Minnesota Timberwolves 83, Phoenix Suns 84

DerrickGame Summary

The Timberwolves kicked off a three game road trip on Tuesday night in Phoenix.  Both teams came into the game well under .500 and fans are already thinking about what is the next step to bring each franchise back to the playoffs.  I think it is safe to say that the Pups are significantly closer to those aspirations, but Tuesday night’s performance didn’t help the minds (or hearts) of either fan base.  Here is how the night transpired.

There were no changes to the Wolves starting lineup – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Suns opened up with Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, PJ Tucker, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat.

In the early stages of the game, the Wolves and Suns both struggled to make baskets and the Wolves managed to turn the ball over a few too many times.  Going into the first timeout/break in the game the Suns held a 10-6 lead through 6+ minutes.  Dr. James Naismith likely rolled over in his grave given the performance for the entire 12 minutes of the 1st quarter.  At the end of the 1st, the Suns held a 16-15 lead.

The Suns put together a 10-0 run but it could have, and should have been, much worse.  Through 18 minutes of the game, the Wolves had 21 points.  Seriously.  They were shooting sub-30%, turning the ball over, and being outrebounded 25-17 going into the TV timeout with under 6 minutes to go in the half.

Rather than belabor this any further, the Suns held a 47-33 lead at halftime.  Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Mentioned this on Twitter, but if the Wolves continue to lose more often than not, does that make Adelman more or less likely to return next season?
  • Derrick Williams was the only bright spot, with 13 & 6 in the 1st half
  • Finally – 33 points?  Seriously?

Coming out to start the 3rd quarter, Alexey Shved was in the starting lineup replacing Andrei Kirilenko.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t Adelman trying to tweak the lineup to cause a spark, it was due to another injury.  AK47 suffered a calf strain and was deemed out for the rest of the game.  We’ll see the severity of the injury in the coming days and if Andrei will miss any more time.

The 3rd quarter itself was more of the same from the Wolves and Suns.  The Pups won the quarter 18-11 (ugh) and were only down 58-51 going into the final frame.  Derrick Williams remained the only Pup worth talking about, but he was also shooting 3-10 from the FT line through three quarters.  That said, he already posted a double-double, with 18 & 10 through three.

After starting out very slow in the 4th quarter, the Wolves went on a 7-0 run to cut the Suns lead to 6 points.  Pekovic started to come to life in the 4th quarter as well, quietly moving into double-double range.  The Wolves were met with a healthy dose of Wesley Johnson, who hit several three pointers, as well as a few baskets in/around the paint.

In the final two minutes, the Wolves were able to take a 76-75 lead.  After Rubio hit one of two FT’s, the Suns were able to tie the game up with a running layup by Gortat.  Rubio then proceeded to air-ball a mid-range jumper to put the game into overtime, which is exactly what the NBA and its fans didn’t need from these two teams.

The overtime period was more of the same from both teams; bad shooting, a lack of scoring, and turnovers.  Ricky Rubio looked completely gassed and Adelman pulled him for the final few minutes.  With time running down, Alexey Shved drove to the rim and missed a layup that would have given the Wolves the lead (and likely win).  The Suns escape with an 84-83 win after outscoring (or surviving) the Wolves 7-6 in OT.

Keys of the Game

  • Shooting – While the Suns were equally as bad, the Wolves shot 31-90 FG’s, including 5-19 from 3PT range and were 16-25 from the FT line.  Dear lord.
  • Bench play – Aside from JJ Barea – and you should probably account for all of his negatives here too – the Suns bench was widely superior Tuesday night, with Wes Johnson, Markieff Morris, and Jermaine O’Neal all with double digit points.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Jermaine O’Neal – Seriously, I mean who else does this go to?  A double-double from a 60 year old NBA player deserves to be recognized.  My only other option was “(Leave blank)”.
  2. Derrick Williams – 21 & 12 and another relatively solid outing for DWill.
  3. Wesley Johnson – Arguably the worst 1st round pick in the Timberwolves history, Johnson managed to have a career night with 14 points and 9 rebounds off the Suns bench.  Of course he did.

