Timberwolves Struggle in Third Quarter, Fall 104-114 to Griffin-less Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have won 16 of their past 18 games, and their momentum didn’t slow when they rolled into Target Center Monday evening.  Both teams lived up to their high-scoring reputations, but in the end Minny ended up on the short end of the 114-104 final score. Kevin Love led the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds. On the other end, Darren Collison exploded with 28 points and seven assists.

Going into the contest, it Minnesota appeared to hold the advantage. The Clippers were playing the fourth game of a five-game road trip, and they were doing so without Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin, both out with injuries. The first two minutes were scoreless, and then the Wolves took an early 4-0 lead off a slam dunk and layup by forward Corey Brewer. The good feeling didn’t last, however.

LA point guard Chris Paul told his teammates the following: “Fellas, let’s be who we are. We got who we got, let’s keep the train moving [...]. No excuses.”

Wolves_Clips

Despite the Timberwolves being able to make it a competitive game throughout the entire first half, the third quarter proved dismal for the midwest team. The Wolves took a 59-57 lead at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter, but any sense of control was ripped from their grasp. From that point on, Minnesota just could not score. Collison took over, and the Clips went on an unstoppable 31-5 run.

“We just went into the third quarter and it was like we missed every shot we took,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “It’s weird that we scored seven or eight points right off the bat and then we couldn’t score forever. The worst part is that it was like a three-on-two break every single time. It wasn’t like we were making them work. They were just getting layup after layup.”

The Wolves battled back in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to cut the lead to less than eight.  It was actually Minnesota’s reserves that came in and scored 38 points for their team in that final push. Chase Budinger scored 12 points off the bench, and Robbie Hummel and Shabazz Muhammad each added 11.

Nikola Pekovic started the game for the first time in several weeks, but the center played only seven minutes before re-injuring his ankle.  Fortunately for Minnesota, rookie Gorgui Dieng has been playing extremely well since getting his chance to start in mid March. Dieng came in for Pek, and the 24-year old scored 14 points. With Pekovic struggling so consistently with the ankle injury, Wolves fans can expect Dieng to play a major role in the lineup for the remaining games.

Following the game, Love summed up the frustration surrounding the team:

“It’s definitely tough right now. We’ve got to try to finish this thing strong and just try to play well. … We’re a little beat up right now, but we still have to come and play and try to give it our best. But that’s a very good team right there.”

Up next, the Wolves will host Memphis on Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline Note:

According to NBA.com, with his made free throw at 2:13 in first quarter, Love passed Tom Gugliotta to become the single-season record holder for the Timberwolves. Gugliotta set his record in the 1996-1997 season.

Love has averaged 27.2 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in the three games against the Clippers this season, but he is only averaging 16.5 ppg in the last four games and scored 20+ points for only the second time in the last five games.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 8

 

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season! (Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season!
(Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Setting the stage:

The Wolves enter another busy week in the early months of the 2013/14 season with another 4 games, playing every other day after tonight’s back to back game.  Our Pups enter the week on the Mason-Dixon line of .500 ball after a gritty win in Memphis Sunday night.

Similar storylines continue to exist for this roster – very strong on offense, a work in progress on defense, and a desperate need for help from the bench so that the starting lineup doesn’t start to keel over come March and April.  The Pups are 4th in the league in scoring at 105.5ppg, 6th in rebounding (45.2rpg) and 8th in assists (23.0apg).  Unfortunately, the team remains in the bottom quarter of the league on defense (24th entering Monday’s play) giving up 101.7 points per game.

Game 26: Wednesday, 12/16, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ Boston Celtics (TV: FS North & NBA TV) [Read more...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 4

Only one of these Kevin's will be frequenting the Target Center this week (Photo credit: NBA.com)

Only one of these Kevin’s will be frequenting the Target Center this week
(Photo credit: NBA.com)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves enter the fourth week of the season with an impressive 7-4 record.  As of Sunday morning, that is good for a sixth place tie in the Western Conference and percentage points away from second in the Northwest Division.  As most expected, the team looks like an offensive juggernaut, averaging 108.5 points per game – 3rd in the NBA.  The team is also 5th in the league in both rebounds and assists per game.

