Bryant Breaks MJ’s Record, Timberwolves Fall to Lakers 100-94

(foxsports.com)

(foxsports.com)

Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant made history in Minnesota on Sunday night, when he passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bryant beat Jordan’s record with a pair of free throws in the second quarter; he tallied 26 points on the night to total 32,310 for his career.

The Timberwolves delivered a strong performance at home, and fans saw several glimpses of young players finding their groove on the court. In the end, though, it seemed fitting that Bryant knocked down a couple of clutch shots to slip away with the 100-94 win. Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to lead the Wolves with an impressive 28 points and nine rebounds, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 16 points.

The game was an entertaining one, to say the least. LA and Minnesota exchanged leads five times throughout the game, and it all came down to the wire when Wiggins tied it up 94-94 at the free-throw line with under two minutes remaining. The Target Center crowd was electric, hoping for the Wolves to come away with the “W,” but Bryant stepped back and drilled a long three-point shot to put the Lakers up 97-94. Minnesota was forced to follow in an effort to slow things down, and LA made three out of four shots from the charity stripe to seal the game.

Although not getting the win they hoped for, several Wolves players expressed nothing but respect for Bryant and his career accomplishment. For a few of the younger players on the roster, they were only toddlers when Bryant started in the NBA. Wiggins was just one year old.

“I witnessed greatness tonight,” Wiggins said postgame. “A living legend passed Michael Jordan, who everyone thinks is the best player of all-time. That’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

Following the game, Bryant gave kudos to Wiggins, comparing the No. 1 pick to himself in earlier years.

“It was a strange feeling because I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I remember playing against Michael [Jordan] my first year. And to be here tonight playing against [Wiggins], seeing the baby face and the little footwork or technique thing that he’s going to be much, much sharper at later on, was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago.”

The game stopped for a few brief moments when Bryant hit the milestone; the guard received congratulatory hugs and affirmations from both teammates and opponents, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor presented Bryant with the game ball before play resumed.

“It was different,” Bryant said. “I’m so used to being the villain all the time on the road it took a minute to kind of adjust. It felt good to be appreciated like that.”

Despite falling short of the win, head coach Flip Saunders called Sunday’s matchup a “learning experience” for the team. There were several glimpses of good things for the Wolves, as they shot 42.2 percent from the field and actually outscored the Lakers 54-38 in the paint.

Muhammad had arguably his best game of the season. The forward’s 28 points came in just over 27 minutes on the floor, and he continued to create shot after shot.

“When [Shabazz] goes in the game I think everyone knows … that when he gets it he’s probably going to look to score,” Saunders said. “They’re really trying to guard him now … and he still finds ways to create opportunities for himself. That’s a positive.”

Corey Brewer and Zach LaVine added that spark of energy for their team, adding 10 points apiece for the evening. Brewer also dished out nine assists and grabbed two steals.

Sunday’s loss dropped Minnesota’s record to 5-18, currently last in the Western Conference.

The Wolves will leave for a two-game road trip to face the Wizards on Tuesday (6 p.m. CST) and then the Celtics on Friday (6:30 p.m. CST).

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 8

When will any of these guys return to the Timberwolves lineup? (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

When will any of these guys return to the Timberwolves lineup? (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

Setting the stage:

The Minnesota Timberwolves head into week eight with a 5-17 record before Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Target Center.  After Sunday’s game the Wolves will head east for two games before returning home to wrap up the week.  The injuries continue to plague the team/roster with little help in sight.  While this should help in the long run, it is frustrating and sometimes painful to watch right now.  The minutes that Flip Saunders is giving to Zach LaVine will help judge where he fits best with this club – which position, role, etc.  Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng are getting heavy minutes and the learning curve would seem to be quickening because of it.

The week ahead has several very winnable games for our Pups.  Here is a brief preview for each:

Game 24: Tuesday, 12/16, 6pm – Timberpups @ Washington Wizards (TV: FSN Plus)

The Wizards may be the surprise team in the league right now with a 16-6 record, with a home game on Sunday against the Utah Jazz.  A win on Sunday would be their fourth in a row.  Washington is .5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks to lead the Southeast division.

Opponent to watch:

John Wall – Wall is having a career year averaging 17.8ppg, 10.5apg, and over 2 steals a game.  This is likely going to be a very rough matchup for Zach LaVine in trying to contain Wall and even if Flip rotates a bit, that would put the Wolves’ rookie on Bradley Beal – who is coming off of a big performance this past week against the Lakers.

Game 25: Friday, 12/19, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ Boston Celtics (TV: FS North)

The Celtics enter the week with a 7-14 record and will face the Sixers and Magic on Monday and Wednesday night respectively ahead of Friday night’s matchup in Beantown.  The Celtics are coming off of an embarrassing loss against the Knicks and will look to recover against two other sub-par Eastern Conference teams ahead of the Wolves.