Minnesota Timberwolves 94, Philadelphia 76ers 87

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jim Mone

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jim Mone

Game Summary

The Minnesota Timberwolves opened up the second half of the 2012-13 NBA season on a positive note with a 94-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Target Center on Wednesday behind a huge performance from Nikola Pekovic. Andrei Kirilenko returned for the Pups after missing the previous five games for the injury-riddled T-Wolves, and Minnesota wore out Philly’s bigs with their length and versatility.

Minnesota shot over 59% in the first quarter and led the 76ers 35-25 behind strong play from Derrick Williams as well as Pekovic. Williams looked very comfortable in the offense and attempted and drilled a few mid-range jumpers that we have grown accustomed to seeing him pass up. What impressed me most from D-Will early on was that he was rarely idle with the ball in his hands and that he appeared to flow with the rest of the Wolves in the offense.

The Pups maintained their hot shooting in the second half, stretching their lead to 53-34 with 2:50 to play in the second quarter. The Wolves second unit thrived against a Philadelphia team that is weak in frontcourt depth after the the loss of talented forward Thaddeus Young to a strained hamstring.

76ers head coach Doug Collins responded to the Timberwolves physicality in the paint by replacing starters Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen with Kwame Brown and Damien Wilkins to start the second half. Philly’s lone All-Star, Jrue Holiday, picked up his fourth personal foul half way through the third quarter and the short-handed 76ers were forced to fight for buckets without their greatest offensive threat on the court.

Philly clawed their way back in the third quarter and trailed the Pups 76-67 heading into the final quarter of play. Minnesota focused their offense on feeding Pekovic on the low block, and Pek responded by wearing out the opposing frontcourt on his way to a 27-point, 18-rebound night. The 76ers could not compete with the Wolves’ length in a game that new 76er Andrew Bynum could have played a big part in had his knees not faltered this season. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent has yet to play a game for Philadelphia after being acquired in last summer’s blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles and Andre Igoudala to Denver. Bynum, who is expected to demand a max-contract offer this summer, may very likely never play a single game for Philly as the organization pays a high premium for the gamble they took on the All-Star center.

The Pups went ice cold in the final period of play and allowed the 76ers to come within 4 points with a minute left to play. Minnesota left the game wide-open with very poor shooting down the stretch, but fortunately Philly matched their shooting incompetence. Despite shooting an atrocious 1-12 from the field in the fourth quarter, Minnesota held on to take this one by a score of 94-87.

Timberpups Notable Performances

  • Ricky Rubio played 29 minutes and was a +10 on the floor although committing 6 turnovers and 5 personal fouls. While it was not the greatest performance from the Spaniard, he was able to make a large impact on the defensive end and provided 3 steals and 6 rebounds. On offense, Ricky was a great facilitator in the second half and created many easy scoring opportunities for his teammates despite their shooting woes. He scored 9 of his 11 points from the free throw line and also tallied 6 assists.
  • Evan Turner had a tough time finishing at the rim but had an overall decent performance finishing with 17 points (6-16 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 4 turnovers in 36 minutes. The former number-2 overall selection from Ohio State has had mixed results as a pro, but Philly continues to display their confidence in him by looking to him as one of the focal points of their offense. While I am not yet sold on Turner, I continue to be intrigued with his prototypical combination of size, length, athleticism and vision. He needs to improve his efficiency on the offensive end, and if he does he very well could play a role similar to the one Andre Igoudala played so many seasons for Philadelphia.

