Timberwolves Return Home, Defeat Knicks 115-99

After 18 days away, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally returned home to the Target Center Wednesday night to welcome the New York Knicks. Despite missing several valuable players, Minnesota outscored New York in all but the final quarter to power through to a 115-99 win. Kevin Martin led the Wolves with a career-high 37 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad with 17. On the opposing side, old faithfuls Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire scored 20 and 19 points, respectively.

The Target Center crowd of just over 15,000 started out fairly quiet, but the energy quickly rose as the Wolves jumped ahead to an early lead. With Thad Young being away from the team following the passing of his mother and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic sidelined due to injury, the starting lineup looked a bit different Wednesday. In fact, despite both teams having low win totals, Minnesota was probably the underdog with such a thin roster. No one told the Wolves that, apparently.

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

Martin lit up immediately, notching 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-point baskets. Just a few hours prior, Martin had been listed as “questionable” due to illness.

According to Wolves writer Dane Mizutani, Martin sent head coach Flip Saunders a text around 3:30 saying he would probably miss shootaround because he had been throwing up all night. Regardless, the forward knew he would play in the game.

“There wasn’t even a thought,” Martin said. “I realized the situation and know that guys work so hard … so there was never a thought of not playing.”

The Wolves struggled with rebounding for the evening, only grabbing 12 boards. They made up for it, though, in shooting and creating turnovers. Minny shot 49.4 percent from the field, and they averaged an even more impressive 50 percent from behind the arc. At the end of the night, the team had 11 3-point buckets, seven of those from Martin.

Minnesota controlled the ball fairly well, holding itself to 14 turnovers. New York committed 23. The Wolves’ defense flourished all four quarters, with Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer combining for 11 steals. Brewer’s name floated around in trade rumors last week, as the Wolves apparently have been looking into a deal with Cleveland for the forward. Brewer says the rumors don’t bother him, though. He likes playing for Minnesota, and he will just continue focusing on basketball. Timberwolves fans did share their opinion on the matter–at one point during Wednesday’s game, a cheer began in the TWolves Army fan section: “Let’s Keep Corey Brewer.”

Andrew Wiggins and Mo Williams delivered strong performances as well. Wiggins continues to play well in his rookie season, as he tallied 12 points on the evening and joined with Anthony Bennett for a couple flashy plays. Williams plays more as a quiet threat, but the veteran stepped up to replace Rubio in the starting lineup and did not disappoint. Williams scored 14 points and dished out 13 assists en route to the win.

The victory was a much-needed lift for team spirits after Minnesota lost five of its six road games. Bennett said the following after the game:

“I just don’t want to get used to feeling this feeling, you know, losing basketball games, games that we should be winning. Just letting it slip out of our hands, regardless if it’s early in the season or not.”

The Wolves will enjoy a bit of time at home now, as they prepare to face Tim Duncan and the Spurs Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Rubio shines as Wolves topple Nets

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

All three of the Wolves prior contests this season had come down to the final few minutes. In Brooklyn on Wednesday night, it was no different. Instead of folding in the clutch like a season ago, this years Wolves have excelled. Especially the newly re-signed Spanish Unicorn known as Ricky Rubio.

At the 2:38 mark, with the Wolves down four to the Nets, Rubio swished a contested 20 footer.

27 seconds later, Rubio rifled an overhead pass from the right wing. Rubio hits Kevin Martin perfectly in the chest in the opposite corner, who buried the triple to give the Wolves the lead.

After committing a reach in foul on the Wolves subsequent defensive possession, Rubio sends Joe Johnson to the line. As Johnson releases the second attempt, Rubio sneaks into the lane, grabbing the ball after it hits front iron. He hurries the ball up and passes it to Martin, who misses a contested three on the right wing.

After an iso Joe bucket against Wiggins on the resulting possession, 1:28 remains, with the Wolves down two. Rubio takes the ball up. Alone with Deron Williams on the strong side, Ricky switches his dribble to his left hand, torches Williams, and banks home a lay-up to tie the game.

On the Nets next possession, with 1:08 to play, Thad Young takes the ball away from Joe Johnson. Young hands it to Rubio. Young sets a screen on Williams, forcing Johnson to cover Rubio and Williams to cover Young. Rubio is able to easily throw it into Pekovic in the post, who due to the switch, only has Brook Lopez to worry about. Pek forces his way into a three point play with 48.6 remaining.

Brooklyn takes timeout, and on the ensuing inbounds, Rubio makes sure to run right into Lopez’ extended elbow. With a little bit of spanish flair, Rubio draws the illegal screen and the Wolves get the ball.

The very next possession, Thad and Ricky play catch for a while, before Thad, with 30.9 to play, receives a Rubio pass at the top of the key. Thad fakes his defender, drives into the lane and banks home the floater. With 27.2 seconds on the clock, the Wolves lead is now five.