After missing one game with the flu, Kevin Martin returned to form Saturday night and remains one of the most impressive stories early on this season.  Kevin Love continues to play at an All-Star level, averaging 26.8ppg and 13.6rpg, with a PER at 29.7!  While Ricky Rubio continues to struggle with his shot, he continues to do everything else with 9.6apg and just over 3 steals per.  Ricky put up a triple double last Sunday against the Lakers and if he continues to put in ~10+ppg, this team is very dangerous.

Week 4 for the Wolves is going to be tough, with two sets of back-to-back games and travel.  A few old faces will be clashing with the Wolves this week and it is a perfect time for the team to put on some throwback jerseys (#Twolves25)!!  Here are a few thoughts for each game this week.

Game 12: Tuesday, 11/19, 6pm – Timberwolves @ Washington Wizards (TV: FSN Plus)

The Wizards will enter this game at 2-7 and Randy Wittman is the early leader in the “coach most likely to get fired first” category (again).  It would be an understatement to say the Wizards are underachieving.  The Pups will come into Tuesday’s game with two full days of rest (so will Washington).  Hopefully, this game will be as easy as it looks on paper.

Opponent to watch:

Bradley Beal – Beal is off to a great start this season in Washington, playing right around 40 minutes per game and averaging a shade under 20 points.  The second year SG will look to make it tough on Kevin Martin on both ends of the floor.

Predictions:

Despite this game being on the road, do you really think I’m picking a team coached by Randy Wittman that is grossly underperforming to start the season?  Final score: Timberwolves 106, Wizards 99

Game 13: Wednesday, 11/20, 7pm – Los Angeles Clippers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Pups will travel back home from Washington to face the Clippers on Wednesday night and will be looking to avenge the nail biting loss that they suffered back on 11/11.  Love and Nikola Pekovic will look to continue their strong play against the solid tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  Let’s see if Matt Barnes can talk himself out of the NBA before tip-off of this game too.  (Good grief.)  In an effort to get completely ahead of ourselves, this is actually a pretty big game for the Wolves, who will look to even the season series and keep the Clippers (and others) well within their grasps when thinking about playoff seeds.  (Yep, we went there before Thanksgiving!)

Opponent to watch:

Chris Paul – The queen/king of flopping outplayed Rubio in the first outing and will likely need to do so again for the Clippers in order for them to win.

Predictions:

Quite honestly, the Wolves are dealt a tough deck here.  The Clippers will be off the night prior, and coming into the game off of a four game home stretch.  The Wolves will be flying back from DC and won’t get home until late Tuesday / early Wednesday.  The only reason I’m taking the Wolves is because, well, I hate the Clippers.  Final score: Timberwolves 114, Clippers 112

Game 14: Friday, 11/22, 7pm – Brooklyn Nets @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

A few things about this game and how it relates to the national TV schedule.  First, since this game is on a Friday, how in the world is it not on ESPN?  The young, improving Wolves vs. the star-studded (albeit underachieving) Brooklyn Nets.  Second, this is possibly KG’s last game ever at Target Center – even though his contract goes for one more season.  What brainpower decided that this game wasn’t worthy of ESPN coverage?

Third, and changing the focus on national media, why couldn’t this match-up, in Target Center, be on TNT on a Thursday night with Kevin Harlan in the booth?  Fourth, pivoting again, please, PLEASE, PLEASE make this a throwback jersey night!  I really don’t ask for that much.

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Garnett – I don’t care that he is averaging under 25mpg and his averages are well below what we have all become accustomed to.  This is KG and it might be his last run on the Target Center floor.  If you have the ability to get to Target Center, you should be there.

Predictions:

I’m going to predict a “throwback night” from KG as well, who will come into the game firing on all cylinders.  Assuming Deron Williams plays (D2D with an ankle injury), I’m going to predict my first loss in this weekly column for the Pups.  Final score: Nets 102, Timberwolves 100

Game 15: Saturday, 11/23, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

You can literally take just about everything that I said above in the first paragraph for the Nets game and place it here too.  With Kevin McHale on the opposing sideline, this is another opportunity for the Wolves to throw on a few old school jerseys (cough, ORIGINAL BLUE’S, cough).  Do it!  DO IT!!

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden has picked up right where he left off last season, stuffing the box score night in and night out.  Harden lit up Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin in the playoffs last year.  While Martin had one really bad game (game 5) in that series, he bounced back nicely in game 6 to knock the Rockets out of the playoffs.

