Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 19

 

(photo credit: StarTribune.com)

Good times are coming for the Wolves?!  (Photo credit: StarTribune.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The past week was pretty kind to the Timberwolves, who took out Phoenix and Sacramento on their way to returning to .500 ball on the season (29-29).  The next two weeks includes a number of very winnable games and this is where the team just needs to get hot and stay hot, if they aren’t already in that area.  The Wolves have one more road game to finish up this road trip and then return to Target Center for a four game stand.

While I have written the playoffs off for this season, that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest a hot streak to bring them a little bit closer to that 8 seed.  The Wolves remain 5 games behind Phoenix, but would also need to leapfrog Memphis, who has a 4 game advantage on our team.  It is certainly going to be an uphill battle, all I ask is that they make it interesting.

Game 60: Monday, 3/3, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: FSN Plus)

Monday night in Denver will wrap up the five game road trip for the Pups and will give them an opportunity to go over .500.  The team is 4-1 since the all-star break and will have Sunday off in order to rest up a bit for the Denver air.  The Nuggets’ season is a lost cause as they have lost 10 of their last 11 games.  Hopefully that means the Wolves are catching them at the right time.

Opponent to watch:

Randy Foye – With Ty Lawson injured, I might be reaching here a bit.  However, Foye is averaging 19.6ppg in his last five outings and is coming on for the Nuggets.  As Wolves’ fans have experienced, this may not necessarily be a good sign, but hey, it is what it is.

Predictions:

I would normally suggest the Wolves take one on the chin here, closing out a five game road trip in Denver.  However, they had that huge break between games this past week and the Nuggets are looking abysmal of late.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Nuggets 102

Game 61: Wednesday, 3/5, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves took care of the Knicks at MSG very early on this season and I expect more of the same in this match-up.  Going into Sunday’s match-up with the Bulls, the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 13 games and the team is on the back page of the NY tabloids newspapers for all the wrong reasons.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Melo is second in the league in scoring at 28.2ppg.  His team is 17 games under .500 and I still believe there’s a strong correlation here.  Fair or unfair, I’ve never been a fan of Melo and feel like he has underachieved in his career.  Despite outstanding statistical performances, he has yet to win much of anything.

Predictions:

While Corey Brewer will have his hands full, I expect the home team to have no problem here in their return to the Target Center.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Knicks 97

Game 62: Friday, 3/7, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Pistons will host the Knicks and Bulls prior to Friday night’s match-up in Minnesota, so they will be equally rested for this game.  Heading into this week they are also on quite a losing streak, having dropped 7 of their last 8 games.  Despite how awful the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks, the Pistons find themselves in the lottery right now, with a 23-36 record heading into the week.

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Jennings – Remember when Jennings made fun of Ricky Rubio several years ago before he was drafted?  Yeah, I barely do too, as that feels about 12 years ago.  Well, Jennings leads the Pistons with 16.8ppg and 7.9apg and you can see where that has gotten the team in the standings.

Predictions:

Why does Joe Dumars still have a job?  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Pistons 95

Game 63: Sunday, 3/9, 6pm – Toronto Raptors @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

Maybe the most surprising team in the NBA this season (sans Portland?) the Raptors head into this week with a 32-26 record, which leads the Atlantic Division and puts the team in the 3 seed in the conference.  Read that entire sentence again.  Good grief.  I have no idea how this team is doing it but it does make me a bit frustrated to think that Dwane Casey could have been the Wolves long-term coach.

Opponent to watch:

DeMar DeRozan – There were times when Wolves fans believed they could steal DeRozan from Toronto for twelve cents on the dollar.  Those days are long gone as the SG is having a banner year with the team, averaging 22.7ppg, while also throwing in 4.5rpg and 3.9apg.

Predictions:

The Raptors took care of the Wolves back in January and this might be a tough one again.  Toronto has a game later today but are then off until Friday against Sacramento, before heading to the Target Center.  In other words, this team should be fresh.  Final score: Raptors 99, Timberwolves 95

Wrap-up:

Taking three out of four this week will go a long way to making the rest of the season a little more interesting.  The first three games this coming week should be W’s for the team.  If they drop any of them, the Pups will need to “steal” Sunday’s game against the Raptors.

