Recap – Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

"VICTORY!" for the Pups in a close game!

“VICTORY!” for the Pups in a close game!

The Timberwolves traveled further west for two weekend games, starting with Friday night’s game in the Bay Area to take on the 26-17 Warriors.  The Warriors took care of the Wolves earlier this season at Target Center and it was time for the team to redeem themselves.  Friday night was also another opportunity for the Wolves to reach the .500 mark with a win.

After lacerating his finger earlier this week, Kevin Martin was a little bit of a question mark.  However, no surprises as it got closer to tip-off in the Pups starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  Similarly, there were a few question marks going into tonight on the Warriors lineup given a few minor injuries.  However, no surprises there either, as the team sent out the following lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. [Read more...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 13

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

First, let me clarify a technicality.  Due to the cancellation of the game in Mexico City against the San Antonio Spurs, the number of each game is off by one game, relative to adding up the wins and losses for the Wolves to this point in the season.  When we get to the Spurs game on April 8th, we will be calling that “Game 20”.  Please just agree that this is “fair”.  Why?  Because I want to leverage this week’s preview as a place to rant about how the Wolves are looking “halfway through the season”.  Let’s pretend that we aren’t 49% of the way there and are at 50%.  Sound good?  Thanks!

This past week included two bad losses to the Kings and Raptors.  The Wolves salvaged the week with a blowout victory against the Jazz on Saturday, but remain below .500 for the season – 19-21, now sitting in the 11th position of the Western Conference.  The team is 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8 seed in the Conference, with the Grizzlies and Nuggets also ahead of them.  Let’s agree that this is an underperforming group right now, despite the few injuries that the team has endured. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 94, Portland Blazers 109

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

Game Summary

Closing out the western swing, the Timberwolves visited the Rose Garden Saturday night to take on the Trail Blazers.  Minnesota entered the game on a four game losing streak while the Blazers still have hopes of grabbing the bottom seed in the western conference playoffs.

Unfortunately, more changes were needed in the Wolves starting lineup Saturday night as both Kirilenko and Pekovic were scratched from the game.  The Pups starting lineup consisted of – Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Blazers opened up with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and JJ Hickson.

Going into the first timeout / stoppage of play, the Blazers had built a 7 point lead, 17-10.  Greg Stiemsma was already on the bench with two quick fouls.  With Pekovic’s injury it was a given that Chris Johnson would get minutes Saturday night, but Stiemsma’s inability to stay on the court and avoid foul trouble has become a bit nauseating for Wolves fan (or at least one of them…).

The Wolves defense struggled to do anything to stop the Blazers in the 1st quarter, as the home team held a 31-19 lead after the first twelve minutes.  Story of the quarter is vastly similar to the past few weeks (months?) for the Pups: 9-24 on FG’s for 38% and 0-4 from 3PT range, while the Blazers were 12-23 from the field for 52% and 3-5 from 3PT range.

The 2nd quarter was pretty slow going, or at least it felt that way.  The Pups outscored the Blazers 25-20 in the quarter but trailed by six points, 51-45.  While the Wolves were able to cut into the lead, no one stood out on the team beyond Derrick Williams (broken record alert).  The Blazers cooled off in the 2nd quarter and that felt like the crux of why the Wolves were back in the game more than anything else.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • I’m just going to assume that Ricky Rubio is going to be working on his jumper all offseason and will be a solid offensive threat next year.  (Fantasy league stud in 13/14)
  • An underrated move from several weeks ago was the Blazers acquisition of Eric Maynor.
  • Chris Johnson needs more PT.  Please!

The game more or less fell apart for the undermanned Wolves in the second half.  The Blazers built a 17 point lead in the 3rd quarter at several points.  Without Pekovic, the Wolves had no answer for JJ Hickson, who hit the double-double threshold early and kept going.

I’m not sure if Alexey Shved has hit another wall or not, but Adelman is not giving him heavy minutes and it really can’t, or at least shouldn’t be, due to what Ridnour and Barea are doing on the court for the team.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Blazers held an 83-71 lead.

The Wolves made several very small runs but never truly threatened to take over the game in the 4th quarter.  Luke Ridnour caught fire early in the quarter, but it felt more like a nice run by an individual player vs. the start of a big move that would help catapult the team to take over the game.  Sure enough, Terry Stotts would call the appropriate timeouts and get his team back in gear.

The Blazers outscored the Wolves 58-50 in the second half and pulled out the 109-94 victory.  The win completed the season sweep for the Blazers over the Wolves, which wound up being the fifth time in six seasons that Portland has been able to claim this feat.  Given all of the missing cogs in the Wolves machine, this really should not have been a surprise for anyone watching the game on NBA TV.