To summarize, over a span of 2:01, Rubio tallied four points, three assists, a rebound and drew an offensive foul, while the Wolves went from trailing by four to leading by five.

So yes, Ricky Rubio is worth 4 years and $55 million. And no, these are not last years Wolves.

Other Notes:

  • Andrew Wiggins had his best game as a pro, scoring 17 points and only committing one turnover. His flashes of greatness are brilliant, but he suffers from many of the typical rookie mistakes. He was caught biting on the pump fake a few times again tonight, and took a few shots he probably should have holstered.
  • Early Coach of the Year candidate: Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy. His one-on-one work with Rubio seems to have helped tremendously.
  • Young, Pek and Rubio were made to play together. All are excellent passers for their positions, and the spacing is beautiful to witness.
  • Big Daddy Canada (AKA Anthony Bennett) two handed power-slams are my favorite kind of dunks (besides LaVine free-throw line windmills).
  • Increasingly after every game, I wonder what exactly Corey’s place on this team is. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with the pieces that are in place.

I leave you with these Andrew Wiggins highlights. Enjoy the win.

 

 

Timberwolves Battle Back, Suffer Heartbreaking Loss to Bulls

(photo credit: yahoo)

(photo credit: yahoo)

Saturday’s home stand against the Bulls proved an emotional roller coaster for the Timberwolves and 19,000+ fans in attendance. Kevin Martin delivered a huge performance, leading the team with 33 points.  Minnesota overcame a difficult first half and gave the Bulls a serious run for their money. In the end, though, the Wolves fell just short in a last-second 106-105 loss.

Both teams shot almost 50 percent on the evening, but it was the first half that initially buried the Wolves. Head coach Flip Saunders played Nikola Pekovic for a majority of the first two quarters, but he once again struggled beneath the basket. Pek tallied only eight points (of his final 17) during this time, and perhaps more surprising was the fact that he entered halftime with only three rebounds in over 15 minutes on the floor. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who played just eight minutes in the first half, grabbed five boards.

Minnesota as a team struggled to rebound. Despite finishing the game with a solid 42 rebounds, only 17 of those occurred over the first two quarters. In addition, the Wolves allowed Chicago to sink an incredibly 68 percent of its baskets. Rookie Andrew Wiggins had an incredibly quiet start, and Rubio struggled to make his shots. Thad Young scored eight points, but he left the game at the end of the second following a nasty collision with Jimmy Butler. At halftime, Minny trailed 49-63.

In the third quarter, however, things turned around. Wiggins continued his trend of coming to life in the third quarter, grabbing four points and two steals. Martin showed no signs of slowing down as he scored nine points in the third, and second-year Anthony Bennett added six.

The Wolves were behind for a majority of the game, but in the second half they continued to battle back and keep the point gap to single digits. The highlight of the game came when Martin nailed a three-pointer from the left side to put the Wolves up 105-104 with only 2.9 seconds left in the game.  The crowd exploded, feeling as if the Wolves had stolen a last-minute win.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Butler drew Wiggins in for a foul with .2 seconds remaining, and the guard easily made both free throws to seal a Chicago victory.

Following the game, Wiggins was clearly taking responsibility upon himself for the loss.

“I could’ve changed the outcome of the game,” Wiggins said. “It was a learning experience for me. It hurt, but the good thing about the NBA, I’ve got another game in a couple days.”

Martin, however, took the pressure off his teammate. The veteran forward explained that it was a team effort and a situation that the entire roster needs to learn from.

“I told [Andrew] that we lost that game in the first half,” Martin said. “It had nothing to do with that last play. We’ve got to come in here and have a better effort in the first half so we’re not trying to climb uphill.”

An arena focus on Saturday night was Rubio’s recently signed four-year extension. Announcements were made, and the score board highlighted the news a few times throughout the night. During the starting lineup, Rubio received–by far–the largest amount of support by a very excited crowd. Despite scoring only six points on the evening, Rubio dished out an incredible 17 assists. In addition, he played well on defense and committed only three turnovers, an area he has historically struggled in.

“It’s nice to see my teammates making shots and I’m going to look for them every night, but all I want to do is win,” said Rubio.

 

Up next: The Timberwolves leave for a 12-day, six-game roadtrip. The next home game will not be until Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 2

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Setting the stage:

The quest for an 82-0 season fell quickly in the season opener in Memphis this past week for the Timberwolves.  However, it feels like there are a good number of positives to build upon with the 1-2 club.  The Pups hit the road this week for a three game trip that will take them to Brooklyn and then through the state of Florida.

If nothing else, the Timberwolves have been very competitive in their first three games of the season.  They kept the game tight against the Grizzlies, pulled away from the Pistons for the home opener, and lost a heartbreaker against a Derrick Rose-less Bulls squad. The Wolves are averaging 101 points per game and are getting contributions from virtually everyone on the roster.