Keys of the Game

  • Rebounding – MN 51, PHI 39. Pekovic pulled down a game-high 18 boards for the Wolves and established deep inside positioning on both ends of the floor as he grabbed 7 of the Pups’ 10 offensive rebounds. Spencer Hawes led the 76ers with 8 rebounds.
  • Free Throws – Despite hitting 3 less field goals than Philly, the Wolves did work at the charity stripe as they converted 33 of their 44 free throw attempts while the 76ers were only able to convert 21 of 32. Philadelphia struggled with foul trouble in the fourth quarter and committed a ridiculous 30 team fouls compared to 23 by Minnesota.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Impressive night for Pek as he was the clear MVP of the game last night. Exploding for 27 points and 18 rebounds in a game-high 41 minutes played, Pek made mincemeat of the interior defense brought on by the 76ers frontcourt. I would have thoroughly enjoyed watching Pek battle against the monstrous Bynum who continues to sit with arthritic knees, but it is merely a pipe dream as the Wolves finished their season series against the 76ers last night.
  2. Derrick Williams – After his 24-point, 16-rebound effort against Utah in Minnesota’s last game before the All-Star break, Derrick had another strong performance against the 76ers with 17 points (7-12 FG), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. D-Will is beginning to look comfortable in the offense and is finally starting to take more of the open looks he receives which is very good news for his development as a pro. The less Derrick is thinking on the court, the more he is going to allow his instincts to take over. Going forward, he will need to continue to trust himself and to let the game come to him. It is pretty amazing to think that he is still only 21 years of age.
  3. Jrue Holiday – The 22-year-old All-Star fouled out after 35 minutes but finished with the line of 16 points (7-17 FG), 5 assists, 5 steals, 3 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Holiday was presented with tremendous perimeter defense from Rubio and had a difficult time penetrating the Wolves half-court defense in order to create plays.

Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Cleveland Cavs 92

Photo Credit: MN Timberwolves

Photo Credit: MN Timberwolves

Game Summary

Finishing up the second half of a back-to-back series in Cleveland, the Pups came into the game a team on the ropes taking a flurry of punches from the opponent.  The latest four game skid moved the team’s record to 18-30 on the season and aspirations for the playoffs are essentially dead.  While the Wolves stumble, the Cavs look to be heading in the opposite direction, winners of six of their last nine heading into Monday night’s match-up.  So naturally those two trends came to a crashing halt for an evening as the Wolves picked up an impressive win in Cleveland (just like I predicted in our preview … or not).  Here’s how things progressed over the evening.

No changes for the Wolves starting lineup Monday night – Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Cavs opened up with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller.  You weren’t going to see this game nationally broadcast to the masses, that’s for sure.

The Pups got off to a real slow start, as they were held scoreless for the first two and a half minutes of the game.  The lowlights included multiple turnovers on bad passes by the back court, Derrick Williams picking up two quick fouls, and Pekovic missing a number of FG attempts due to going up soft around the rim.

Thankfully, the Cavs looked almost as bad early on.  They did show an ability to get easy points on the fast break and in transition.  Going into the first timeout of the game, the Wolves held a 14-10 advantage.  The remainder of the quarter was filled with turnovers and missed shots on both ends.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Cavs held a 27-25 lead.

Midway through a poorly played 2nd quarter, the score was only 37-33.  Thinking about this in another way, the Cavs and Wolves combined for 18 points through six minutes of basketball.  With under four minutes to go in the half, the Wolves got a little hot going with a three guard set, led by Rubio and Shved.  After taking a 47-41 lead in the quarter, the Wolves let down their guard (again) as the final minute of the quarter ticked away.  I continue to be amazed at how poorly this team is at closing quarters.

At the half, the Wolves held a 49-46 lead.  Here are my HT thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves seemingly made the commitment of getting Pekovic the ball in the paint tonight and he didn’t reward the team with a lot of points.  Very active half for Pek, but he missed a lot of shots in the paint, including having a few blocked by the Cavs.
  • Same thought again tonight – why doesn’t Chris Johnson get any early burn?
  • I would like JJ Barea off this team.  Have I mentioned this before?

In the 3rd quarter, the Wolves were led by Derrick Williams offensively.  After picking up the two early fouls in the 1st, Williams made a few nice adjustments to stay on the court and helped lead the offense.  This felt like a nice response from the 2nd year pro.  (Naturally, Williams didn’t see the floor in the 4th quarter …)

Not to be outshined by the player selected immediately after him in the ’11 draft, Kyrie Irving did most of the damage for the Cavs in the 3rd quarter.  The Cavs scored 19 points in the quarter and Irving either scored or assisted on all but one basket for the team.  At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves held a 72-65 lead.

The 4th quarter couldn’t have been much more different than the first three quarters.  Both teams executed on the offensive end of the floor and were hitting their shots, leading to an entertaining final twelve minutes.  The Wolves were able to build a 9 point lead with four minutes left in the quarter.  In their quest to make every game interesting, the Pups let the Cavs cut the lead down to 3 points with just a few minutes left in the game.

