Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 20

 

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups W's & L's (Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups   W’s & L’s
(Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

Setting the stage: 

For those of you looking for a quick read/preview of tonight’s game against the Raptors, click here.  At worst, the Timberpups will enter week 20 with a .500 record.  From a 30,000 foot view, the week ahead is another great chance for the Wolves to make up some ground on the Mavericks and/or Suns.  However, those teams keep chugging along.  Friday night’s action was a little insane for both the Wolves and Mavs who had 30+ point advantages and almost blew their performances by allowing their opponents to come back into the game.

The Wolves’ defense needs to vastly improve over what they have been doing over the past few weeks.  Only once in the last seven games (again, this is ahead of Sunday’s game) have the Wolves held their opponent under 100 points; and it isn’t like the team has been playing a murderers’ row of opponents on the schedule (like their late November, early December schedule).

The Pups can’t lose a game this week.  There is no room left for a letdown game.  After a Monday night game against the Clippers, the Suns will play six games in a row against Eastern Conference opponents.  Read: the schedule eases up for them.  The Mavs’ schedule looks to be a bit more daunting this coming week with games in Golden State and OKC (as well as Utah).

So here we go with less than 20 games remaining on the schedule.  Can the Wolves pull it off?  It starts off with …

Game 64: Tuesday, 3/11, 7pm – Milwaukee Bucks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Suffice it to say that the Bucks are not very good.  They are floating around the .200 line in terms of win percentage and are merely 30+ games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.  Progress.  Can we please move this team to Seattle under new ownership?  This would also give the Wolves another opportunity to petition the league for switching conferences.  Is anyone reading this against this plan?!

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Knight – Statistically speaking, Knight is having a pretty good season.  Clearly, it isn’t leading to many victories.  We’ll see how Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea look to contain Knight and his new PG brethren, Ramon Sessions.

Predictions:

Bucks in six?  If the Pups lose this one, board up the Target Center and start working on renovations.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Bucks 95

Game 65: Friday, 3/14, 6pm – Timberpups @ Charlotte Bobcats (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home-stand ends with a trip to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats.  Charlotte will be coming in off of a game Wednesday night in Washington so they should be equally rested.  The Pups destroyed the Bobcats in Minnesota in early January and there is nothing to suggest the results should be different for this game – unless you believe in the Bobcats ~.500 record at home this season.

Opponent to watch:

Al Jefferson – Al is back!  Jefferson is putting up the normal 20+ppg/10+rpg … and his team remains under .500.  No, I am not pinning this on Al, it is just an interesting correlation that continues to rear its ugly head.  Will Kevin Love go off when facing his former mentor in Minnesota?

Predictions:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolves drop this one, and I won’t be surprised if I’m bitching out JJ Barea while it happens.  That said, I’m going to go with … Final score: Timberwolves 112, Bobcats 105

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Sunday’s game will conclude a 7 game road trip for the Kings and they are playing Saturday night in Chicago.  Congratulations Timberwolves, you were finally handed a scheduling “gimme”.  Now, don’t screw this up on your home court like that Knicks game from this past week.

Opponent to watch:

Isaiah Thomas – In two games thus far this season, Thomas has lit up the Wolves to the tune of 24ppg and 7.5apg, while shooting a scorching 59% from the field.

Predictions:

Again, the end of a long road tour for the Kings, who are playing in less meaningful games right now than the Wolves.  (See what I did there?)  Final score: Timberwolves 116, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

This week and the one prior really could have been the time for the Wolves to spark a little more excitement as we go through March.  Unfortunately, that Knicks loss at Target Center was simply deflating.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Detroit Pistons 101

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

The Timberwolves hosted the Detroit Pistons at the Target Center on Saturday night with Rick Adelman receiving another opportunity to win his 1000th career victory in his 22nd season as an NBA coach. The Pups came within a few points of achieving the feat the previous night against Toronto, but ultimately fell by a score of 95-93 leaving Adelman at 999 career victories.

Detroit boasted their tough frontcourt of rising star Greg Monroe paired with rookie phenom Andre Drummond, it was no easy task for Minnesota starters Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams on the interior. The centers matchup of Pekovic and Drummond was sure not to disappoint, as it was a matchup of Minnesota’s polished bruiser against Detroit’s young Amar’e Stoudemire clone.

For the last time this season, it was a Spaniard vs. Spaniard PG matchup as buddies Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon faced off for the final time of the regular season. While both are familiar from their participation on the Spanish National team, each player possesses their own unique style. The long time Raptor Calderon focuses his scoring from long mid-range jumpers stretching beyond the arc, and due to his lack of elite quickness uses precision in his movements to make plays. On the other end, Tricky Ricky as many call him threads passes through tight windows while using his eyes to lead defenses one way while he does what they least expect him to. Despite the different styles, both Rubio and Calderon have enjoyed very good campaigns in 2012-13.

Detroit got running in transition early, as they were very active at getting hands in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. They did a nice job of pushing the ball hard down the floor following steals, but they had a difficult job of finishing at the rim with the advantage in transition.