Let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Raptors 94, Timberwolves 89

raptor mascot

Strangely, this makes me laugh every time I look at it (Ron Turenne/Getty Images)

Two pretty average NBA teams came together at the Air Canada Centre Friday night for the first time this season, with the 18-20 Timberwolves taking on the 19-18 Toronto Raptors.  The Wolves play again on Saturday and that will be game number 41 on the season.  You know what that means?  We will be halfway through the NBA season and I’ll be putting together some thoughts on the team, its (blah) performance, and more in the coming days.  Expect a few write-ups to hit the site between now and Tuesday.

Despite the underwhelming performances in the past few weeks, no changes to the Wolves starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  (For the record, I don’t believe there should be any changes in the starting lineup.)  Speaking of underwhelming, the Raptors opened up with: Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valaciunas. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 93 – Toronto Raptors 95

Rick Adelman - Minnesota Timberwolves head coach

1,000 career victories?!
(Photo credit: AP)


 
Game Summary

Friday night’s game at the Target Center was a chance for fans in the Twin Cities to see a small piece of history, as Rick Adelman was sitting on a coaching career win total of 999.  With the Raptors in town and the way the Wolves have been playing over the past two weeks, things looked promising to see Adelman get to 1K.

Minnesota’s starting lineup had no surprises in it; Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Raptors opened up the game with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Friday’s game provided Pups fans to see Dwane Casey’s return to the Target Center sidelines.  Casey didn’t get a fair shake as head coach here in Minnesota, but he also hasn’t necessarily proven anyone wrong with his track with the Raptors.  To be fair, between head coaching gigs in Minnesota and Toronto, Casey was an assistant on the Dallas Mavericks, including their championship team in 2011.

With that out of the way, here is a rundown of Friday night’s events.  After falling behind in the very early minutes of the 1st quarter, the Wolves quickly came alive and built a 21-13 lead.  With the exception of some poor moves from DWill around the paint, the Wolves’ starters looked strong, led by Kirilenko and Pekovic down low in the paint.  The Raptors tried to exploit DeMar DeRozan’s advantages over Ridnour at the SG position, but DeMar wound up missing 4 of his first 7 shots in the quarter.

Going into the 2nd quarter, the Wolves held a 24-18 lead.  Adelman sent out the reserves to start the quarter, going with Barea, Shved, Budinger, Cunningham, and Stiemsma.  While they looked lackluster on the offensive end, they were able to limit the damage on the defensive side of the floor.  Going into the first timeout of the quarter, the Wolves had only lost one point off of their lead, holding a 30-25 advantage.

Unfortunately, Adelman didn’t go back to any of his starters coming out of the timeout.  Alexey Shved looks beaten up.  Adding insult to injury, he is not getting any calls on the offensive end.  He and JJ Barea launched 4 three pointers over the course of the next few minutes and hit exactly 0 of them.  The worst part of this second unit is the lack of any ability in the second string big men to create their own shot in the post.  That leaves the guards doing the vast majority of the heavy lifting and leaves Shved and Barea hoisting up long jumpers time and time again.

At halftime, the Wolves held a 48-46 lead.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves were off from three point range in the first half (1-8) and hopefully that part of the game plan is removed for the second half.
  • 15 assists for the Wolves on 19 made baskets, 10 of which came from Rubio and Ridnour.

After the Raptors took a 50-48 lead in the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter, the light bulb seemed to go off for the Wolves starters.  They went on a 13-0 run to take a 61-50 lead and forced Casey to take a timeout (which was probably a series or two late).  However, the Raptors answered with their own 12-3 run to cut it back to a two point game.

Ricky Rubio seemed to will the team through the 3rd quarter, pushing the right buttons at the right time and setting up his teammates for easy baskets.  This included a bucket for Chase Budinger at the end of the quarter to untie the game.  With the last second basket, the Wolves took a 73-71 lead into the final quarter.  To be honest, the Wolves did not look good after the 13-0 run early in the quarter.  The Raptors shot 50% from the field in the 3rd quarter and had too many easy baskets.

The teams went back and forth in the 4th quarter with neither team capable of pulling away from the other.  DeMar DeRozan entered a little bit of a hot streak, with tremendous moves off the dribble for a few baskets.  Adelman noticed this as well and moved AK47 over to guard the hot hand and made an immediate impact on the defensive end, leading to a missed basket from DeMar.

The final minutes of the quarter were incredibly frustrating for the Wolves and fans alike.  The team missed a number of free throws, couldn’t grab the necessary defensive rebounds and lost a very winnable game at home against a poor Raptors team.  For those that yearn for draft positioning, this loss was for you.