Losing streaks be gone, as the Wolves were able to close out Monday’s game and win on the road in Cleveland!  The team shot 12-16 from the field in the final frame and left Cleveland a 100-92 victor.

Keys of the Game

  • Shooting percentages – A standard key to the game for the Pups this year, but this time the team comes out on the winning end!  Over 50% from the field and from 3PT range on Monday night and 14-17 from the FT line to boot!
  • Muscle in the paint – Without Varejao, the Cavs had no answer in the paint for Pekovic, but also gave up a lot of rebounds to Williams and Gelabale.
  • Byron Scott – I’m not sure who gets the credit here, but Dion Waiters was 6-6 from the field in only 21 minutes of time on the floor and was matched up against a terribly undersized group of guards on the Wolves.  This should have been exploited a lot more.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Luke Ridnour – A very nice night from Luke shooting the ball (9-14 for the game) and particularly strong in the 4th quarter when the Wolves have collapsed many a time this season.
  2. Mickael Gelabale – The Cavs were clearly not ‘ready for this Gelly’ tonight!  The SF was 3-3 from long range and a game high +16 in +/-.  Mickael continues to impress as he picks up more minutes in Kirilenko’s absence.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic gets the nod over Rubio due to being a menace against the Cavs in the paint and logging a game high 40+ minutes.  Pek put in 16 & 10 and was active all night.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2/1/13

mplslakersThe Los Angeles Lakers visit the Target Center Friday night to face our Pups.  The Wolves enter the match-up on a five game losing streak despite the return of coach Adelman, Pekovic, and Shved on Wednesday night.  They need to fix their problems during the rest of this home stand and start making up ground on the 8 seed in the Western Conference if they have any hope of keeping it interesting going into the spring.

You may have heard about what is going on with the Lakers.  ESPN has started a reality show called “SportsCenter” to cover the trials and tribulations of the team.  Similar to the Pups, I have no idea what to expect from the Lakers night in and night out.  Their January performance reads: lose 6 in a row, win 2, lose 4 (including to Toronto), win 3 (including Oklahoma City), and then a loss on Wednesday night to the Suns, as former Pup Michael Beasley set the house on fire.

While you go ahead and try to predict this game, we’re going to continue our Q&A format for Friday night game previews.  For this Friday’s game we have worked with Alex Lambeth from the Laker Nation blog.

Here’s our Q&A …

Lakers Question #1 for Alex:

Let’s get right to the gorilla in the room; what is your take on Mike D’Antoni and will he be the coach for the Lakers next season?  I’ve always viewed him as the perfect assistant coach who can run the offensive side/end of a practice, similar to an offensive coordinator in the NFL that is terrible when they get a head coaching gig. Your thoughts?

Alex:

I agree with that assessment. Mike D’Antoni was certainly a mistake by the Lakers’ front office this season. Along with his inability to utilize the Lakers’ unique culmination of talent, D’Antoni has remained stubborn in forcing his up-tempo system upon a roster that simply doesn’t fit. D’Antoni’s controversial benching of players late in games, as well as his inability to manage superstars, have also hampered the Lakers’ team chemistry lately. The Lakers, more specifically the players, have since gone away from his failed system and are now finding success with better ball movement and spacing. Kobe Bryant’s facilitating and offensive leadership have spearheaded this newfound success.

The Lakers will not terminate D’Antoni’s three-year contract this season, due to the obvious financial ramifications, but it is certainly possible that D’Antoni is replaced in the off-season. If the Lakers really want to make pending free agent Dwight Howard the future face of the franchise, they may need to bring in a coach with a system more tailored to the Lakers’ premiere big man.

 

Pups Question #1 for John:

After a promising off-season, this regular season has gone in similar fashion as the Lakers’ season. Injuries have played a major factor in this season’s disappointment, but with Kevin Love out at least another five weeks and Brandon Roy still out indefinitely, is there still time to salvage this season? Or is it time to start looking towards next season?

