Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 1 of 2014/15

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

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

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back and fans have their #EyesOnTheRise!  Welcome to the start of the 2014/15 NBA season and our weekly preview here at Timberpups.com.  While this is very likely to be a year of transition, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine joining the club and being paired with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng.  With other pieces remaining in the mix from last season, the Wolves have a decent balance of youth and veteran experience.  Who remains with the club throughout the season, past the trade deadline and into the next few years is a bit of question mark.  However, there is excitement in the air and that should be carried over to the crowds filling into the Target Center in the days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief preview of each game on the schedule, along with who to watch for and a prediction on the outcome.  The quest for an 82-0 season begins soon and we’ll see how long the team can stay at that pace.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/29, 7pm – Pups @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

Look at this – the Wolves don’t open another season against the Sacramento Kings!  The Grizzlies are coming off of its second 50+ wins season.  The Grizz took the OKC Thunder to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs but failed to advance.

Memphis has added several interesting pieces to their roster this season, including Vince Carter and Earl Clark.  While the Wolves turned the corner and gave up on the failed and flawed ‘playoffs or bust’ philosophy, the Grizzlies continue to look for ways to advance in the postseason.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley is entering his eighth season in the NBA and with the Grizzlies.  Conley really beat up Rubio and the Wolves’ backup Point Guards last season, averaging 17.5ppg and 6.3rpg.

Predictions:

This is a tough start for the Wolves, playing on the road and against a veteran club that looks to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.  Final score: Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 84

Game 2: Thursday, 10/30, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Pups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home opener is against a team that has struggled to build an identity over the past handful of seasons and has thrown free agency money around with no sense of direction.  Enter Stan Van Gundy as the new coach and a new philosophy.

While there are players that can fill up the box score in the Pistons lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with the club.  Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are all interesting players for your NBA fantasy team, but they aren’t leading to many victories for the Pistons.

Monroe had an interesting offseason in which he was charged with a DUI and suspended two games, so he won’t be in uniform against the Wolves.  He also turned down a contract extension from the club and is playing on the one year, qualifying offer.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Drummond – Drummond enters his third season in the NBA and has shown signs of continued improvement in the preseason.  Andre averaged 13.5ppg and 13.2rpg last season, starting all 81 of the games he played in.  It will be a nice litmus test for both Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to see how they match up with the Pistons big man.

Predictions:

With the absence of Monroe and a fired up Target Center, the Wolves have a good chance to pull off the victory.  The Pistons will also be flying into Minnesota off of a Wednesday night game, having to face the Nuggets in Denver less than 24 hours prior to tip-off of Thursday’s action.  Final score: Timberwolves 95, Pistons 91

Game 3: Saturday, 11/1, 7pm – Chicago Bulls @ Pups (TV: NBA TV & FSN Plus)

Assuming they can stay healthy – and that is a big assumption to make – the Chicago Bulls are one of a handful of legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship this season.  The team will be looking to fix what looked to be broken at the end of last year, after losing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs (without Derrick Rose).

Opponent to watch:

Pau Gasol – One of, if not the most underappreciated players in today’s game, Gasol left the Lakers to join the Bulls for a chance at another run at a ring.  Gasol will team with DPOY Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to make for one of the more dominant frontline rotations in the NBA.

Predictions:

The Wolves will have a hard time keeping pace with the Bulls.  Final score: Bulls 113, Timberwolves 96

Wrap-up:

The Wolves face two very tough teams to open the season in the Grizzlies and Bulls.  I am hoping they are able to showcase their young talent in the home opener and get the fanbase excited early.  A win against the Pistons club would mean “a lot”.

Let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Timberwolves 114, Pistons 101

The Pistons wouldn't dare hire this man ... would they?! (Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

The Pistons wouldn’t dare hire this man … would they?!
(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

 

Coming off a loss that I’m going to try to stop thinking about Wednesday night against the Knicks, The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s affair with a 30-30 record.  The 24-37 Pistons took to the Target Center floor amidst rumors of Isiah Thomas weaseling his way into the Motor City and knocking Joe Dumars out of a job.  Only one of those two thoughts should be a reality (hint: it’s the latter).  The Pistons had lost 8 of 10 coming into tonight’s action, affording the Wolves another opportunity to capitalize.

