Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 2

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Setting the stage:

The quest for an 82-0 season fell quickly in the season opener in Memphis this past week for the Timberwolves.  However, it feels like there are a good number of positives to build upon with the 1-2 club.  The Pups hit the road this week for a three game trip that will take them to Brooklyn and then through the state of Florida.

If nothing else, the Timberwolves have been very competitive in their first three games of the season.  They kept the game tight against the Grizzlies, pulled away from the Pistons for the home opener, and lost a heartbreaker against a Derrick Rose-less Bulls squad. The Wolves are averaging 101 points per game and are getting contributions from virtually everyone on the roster.

If the action on the floor wasn’t enough, the Wolves’ front office gave the fanbase another reason to celebrate, announcing that the club came to terms with Ricky Rubio on a four year contract extension worth $55 million.  Rubio is now locked up through the 2018/19 season and allows the team to start focusing on how it builds around Andrew Wiggins and the Spanish Point Guard.  Rubio celebrated his new contract with a 17 assist game on Saturday night against the Bulls.

Game 4: Wednesday, 11/5, 6:30pm – Pups @ Brooklyn Nets (TV: FS North)

The Nets open this week with a 1-1 record and will have their home opener on Monday night against a depleted OKC Thunder squad.  With three full days off, the Wolves should be fresh for Wednesday’s action.

Wolves fans will likely get to see ex-Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko on the court, but there is “probably” someone a little more interesting to keep an eye on …

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Garnett – I probably wrote the same thing last year, but this is one of two chances to see KG suit up against his former club.  There is no acceptable reason to miss this game as a Wolves fan.

Game 5: Friday, 11/7, 6pm – Pups @ Orlando Magic (TV: FS North)

The Magic were dealt an early season blow when they announced that Victor Oladipo would miss the start of the season with a facial fracture.  The team is 0-3 entering the week ahead and is struggling to put points on the board.

Opponent to watch:

Nikola Vucevic – One player that isn’t struggling for the Magic is Vucevic, averaging 17.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by an opening night 23 rebounds in New Orleans.

Game 6: Saturday, 11/8, 6:30pm – Pups @ Miami Heat (TV: FS North)

The Wolves will finish up their three game road trip in Miami.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they will be heading into this game as the second of a back-to-back, while the Heat will have been off since a Wednesday night game in Charlotte.  The Heat are 2-0 heading into a Sunday night game against the Raptors.

Opponent to watch:

Chris Bosh – Through two games, Bosh is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds per game.  Perhaps exiting a little bit of a shadow, the Heat will be relying on Bosh to bring this type of production to the floor every night.

Predictions:

Wrap-up:

If the Pups can continue the competitive spirit they brought to the court in the first week of the season, the club will continue to slowly but surely gain attention around the league.  “Solid but not spectacular” might be the best way to describe the action thus far.

Items that I like thus far:

  1. Gorgui Dieng has been incredibly productive in a limited role
  2. Despite an even more limited role than Dieng, Anthony Bennett has played very well

Things that I don’t like right now:

  1. Zach LaVine’s minutes or lack thereof
  2. Chase Budinger is really struggling in his (very) limited role
  3. Seeing Thaddeus Young go down in Saturday’s game after several productive performances to start the season

Let’s go Wolves!  Who or what has caught your attention in the first week of the season?

A Fantastic Double OT Win for the Timberwolves over the Heat, 122-121

LeBron James selfies ... odd (Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

LeBron James selfies … odd
(Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

 

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 37-37 on the season, but only 15-22 on the road.  The Miami Heat have pulled into virtual tie with the Indiana Pacers for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference over the past week and came into Friday’s game with a 30-6 home record.

There were a boatload of injuries to report going into tonight’s game.  For the Wolves, Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Marin (sore right foot) were unavailable.  The Heat were without Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden.  Adelman sent out Rubio, Barea, Brewer, Love, and Dieng to start the game.  The Heat countered with Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh.