John:

While I am probably not supposed to admit this, I am no longer expecting the Twolves to make the playoffs this season.  At the beginning of the season I went on record saying that they were a lock to make the tournament.  I think it was less than a week after that article went on our site when Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups.  The Wolves are going to need a good amount of help and a lot more luck on their side to sneak into the playoffs.

However, I have a hard time looking towards next season in January/February.  There are still a lot of intriguing storylines for the team; A. Can Rubio return to form, B. Does Love come back this season if the team falls way behind in the standings, and C. Is Derrick Williams on this team after the trade deadline?  I really do not want to think about ping pong balls when this season had so much promise!

 

Lakers Question #2 for Alex:

Will the Lakers’ roster look the same as it currently does after the trading deadline?  Who do you think, if anyone, is the most likely to get moved?  Similarly, what would you do with the roster if you had the reins?

Alex:

The Lakers’ roster should look similar to the current roster after the deadline. Sure, the rumors of Josh Smith have been floating around as of late, but I expect the Lakers to only make a minor move at the deadline, if at all. With the recent return of Steve Blake, reserve point guard Chris Duhon is probably the most likely to be moved. Of the Lakers’ reserves, Duhon is the easiest to trade since his contract is only partially guaranteed for next season. The Lakers in return will most likely seek a backup SF or PF, after backup PF/C Jordan Hill was lost for the season this past month.

Also, just this past week, the Lakers were granted a disabled-player exception worth about $1.8 million for Hill. The exception is another asset the Lakers can possibly use to sign a free agent or to even help facilitate a trade. The Pau Gasol rumors, however, should continue to swirl as the deadline approaches, especially with the building feud between D’Antoni and Gasol regarding Gasol’s bench status. Despite this, there are really no viable trade options for the Spaniard, considering Gasol’s mammoth contract.

If I had the reigns, I would probably only make a minor move or two. Despite the recent emergence of Earl Clark, the Lakers could still use a little more frontcourt depth. I would probably trade Duhon, and/or little-used reserve SF Devin Ebanks, for a veteran big man, or even another three-point shooter to backup Metta World Peace (for example, Philadelphia’s Dorell Wright, who has received sporadic playing time this season). As for the rest of the roster, I am quite content with the current makeup of talent on this team. I would specifically not move Pau Gasol either, because his unique skill-set is vital to the Lakers’ success, and the Lakers would not receive equal value back in a trade of Gasol.

 

Pups Question #2 for John:

With the Timberwolves continuing to struggle and the trade deadline rapidly approaching, do you see the T-Wolves as being buyers or sellers? Former number one pick Derrick Williams has often been rumored in trade talks since he was drafted, could Minnesota finally decide to move him this time? Also, I will ask the same question back to you: If you were in charge of Minnesota’s front office, what deadline moves, or even non-moves, would you consider making?

John:

(I promise that my DWill comment was typed up before seeing this question.)

My opinion on this one changes every few weeks and is relative to how the team looks during respective stretches.  Given the team’s recent struggles and the length of time still to be missed for several players (Love, Budinger, Roy) I actually wouldn’t mind if they just stood pat and rode out this season as currently constructed.  If they happen to stay competitive and close to that 8th seed that could make for some interesting ball in the spring.  If they continue to falter, that may not be such a terrible thing either.

Derrick Williams will not be on the Wolves to start next season.  Whether or not he is on the team by the end of February is another story.  The team really needs him to produce given Love’s injury.  However, he isn’t doing so when he gets his opportunity.  Adelman has him on a short leash most nights and you can see why when you make it a point to watch what he’s doing on both ends of the court during a game.

Aside from Williams, the team will eventually need to part ways with JJ Barea or Luke Ridnour.  That said, and again because of the injuries, it may not be feasible to do so until after this season.  My preference here would be to part ways with JJ Barea.  He looks fantastic about once a week and then will drive you mad for the next few games.  His loose “style” doesn’t fit with Adelman’s system (or me).

I would love to see DWill + Barea moved for a formidable SG but that doesn’t seem feasible right now.  Earlier in the season I went searching for deals on ESPN’s trade machine and came up with a number of options.  Sadly, Williams’ play has very likely had a negative impact on whatever trade value was there and I can’t imagine many of these being an option for the team now.  If we could find an unhappy, but decent SG in their rookie contract to take off someone’s hands, I would happily send DWill out for him at this point.  Outside of this, I wouldn’t do much of anything if I were running the Wolves.