Predictions:

The Wolves can’t afford to get that “game 5 Martin” in this one, as they will be on the back end of a back-to-back against a team that will not have played since Wednesday night in another part of Texas (Dallas).  Final score: Rockets 112, Timberwolves 106

Wrap-up:

The Pups don’t catch any breaks this coming week from the scheduling gods whatsoever.  If they can go 2-2 this week, I would be content.  3-1 would be impressive and 4-0 would be glorious.  Let’s go Wolves!

Wolves Clipped by Clippers, 107-109

For the second time this season the Minnesota Timberwolves watched a shot fall-short that would have won, or tied, the game at the buzzer. The loss, though tough to swallow, doesn’t prevent Earth from continuing to spin. In yesterday’s recap I used the term fatalism; the belief that what will happen has already been decided and cannot be changed, and unfortunately, it’s what we may have seen in Staples Center last night. However, there’s still plenty season remaining and the Wolves have made it clear they’ve arrived as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. The game was the second straight sellout, in back-to-back nights, in Los Angeles. Not bad for a small market franchise from the midwest.

BREWERDUDLEY

Brewer drives by Jared Dudley, both wearing the NBA issued headbands worn over the weekend and Monday night in honor of Veteran’s Day

First Half

Compared to Sunday’s meeting with the Lakers Monday’s opening quarter was frustrating although the Wolves led the Clippers at the end of the first; 26-23. Blake Griffin led all scorers with 11 points and it was apparent he was going to be allowed to shoot the 15 foot jumpers facing the basket, he was defended by Nikola Pekovic and not Kevin Love — the Wolves sacrificed strength for speed guarding the Clippers’ high-flying forward. Love and Kevin Martin, Team Kevin, scored seven point each, Ricky Rubio scored two points and had as many assist to go along with three points from Corey Brewer and five from Pek. It was a balanced effort showing Rick Adelman’s Princeton offense is starting to operate on all cylinders.

The starting unit this season has been remarkable and entered last night’s game scoring 80 percent of the team’s points, they needed to bail out the bench -again- Monday. Love, who played just over seven minutes in the first, played eight-and-half during the second quarter and scored nine points. Pek lumbered his big body around for over 10 minutes in the first, but did his heavy lifting over second minutes in the second — scoring 12 points on 5 of 5 from the field and 2 of 3 from the free-throw line. However the Clippers balanced scoring came to life, by halftime, every player that stepped on the floor before halftime had scored; the home team led at the half, 59-58.

First Half Notes

  • The Clippers bench outscored the Wolves 21-10
  • Rubio had only two points, but had five assists
  • Love, Martin and Pek scored 43 of the team’s 58

Second Half

The Clippers expanded their halftime lead in the third by outscoring the Wolves, 26-22. Griffin added 10 to his total and Paul showcased his midrange game after fancy crossovers that, although Rubio defended well, were just too much for the 23 year old to handle. At the end of the third quarter the deficit had grown to five, the resilience of the starting unit was keeping it close — the bench failed to score in the opening period of the second half.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Love   are two players that make Clippers-Wolves one of the NBA's most exciting new rivalries.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are two players that make Clippers-Wolves one of the NBA’s most exciting new rivalries.

Martin was relatively quiet in the first half and went to charity stripe only four times thus far. He matched that output in final quarter and made good on all four attempts, asserting himself offensively during the game’s final minutes. The lack of productivity from the bench was taking it’s toll on the starters, Rubio failed to record a rebound in the second half, scored zero points in the final quarter but -as only he can- found a way to distribute four assists down the stretch. Love despite dominating the boards, snagging eight rebounds, scored only two points in the final quarter. The Wolves, again, had a chance to run a play with a chance to win on the road. Here’s a breakdown.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.03.39 PM

 Martin throws the ball in to Love from the far sideline, Love sets a screen on Matt Barnes and hands it back to Martin who dribbles to his left toward the top of the key. Because it’s this late in the game, the Clippers will undoubtedly switch on the pick-n-roll — leaving DeAndre Jordan to defend the smaller, quicker Martin.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.07.09 PM

Here, Martin can either pull up from behind the three-point line and go for the win if Jordan decides to sag and defend against dribble-penetration. Martin chooses to continue driving to his left, that’s the side of the court he’s most comfortable shooting the ball.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.10.19 PM

The play is well defended, Jordan recovers well and Martin is forced to shoot an awkward jumper; however, Pek has bullied Griffin almost completely under the basket Love is crashing the boards with the smaller Barnes on his hip. This puts both players in position to obtain the offensive rebound.

 Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.14.19 PM

Pek gets the offensive board because of his positioning, has a look at a baby hook to win the game. Barnes instinctively jumps to defend the shot, Love slips behind him toward the rim in front of Paul.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.17.44 PM

THIS, THIS IS HOW CLOSE THE WOLVES WERE TO SENDING THE GAME TO OVERTIME. Love’s putback sits on the rim for what felt like an eternity before falling off in the Clippers favor.

“When Kevin [Martin] had shot the ball, I knew we had 11 seconds left. Pek got the rebound, shot it up, so my natural instinct was to try and rush and put it up there. It sat on the rim and, like I said, 99 times out of 100 times, that goes in.” – Love said after the game.

He told fans the same thing he told his teammates just moments after the buzzer rang at Staples.

As he walked toward the bench, Love smiled. Despite the outcome, the game was fun — the Wolves have no reason to hang their head after this one, well, the starters don’t anyway.

 

Three Stars (Do we include Clippers players? I’m new at this)

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Pek scored 25, his highest output of the season, on 11 of 15 shooting and had 10 rebounds.
  2. Kevin Love – Mr. Double-Double scored 23 and grabbed 19 rebounds, he has a double-double through every game this season
  3. Blake Griffin – Silently matching Love’s scoring output with 25 points on 11 of 22 shooting in addition to 10 rebounds. He had zero turnovers.

The Wolves have today off but face the Cavs tomorrow at home. More on that one to come.

2013/2014 Western Conference Preview

Western Conference Logo

Well, we can now call this an annual tradition, so welcome back to another Timberpups.com’s preview of the NBA’s Western Conference.  I’m going to stick with a similar flow for the preview, ranking the conference from worst to first and taking a stab at how I see the playoffs unfolding.  As I was ranking the teams this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t a team in the conference that doesn’t have its flaws.  I also have no idea how things are going to pan out at the top of the conference given injuries, old age, and a few other wrinkles we’ll tackle when we get there.  Enough foreplay, here we go …

15. Phoenix Suns: I’m not even sure where to start.  If I were a Suns fan going to home games, my regular attire would start with a brown bag.  The owner is reprehensible, the front office is something a little less derogatory, and the roster is a mess.  Eric Bledsoe is going to be a fantasy basketball stud.  Marcin Gortat should put up nice numbers as well, given the Suns’ rookie is Alex Len and already listed as “Day-to-Day”.

14. Sacramento Kings: Any time you have a coach-killing, I don’t give a crap, locker room cancer up for a new contract, you have to max them out, right?  Particularly after a lost season when your old ownership group dragged the entire city through the mud.  This will be a fun team to watch with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore in the backcourt, but I hate their frontcourt and I’m not moving this team up any further with Cousins the proud new owner of a max contract.

13. Portland Trailblazers: This is likely where I lose a lot of readers, but I foresee a lost year for the Blazers, who will be held hostage by LaMarcus Aldridge – reportedly not happy with the team and looking to move on.  The Blazers are another team that will look great playing small ball with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and McCollum, but I think they suffer from the distractions.  One final question: is Thomas Robinson going to figure out life in the NBA this season?

12. Utah Jazz: The Timberwolves’ trade partner from draft night!  Trey Burke and Alec Burks make for an intriguing backcourt (and an announcers nightmare).  This team still has 2 or 3 too many wings on the roster and a complete lack of balance.  They have no depth at PF/C, so expect a lot of run for Favors and Kanter, and then expect them to hit a wall after the all-star break.

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Who knows when Kobe will come back, but what I do know is that he isn’t human.  So when he does return, he’ll be at least 80% of Kobe and that’s better than 90% of the players in the NBA.  At the same time, I think this team can tread water thanks to Nash, Gasol, and to a much lesser extent, Kaman.  If they would have signed one decent wing this offseason, I think they would fight for the last playoff spot.  Sorry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson fans.