While Rubio flirted with another triple-double (12, 9, and 9), he continues to turn the ball over too much and opposing teams are laying off of him on the offensive end, daring him to shoot jumpers.  Unfortunately for us Wolves fans, that plan is working, as Rubio continues to struggle to with his shot.

Rather than harping on that particular part of the game, I found myself asking what would be the better scenario for the Wolves moving forward more often than not while watching the second half.  Is it moving forward with Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, both, or the supplemental players that the team can put together by moving one or the other in the future?  I need to think about this a lot more before putting down my thoughts on paper.

Keys of the Game

  • Talent / Health – I am absolutely copping out on this one, as this claim could be made for most of the season.  The Pups were missing way too much talent on the floor in Saturday’s game at the Rose Garden.
  • Shooting – The Wolves shot under 40% again for the game and only made 1-12 3PT’s.  While the team continues to show an ability to get to the FT line, they missed 11 FT’s, going 25-36 from the charity stripe.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. JJ Hickson – Hickson finished with 18 and 16 on the evening and torched Stiemsma and CJ throughout the evening.
  2. Damian Lillard – Newsflash, Lillard is good, putting up 24, 6, and 4 for the future ROY, and a game high +22 in the +/- category.
  3. Derrick Williams – Williams missed his season high by one point but still put up a 23 and 8 for the Wolves and was probably the lone bright spot for the team.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 3/2/13

20130302-122214.jpgSetting the stage:

The million dollar question at this point is “who is in and who is out?” The Timberwolves conclude their western journeySaturday night in Portland and at the time of writing, we don’t know who will be available for the team. Beyond the “normal” group of players that remain out, will Andrei Kirilenko or Nikola Pekovic be ready for Saturday’s game? As soon as we know more, we’ll drop it into the comments section below.

Our Pups come off a loss on Thursday night to the Lakers, which was the team’s fourth loss in a row, and 20th out of their last 24 games. You don’t need a calculator to know that this isn’t very good. The latest losing streak has dropped the team’s record to 20-35. While still in the hunt for the playoffs, the Blazers have also been in a mini free-fall over the past few weeks and are on a 1-8 slide to close out February. Portland is currently 26-31 on the season and four games behind the Rockets for the 8th seed in the conference, with the Lakers also two games ahead of them for that final seed/spot in the playoffs.

Portland has taken care of the Wolves in each of their three prior meetings this season. While the games have been close and enjoyable to watch, the Wolves have found ways to lose. This includes letting Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews do whatever they want from the Blazers backcourt positions.

Player to watch:

Nicolas Batum – Given Stephen Curry’s 54 point explosion at MSG this week, why wouldn’t there be salt in the wound for Pups fans on Saturday night? Kirilenko has been great, probably the team MVP, but he isn’t going to be around in a few years whereas Batum looks like he is really coming into his own this season. I just expect to see a lot of “what could have been” and “imagine if he was with the Wolves” comments and tweets. While putting up strong performances in the first two meetings between the two teams, Batum really struggled in his last meeting with the Wolves, as AK47 was able to shut him down. Batum finished that game with more turnovers (7) than points (4). I expect to see some type of revenge on Saturday night.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Damian Lillard. Rubio just missed a triple double on Thursday night against the Lakers and it seems like he has been flirting with one quite a bit lately. The NBA can hand Damian Lillard the Rookie of the Year trophy right now if they really wanted to. He has been phenomenal for the Blazers this season and has not hit the rookie wall at all. There have only been four games to this point in the season in which Lillard has not reached double digits in scoring.

Given that Rubio now seems to be truly healthy, this match-up should be a lot of fun to watch/monitor and should pack the highlight reel.

Predictions:

I don’t see the Wolves pulling this one off, particularly if AK47 and/or Pekovic are out or severely hampered with their nagging injuries.

Final score prediction: Twolves 86, Blazers 101

Three stars of the game predictions:

1. Nicolas Batum
2. Wesley Matthews
3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 97 – Portland Trail Blazers 102

Photo Credit: Jim Mone / The Associated Press

Photo Credit: Jim Mone / The Associated Press

Injuries, injuries, injuries. Taking on the division rival Portland Trail Blazers at the Target Center on Saturday night, the Timberwolves were left without team centerpieces Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love in a season that has once again been defined by roster-depleting injuries. Portland has not experienced such misfortune so far this season and has continued to surge under the leadership of rookie Damian Lillard and young veterans Nicolas Batum and Lamarcus Aldridge. Trailing 79-61 heading into the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves nearly stole the game from the Blazers behind some stellar fourth-quarter shooting from Derrick Williams, who fueled a 26-8 fourth-quarter run that ultimately culminated in a 102-97 defeat.