No surprises for the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Pistons opened up with Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond.

First Half 

Perhaps due to their #WolvesKlondike contest on social media (kidding … and I missed by one basket at the end!) the Wolves tried to feed Nikola Pekovic early.  However, it was Kevin Martin who got off to a hot start, scoring six of the team’s first eight points.  The Wolves caught a break early with Greg Monroe picking up two quick fouls.  With that, Minnesota was off and running taking a 17-9 into the first timeout.

Here is what you need to know about the remainder of the 1st quarter: the Wolves only shot three 3PT’ers (hitting two of them) and had 39 points in the first twelve minutes.  How?  They attacked the rim time and time again.  This lead to 9-11 on the FT line and shooting over 50% from the field in the opening frame.  That may have been the best execution I have seen this season, as the Wolves took a 39-21 lead into the break.

As Adelman went further and further down the bench, the Pups managed to maintain their double digit advantage.  I’ve verbally abused (on the internet) JJ Barea over the past two months (note: deservedly) but he had a nice run in the quarter, dropping 4 points and 5 assists in his first stint on the floor.  Going into a timeout, the Wolves held a 61-38 and the Pistons body language was already showing signs of giving up.

With the score 66-45 at the break, here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • The Wolves bench had 24 points at the half, led by Barea, LRMAM, and Chase Budinger.  The team really needs to see Budinger make significant steps over the remainder of the season.
  • He makes it really easy to make fun of him, but who else on the roster is Brandon Jennings going to rely on to score consistently?  Key word, “consistently”.

Second Half 

Things didn’t get any better for the Pistons to start the 3rd quarter.  In fact, it got worse.  From the scoreboard, to their effort, and to their body language, everything looked to be going downhill for Detroit.  The Pistons called their first timeout of the half after falling behind 77-51.

Here is what you need to know about the rest of the quarter: it was great from a Wolves’ perspective and it was mortifying from a Pistons’ view.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Wolves held a 97-69 advantage.  Oddly enough, it felt about 1.3 times worse than this.  I spent most of the quarter talking to Wolves Twitter and could barely keep my eyes on the game.

In typical Wolves-bench fashion, they had an opportunity for extended playing time in the 4th quarter and managed to look god-awful in the process.  The Pistons got off to a 13-2 run, forcing Adelman to burn a timeout with about 7 minutes left in the game so that he could bring back the starters.  The Pistons cut it to an 11 point advantage but the Wolves were able to hold on to the victory.

(What you are not seeing here is an epic JJ Barea rant.  He deserves one, but I’m going to check in with Al on how he feels about a full write-up dedicated to this.)

Final score, 114-101 – with the win moving the Pups record to 31-30 on the season.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Kevin Love – 28 & 14 and a nice game shooting (10-18 from the field)
  2. Kevin Martin – Had it going early and opened this game up for the Wolves
  3. Ricky Rubio – Closed in a triple-double with 11 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds 

Key Takeaways

  • There are two key takeaways from this game from a Wolves’ perspective … what was a laugher of a game became way too close for comfort due to the struggles of the bench yet again.  Barea and Dante Cunningham are absolute shadows of themselves and what they are bringing to the team this season vs. what they have in the past.
  • The attitude (I’ll keep it PG-rated) of Barea is beyond nauseating.  He could save a family from a burning building and find a way to annoy me at this point.  Fair?  Maybe not.  Deserved?  I think so.

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 19

 

(photo credit: StarTribune.com)

Good times are coming for the Wolves?!  (Photo credit: StarTribune.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The past week was pretty kind to the Timberwolves, who took out Phoenix and Sacramento on their way to returning to .500 ball on the season (29-29).  The next two weeks includes a number of very winnable games and this is where the team just needs to get hot and stay hot, if they aren’t already in that area.  The Wolves have one more road game to finish up this road trip and then return to Target Center for a four game stand.

