead but the Wolves were able to cut it back down to four.  Nate Wolters scored as the clock was running down in the quarter, giving the Pelicans a 69-63 lead heading into the final frame.

There were several mini-runs for each team to start the 4th Quarter, with the Wolves trimming the Pelicans lead thanks to some strong offensive play from Chase Budinger, who scored all but two of his ten total points in the 4th.  However, the Wolves could never get over the hump and fell to the Pelicans.

With about :40 seconds to go in the game, the Pelicans were inbounding the ball up by six.  With a foul to give before going into the penalty, the Wolves scrambled to try to trap an opponent defensively.  It didn’t work but with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the Wolves then commit the foul.  That resets the shot clock to 14 seconds and the Wolves then have to commit another foul before forcing the Pelicans to the line.  In no way, shape or form was this a defensive strategy worth repeating.  Ever.  Either foul early and stretch the game as much as possible or play and hope they miss the shot.

The final score: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Happy birthday Crunch!  You don’t look a day over 26 …
  • If the Wolves have any interest in winning games the rest of the way, a Pekovic-Dieng frontcourt is going to need to be used
  • Mo Williams had a quiet double-double on Friday night, tallying 12 points and 10 assists
  • In fact, the Wolves assisted on 27 of their 35 made baskets (77%)

Timberwolves Drop Brutal Game to Dallas, Fall to 7-34

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

The Timberwolves started out strong against Dallas, but gradually the well-oiled Mavericks pulled away and took control of the game. Despite having a healthy Nikola Pekovic back in the huddle, the Wolves came up on the short end of the 98-75 final score. Andrew Wiggins had yet another double-digit game, leading Minnesota with 18 points. On the other side of the floor, Chandler Parsons tallied 22 points for the Mavs.

The first quarter started out well for Minnesota, with more aggressive defense than fans have seen in awhile. Gorgui Dieng had a couple of nice rebounds, and Robbie Hummel was able to battle for a put-back early on in the game.

The headline (and silver lining) for the evening was Pekovic. After missing 31 games this season, the big man returned to the Wolves lineup Wednesday night. Although he came off the bench, Pek had a decent 14-point game after sitting out for over two months.

When No. 14 checked in at the 3:18 mark of the first quarter, Target Center fans delivered a large ovation for the center. Pekovic immediately grabbed a bucket, tying the game at 21 and increasing the crowd noise.

Mavs veteran Dirk Nowitzki hit a long 3-point shot to close out the quarter 24-21, and from that point on the Wolves struggled to keep up. Slow second and third quarters are starting to become the unfortunate trend for Minny, and this game proved no different. Dallas went on a 25-9 run to finish up the half, and the Wolves entered the locker room trailing 59-38.

Thaddeus Young has been playing well lately, and he had another solid game against the Mavericks, despite grabbing all 14 points of his points in the first half. The forward seemed to be the only one able to find successful shots after the first quarter. The game dragged on, with Minnesota simply unable to match up well against its opponents.

Dallas entered the game shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line, and the team absolutely killed Minnesota from downtown. Parsons tallied 12 points from behind the arc, and the team made 11 of its 27 long-range attempts.

Prior to the half, the Associated Press‘ Jon Krawcynski reminded Wolves fans of the following:

Parsons wasn’t the only Maverick to play well, though. Dallas shot 51.3 percent from the field, in stark contrast to Minnesota’s 34.8 percent. The brutal loss dropped the Wolves’ record to 7-34 on the season, and it seems as if the second half of the season will be incredibly long for a very young, very tired squad.

After going off for an incredible 52 points against Indiana last Tuesday, Mo Williams never found his groove against the Mavs. The guard started out the game 0-10 from the field and did not find the basket until late in the third quarter. He finished the evening with just five points.

Although it was rumored that Kevin Martin might return, he remained sidelined with a wrist injury. Ricky Rubio also continues to sit out, and Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner shed a little more light on the subject.