Game Summary

Nikola Pekovic was virtually unstoppable and recorded 21 points (9-14 FG) and 15 rebounds before leaving the game in the third quarter due to a left hip strain. With injuries keeping both Love and Rubio out of the game, the loss of Pek makes Minnesota extremely vulnerable in nearly all areas of their roster. A potential free agent target for Portland heading into next summer, Pek displayed utter dominance on the low block and continues to make his case for a max contract offer next offseason.

The devastating news surrounding Love’s condition came out before the start of the game, and an MRI has revealed that he re-fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand and a timetable for his return has not yet been set. K-Love had previously fractured the third and fourth metacarpals in the same hand October 17, and is set to see hand specialist Dr. Andy Weiland this week. It is blatantly obvious that Love returned far too early following his initial fractures and it was also extremely evident in his decreases in FG%, 3p%, etc. Love will now have to focus on ensuring that his hand is 100% before attempting another return back to the court, and it could be another month before we see our star back on the court.

What an interesting season this has been for Derrick Williams, as he will likely get a second chance at returning to the starting lineup amid Love’s latest injury. The set of circumstances are especially intriguing when considering the vast improvement that D-Will has displayed since his mediocre start to the season which essentially sent him into Rick Adelman’s doghouse of which Williams had a difficult time getting out of. However, with Pek leaving the game due to injury and Love already out, Williams had a spectacular second half performance in which he scored 18 points in 18 minutes, shooting 6-10 from the field and 2-3 from three-point range. One aspect of Derrick’s game that has been greatly overlooked this season has been his defense, and he has rapidly turned into one of the top defenders on the Pups roster, recording 6 rebounds and 2 steals as well last night. Williams currently holds a PER of 15.64, much-improved from the 12.98 PER he held last season, and is now shooting above league-average from three at 38%. The biggest question will be how he can handle more minutes and increased responsibility, and he his ability to maintain confidence will be a major factor in how he is able to fare until Love rejoins the lineup.

Playing without their 3 core players, the Wolves will now return to a lineup that is very similar to that of the beginning of the season. Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved will have to be major contributors in the offense and the success of the team will heavily rely on defense and passing, as there is no clear first option scorer that is healthy. Shved had an off-night shooting last night, finishing just 1 for 11 from the field despite tallying 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 30 minutes. Although Shved is technically labeled as a rookie, he is in a much different situation than other rookies in the NBA in that he has been playing professionally since his teenage years. The biggest thing that Shved needs to change is his shot selection in the pick-and-roll. He needs to take harder angles when running off picks, because he tends to make his movements more laterally than vertically which allows his defenders to stick with him easier while keeping Shved farther away from the hoop. I believe that Shved is a very good shooter and has yet to gain a rhythm thus far in the NBA, but he must allow himself higher percentage looks instead of settling for contested jump shots when running off screens.

AK-47 and Dante Cunningham each had efficient games and both were +4 on the court in 42 minutes played. Both players have been highly consistent this season and were tremendous pickups in the offseason, being near perfect fits for the Adelman offense. Kirilenko finished with an oh-so-characteristic line of 15 points (7-13 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 turnovers. Cunningham added 10 points (5-13 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks.

JJ Barea got another technical foul and made another critical late-game turnover that solidified Portland’s win, but had a pretty nice game despite his crucial mistakes. In 26 minutes off the bench, Barea finished with 14 points (5-13 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Damian Lillard: This was a tough pick, because it was pretty much a toss-up between Lillard-Batum-Matthews for who had the best performance. Lillard was a game-high +16 on the floor, whereas Batum (+1) and Matthews (+7) fell a bit short. The thing that amazes me the most about Lillard is his seeming lack of nerves on the court; he simply looks like a kid playing the game he loves without any worries in the world. The Blazers rising star absolutely terrorized Minnesota’s guards and used his size and explosiveness to dissect the Pups halfcourt defense. A favorite for Rookie of the Year, Lillard has given Blazers fans a reason to be highly optimistic for the next decade, and new GM Neil Olshey truly hit a home run in last summers draft. 
  2. Nicolas Batum: It is performances like these that made Wolves GM David Kahn dish out the $46 million offer sheet last summer that put Portland in a serious pickle. While he had previously been marked by injuries and inconsistency, Batum has enjoyed a career year and was nearly perfect last night against our Pups. In 38 minutes, Batum scored 26 points on 9 of 11 shooting, including 5 of 6 from three. He also recorded 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and only 1 turnover in what was arguably his best offensive game of the season.
  3. Wesley Matthews: Matthews played remarkably similar to Batum last night, knocking down 5 of his 7 three-point attempts and scoring 26 points in 36 minutes on the floor. As a team, Portland shot 16-24 from beyond the arc and put on a shooting clinic on the road against a division rival.