Opponent to watch:

Jeff Green – While underwhelming on the court to many, I have always liked Green and thought he would have been a good fit on the Wolves’ roster.  Green is averaging over 20ppg this season and has a PER of 16.6.  He isn’t rebounding at a high level but is the clear #1 option on offense for the Celtics.  Mr. Wiggins will have another opportunity to guard the top scoring option of the opposition.

Game 26: Sunday, 12/21, 6pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The coldest team in the league is the Indiana Pacers, having lost eight games in a row.  They will be in Denver for a game on Saturday night and will have to fly to Minnesota for Sunday’s matchup at Target Center.  Sunday’s game could be a nice return home for the Wolves who have the ability to pull off the victory against a struggling team.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – The Pacers are somewhat faceless this year due to injuries.  Hibbert has been up and down but will be a tough test for Gorgui Dieng.  Hibbert is only averaging 11.6ppg and 7.3rpg but should be able to turn it on at any point.  At least one would think that.

Wrap-up:

The Timberwolves could easily win at least two games this week with several struggling opponents from the Eastern Conference.  How many wins do you foresee for the team this week?  Go Pups!

Timberwolves Break Losing Streak, Top Trailblazers 90-82

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

The Timberwolves snapped a six-game losing streak and came away with the “W” over Portland Wednesday night. Rookie Andrew Wiggins led the team with 23 points and 10 rebounds, notching his first career double-double. Corey Brewer followed with 19 points. On the opposing side, Damian Lillard tallied 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists in an effort to keep the Wolves at bay. In the end, though, the young Wolves squad pulled together for the 90-82 victory.

Minnesota came out looking familiarly weak in the very beginning, but the squad soon turned things around. Wiggins played well right out of the gate, and Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench in the first quarter to add six points in less than six minutes on the floor. The Wolves improved their shooting percentage to 41 percent in the second quarter—compared to just 35 in the first—and found their groove much quicker than their opponents.

Wiggins and Muhammad had already combined for 22 points going into halftime, and the Wolves held a nine-point lead. Fans may have felt that not-to-comfortable feeling with only a single-digit advantage, but the team came out charging to start the second half, and things only got better as Minnesota pulled away to extend the gap to 20.

Besides executing good ball movement and making their shots, the Wolves performed much better on defense than they have since Ricky Rubio was injured. Minny held LaMarcus Aldridge to only 10 points on the evening, an accomplishment for any team. Aldridge is averaging 21.7 points per game, and the Timberwolves shut him down. Wednesday marked Aldridge’s only scoreless first half since 2008. Overall, Minnesota blocked three shots and got away with an impressive 13 steals, five of those takeaways credited to Brewer.

“[The defense is] much improved recently,” said head coach Flip Saunders after the game. “In the last two games against two of the best offensive teams in the league we’ve come out and we’ve played hard and we’ve challenged.”

Portland did work to cut the deficit to four points near the end, but it wasn’t enough. Wiggins led the charge to hang onto a lead, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter alone.

“I feel comfortable and I know my team is always going to be there,” Wiggins said.* “We made plays together. It wasn’t just me. Without them executing the plays, helping me get open, I wouldn’t have found my shots.”

“Wiggins looked like the No. 1 pick tonight,” Saunders said post-game. “He got his shots, took things over, took big shots late, had 10 rebounds, got on the floor for a couple loose balls, had a couple steals […] He came and he delivered.”

Thaddeus Young added 13 points to the Wolves’ effort, and rookie Zach LaVine came off the bench to grab 10 points and dish out five assists. Newest addition Jeff Adrien also made an impact. The 28-year-old tallied eight points and 11 rebounds in just his fifth game with the team.

Brewer voiced the Wolves’ general feelings following the win, expressing that it was a much-needed win and will hopefully serve as a “stepping stone” moving forward.

As Saunders said, “the baby Wolves grew up a little bit.”

 

Up Next:

The Timberwolves will remain at home to host Oklahoma City on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

*Listen to Wiggins’ post-game interview here.

Timberwolves Hand Sixers First Win of the Season

MINvsPHI

Philadelphia entered the Target Center Wednesday night desperately hoping to find its first win. After starting the season 0-17, the Sixers were set to tie with New Jersey for the NBA record of longest loss streak to start a season. Luckily for Philly, the Timberwolves could not get anything going. At the end of the night, Minnesota scored just 77 points to its opponents’ 85, and the Sixers walked away with their first victory. Thad Young led the Wolves with 16 points against his former team, and Gorgui Dieng grabbed a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Michael Carter-Williams tallied 20 points and nine rebounds for Philadelphia.

Perhaps foreshadowing of the poor play ahead, the game got off to a weird start when both teams lined up incorrectly at tip-off. The confusion led to Philly heading the wrong direction upon possession, and in a very rare instance, the game was restarted. From that point on, both teams struggled immensely.