First Half

Fast start for both teams who flew up and down the court for the majority of the first six minutes of the quarter and heading into the first timeout.  The Heat held a 16-12 lead going into the break as both teams displayed a balanced attack on offense and defense.  It is worth noting that Gorgui Dieng stood out once again with four buckets early and strong effort on both ends of the floor.  (In case you missed the article from earlier this week, we talked about Dieng’s emergence in recent weeks.)

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Heat held a 29-24 lead.  The Wolves were able to cut a 10 point lead in half in the final few minutes of the quarter.  However, it could have been worse for the Heat, as the Wolves struggled from three point range (0-4) and free throw line (2-7) in the quarter.

Minnesota continued their strong play in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, taking a three point lead with a little over five minutes to play in the half.  Unfortunately for Pups fans, the Heat flipped the switch and went on a 13-0 run to retake a 10 point lead, 52-42.  Coming out of a timeout, the Wolves ripped off 10 in a row to tie the game at 52 and did enough to stop LeBron at the buzzer.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Very nice flow to the game and nice to see the Wolves not fold their hand when they went down by 10 points (either time)
  • Shabazz Muhammad injured his knee in the first half and would not return to action
  • Another strong performance from Dieng, but a surprisingly strong performance from Chase Budinger

Second Half

Kevin Love came to life about midway through the 3rd quarter, scoring 8 straight points for the Wolves and helping them build a 70-63 lead.  That run seemed to wake up LeBron a bit as he went on his own little run, scoring 12 points in a row for his team.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Wolves held a 77-75 lead.  It could have been even more damaging as LeBron missed a three pointer at the buzzer and that would have very likely caused the arena to explode.

A returning from injury Ray Allen apparently needed a few quarters to get his legs under him, as the lethal shooter hit back-to-back three pointers to tie the game at 82 with under 9 minutes to go.  Combined with his old Sonics counterpart (Rashard Lewis) the Heat took a 1 point lead before JJ Barea and Budinger hit back-to-back three pointers of their own to give the Wolves their own 5 point lead.

The remainder of the 4th quarter can be best described as “chaos”.  Both teams would go on runs, then both teams would stink up the gym for 90 seconds.  With the game tied at 97 and just a few ticks on the clock, Love got a three pointer off as time expired, only to see it go in and out.

In overtime, the teams continued to trade baskets and the lead.  Chase Budinger nailed a three pointed to give the Wolves a 107-106 lead and forced the Heat to take a timeout with 1:19 left to play.  After a few no-calls from the referees, a foul was called on the Wolves as Chalmers was sent to the line for two free throws to potentially win the game.  He missed the first and made the second to tie the game at 109.  Once again, the Wolves went to Kevin Love as time expired and once again the shot clanged off the rim to send the game to double overtime.

Fast forward a few minutes … with 30 seconds left in double overtime, Love had another opportunity and nailed a three pointer to give the Wolves a 119-117 lead.  JJ Barea reentered the game and subsequently hit two free throws to give the Wolves a 121-118 lead.  Less than two seconds later (of playing time), Chris Bosh hit another three pointer to tie the game at 121.  After bobbling the ball, Love threw up a pass to Corey Brewer around the rim and he was fouled on the shot attempt to go to the line.  Brewer subsequently hit 1 of 2 and this game was destined to end no matter what happened in the 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  Ray Allen wound up with the last shot of the game and missed a fall away jumper, giving the Wolves the 122-121 win in Miami!

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Chase Budinger – This one goes to Budinger who had, by far, his best game of the season; 24 points on 7-9 shooting (5-7 3PT’ers), to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals
  2. LeBron James – The best player on the planet finished with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block
  3. Ricky Rubio– The Unicorn finished with 13 points and 14 assists     

Key Takeaways

  • Honorable mention to Kevin Love with 28 & 11.  I still think he is taking too many 3PT FG’s, but he is the clear leader of this team.
  • I have no idea why Gorgui Dieng only played 25 minutes tonight.  None.
  • In a double overtime game, ex-Pup Michael Beasley received a DNP-CD.  Amazing.

 

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.