While I have written the playoffs off for this season, that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest a hot streak to bring them a little bit closer to that 8 seed.  The Wolves remain 5 games behind Phoenix, but would also need to leapfrog Memphis, who has a 4 game advantage on our team.  It is certainly going to be an uphill battle, all I ask is that they make it interesting.

Game 60: Monday, 3/3, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: FSN Plus)

Monday night in Denver will wrap up the five game road trip for the Pups and will give them an opportunity to go over .500.  The team is 4-1 since the all-star break and will have Sunday off in order to rest up a bit for the Denver air.  The Nuggets’ season is a lost cause as they have lost 10 of their last 11 games.  Hopefully that means the Wolves are catching them at the right time.

Opponent to watch:

Randy Foye – With Ty Lawson injured, I might be reaching here a bit.  However, Foye is averaging 19.6ppg in his last five outings and is coming on for the Nuggets.  As Wolves’ fans have experienced, this may not necessarily be a good sign, but hey, it is what it is.

Predictions:

I would normally suggest the Wolves take one on the chin here, closing out a five game road trip in Denver.  However, they had that huge break between games this past week and the Nuggets are looking abysmal of late.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Nuggets 102

Game 61: Wednesday, 3/5, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves took care of the Knicks at MSG very early on this season and I expect more of the same in this match-up.  Going into Sunday’s match-up with the Bulls, the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 13 games and the team is on the back page of the NY tabloids newspapers for all the wrong reasons.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Melo is second in the league in scoring at 28.2ppg.  His team is 17 games under .500 and I still believe there’s a strong correlation here.  Fair or unfair, I’ve never been a fan of Melo and feel like he has underachieved in his career.  Despite outstanding statistical performances, he has yet to win much of anything.

Predictions:

While Corey Brewer will have his hands full, I expect the home team to have no problem here in their return to the Target Center.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Knicks 97

Game 62: Friday, 3/7, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Pistons will host the Knicks and Bulls prior to Friday night’s match-up in Minnesota, so they will be equally rested for this game.  Heading into this week they are also on quite a losing streak, having dropped 7 of their last 8 games.  Despite how awful the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks, the Pistons find themselves in the lottery right now, with a 23-36 record heading into the week.

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Jennings – Remember when Jennings made fun of Ricky Rubio several years ago before he was drafted?  Yeah, I barely do too, as that feels about 12 years ago.  Well, Jennings leads the Pistons with 16.8ppg and 7.9apg and you can see where that has gotten the team in the standings.

Predictions:

Why does Joe Dumars still have a job?  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Pistons 95

Game 63: Sunday, 3/9, 6pm – Toronto Raptors @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

Maybe the most surprising team in the NBA this season (sans Portland?) the Raptors head into this week with a 32-26 record, which leads the Atlantic Division and puts the team in the 3 seed in the conference.  Read that entire sentence again.  Good grief.  I have no idea how this team is doing it but it does make me a bit frustrated to think that Dwane Casey could have been the Wolves long-term coach.

Opponent to watch:

DeMar DeRozan – There were times when Wolves fans believed they could steal DeRozan from Toronto for twelve cents on the dollar.  Those days are long gone as the SG is having a banner year with the team, averaging 22.7ppg, while also throwing in 4.5rpg and 3.9apg.

Predictions:

The Raptors took care of the Wolves back in January and this might be a tough one again.  Toronto has a game later today but are then off until Friday against Sacramento, before heading to the Target Center.  In other words, this team should be fresh.  Final score: Raptors 99, Timberwolves 95

Wrap-up:

Taking three out of four this week will go a long way to making the rest of the season a little more interesting.  The first three games this coming week should be W’s for the team.  If they drop any of them, the Pups will need to “steal” Sunday’s game against the Raptors.

Let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94

Corey Brewer goes "up high and down hard" (Harlan, Kevin) (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Corey Brewer goes “up high and down hard” (Harlan, Kevin)
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

The 9-11 Timberwolves travelled to Detroit to take on the 10-11 Pistons.  The Wolves went into the game a disappointing 3-7 on the road, so nothing was to be taken for granted.  No changes in the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Pistons opened up with Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond.

Game Summary [Read more...]

2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!