Corey Brewer Owns the Night – Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

It's your world Corey Brewer, we're just living in it!  (Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It’s your world Corey Brewer, we’re just living in it!
(Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It feels like every Friday night the Timberwolves are back to .500 ball, entering tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets at 39-39.  The Rockets entered the game at 52-26 and in the 4th seed of the Western Conference, battling to maintain home court advantage in the first round with the Portland Blazers.

The Wolves announced that Kevin Love would not be in the lineup tonight with a hyper extended elbow.  Add in the injuries to Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and Chase Budinger and you have quite the recipe for “let’s end this season without any further injuries please”.  With all of those names out, the starting lineup consisted of Rubio, Brewer, Hummel, Cunningham, and Dieng.  Call me old fashioned, but it still doesn’t sit well with me that Dante Cunningham is in the lineup at all, let alone starting for the team at this point.  The Rockets opened up the game with Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, and Omer Asik.

First Half

If you were looking for someone to get off to a hot start for the Timberwolves, I hope you had your eyes (and money?) on Corey Brewer.  Brewer finished the 1st quarter with 16 points, leading the Wolves to a 39-32 advantage at the end of the first twelve minutes.  The Wolves actually held a 15 point lead with just about 90 seconds to go in the opening frame, but the Rockets closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, including a Jeremy Lin three pointer at the buzzer.

As goes the story of this season for our Pups, the end of the 1st quarter was a nice foreshadow of things to come in the 2nd quarter.  The Rockets stormed all the way back to take the lead about halfway through the quarter.  Going into a timeout around this same time, we saw Ricky Rubio holding his hand in pain and checked out of the game.  That pretty much sums up this season perfectly.  Thankfully, Rubio returned minutes later to close out the half.  (Phew)

At the half of this offensive juggernaut of a game, the Rockets held a 63-59 lead.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Brewer … Wow!  26 points, which included a ~50 footer at the buzzer to cut into the Rockets lead!
  • Remember when David Kahn had Chandler Parsons on the Wolves?  Apparently, he does too.  18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
  • LRMAM and JJ Barea were -16 and -13 respectively in the first half.  Add in Ronny Turiaf’s -10 and you can sum this up with “bench play …”

Second Half

Normally, I would prefer to give a “how it happened” type of recap throughout the final 24 minutes of the game.  However, tonight was one of those nights and I’m not talking about this being my last recap of the season.  Tonight was special.  Why?

Corey Brewer went off.  Way off.  Off to the tune of 51 points and absolutely erupting the Target Center crowd.  Corey has been maligned since he was drafted by the Wolves many years ago and a number of fans hated when Flip resigned him to come back to Minnesota.  Tonight felt like a little bit of redemption and it is exactly why you should still attend NBA games even if your team is out of the playoff race.  Corey was 19-30 from the field, 11-15 from the FT line and added in 6 steals for good measure.

The final score of tonight’s events: Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Obviously
  2. Gorgui Dieng – Somewhat unheralded given what was going on tonight, Dieng hit the final shot of the game to give the Wolves
    the win and finished with 12 points and 20 rebounds.
  3. Chandler Parsons – Huge game for Chandler who finished with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals 

Key Takeaways

  • The only reason this game was still in doubt was the Timberwolves poor shooting from the FT line (27-40) and from 3PT range (3-12)
  • Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham each had double-doubles on the evening and they were both needed, as the Wolves got close to nothing from their bench tonight.
  • Congratulations to Corey Brewer once again for his 50+ point performance, a night he will never forget!

You want more …

Corey Brewer now averages 10.0 PPG, 5th-lowest career scoring average among players with 50 points in a game in NBA history. (@EliasSports)

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 12, 2014

Adelman on Brewer: "Theydidn't know what to do with him. And we didn't, either." #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 12, 2014

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.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets 3-15-13

Photo credit: Buzzfeed.com

Photo credit: Buzzfeed.com

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves will once again grace the national audience with theirpresence, as NBA TV will be airing tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets. The Timberwolves are coming off of a loss Wednesday night in Indiana, a day after upsetting the Spurs at Target Center.  The Rockets come into the game with a 35-30 record on the season and are currently in the 7 seed in the Western Conference.

The two teams have met twice before this season, both in Minnesota, with each team claiming a victory.  Back on 12/26, the Rockets caught the Pup

s with aChristmas hangover, making a ferocious comeback in the 4th quarter to steal the victory.  The Wolves returned the favor on 1/19, with a 92-79 drumming of the Rockets at TC.  The latter game was a coming out party for Chris Johnson who had recently joined the team at that time.

In terms of injury news, there is nothing new to report for the Wolves.  Love and Budinger will remain out and it doesn’t look promising for Kirilenko or Pekovic.  There is also a small chance James Harden misses Friday’s game with a sore foot.  He is listed as a game time decision.

Player to watch:

Chandler Parsons – Friday night’s game is another opportunity to say “what if…” from prior draft nights.  Parsons is an excellent shooter from the SF spot and is averaging a little over 15 ppg and 5 rpg.  In the two earlier match-ups this year, he had been held in check by the Wolves wings, so he might be due for a breakout game.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Jeremy Lin.  Rubio has been on fire over the past few weeks and likely helping a lot of fantasy teams these days.  After a rough start to the season, Jeremy Lin has found consistency in his game, particularly in March.  Lin has averaged 13.8 ppg and 5.2 apg, but is doing so in a much more efficient manner, shooting 49% from the field for the month.  I couldn’t speak about a strong month without mentioning Rubio’s numbers halfway through the month; 14.4 ppg, 8.7 apg, 6.9 rpg.

Predictions:

The Rockets are fighting to stay in the top 8 in the conference and they can’t afford a letdown game right now against one of the weaker teams in the NBA.

Final score prediction: Timberwolves 86, Rockets 94

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Omer Asik
  2. Chandler Parsons
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!