According to head coach Flip Saunders, Gellner explained that Rubio suffered torn muscles and also a bone bruise in addition to the sprained ankle. The injury is more complex than maybe originally detailed, and Saunders said the team is taking every precaution to make sure Rubio is at 100 percent before returning to action.

Up next, the Wolves will face New Orleans at the Target Center Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Timberwolves Big Men Have Off Day in Loss to Hornets

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

The Timberwolves had two quarters in which they failed to reach 20 points, and that sort of offense is not enough to defeat the Charlotte Hornets—especially a Charlotte Hornets squad with Al Jefferson in back in the lineup.  The center returned from a groin injury and came off the bench to add eight points and five rebounds against his former team. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves in scoring with 18 points, followed by Andrew Wiggins with 12. In the end, Minnesota wrapped up its road trip with a 105-80 loss.

Wolves fans have seen a glimmer of hope over the past several games, with victories coming against Indiana and Denver—both on the road. Monday afternoon’s game proved a different story, however. While Charlotte’s big men Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson combined for 27 points (not to mention Jefferson as a reserve), Robbie Hummel and Gorgui Dieng combined for only nine. Since Corey Brewer was traded to Houston and Shabazz Muhammad is sidelined due to injury, Hummel has been implemented into the starting lineup. Unfortunately for Minny, “Always Ready Robbie” proved he isn’t always ready. The sophomore played just over 24 minutes and couldn’t find a single bucket.

Hummel was not the only one to struggle, though. Across the board, the Wolves squad had a hard time hitting their shots and contesting shots on the other end. Minnesota allowed Charlotte reserves P.J. Hairston and Gary Neal to contribute 22 points, including five 3-point buckets between the two of them.

“They mauled us, really,” head coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “They’re a very good defensive team. We did not react the right way to their physicality.”

The first half really set the tone of the game, and Minnesota struggled from the get-go. No matter what the team tried, the Wolves looked sluggish and disjointed compared to Charlotte. In the second quarter, they made just 28 percent of their shots and tallied only 13 points.

With so many injuries plaguing the Wolves this season, especially to their starters, the young players are facing many more minutes than would have been expected, and the level of fatigue is becoming evident. Overall, the team shot 36.2 percent from the field and struggled to control the ball. Minnesota committed 17 turnovers, an alarming five of those coming from the hands of Dieng.

The Hornets defense proved insurmountable by the Wolves. Charlotte extended its lead to 30 in the third quarter, and it was all the tired squad could do to claw the deficit to the 20s. Over two games, the Hornets have forced 37 turnovers and held their opponents to under 90 points.

At this point the in the season, fans can only hope that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin return to the floor sooner rather than later, and that Wiggins continues to be patient. The rookie has tallied double-digit points over the past 14 games, and one wonders how long his positive attitude will last with this sort of record.

Monday’s game dropped Minnesota to 7-33 on the season, while increasing Charlotte’s record to 17-25. The Wolves will return home to the Target Center to face Dallas Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Click here to listen to postgame audio from Monday’s game. 

Timberwolves Grab Another Road Win, Defeat Denver 113-105

The Timberwolves won their second of three road games in an impressive offensive performance over the Nuggets Saturday night. Minnesota shot 53.8 percent in the 113-105 victory, and Andrew Wiggins led the squad with 31 points and nine rebounds. On the opponents’ side, Ty Lawson contributed 22 points for Denver.

For the past several weeks, the young Wolves squad has looked lackluster and worn out. Minny is still without starters Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, and Shabazz Muhammad is also sidelined due to injury. Perhaps a result of Tuesday night’s win over Indiana, the team had a renewed energy Saturday.

Minnesota scored 37 points in the first quarter, and it was clear the team was ready for a win.

Wiggins delivered yet another impressive game for the Wolves, keeping the tempo extremely high against a struggling Denver offense. The No. 1 draft pick seems to improve with every game:

Wiggins was not the only one with a solid Saturday performance, however. All five of Minnesota’s starters scored double-digit points, and second-year forward Robbie Hummel had a career night.

Hummel, affectionately nicknamed “always-ready Robbie” following an earlier interview, started in place of Muhammad. He tallied 15 points and 10 rebounds in almost 43 minutes on the floor.

Thaddeus Young also looked like the player Timberwolves fans saw early in the season. Young’s mother lost her battle to cancer several weeks ago, and No. 33 hasn’t seemed quite himself since returning to the team. However, Young rebounded against the Nuggets. Aggressive beneath the basket, he finished the night with 22 points, five assists and five defensive rebounds.

The Timberwolves started the second half down by one, and Denver battled hard during the third quarter. Lawson scored eight points, and Nuggets reserves Jameer Nelson and JJ Hickson combined for 10 points off the bench.

In the final period, Minnesota pulled away to seal the win. Over the final 5:30, the Wolves outscored Denver 19-10. Minny led 96-95 just before that point, but Hummel’s protection of the rim and seven points from Mo Williams kept the Nuggets from closing the gap.

Overall, the 18-22 Nuggets struggled to keep up with the win-hungry Timberwolves. Denver shot 41.3 percent from the field and grabbed only 39 rebounds on the night. Minnesota, on the other hand, seemed to hit its shots from all over the floor for one of the first times this season. At the end of the night, the Wolves shot 53.8 percent overall and an impressive 90.5 percent from the charity stripe. Their 3-point game was not too shabby, either. Wiggins landed 4-of-5 long balls, and the team ended with 42.1 percent from behind the arc.

Timberwolves fans are certainly feeling cautiously positive about the team’s performance this week, but buzz continues to grow surrounding Rubio’s impending return. Head Coach Flip Saunders gave little reassurance, saying they are taking every precaution and will not play the point guard before he is at 100 percent.

“Are we being cautious? Yeah. We just signed the guy to a $55 million contract,” Saunders said. “When he’s ready to go and the doctors say that he’s ready to really go, that’s when he’ll go.”

Saturday’s win improved Minnesota’s record to 7-32.

Up next: The Timberwolves will stay on the road for one more game, facing the Charlotte Hornets for a 1:00 p.m. tipoff on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Hornets are currently 15-25.

*Click here to hear Wiggins’ post-game interview.

Suns Defeat Timberwolves 110-99

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer?  How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer? How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves returned to action on Friday night after breaking their 15 game losing streak this past Tuesday in Indianapolis against the Pacers.  The story of the night was of course Mo Williams52 point effort.  Could the Pups ride the ‘wave of momentum’ into Friday’s action in Phoenix?  The Suns opened up the night with a 23-18 record, which would slot them into the 8 seed in the Western Conference if the NBA Playoffs started today.  With the Wolves giving up a league worst 108ppg and the Suns scoring 107ppg (4th in the NBA), you would expect a run and gun type of game.  Here is how the action went down this evening … as the teams celebrated Halloween a little late, with both teams in short-sleeved jerseys, the Pups in black and the Suns in orange.

The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  (News of course has broken that the Wolves are open to dealing Thad before the deadline, which makes all the sense in the world given that he can opt out of his contract.  Quite frankly, he hasn’t panned out and he isn’t the answer for the Wolves at PF for the next five seasons.)  The Suns opened up Friday’s game with the following starting five: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.

Both teams got off to a hot start, with the Wolves taking a 13-12 lead into the first timeout with about 7.:43 left in the opening quarter.  Minnesota opened up 6-6 from the field for their 13 points and each member of the starting five had a basket.  That’s how you open the game on the offensive end of the floor!  Dragic and Len each had six points heading into the timeout for Phoenix.  After the timeout Dragic continued to pick apart the Wolves, scoring the Suns seven of the next nine points, leading to a 21-17 advantage for the Suns and forcing Flip Saunders to call a timeout.

At the end of the first quarter, the Suns held a 32-27 advantage.  The teams played at the expected, fast pace and neither team seemed interested in taking a charge or knocking someone down in the paint.