10. Denver Nuggets: This year’s winner of my “I literally have no idea what to expect from this team” award.  I think Brian Shaw is going to be a good coach, unless he tries to replicate Kurt Rambis’ performance in Minnesota.  I like Lawson and Faried, while Gallinari/Chandler are certainly serviceable (note that Gallinari is injured).  But then I look and see their SG rotation (Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, and Quincy Miller) and their starting Center (JaVale McGee) and think there is no way this team flirts with 40 wins.  Again, I have no idea where this goes.  (#Analysis)

9. Dallas Mavericks: This was my surprise team in last season’s preview.  That didn’t go too well, but the team was still competitive.  They are another year older (Dirk, Marion, and Wince Carter) and have a huge question mark in the paint – Sam Dalembert.  The addition of Monta Ellis adds a lot of intrigue, if only to see how long it takes for Rick Carlisle to become the first coach to ever attack a player on the floor with a chair from the first row.  The West is too strong/competitive for the Mavs to make the playoffs in my opinion.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. New Orleans Pelicans: New team name, new mascot, and a few new faces.  This is one of the few teams that are on my “must watch” list to see how these guys work together.  The Pelicans stole the draft by getting Jrue Holiday, but then went out and got Tyreke Evans.  If Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers can stay healthy (I know, I know), this team is going to be highly entertaining.  I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Davis yet, who had a strong rookie season and will only get better.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: So, I have to be honest.  The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded and I wound up seeding the playoff teams with two thoughts: 1. some semblance of how I legitimately thought things would wind up and 2. one eye on the playoffs and creating exciting first round match-ups.  We’ll get there, trust me.  The Wolves are already down one man (Budinger) after last season’s debacle and really can’t afford to lose anyone else, particularly on the wing.

Last season was supposed to be the year the team returned to the playoffs and broke the curse, thereby allowing this season to be “the next step”.  So we are behind a year on that roadmap, but I do believe this team is a lock for the playoffs if it can stay healthy.  How far it can go heavily depends on Love returning to his “Best PF in the NBA” tag and Rubio making a significant leap in rankings among PG’s.  If those two things happen, and they are big “if’s”, this team can do a lot of damage, as all of the complementary pieces are there – shooting, depth, veterans, young guns, and more.

One last thought: Derrick Williams or Shabazz Muhammad must wedge themselves into Adelman’s rotation to fill minutes at multiple positions.  If this happens, the team will be ready to roar come playoff time.

6. Golden State Warriors: This team is scary good on paper and there lies the problem.  Do I really want to rely on Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and not miss significant time over the course of a season?  Is Harrison Barnes going to breakout?  Is Andre Iguodala a nice stats, falters when it matters type of player?  Everything about this team says it could be a top four team in the conference, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it any higher than this spot.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: We know what Memphis did last season in the playoffs and quite honestly, that is the only reason I have them above GS.  I really like what the Grizzlies did in getting Ed Davis.  However, I thought Tayshaun Prince could have been shopped this offseason in order to find an upgrade on the wing.  Gasol and Randolph are going to bring it every night and Mike Conley has found himself as a PG in the NBA.  This is just a really good “team” on both ends of the floor and I’m not going to discount that.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Here is what I wrote last season for the Clippers:

I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul.  However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me.  Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle.  Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball.  The owner of this team is disgusting.  Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers? 

Nothing has changed.  In fact, I had them at #4 last season as well.  Chris Paul is running the entire franchise, but to his credit, players are coming to LA to play for the Clippers, the latest example being JJ Redick.  They have a solid starting five and three solid backups in Collison, Crawford, and Barnes.  Beyond that eight man rotation though, it is a little frightening if you are a Clippers fan (Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jamison?  Yikes!).

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Well, the James Harden trade certainly didn’t work out.  As I mentioned after the trade, I hate seeing teams sell when they have a very legitimate shot at a ring and that’s what Sam Presti did and now they have to figure out how to right the ship.  It always helps when you have Kevin Durant.  The injury to Russell Westbrook will cost the team at least a couple of wins in the early part of the season and that is going to cost them a top two seed in my opinion.  Are we sure Serge Ibaka is only 24 years old?  He was drafted by the Sonics and that team hasn’t been around in what feels like a decade.