Neither squad could seem to find the basket, and ball handling proved sloppy on both sides. In the first quarter alone, 12 turnovers occurred. Minnesota shot just 27 percent from the field for a total of 13 points in the first period.

Young made the biggest difference in the second quarter, finally finding his groove and grabbing six points to help the Wolves back into the contest. The game was one of several runs, and the teams exchanged the lead a few times. Despite coming back from behind and playing more consistently after the first quarter, however, the Wolves looked completely lost on offense.

Head coach Flip Saunders said following the game that Philadelphia switched up its defense several times, and that generated confusion for the Wolves offensively. While providing this semblance of an explanation, though, Saunders emphasized it was no excuse.

“When they [switch up defense] on you, you have to just play basketball.”

Despite Dieng and Young stepping up, a flashy slam dunk from rookie Zach LaVine, and improved shooting in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late. Minnesota shot just 35.7 percent and turned the ball over 19 times in the Wolves’ 11th loss in 13 games.

Tension clogged the air of the Wolves locker room following the game. Perhaps the loss would have been easier to take had the Sixers simply played good basketball all. They didn’t. At the end of the game, Philadelphia finished with 39 percent from the field and only 64 percent from the free-throw line.

“That’s what makes it bad,” forward Corey Brewer said. “They play that bad and we still lose? We have to look at ourselves, man. It’s tough. We can’t lose that game, period.”

Saunders echoed Brewer’s sentiments in a very quiet post-game presser: “We’re not a very good team right now. We’ve all got to get better. We’ve got to work with our guys more to get them to do what we need to do.”

The upcoming schedule for Minnesota can only get more difficult from this point, and rookie Andrew Wiggins (4-for-12 on the night) said he hopes that this game will serve as an eye opener for the team.

The Wolves will remain home to face Houston Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff before flying to San Antonio for a Saturday night game.

Timberwolves fall to Clippers, 127-101

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE

After losing to the Trailblazers in Portland, the Timberwolves arrived in Los Angeles with hopes of pulling out a victory. The Wolves started out strong, finishing the first quarter with a 34-31 lead. As the game headed into the second quarter things got ugly pretty quickly. Until Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic return this type of pattern will probably be fairly common.

During the first half, Andrew Wiggins was the leading scorer for the Wolves. He managed to score 14 points on 4-9 shooting, and made 6 of his 7 attempts at the line. Nobody else managed to reach double digits for the Wolves during the first half. Thaddeus Young’s struggles continued, as he only managed 4 points in the half, but only played 9 minutes because he was dealing with foul trouble early. On the Clippers side of the ball, J.J. Redick was easily the star. He finished the first half with 17 points, with 9 of those points coming beyond the arc. At one point in the half, the Clippers went on a 25-4 run, and during that run the Wolves missed eleven consecutive shots.

After a fine performance in the first half, Wiggins all but disappeared in the second half. He was held scoreless as he missed both of the shots that he attempted, and missed both of his free throw attempts. Shabazz Muhammad was impressive off the bench, to say the least. He scored 10 pts, and also grabbed 5 rebounds. He finished the game with 18 points, and 10 rebounds. Zach LaVine and Robbie Hummel also managed to score double digits during the second half, and overall had solid performances offensively. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin scored 12 points and picked up 4 rebounds in the second half, finishing the night with 23 points and 8 boards. DeAndre Jordan also did nice work on the glass, as he finished with 13 rebounds.

While this is good experience for the younger guys, it’ll be nice to see the veterans get healthy so that they can get back on the court. It’s hard enough with such a young squad, but they’ll get through this stretch in time. The Wolves next game is back at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, and hopefully they manage to pull off a win in front of the home crowd.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 6

Flip's the man in charge!  (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Flip’s the man in charge! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

 

Setting the stage:

The 4-10 Timberwolves (pending Sunday night’s result in Portland) head into a busy week of action in week 6 – wrapping up a trip to the West Coast in Los Angeles before returning home for two games and heading back on the road to close out the week.  After defeating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night, the team traveled to Portland for a game on Sunday, only to have to return to Los Angeles for Monday’s game against the Clippers.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 16: Monday, 12/1, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Los Angeles Clippers (TV: FS North)

A back-to-back traveling up and down the coastline with another opponent that is playing really well to start the season.  The Clippers remain a tremendously talented, regular season team that must do more in the playoffs to earn respect around the league.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin continue to put up big numbers on a nightly basis.

Opponent to watch:

DeAndre Jordan – Assuming Nikola Pekovic doesn’t return for this game, Jordan will likely be a headache for the Wolves.  While Gorgui Dieng provides respectable defense, a lot of his strength is in help defense and not so much in a one-to-one set – yet, at least.  That should come as Dieng continues to become more familiar with the pro game.