The second quarter reminded me of the legendary 1990’s video game NBA Jam.  It felt like every Wolves’ bucket was a three pointer or dunk/layup in the paint.

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person - dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person – dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

The Wolves were able to cut the Suns lead to three points, 59-56, at the half.  Wiggins, Dieng, and Williams were all in double figures in the scoring department.  Meanwhile, the only player that got on the floor for the Suns and not score in the first half was PJ Tucker.

In the third quarter I got my first look at Miroslav Radjujica and it wasn’t too pretty.  In five minutes he was 0-1 from the field with a turnover and two personal fouls.  His missed FG was a “below-the-rim” layup attempt and all I could do was shake my head.

The remainder of the Wolves’ roster seemed to follow suit in the 3rd quarter, as the team seemed to hit a bit of a wall.  The Suns built a double digit lead, while the Wolves’ shooting percentages dropped and they started turning the ball over more frequently.  At the end of the third quarter the Suns held an 86-75 advantage.

The Wolves weren’t able to do much in the 4th in terms of going on an extended run and cutting into the Suns lead.  Wiggins left the game in the 4th quarter and didn’t return.  The Wolves announced that he had a sickness.  Keep your eyes on that news as the Wolves play again Saturday night in Denver.

The final score: Phoenix 110, Minnesota 99.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

Setting the stage:

With a 15 game losing streak (?!?!) in tow, the Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road this week for three games.  The losing streak has moved the Timberpups record to a dreadful 5-31 and puts them in competition with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.  In no way, shape or form is that a compliment.

The Wolves open up the coming week on Tuesday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers, a game that Minnesota really needs to find a way to pull out a “W”.  After Tuesday’s game, the remaining schedule for the week and beyond is awfully tough until a match-up against the Celtics on Wednesday, 1/28.  Let’s hope they don’t get to that Boston game with the losing streak still intact.

There has been nothing new reported on the potential returns of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and/or Kevin Martin.  The Timberwolves obviously miss these guys, but I’m not sure if it makes much sense to put any of them out there until they are 100%.  As mentioned before, it would be nice to move Pekovic or Martin before the trade deadline next month and make the rebuild that much more official.

Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 37: Tuesday, 1/13, 6pm – Timberpups @ Indiana Pacers (TV: FS North)

As referenced above, it would behoove the Pups to find a way to pull out the victory here and snap the losing streak.  The 15-24 Pacers are coming off of a loss against the Sixers on Saturday night, so they will be well rested.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – Hibbert has become a bit of an enigma with the Pacers and is underachieving this season.  Without Paul George and others, Hibbert should be putting up monster numbers.  However, he’s averaging just 11.4ppg and 7rpg.  Tuesday will be another interesting matchup for Gorgui Dieng.

Game 38: Friday, 1/16, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Suns just played this past week in Minnesota, where the Pups gave up the lead late and fell 113-111.  Andrew Wiggins had a chance to hit a game winning three pointer, but missed it at the buzzer.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic lit up the Wolves on 1/7 to the tune of 25 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, along with a handful of highlight plays.  Zach LaVine and Mo Williams must do a better job of containing Dragic and the Suns’ other backcourt members.

Game 39: Saturday, 1/17, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: None)

No local television for Saturday night’s game and I’m not sure how that is feasible in 2015.  The teams also just played one another on 1/5 with the Nuggets winning with relative ease.  While the final score was 110-101, it wasn’t really that close, as Denver outscored the Wolves 35-21 in the 1st quarter and had a 62-41 lead at halftime.

Opponent to watch:

Arron Afflalo – Afflalo led the way last week for the Nuggets, putting up 34 points at the Target Center.  Wiggins will likely be asked to check Afflalo in this one and will hopefully be able to contain him.

Wrap-up:

The Wolves need to pull out a victory this week to get out of their current funk.  They would tie the franchise record of 18 straight losses (2011) at the end of the week if they don’t pull one of these off.  Let’s avoid this please.  Go Wolves!