Derrick Williams got off to a strong start as he netted 6 of the Wolves’ first 14 points as Minnesota led 14-6 with 7:36 remaining in the first quarter. Ricky had  a tough time getting penetration in the first period as Detroit showed strong resilience as a unit on the defensive end. However, the Wolves advantage in transition allowed them a 33-25 lead at the culmination of the first quarter.

Detroit got nice bench contributions from Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey in the second quarter and the Pistons and Wolves went back and forth in the second period. Coming off the bench, JJ Barea came right back and provided a great spark for the Wolves, creating off the dribble and doing a great job of mixing up pull up jumpers and shot fakes for easy buckets off of the drive. Continuing to flow the offense through their 290-pound mammoth, Minnesota headed to the locker room with a 61-55 first half lead.

The second half continued to be a dog fight as Detroit outshot the Timberwolves, but continually committed careless turnovers on the offensive end which led to some easy transition buckets for Minnesota. The Pups dug deep for their head coach and held on to a three point lead heading into the final period of play.

With six different Pistons finishing with at least 3 turnovers last night, it is easy to understand why Minnesota ultimately won the game 107-101. However, a win is a win and Rick Adelman was quick to rush over to his wife Mary Kay who awaited him in the corner of the court. Despite all the health issues that Mary Kay and Rick have fought together, they were both on the court on Saturday night to witness Rick become the eighth coach in NBA history to reach the 1,000 mark. All of the Timberwolves players joined in celebration following the home victory and fans relished in something meaningful during an anticlimactic and disappointing season. Go Rick, you deserve all the credit you get.

Notable Performances:

Alexey Shved played only 4 minutes and scored 0 points after failing to attempt a field goal. It has been a disastrous second half of the season for the 24-year-old Shved, who after lighting it up in the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star weekend has fell to near the bottom of Adelman’s rotation. It will be a crucial summer for Alexey as he needs to regain the confidence and swagger that he displayed throughout much of the first half of the season.

Ricky Rubio shot just 1-13 from the field, but was nonetheless a +17 on the floor while notching 6 assists, 5 steals, and 5 rebounds in 32 minutes. Games like these remind everybody watching what Ricky’s offseason priority must be: taking as many jump shots in the gym as possible.

Rodney Stuckey has come on strong in his past four games, averaging 20 points over that very span. After receiving a 5-year, $50 million deal Stuckey has fallen very short of his expectations and has become an afterthought of the common Pistons fan. Regardless of the past, the 6-foot-5 combo-guard played a solid 28 minutes and finished the night with 20 points (8-15 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers.

Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe combined for 25 points and 16 rebounds, but were unable to contain Pekovic as he recorded yet another double-double. The 22-year-old Monroe and 19-year-old Drummond together may be the most exiting future frontcourt in the NBA, and each could prove perfect compliments to the others game as the Pistons move forward in their rebuilding efforts.

Keys of the Game:

  • Free throws - Coming into the game fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, the Timberwolves attempted 17 more free throws than Detroit while hitting at a similar percentage as their counterparts. However, the total trips to the line proved to be a key advantage as the Pups netted 29 of their 38 attempts compared to 15 of 21 for the Pistons.
  • Turnovers - In and out of injuries for much of the second half of the season, Andrei Kirilenko appears to be 100% as far as his health goes and it was evident tonight on the defensive end where the Russian recorded 7 of Minnesota’s 16 steals. Rubio was also able to add 5 steals of his own while Detroit only managed 10 as a team on their way to 24 Pistons turnovers to only 14 by the Pups.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Rick Adelman - I had to, right? Congratulations to Minnesota’s head coach who became just the eighth coach all-time to hit four digits in the wins column, and while his future surrounding his potential retirement clouds his future as the Wolves’ head coach, the Pups are very lucky to have a historic coach at the helm in the meantime.
  2. Nikola Pekovic - Boy has Pek been on a tear as of late. The Timberwolves man in the middle has flourished as the Timberwolves primary scorer with Kevin Love potentially done for the season with his broken hand, and Pek has taken full advantage of the spotlight as he auditions for a huge contract this summer. Finishing the night with 20 points (7-15 FG) and 13 rebounds while possessing a game-high +20 in 36 minutes on the floor, there is no question that Pek has been producing as a top-tier center in the NBA over the past month. The biggest question is if the oft-injured center who is in just his third NBA season will be worth spending a probable $10+ million per year contract on as he nears restricted free agency this upcoming summer. With the notoriously cheap Glen Taylor running the team, there are no guarantees that we will see our Montenegrin big man in a Timberwolves uniform next season.
  3. Brandon Knight - This was a tough decision between Rodney Stuckey and Knight as each player provided a huge impact in their own respect. I ultimately gave the nod to Knight as he was able to make a huge impact from beyond the arc as well as driving to the basket. The second year combo-guard out of Kentucky has had a somewhat difficult transition from college to the NBA, but his versatility gives him the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. He ironically is a very similar player to his overpaid backup in Stuckey, but remains five years younger and much more consistent despite having had much less professional experience. In 41 minutes, Knight scored a game-high 25 points (9-15 FG, 3-4 3Pt) to pair with 6 assists and 2 steals.