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 at Clippers: A Preview Featuring Trisity Miller

As promised in yesterday’s weekly preview Trisity Miller (@Trisity_) joins the PupsBlog for some insight on tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Miller is a Staff Writer as well as Editor of FullyClips.com, THE Clippers Blog of Sports Illustrated’s Fansided Network. She had me answer of few of her questions on the Clipper site, read them here.
Ricky Rubio drives passed Clippers center DeAndre Jordan

Ricky Rubio drives passed Clippers center DeAndre Jordan

Here’s a few notes.

  • Doc Rivers is now head coach, he’s called for the removal of Laker banners in the Staples Center during Clipper home games.

“This is our arena when we play,” when asked about the banners. “So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them (Lakers). But when we play, it’s the Clippers’ arena as far as I know.”

  • The Clippers offense ranks first in the league in points per game — they’re piling 110 on their opponents
  • The Wolves played last night, the Clips didn’t, we’ll see how playing on back-to-back nights affects them despite not having to travel between games.

Here’s a few questions I asked Miller via Email.

How, if it’s possible, do you stop the Clippers?
Slow the pace down and make them beat you in the half-court. Judging a team based on their performance against the defending champions in Miami isn’t smart, but it revealed a lot of holes in this team. Scoring and defending in the half-court is their biggest weakness as it has been for the past two years. Improvement is happening due to Doc Rivers putting his touch on the offense. Also getting Jordan, Paul or Griffin is one heck of a way to slow this team down. Neither have replacements that can come in and keep up wait they started. That’s a huge change compared to last season.
What, if any, are Chris Paul’s weaknesses?
Knowing when to cut the scoring switch on. I don’t like to call him a pass-first point guard like Ricky Rubio and he definitely isn’t a score-first point like a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. He sits somewhere in the middle. But there are moments where the Clippers need a guy to take over the game. We saw him do it against Houston and Golden State. The Clippers needed that Chris Paul last night. Once he figures that out he’ll be as sound a player as there is in the league.
How does having Hall of Fame coach Doc Rivers chance the attitude in the locker room compared to last season?
On the outside looking in, this group seems to take more pride in what they’re doing now. The fun is still there, but there’s now a sense of knowing now is the time for the Clippers to win. The biggest change is the approach that DeAndre Jordan is taking to the game. He’s coming along on the defensive end, but there’s a change in the way he’s taken to being the defensive leader of this team. A sense of entitlement and a dose of confidence is what I’m seeing, something that Vinny Del Negro never helped him develop. He’s taking responsibility when the good and bad happens and knows that without quality defense from him his team can’t contend late into June.
What were expectations for offseason acquisition J.J. Redick prior to the season? Is he meeting, exceeding or below them at this point?
Redick was expected to come in and provide a dimension to the Los Angeles Clippers that the shell of Chauncey Billups couldn’t add. And he’s blown those expectations out of the water. For years all we as fans wanted from J.J. Redick was to see him on a team that wasn’t a bottom-dweller. Now that he’s on a championship contending team everyone sees why people felt that way. His shooting alone is a dynamic that helps those around him, but his off-the-ball work is what makes him a step up from being “just a shooter”. Most shooters you don’t want dribbling the ball. Redick’s the opposite as he’s an underrated pick-and-roll player and passer. And defensively he’s a million times better than Billups. Come playoff time defenses are going to absolutely loath him.
How good would Jamal Crawford fit on the Wolves? Or is Kevin Martin doing a good enough from from your perspective?
Crawford would fit well in a reserve role while Kevin Martin meshes perfectly with the Minny starters. Martin’s ability to move off the ball, draw fouls at a reasonable rate and knock down the three-pointer is something Wolves fans will love. Crawford is a frustrating player to watch all while being enjoyable at the same time, similar to J.R. Smith but without the shenanigans. The isolations are cool to watch, but Crawford often struggles to realize that there’s a time and a place to do that.
If you’re starting a franchise, do you pick Kevin Love or Blake Griffin as your power forward?
As much as Blake Griffin has improved this isn’t even close. I’m going with Kevin Love. There was once a point where I got a David Lee-esque feel from KL, but he’s blown that comparison out of the water. I will say this. Neither are bad options, but looking at Love’s skill set and where the NBA is currently heading a big that can hit the boards like no other and spread the floor is the new wave. If Blake Griffin can begin knocking down the 15-footer with confidence and consistency then the gap closes up due to him being able to affect the defensive end more due to his athleticism. But since that hasn’t come into fruition yet, Love’s the guy.
Blake Griffin dunks in warmups before the Clippers meeting with the Miami Heat

Blake Griffin dunks in warmups before the Clippers meeting with the Miami Heat

Kevin Love leads the league in rebounding and is second only to Kevin Durant in points per game thus far this season.

