Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 21

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

How often will we see KG on the court the last few weeks of the season?  (Photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

Setting the stage:

We are now officially into the last month of the season, with 12 games left on the Timberwolves schedule.  It hasn’t been a pretty season to say the least.  The Wolves are taking this one game at a time and have made the (wise) decision to give guys the occasional day of rest here and there.  For Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio, the team is being more than cautious for very different reasons.  It will be interesting to see how much KG plays over the next month, if the Wolves only play him at the Target Center, etc.

Ping pong balls are the craze right now and despite the win in New York this past week, the Timberwolves are in the front seat (if not the drivers’ seat) for the most ping pong balls in the lottery.  I’m not bragging here.

With that in mind, here is a brief preview for another four game week for our Pups:

Game 70: Monday, 3/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: No local TV)

Is someone on the FSN broadcast team not allowed in Utah?  It feels like this is a game that commonly sees the local blackout on TV.  While it would take a miracle to do so, the Jazz have been one of the hotter teams in the NBA.  They remain #1 in the NBA in points allowed and will be a tough match-up for the Wolves, even if they were to play at full strength.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors’ name was showing up in trade rumors last year but I imagine that is over with his performance this season – 16+ppg, 8+rpg and a PER over 22.  If KG sits this one out, it could be a long night for Adreian Payne.

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/25, 7pm – Los Angeles Lakers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Lakers are making a late run for ping pong balls, having shut Kobe Bryant down for the season and showcasing the likes of Wayne Ellington, Tarik Black, and …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – My least favorite lottery pick in Timberwolves’ history!  Johnson is playing just under 30 minutes a night and still can’t score 10ppg or grab 4rpg on average.  Awesome.

Game 72: Friday, 3/27, 7pm – Timberpups @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

Despite losing all three prior contests this season, the Wolves have played the Rockets tough.  This is another opportunity for the Wolves to put on the original blue uniforms against Kevin McHale’s squad … (note: I know this can’t happen, but I still yearn for it).

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate this season (top 5 at least).  He’s putting up about 26-7-6 on a nightly basis and has free reign on the court because … well, he has McHale as a head coach.

Game 73: Sunday, 3/29, 3pm – Timberpups @ New Orleans Pelicans (TV: FS North)

The Pelicans dropped a season high 139 points on the Timberwolves back in November.  With the season winding down and the Wolves’ resting players, what is New Orleans capable of Sunday afternoon?

Opponent to watch:

Anthony Davis – Another legitimate MVP candidate gets to face the Wolves this week.  If you thought Harden’s numbers were impressive, Davis is putting up about 25 and 10 to go with about 3 blocks a night and a PER north of 30.  Let’s hope he can stay healthy because Davis could be the league’s best as LeBron and Durant start to age.

Wrap-up:

A very, very tough week ahead for the Timberwolves … excluding a terrible Lakers team of course.  Let’s go Wolves!

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%)

Recap – Pelicans 98, Timberwolves 91

pelicansmascot

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 24-25 and are looking at the next four games before the all-star break as an opportunity to get a few games above the Mason-Dixon Line.  That sounds like a good plan, no?  The team traveled to New Orleans for Friday’s encounter with the 21-27 Pelicans.  While under .500 for the season overall, the Pelicans were 12-12 going into the action Friday night.

The Wolves got back a few starters after they missed Wednesday’s game, opening up with: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Turiaf.  Nikola Pekovic remains out with his injury.  The Pelicans are dealing with a slew of injuries of their own, but their starting lineup Friday night was: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca.  Added bonus for future trivia: tonight was the first game in the “Smoothie King Center”. Let’s just move on …

First Half 

Game got off to a slow start in the scoring department. As an added “bonus” for Wolves fans, Kevin Love seemed to tweak something early and looked slow and banged up. Going into the first timeout with just over 5 minutes left in the opening frame, the Pelicans held a 14-12 lead, led by the Unibrow, who got it going early with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. (Congrats to the ‘Brow on being named to the Western Conference All-Star team – more than deserved!)

Kevin Love picked up a quick second foul and that led to Dante Cunningham’s early arrival in the game. For the record, Love probably should have taken a seat when he couldn’t get past half court to play defense, but you know … Adelman. (I’m quickly turning to the dark side.) Before I get in trouble, the Wolves held a 26-25 lead over the Pelicans at the end of the quarter. Corey Brewer led the Pups with 9 points and creating chaos, including one of the ugliest fast-breaks you will ever see in NBA history; however, it ended with a Kevin Martin three pointer, so no complaints here.