In case you missed it, in the final seconds, the Wolves played solid defense on Rudy Gay, forcing a missed mid-range jumper.  From there, Rubio sped down the court to draw a foul.  Unfortunately, Ricky made the first but missed the second.  The Wolves were forced to foul but there was one-tenth of a second left in the game.  Amir Johnson made the first attempt and intentionally missed the second, allowing time to expire and the Raptor to pull out the 95-93 victory at Target Center.

Keys of the Game

  • Free throws – Amazing how I always cover games that come down to free throws.  This was going to be the #1 key to the game no matter who was the victor.  The Pups got to the line 40 times, while the Raptors only shot 16 FT’s all game.  However, the Wolves shot themselves in the foot by missing 10 of those attempts, including several in the final minutes.
  • Wing play – For the first time in a while, at least from my own perspective, the Wolves were dominated by the opposing team’s wings.  DeRozan and Gay both went off tonight and the Wolves didn’t (or couldn’t) do enough to contain them.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Rudy Gay – I know Big Al hates this one – 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.  Gay also shot just over 50% from the field.
  2. Nikola Pekovic – Another big game from Pek, who finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds; including 12-16 from the FT line.
  3. DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan matched Gay’s 12-23 from the field and put in 2 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.  He also led the charge in the 4th quarter.

Minnesota Timberwolves 86 – Toronto Raptors 105

Richard Lautens/Toronto Star

Coming off a Friday night victory against the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Toronto on Sunday and fell to a much-improved opponent by a score of 105-86. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan finished with 22 points apiece and were the keys to taking down a Timberwolves team that is in desperate need of scoring leadership.

Through one half of play, Minnesota trailed Toronto by a score of 56-47. As bad as it was to watch, the Wolves were very lucky to only be trailing by 9 given that Minnesota committed 16 turnovers compared to only 3 by the Raptors. The Pups stayed afloat in the first half by out-rebounding Toronto 21-15, while even out-shooting the Raptors 56% to 45%.

Brandon Roy was nowhere to be found in the first half as he netted two free throws – while failing to attempt a field goal – in 13 minutes of play. He even committed a miserable 5 first-half turnovers. Roy was exploited defensively by guards DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson, and the two opposing SGs netted a combined 23 points in the first half. Although Roy did not commit any additional turnovers in the second half, the veteran SG failed to convert a field goal and finished with a disappointing line of 4 points, 5 turnovers, 1 steal and 1 rebound in 22 minutes. The Wolves signed Roy to be their closer, and he was anything but that tonight.

Andrei Kirilenko was one of the only bright spots for the Pups in the first half as he scored 10 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting while even blocking 3 shots. JJ Barea was playing well until leaving the game in the middle of the second quarter due to a head injury sustained after hitting his head on Dante Cunningham’s foot following a nice drive and layup. It was later learned that Barea suffered a mild concussion, and he likewise was unable to return for the second half. JJ remains doubtful for Monday’s matchup in Brooklyn, which could potentially pose an even greater problem to Minnesota’s current offensive deficiency.

Nikola Pekovic had his hands full matched up against 7-foot rookie Jonas Valanciunas, and had a tough time establishing inside position on the former number 5 overall draft selection. Valanciunas held Minnesota’s top offensive weapon to only 15 points on 6-11 shooting and provided tough interior defense in his 23 minutes on the floor.

After three quarters of action, the Timberwolves trailed 79-73 and were still within reach of making a fourth-quarter comeback in order to salvage the game. However, the turnover and shooting woes continued into the fourth and the Pups managed to score only 13 fourth-quarter points compared to Toronto’s 26.

Alexey Shved scored his first points of his career tonight, finishing with 8 points (2-6 shooting), 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 22 minutes. Shved looked much better tonight than he did against the Kings, and the terrible play of Roy contributed to Shved’s increased role tonight. There were glimpses of his performances with the Russian national team occasionally tonight, but Shved was once again unable to get in a rhythm and was ultimately ineffective.

To keep this short and crisp, the only player on Minnesota that truly played an effective and complete game tonight was Andrei Kirilenko. AK-47 was all over the court tonight, finishing with a characteristic stat line of 17 points (6-7 shooting), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal in 29 minutes of action. AK excelled with the ball fake and similar to his performance against the Kings, is able to effectively and consistently get his defender to bite, allowing him to penetrate the lane and either score or set up a teammate with an open look. Kirilenko was about the only thing about the Timberwolves that was fun to watch tonight, and they will need to get their acts together if they want to have a chance against Brooklyn tomorrow night.