2. Houston Rockets: You may notice what I’m doing here if you are a Wolves fan, but I slide the Rockets into the 2 seed of the conference.  You may have heard that Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this offseason.  James Harden took ‘the leap’ last year and became one of the top players in the league.  PG play is a concern, but the Rockets have good depth at the forward positions (while not spectacular) and a top three player at their respective positions in Howard and Harden.  This equates to a lot of regular season wins and the 2 seed in my book.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Why?!  Will this team please go away!  I say this half in jest because the Spurs play great basketball and showed the nation that they could hang with the Heat.  The NBA Finals were as good as professional basketball can look.  Naturally, the Spurs found diamonds in the rough in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and every other franchise just continues to shake their collective heads.  I can’t make a case for anyone else in the 1 seed, given the injury to Westbrook in OKC.

Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:

2014 Western Conference Playoff Predictions

As mentioned earlier, I tried to make the first round as entertaining as possible with the seeds.  Spurs roll over a ‘happy to be here’ Pelicans team, the Clippers again in the 1st round (YES!), the Thunder take care of a pesky Warriors team, and the Wolves upset the Rockets!

Come on, look at all those storylines: Adelman vs. McHale, Dwight choking in the playoffs, the Wolves getting stronger as the season progresses and culminating in the upset!  This would be fantastic.  Honestly, name a worse first round opponent for the Rockets, not named the Spurs and Thunder.  Pekovic and Love can frustrate the heck out of Howard, and the team can throw a number of players out there to man up on Harden … or at least provide their respective six fouls.  Make this series happen!

Beyond the first round, you see a pretty straightforward run by the Spurs and Thunder, setting up the rematch to represent the conference in the Finals.

Where am I off my rocker in the conference rankings?  Who do you see representing the conference in the Finals?  Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be on the lookout for an Eastern Conference Preview within the next week or two.

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 vs. Los Angeles Clippers (1/17/13)

blakegriffin_chrispaulSetting the stage:

The Pups return home to the Target Center for Thursday night’s game against the LA Clippers.  As an added bonus, TNT will be carrying the game to a national audience.  When TNT picked this game up, I wonder if they thought the Twolves would be down to approximately eight healthy bodies, no Kevin Love, and an extremely limited Ricky Rubio.  I doubt it.

Minnesota is coming off a dreadful road trip losing all four games in a particularly ugly fashion.  The locker room also has the flu bug going around it, so we probably won’t know who is going to be available for the team and who isn’t until minutes before the opening tip.  While Rick Adelman stopped by the team on Wednesday, it does not sound like he plans on joining them on the sidelines just yet, leaving Terry Porter in the driver’s seat.

Back in late November, the Pups lost to the Clippers in LA 101-95.  Around that time, it was kosher to poke fun at how the Clippers were playing well, but were still a team coached by Vinny Del Negro.  In fact, I may have done that in our preview prior to the game.  Fast forward to mid-January and the Clippers are once again proving me wrong, holding the second best record in the league at 30-9 and percentage points behind OKC for the top spot in the conference.

It must be nice to have your star players at full health all season and players being able to fill the roles that they are supposed to be in, not trying to make them into something they’re not.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin obviously lead the way here, but the team is getting solid contributions on the wing from Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Caron Butler.  Throw in the continued maturity of DeAndre Jordan and there you have it, a 30-9 team battling with the best in the league.

Player to watch:

Chris Paul – Paul killed the Pups back in late November and no one should be surprised if it happens again Thursday night.  What little chance of a letdown the Twolves faithful might be hoping for from a top team coming into Minnesota is likely nullified by the game being broadcast on TNT.  Get ready for the pre and post game interviews with Paul (or Blake) and all the nausea that comes with it from the studio.

Match-up to watch:

Nikola Pekovic vs. DeAndre Jordan.  These two played to about a draw in November, with Pek going for 11 & 10 and 4 fouls in almost 33 minutes of action, while Jordan went for 15 & 6 and 4 fouls in just under 27 minutes.  I expect more of the same from these two heavyweights Thursday night.  Quite honestly, the only way the Pups win this game is with Pekovic having a career-like performance on both ends of the floor.

Predictions:

Despite the two days off, the Twolves are in a slide and I don’t see how having the second best team in the league coming to town helps the situation.

Final score prediction: Twolves 92, Clippers 106

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. Jamal Crawford
  3. Andrei Kirilenko

Let’s go Wolves!