Game 17: Wednesday, 12/3, 7pm – Philadelphia 76ers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North Plus)

The Sixers open the week at 0-16 and will likely be 0-17 when they come to Minneapolis, given that they face the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.  The Wolves need to win games like this one for morale and to keep the home fanbase at bay.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Wroten – Wroten leads the Sixers in points, assists and steals per game.  Paging Andrew Wiggins.  Wiggins continues to guard the strongest wing opponent night in and night out and it shouldn’t change when Philly comes to town.

Game 18: Friday, 12/5, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Take a second to go look at divisional standings and how far ahead the Southwest division is vs. all others.  Friday’s game against the Rockets starts a five game stretch of very hard match-ups for the Wolves.  Kevin McHale’s Rockets enter the forthcoming week at 13-4 and have a huge match-up against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Selfishly, please allow me to use this space as another plea to leverage a game against Kevin McHale to break out the original blue uniforms from the Timberwolves early years.

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota (This is Kevin Love's jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota
(This is Kevin Love’s jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Paging Mr. Wiggins again!  Harden is having another phenomenal season with a PER just under 24.

Game 19: Saturday, 12/6, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ San Antonio Spurs (TV: FS North)

The second of a back-to-back against the defending champs.  Why not just have this game in Mexico City?  The Spurs blew out the Wolves in Minnesota earlier this season (121-92), largely due to …

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – Parker led the Spurs in Minnesota with 28 points on 12-18 shooting.  Mo Williams struggled to contain the Spurs PG as he ran as an efficient of an offense as you will find in the NBA.

Wrap-up:

Week 6 is a very tough week for the Timberwolves, who need to protect the Target Center floor against the Sixers.  The Pups can’t be the first team the Sixers defeat this season.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Sink Lakers, 120-119

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

The 3-10 Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road to take on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team that is off to the worst in franchise history at 3-12.  Despite the return of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference with our Pups.  The Lakers lottery pick, Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and things have gone from bad to worse for Los Angeles.  As you might expect, the Lakers would receive zero pity points from the Wolves, who continue to take the court with a ton of missing pieces.

The Wolves opened up with a returning Mo Williams at PG, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Lakers came out with Jeremy Lin, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill.

Mo Williams started off the game with the shooter’s touch, scoring 8 of the Pups’ first 13 points.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, Kobe was in the zone to begin the game as well.  Bryant was all over the court, putting up 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in the 1st quarter.  In the final 4-5 minutes of the opening quarter, the Wolves turned the ball over entirely too much (7 in the first quarter) and it led to the Lakes taking a seven point advantage into the second quarter, 30-23.

After falling behind by as many as eleven points, the Wolves went on a small run to cut the Lakers lead down to three, 52-50.  The Wolves were led by Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, who were the only two players doing much of anything on the offensive end of the court.  Heading into a timeout, LaVine had quickly become the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field.

At the half of a relatively exciting and certainly entertaining game, the Lakers held a 58-54 advantage.  While the Wolves were heavily relying on Mo Williams, LaVine, and Bennett, the Lakers were getting contributions across the board.  Six of the ten players that entered the game had scored at least six points for the home team.

The Timberwolves came out and scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 58.  From there, the two teams went toe to toe and bucket for bucket throughout an amazing show of offense in the third quarter.  Basketball purists may also suggest that NBA team defense regressed 25 years as well.  When Wes Johnson is going off, you know there are issues on the defensive end of the court.  The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 39-38 in the third quarter but trailed 96-93 after three quarters.

It looked like the Wolves were in trouble when Nick Young started to get hot and brought the crowd alive in the 4th quarter.  However, Mo Williams answered the call with eight straight points for the Wolves and tied the game at 117.  The play/sequence of the game followed Williams’ last bucket as Kobe got Andrew Wiggins to bite on a few up-fakes and drew a foul.  However, Bryant missed both free throw attempts allowing the Wolves to take a two point lead on a Thad Young bucket.  Kobe tied the game at 119 with another basket but the Wolves had five seconds on the clock to get a shot off.  Flip Saunders drew up a play for Thad and he drew a foul on Nick Young to go to the free throw line.  After missing the first, Young made the second to give the Wolves a 120-119 lead with two seconds left in the game.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Kobe Bryant missed a relatively open three pointer as time expired, giving the Pups the victory, 120-119.  After losing 22 straight to the Lakers, the Timberwolves have now won four of the last five.

Game Notes:

  • The Lakers wore an alternative black t-shirt jersey this evening, which led to the Timberwolves wearing their home white jerseys.  The NBA is confusing.
  • While Wiggins probably had his worst game of the season Friday night, fellow rookie Zach LaVine finished with a career high 28 points on 11-14 shooting.  LaVine of course was returning to the Los Angeles area after his one season at UCLA.
  • If it weren’t for LaVine, Mo Williams would easily be considered the player of the game, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists.