Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 4

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

 

Setting the stage:

After competitive games through the first two weeks of the season, the loss of Ricky Rubio has proven to be a catastrophic loss for our Timberpups.  The Wolves have lost five in a row, having last seen victory on Wednesday, 11/5 in Brooklyn.  This past week was particularly rough for the Wolves, losing in Mexico City to the Rockets, getting shellacked in New Orleans, and falling in Dallas to close out the week.

The Pups are getting virtually nothing from their veterans right now.  Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are struggling on both ends of the floor.  Mo Williams remains an important cog off the bench but is not stepping up when replacing Zach LaVine on the floor.  Flip Saunders is/was relying on these veterans to not only perform on the court but to keep things in order in the clubhouse.  This season is going to be a learning process and keeping the locker room together is going to be a challenge for Flip and his staff.

On the docket for this week are three home games (among a four game homestand).  For some reason the schedule calls for another break in the action as the Wolves won’t start this week until Wednesday.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 10: Wednesday, 11/19, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Knicks are, once again, an abomination of a team and franchise.  At least they are on the hook for the rest of Carmelo Anthony’s prime, right?  I’m not sure if that is a good thing either.  If it weren’t for the 76ers, the Knicks would be the worst team in the NBA.  As an added bonus, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas you could say there is for the rebuilding 76ers and our own Pups.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony leads the team in scoring (of course) and in assists (what?!).  ‘Melo resigned with New York for the league maximum and remains unsuccessful in making anyone around him better – despite those 3.7 assists per game.

Game 11: Friday, 11/21, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The NBA champs have come out of the gate somewhat slowly and are playing in the league’s strongest division.  Cause for concern?  Of course not.  Popovich is monitoring minutes among his veteran squad and knows exactly what he is doing.  I learned about five years ago, stop discounting and giving up on the Spurs … they will always prevail.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – After watching LaVine get torched by J’rue Holiday on Friday night, this is going to be another tough matchup for the Pups rookie.  Parker leads the Spurs in scoring and assists and will use his wily veteran skills to teach a few lessons to the rookie.

Game 12: Saturday, 11/22, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Perhaps the surprise team of the first month of the NBA season, the Kings are 6-4 and getting an A+ effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  He is also putting up 22.1ppg, second behind …

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – No one can question Gay’s ability to score throughout his career.  This will be a tough matchup for Andrew Wiggins and a nice barometer for how his defensive ability has adjusted to the NBA over the first month of his career.

Wrap-up:

The Pups need to return home and grab the “W” over the Knicks to start off this homestand and give the Target Center a reason to cheer.  From there, this week looks challenging.  Hopefully, Thad Young is able to return to the club after his mother’s passing and will give the club a boost.

Let’s go Wolves!

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 109, Knicks 100

 

Timberwolves take out the Knicks to remain undefeated! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Timberwolves take out the Knicks to remain undefeated!
(Photo credit: Star Tribune)

So … we are back on the game recaps and we’re coming off of two very nice wins at the Target Center for the Twolves (and a personally bias Seahawks win, so a lot of excitement!).  The Pups first road game took them to the world’s most famous arena.  No surprises in the starting lineup tonight for either team.  For the Wolves; Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  For the Knicks; Felton, Shumpert, Bargnani, Anthony, and Chandler.

Game Summary

The Pups came out of the gate firing on all cylinders for the third consecutive time, jumping out to a 20+ point advantage in the first quarter.  The Knicks didn’t roll over however and slowly made it into an exciting game that wasn’t decided until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.  However, good teams win on the road and handle adversity, and that is what we saw signs of last night at MSG from the Wolves.

First Half 

The Wolves dominated the 1st quarter and it looked like they were going to run the Knicks, and their fans, out of the building early.  Carmelo Anthony picked up two quick fouls and had to sit early.  This was very similar to the OKC game, as the Knicks had nothing on the offensive end of the floor without Melo, just like OKC showed without Kevin Durant.

One other note that I jotted down from the 1st quarter is that Ricky Rubio must make open jump shots more frequently, particularly of the mid-range variety.  That said, almost immediately after he missed a 16 footer, Rubio picked off a pass and drove in for an open layup.  You can’t stay mad at Ricky Rubio, he makes it impossible.  At the end of the 1st, the Twolves held a 40-19 advantage!

The Knicks outscored the Wolves in the 2nd quarter, 30-24.  This was largely due to sloppy play from the Wolves and not playing within Adelman’s offensive system.  Derrick Williams had a decent stretch of minutes in the quarter on both ends of the floor.  If he can keep this up, the Wolves are going to be very dangerous.  At the half, the Wolves still held a respectable, double-digit lead – 64-49.

Half-time notes:

  • When the Wolves stay in the system, they have all of the pieces to make beautiful basketball
  • Kevin Love will be “the best PF in the game” to the pundits by Christmas – 18, 7, and 3 at the half and a few spectacular outlet passes
  • Wing play has been phenomenal early on in the season … Thank you Kevin Martin & Corey Brewer!

Second Half 

Once again, the Wolves started the 3rd quarter hot, building their lead back up to 20 points and taking a 71-51 lead.  However, the Knicks weren’t finished, as Melo, Metta World Peace, and Raymond Felton helped the home team scratch back into it.  Felton sliced through the middle of the paint about half way through the 3rd quarter and it started a small run for the team, bringing the crowd back into the game.

One thing that the Wolves moved away from in the 3rd quarter was feeding Kevin Martin the ball – who was making jump shots and getting to the line earlier in the game.  It was almost like the team read my notes in the timeout as Martin scored two buckets towards the end of the quarter to reestablish a 15 point advantage, 93-78.

The Timberwolves couldn’t buy a basket for a few minutes in the 4th quarter, but the Knicks kept firing away from long range vs. doing anything related to running an offense.  Eventually, the Knicks made one last, big run to cut it to a five point advantage for the Wolves, when Adelman finally called a timeout.  Coming out of the timeout, the Wolves ran a play to get Love a three point shot.  While the shot went in, I really want to see Love play more inside than he has been the last two games.  I’m not sure how much of this is by design vs. not, but I’d like to see a little bit more of a post-up game from the team.  (I’m nitpicking a 3-0 start by the way.)

Despite cutting the lead to two points, 100-98 with about 5 minutes left in the game, the Wolves took the body blows from the Knicks and withstood them.  They closed the game out strong defensively, outscoring the Knicks 9-2 the rest of the way, pulling out the 109-100 victory!

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Kevin Love – 34, 15, and 5 for Love – welcome back to “Best PF in the NBA” status, we missed you!  Added bonus for the Spike Lee trash talk and high-five.
  2. Kevin Martin – 30 points on 9-12 shooting, 5-5 from 3PT range, and 7-9 from the FT line.  Wing play … YES!
  3. Metta World Peace – I’m actually giving this to MWP despite Melo’s gaudy box score (22 & 17) because his two fouls early were a stomach punch for the team.  MWP finished a team high +17 on the floor, finishing with 17 points, 4 rebounds, and solid defense in his 21 minutes of action. 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves remain undefeated and for only the second time in franchise history, start a season 3-0
  • Tough test tonight, as they turn right around and will play in Cleveland Monday night
  • I have no idea how the Wolves are getting off to such great starts, but please stay on the same routine for pregame

Game Notes:

The rookies didn’t receive any playing time Sunday night, but look for them to play at least a few minutes in Cleveland, given it is the team’s first back to back of the season.  I would imagine the largest piece would be Gorgui Dieng’s role on Monday, as Ronnie Turiaf is going to be out for a while.

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!

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.

Corey Brewer to Sign with Timberwolves, Pekovic Still Working on Deal

Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Wolves are close to signing both free agent swingman Corey Brewer and RFA center Nikola Pekovic. Pek’s deal is an extension that is pressumed to be in the four-year, $50 million range and Brewer’s new contract is expected to be around $15 million over three years.

Brewer was drafted by the Wolves in 2007 and played 3+ seasons with the team before being included in the three-team trade that sent him, Carmelo Anthony and pieces to the Knicks while bringing Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to Minnesota. Brewer was immediately waived by the Knicks before playing a game and ultimately signed with the Dallas Mavericks in March of the 2011 season. Even though Brewer played in only thirteen games, he became an NBA Champion as the Mavs defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. Following the season, Brewer was traded to the Denver Nuggets where he averaged 10.7PPg in 141 games. The 6-foot-9 SG/SF is a lengthy and pesky perimeter defender who has a knack for releasing quickly for easy transition buckets. [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 94, New York Knicks 100

Melo

Photo Credit: CRAIG LASSIG

Game Summary

The Minnesota Timberwolves concluded their unsuccessful homestand Friday night and will be going on the road as losers of five of their six.  Friday night’s game was against the somewhat surprising NY Knicks.  Here is how things progressed.

The Pups opened up with a similar lineup to Wednesday night’s game with Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Pekovic.  In other words, Kirilenko was not available again due to his injury.  The Knicks opened up with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler.  Looking at those opening lineups it felt like a night where the Wolves wouldn’t be eaten up in the backcourt.  However, the team sorely missed AK47 given what was to come from Melo.

The 1st quarter could be described as the Carmelo Anthony show, as he took nine shots in his first twelve minutes of the game, finishing the quarter with 11 points.  The Wolves countered with Pekovic who grabbed an early advantage vs. Tyson Chandler.  Chandler looks a step behind right now.  I’m not sure if that is because of being banged up, the Olympics, or a combination of items.  In any case, while Pekovic was looking good, his teammates failed to look for him enough.  Let’s get one thing straight moving forward; Pekovic needs the ball in the paint much, much more often.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Knicks held a 25-23 lead.

At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Amare Stoudemire posterized Greg Stiemsma with a vicious dunk.  That led to a small run from the Knicks to build their lead up to 8 points.  However, the Wolves fought back thanks to the efforts and hustle of Cunningham and Shved.  Ricky Rubio drove ninety four feet to the basket to make a layup and draw a foul against Carmelo, which led to this immediate thought:

Let that one resonate for a while and tell me what you think of Carmelo in the comments below.  I know that many feel differently and I can understand why, I just can’t get behind a guy that has the amount of talent he does and he doesn’t leave it both ends of the floor.

After the Wolves grabbed the lead for a few seconds, the Knicks came storming back and finished the 2nd quarter on an 11-3 run to take a 52-45 lead into halftime.  Here are my HT thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves must feed Pek the ball.  This isn’t rocket science.
  • Why is Rick Adelman not giving minutes to Chris Johnson?

Well, I can tell you that the ‘halftime lens’ was typed up during halftime and I don’t have a wire right into the Wolves locker room.  Why do I mention this?  The 3rd quarter was filled with direct responses to my questions and comments, as Pek dominated the early minutes of the quarter against Chandler.  After Cunningham picked up a foul (and technical), we saw the emergence of Chris Johnson.  Finally!

Despite Carmelo’s best efforts (24 points through three), the Wolves owned much of the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Knicks 31-18 and finished on an 8-0 run going into the final quarter.  At the end of three, the Wolves held a 76-70 lead.

It didn’t take long for the Pups to give up all of the good vibes from the 3rd quarter in the final frame.  There is virtually nothing left that can be said at this point.  After outscoring the Knicks 31-18 in the 3rd, the Wolves were outscored in the 4th by a score of 30-18.  For those fortunate enough to miss the game, here is a quick summation of what transpired – another choke job by the team at the FT line.  What drill needs to be eliminated from the team’s practice schedule so that they can spend more time on the line?  You almost missed the total disappearance of Pekovic.  It would be nice to have set plays for Pekovic to ensure the Wolves’ guards get him the ball.

This is just the latest collapse from the Wolves team that is decimated by injury.  I can’t imagine there is much confidence left in the locker room either.  The Knicks finished the game on a 24-7 run to escape Minnesota with a 100-94 win.

Keys of the Game

  • Shooting – I say the same thing in every loss so I’m just combining this into one bullet point.  1-13 from 3PT range and 8 more missed FT’s.  Let’s just move on…
  • Ridnour & Barea – Ridnour had a nice shooting night but choked at the end.  Barea stunk again.  Neither gets the ball into the paint to the Wolves front court.  One of these two needs to go for some type of future asset.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Carmelo Anthony – A no-brainer with 36 points and 9 rebounds.  He was essentially the entire Knicks offense tonight.  (I still don’t like him)
  2. Nikola Pekovic – 16 & 11 on only 10 shots.  Similar to Wednesday night, the team needs to start running plays for Pek and the set offense through him.  Please!
  3. Ricky Rubio – I have a hard time picking a second Knick because no one stood out beyond Anthony.  Rubio gets the nod here for his 18 point, 11 assist performance.  However, he missed crucial FT’s in this game and got shutdown by Chandler at the end of the game.