The early minutes of the second quarter can be summarized with this:

It isn’t like we signed this guy to a new contract this past summer or anything, right? (Crickets) Beyond this little tidbit, the Wolves played a Pelicans-inspired slowed down pace, outscoring the home team 21-17 in the quarter and taking a 47-42 into the locker room.

Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Despite not scoring in 14 minutes of action, Dante Cunningham had a nice half of basketball with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal
  • Kevin Love had 10 & 8 at the half and was solid offensively, but Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 17 points at the same time – interesting match-up!
  • Ronny Turiaf – defensive presence!  (3 blocks by halftime!)

Second Half 

Despite Kevin Love looking like a broken body multiple times in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves played a solid final few minutes to increase their lead a bit.  Love was fouled (but not called) by Greg Stiemsma and looked like he was going to need to be scraped off the floor after a few attempts in the paint on the ensuing possession after not being able to get back on defense.  There is going to be a time when we are going to regret this.  However, it wasn’t through the third quarter, as the Wolves built a 71-61 lead going into the final frame.

All of the good from the 3rd quarter came to a screeching halt with the Pelicans going on a massive run to begin the 4th quarter, going up 78-77 – a 17-6 run before Adelman finally called a timeout.  The onslaught continued as the Pelicans poured it on in the 4th quarter, while the Wolves found ways to increase their deficit – bad defense, terrible shot selection, and overall bonehead play.  With about 2.5 minutes to go, the Pelicans held an 89-82 lead, outscoring the Pups 28-11 to this point in the quarter.  Let’s hit the fast forward button because nothing positive happened the rest of the way for our Pups.  They continued to fall flat on their face and wound up giving up 37 points in the 4th quarter, losing to the Pelicans, 98-91.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Anthony Davis – great game for the ‘Brow, 26 & 10 and looked like a leader on the floor
  2. Eric Gordon – huge second half for Gordon, who finished with 20 points and it felt like he threw two or three daggers at the Wolves
  3. Kevin Love – who I am somewhat expecting to hear “trade request” from this all-star break.  26 & 18 for the starting PF in the Western Conference … 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves continue to shoot three pointers for no apparent reason other than “it’s flashy” … 4-17 in tonight’s game, including a 0-6 from Love.
  • Huge advantage for Minnesota at the FT line, going 31-37 on the evening, compared to NOLA’s 12-16.  Somehow, someway, the Wolves still managed to lose this game.
  • Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer create havoc on both ends of the floor … however, their lack of fundamental defense (along with Kevin Martin’s lack of any defense) is killing this team.  This already feels like a very long second half of the season.

Recap: Wolves Devour Frozen Pelicans 124-112.

Wednesday the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-16) hosted the New Orleans Pelicans (14-15). These teams entered the game struggling to rise above the .500 mark with a combined record of 29-31, but one of them would have the same amount of victories as defeats at the sound of the final buzzer.

The somewhat infamous Pierre the Pelican, New Orleans mascot, did not travel with the team, preventing a certain heated exchange between the Pelican and Crunch. Maybe the Wolves can send Crunch into the Bayou later this season. I only say that because this is a mascot battle I need to see at some point in my life. The spectacle of mascots doing mascot things will always entertain me. [Read more…]

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 10

 

David Sherman/Getty Images

David Sherman/Getty Images

Setting the stage:

With the holidays upon us, should we be celebrating the fact that our Timberpups have reached the .500 mark?  I have mixed feelings on this roster as a whole and would like to see more minutes given to the rookies, particularly Gorgui Dieng.  Someone needs to work with Ricky Rubio all offseason on his shooting stroke because it is clearly still broken.  All of that said, the Wolves are 15-15 and hopefully ready to roll going into 2014.  Much of the positives have to be credited to Kevin Love and his incredible play thus far this season – 26.1ppg (3rd in the NBA) & 13.8rpg (1st), with a PER of 28.5 (2nd).  Can we tear up his contract and max him out for the next five or six years?

Since I previewed week 8 of the season, the team has improved to 2nd in the league in scoring at 106.4ppg, 3rd in rebounding (46.2rpg) and 6th in assists (23.4apg).  Nothing much has changed on the defensive end, with the team giving up 102.3ppg, “good” for 23rd in the NBA.

Game 32: Monday, 12/30, 7pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North) [Read more…]