Kevin Love leads the league in rebounding and is second only to Kevin Durant in points per game thus far this season.

Miller is good stuff and churns out content like a machine for FullyClips and the other sites she’s involved with. On behalf of Timberpups I’d just like to take a moment to give thanks for the time she spent on this preview, as well as help with editing in the past (and probably the future).
If you’re a writer who covers an upcoming Wolves opponent and would like to participate in our previews, shoot me an email or DM — Zwbd333@gmail.com or @ZacharyBD. If you have any questions about an upcoming opponent feel free to DM or mention myself, Alex, John, Lindsey or the PupsBlog twitter (@timberpupsblog) with those. Also, we’re not opposed to fan posts — if you’re a regular reader here at the PupsBlog, we’d love to hear your opinions pertaining to our favorite team.
Photos are from the Clippers and Wolves team sites and can be found in appropriate photo archives.

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!

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Los Angeles Clippers 101

Jeff Gross – Getty Images

Oh, how different the Staples Center is without Ricky Rubio on the court. Fresh off a win in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves marched into Los Angeles on Wednesday night to face the Clippers in the fourth and last game of their current road trip. Minnesota, who learned yesterday that star PG Ricky Rubio had been cleared to begin unrestricted practice with the team, was simply unable to contain Clippers perrenial All-Star Chris Paul and ultimately fell by a score of 101-95. CP3, who thrived in his matchups against Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea, did a masterful job of closing out the game for the Clippers and exploited Wolves guards for fourth-quarter mental mistakes that we were not used to seeing with Rubio on the floor late in games last season. Paul finished the night with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, 11 dimes, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of action.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Timberwolves guards played well as a whole throughout the entire contest. To sum up the performances of a few players based on a few late-game critical mistakes would be unfair and simply irrational, given their solid play throughout most of the game. Beginning with Ridnour, he forced the issue on a few passes in the final 4 minutes in a game that was ultimately seperated by a few points. Obviously, many people will rush to the judgement that Ridnour “played like crap” and should be either traded or dumped in some way, but what people are missing is that he is a valuable and integral part of this team and was outplayed in crunch time by possibly the best closer in the NBA, Chris Paul. There are no excuses for a couple of Ridnour’s 4 turnovers, but it must be understood that Ridnour is currently the first option at PG because of the absence of Ricky Rubio. Rubio, not Ridnour, will soon be the PG on the floor in the fourth quarters for the Wolves, and Ridnour will continue to serve as a very serviceable and above average backup PG once Ricky returns in a few weeks. Ridnour finished the night with 13 points (5-9 FG), 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes of play.

While the top storyline of Clippers-Wolves matchups is almost always the matchup of superstar PFs Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, it was neither of the two players who decided the outcome of this game. Love had a relatively poor night shooting as he converted on only 3 of his 12 FG attempts, while Griffin was restricted by foul trouble for a good portion of the second half. K-Love had a good night at the free throw line scoring 12 of his 19 points from the charity stripe to pair with 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes. Griffin ended with a line of 18 points (9-17 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 33 minutes on the floor.

Turnovers and defense were keys to the Clippers victory, as they committed only 10 turnovers to the Timberwolves 18, despite being heavily outrebounded by Minnesota 52-35. Clips center DeAndre Jordan had another wonderful game to add to his fantastic 2012-13 campaign, scoring 15 points while missing only 1 FG attempt and playing tremendous interior defense. Nikola Pekovic had his work cut out for him paired against the hyper-athletic 7-foot Jordan, and was only able to convert 5 of his 13 FG attempts on his way to 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In my personal opinion, Alexey Shved had the best performance out of all Timberwolves players as he was extremely effective in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Shved, who continues to backup Malcolm Lee at the off-guard position, scored 17 points on 5-12 shooting but knocked down 3 of his 6 three-point attempts, all of which seemed to come at crucial momentum-swinging points in the game. Shved has clearly gained the coaches trust to finish games, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunities given to him. Lee, who started at SG, played only 25 minutes while Shved logged 36, and I wonder if we will see another Russian added to the starting lineup in the coming weeks.

Andrei Kirilenko sat out Wednesday night’s game due to back spasms, and in his place Josh Howard received his first start of his young Wolves career. In 26 minutes, Howard finished with 7 points (3-9 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist.

Overall, last night was a good indicator of what Minnesota is missing from their point guards, and it will be tough to compete with teams that possess a closer like CP3 without Tricky Ricky. But do not worry Wolves fans, the time is almost near for our floppy-haired savior to return to game action. Here are the three stars of the game:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. DeAndre Jordan
  3. Alexey Shved