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Portland Trail Blazers 103

Steve Dykes – US Presswire

Entering tonight’s game, the Minnesota Timberwolves were on a three game losing skid and traveled to the Pacific Northwest to take on the closest thing they currently have to a rivalry in the Portland Trailblazers.  The Blazers came into the game in last place in the Northwest division at 5-6 on the season.  The loser of tonight’s game was destined for the cellar of the division, so clearly the pressure was on 11 games into the season.  (That was my best impersonation of working for ESPN, hope you liked it.)

Similar to Wednesday night, the Pups starting lineup consisted of Ridnour, Lee, Kirilenko, Love, and Pekovic.  No surprises on the Blazers starting five, as they opened the game with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, and Hickson.  Despite missing Brandon Roy and his return to Portland, a number of Pups have ties to Portland and could be viewed as “returning home”; with David Kahn and Kevin Love from the area and Rick Adelman’s past coaching successes with the franchise.  You can also throw in Luke Ridnour’s time at the University of Oregon.

The game itself got off to a very hot start.  The teams went into the first timeout about six minutes into the game with the Wolves holding an 18-13 lead.  Pekovic was dominant for the Wolves with a quick eight points.  Luke Ridnour also looked on target, hitting his first two jumpers for a quick five points.  Unfortunately, Luke was getting lit up on the other side of the floor, as Damian Lillard opened up with a quick seven points as well.

The 1st quarter ended with the Wolves up 33-28.  Aside from Pek and Ridnour, Love also had a strong quarter with six points and five rebounds.  The Blazers were completely overmatched in the paint for much of the quarter.  The “almost Pup” Nicholas Batum had a very nice quarter as well, doing a little bit of everything to help keep the Blazers in the game.

About six minutes into the 2nd quarter, Minnesota was able to double their lead to ten, largely using their reserve unit.  That reserve unit once again did not consist of Derrick Williams.  It is also worth noting that the Blazers bench provided virtually nothing in production.  I would expect the Blazers to really struggle late in the season, as they are going to have to rely on their starters for heavy minutes night in and night out.

At the end of the 2nd quarter, the Wolves maintained their five point lead, 55-50.  Portland’s starting backcourt was the only reason this game was close, as Lillard and Matthews combined for 31 points and 6 assists at halftime.  The Wolves continued to dominate down low, with Pekovic and Love providing the inside muscle to lead the way for the team.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Derrick Williams and Greg Stiemsma combined for 0 seconds on the floor in the first half.  The former shouldn’t be on the roster by the end of this road trip.  The latter has been struggling mightily over the past few games and is now behind Lou Amundson in the rotation, at least for the time being.
  • I love how the Twolves digital team is using various forms of social media and engaging fans not at the stadium.

The 3rd quarter got off to a bit of a chippy start.  Within the first few minutes of the quarter, Love and Aldridge picked up double technical fouls as the Blazers immediately cut into the Pups lead.  However, with the assistance of the T, Aldridge picked up his 5th personal foul before we were halfway through the quarter.

Both teams entered the penalty in the 3rd with more than four minutes left in the quarter.  In other words, the game lost the flow that was seen in the 1st half and play was consistently blown dead without too many trips up and down the court.

At the end of the 3rd, the Blazers held an 81-78 lead, thanks to a Nic Batum three pointer as the clock wound down to end the quarter.  Portland outscored the Wolves 31-23 in the 3rd, led again by Damian Lillard, who had 24 points and 7 assists through three.  In one word – wow!  The Wolves didn’t look good in the last few minutes of the quarter at all and that was only the beginning.

The 4th quarter felt like a runaway train as a Pups fan.  The Blazers opened up the quarter on a 14-6 run to increase the lead to 11 points, going into a Wolves timeout to try to stop the bleeding.  The Wolves could have called three TO’s in a row and it wouldn’t have mattered, as Wes Matthews caught fire in the quarter and finished the game with 30 points, as the Wolves fell 103-95 to the Blazers.

The Pups continued to miss FT’s (28-37 on the night) but this didn’t feel like the Charlotte and/or Denver loss.  They were outplayed in the 2nd half and the guard play from Portland completely dominated the Wolves.  The Ridnour/Barea backcourt used in the 2nd half of the game was atrocious.  It looked like the ‘11/’12 version of Barea and that isn’t a compliment whatsoever.  Finally, I’m not sure if it is the return of Love or a bit of fatigue, but Andrei Kirilenko has lost a bit of his mojo.  The ball needs to go through his hands more often on the offensive side of the court.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Damian Lillard
  2. Wesley Matthews
  3. Kevin Love

Paging Dr. Rubio, we need you!  Live from rumor-ville: in pregame, it was mentioned that Rubio could be cleared to practice with the team when they return to the Twin Cities.  We’re teetering on some sort of edge here right now.  Prior to the season, my goal for this team was to tread water until Love and Rubio returned.  It may be the hot start that increased expectations, but things need to get fixed quickly.