If the action on the floor wasn’t enough, the Wolves’ front office gave the fanbase another reason to celebrate, announcing that the club came to terms with Ricky Rubio on a four year contract extension worth $55 million.  Rubio is now locked up through the 2018/19 season and allows the team to start focusing on how it builds around Andrew Wiggins and the Spanish Point Guard.  Rubio celebrated his new contract with a 17 assist game on Saturday night against the Bulls.

Game 4: Wednesday, 11/5, 6:30pm – Pups @ Brooklyn Nets (TV: FS North)

The Nets open this week with a 1-1 record and will have their home opener on Monday night against a depleted OKC Thunder squad.  With three full days off, the Wolves should be fresh for Wednesday’s action.

Wolves fans will likely get to see ex-Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko on the court, but there is “probably” someone a little more interesting to keep an eye on …

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Garnett – I probably wrote the same thing last year, but this is one of two chances to see KG suit up against his former club.  There is no acceptable reason to miss this game as a Wolves fan.

Game 5: Friday, 11/7, 6pm – Pups @ Orlando Magic (TV: FS North)

The Magic were dealt an early season blow when they announced that Victor Oladipo would miss the start of the season with a facial fracture.  The team is 0-3 entering the week ahead and is struggling to put points on the board.

Opponent to watch:

Nikola Vucevic – One player that isn’t struggling for the Magic is Vucevic, averaging 17.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by an opening night 23 rebounds in New Orleans.

Game 6: Saturday, 11/8, 6:30pm – Pups @ Miami Heat (TV: FS North)

The Wolves will finish up their three game road trip in Miami.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they will be heading into this game as the second of a back-to-back, while the Heat will have been off since a Wednesday night game in Charlotte.  The Heat are 2-0 heading into a Sunday night game against the Raptors.

Opponent to watch:

Chris Bosh – Through two games, Bosh is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds per game.  Perhaps exiting a little bit of a shadow, the Heat will be relying on Bosh to bring this type of production to the floor every night.

Predictions:

Wrap-up:

If the Pups can continue the competitive spirit they brought to the court in the first week of the season, the club will continue to slowly but surely gain attention around the league.  “Solid but not spectacular” might be the best way to describe the action thus far.

Items that I like thus far:

  1. Gorgui Dieng has been incredibly productive in a limited role
  2. Despite an even more limited role than Dieng, Anthony Bennett has played very well

Things that I don’t like right now:

  1. Zach LaVine’s minutes or lack thereof
  2. Chase Budinger is really struggling in his (very) limited role
  3. Seeing Thaddeus Young go down in Saturday’s game after several productive performances to start the season

Let’s go Wolves!  Who or what has caught your attention in the first week of the season?

Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.

Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.

“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.

Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.

The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.

Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.

Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.

“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”

Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.

“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.

In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:

“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”

Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.

***

Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

Timberwolves Training Camp Roster

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced their 2014 training camp roster this week with little to no surprises.  The team has eighteen players on the camp roster and will need to cut that down to fifteen for opening night, 10/7 in Indianapolis to take on the Pacers.

Here is a look at the roster by position and probable depth chart heading into training camp:

  • PG: Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, JJ Barea
  • SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Corey Brewer, Brady Heslip
  • SF: Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III
  • PF: Thaddeus Young, Anthony Bennett, Robbie Hummel
  • C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf, Kyrylo Fesenko

Several players on the roster can and will spend time at multiple positions.  The five players at the end of each position are also the most likely to not make the roster and you can make an argument for and against each one.

First and foremost, the team still needs to find a new home for JJ Barea.  If the team can’t find a team willing to part with him for a second round draft pick and/or another expiring contract, it would behoove Glen Taylor to eat the money and simply buy out Barea.  There is absolutely no reason for him to be in the locker room for the 2014/15 season.  With Mo Williams as the veteran, backup PG and some minutes likely going to Zach LaVine as well, Barea simply doesn’t need to spread the cancer around the club, particularly with so many young, impressionable players on the roster.

Brady Heslip is the next most likely candidate to miss the opening night roster.  He and Kyrylo Fesenko are the only two without guaranteed contracts.  Barring injuries to players ahead of them, in particular Heslip, it is very unlikely either make the cut.  In Fesenko’s case, there is still a longshot chance that the Wolves are looking to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic to make the rebuild 100% official.  However unlikely this is, there is still a chance.

The other player that Flip Saunders could be looking to move is Kevin Martin, who had a disastrous first season in Minnesota last year.  After a strong first two months, Martin’s game fell off a cliff.  Again, in the spirit of a true rebuild, Martin (and his contract) should expect to have a new home at some point heading into this year’s trade deadline.

Who do you think misses the opening night roster for the forthcoming season?  Remember, training camp is from Tuesday, September 30th through Sunday, October 5th – highlighted by the midnight “Dunks After Dark” event on Monday, 9/29.