 

Lakers Question #3 for Alex:

Two parts around a general theme of – How long can Kobe keep up this pace?  He’s been phenomenal this season; do you see him slowing down as the season goes on?  Beyond this, how many more seasons do you see him playing at an elite level?

Alex:

It is no secret that Kobe Bryant is just simply wired differently. After 16 years in the league, Kobe has started off his 17th season with arguably the best regular season of his illustrious career. Recently, however, Kobe has dramatically changed his plan of attack. The “Mamba” has now taken over the Lakers’ offense as the ‘full-time facilitator’, a role that seems to have turned the Lakers’ season around. If Kobe continues playing in this manner, and his teammates continue their solid play around him, there’s no reason why he can’t keep up his phenomenal play for the rest of the season. Barring injury, Kobe’s reduced scoring load should enable him to lead the Lakers back into the playoff picture.

As for beyond this season, Kobe has said that he will most likely retire once his current contract runs out (in two years). I do think that Kobe will continue to play at an elite level until that time. Could Kobe play after that? Sure, but it will all depend on how his body feels and the overall state of the Lakers. If it’s any indication of how hard he’s been on Dwight Howard this season, Kobe wants to make sure his beloved franchise is in good hands, long after he is gone from the game.

 

Pups Question #3 for John:

In the past, Kevin Love has had reservations about his future in Minnesota. Assuming Love makes a full recovery and stays healthy from then on, is he still considered the future of the franchise? The Timberwolves have made substantial roster moves in an attempt to satisfy Love’s reservations, but will he remain in Minnesota for the long haul? And if so, what might his legacy be?

John:

If you believe what Love says to anyone that will listen, as long as the Wolves start winning games and playoff series, he would like to remain with the franchise.  However, this team isn’t going to the playoffs and winning any series without having him and Rubio on the floor together and fully healthy.

In my heart of hearts, I don’t see him as a career Wolf unfortunately.  I think he will quietly be on the block when his opt-out clause starts to come into play – during/after the 14/15 season.  The team took DWill in 2011 because he was the best player available on most people’s boards.  However, he was also insurance in case Love didn’t sign an extension.

Love is already the second best player to ever wear a Wolves jersey.  Assuming he is with the team a few more years and through his current contract, I could see his number up for debate on whether or not they put it in the rafters when his career is completely over.  Fans enjoy getting rattled over what Love says and does in the media (self included) and I certainly critique his game more than others, but this should come with the territory of a max player and a desire to be seen as the face of a/the franchise.

We’ll see what happens though, there are a lot of variables that come into play or can come into play over the next two seasons.  I truly hope he stays because it certainly won’t be easy replacing the best PF in the game.  (Boom!)

 

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Lakers.  Again, you can read more from Alex at Laker Nation and/or follow him on Twitter.  You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter as well.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Brooklyn Nets, 1/23/13

shvedprokhorovakSetting the stage:

The Timberwolves host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, returning to Target Center after a very disappointing loss to the Atlanta Hawks on MLK Day.  After building an 18 point lead, the Pups slowly but surely fell apart at the seams again in the second half.  The loss moved the team to 17-21 on the season.  If you want to look for a positive, look towards a decent performance from Derrick Williams and decent minutes from our 10 day contractors.

The Nets come into Wednesday’s tilt off of a nice win at MSG against the Knicks on Monday, moving the team to 25-16 on the season and just one game behind the division leading Knicks.  Hopefully, the Wolves will turn the tide and be able to match the performance they put forth earlier this year in Brooklyn, when they beat the Nets 107-96.

For this preview, I have reached out to a lifetime sufferer of being a Nets fan and close friend of mine, David Corsaro.  David has been following the Nets closely for over two decades now and has seen the ups and downs and it is safe to say there were many more downs.  Similar to our Friday night previews, I wanted to get David’s perspective on a few key storylines revolving around the Nets.

Nets Question #1 for David:

I downgraded Deron Williams after the Olympics and he hasn’t necessarily proven me wrong.  I’m not sure he takes the NBA life as seriously as many other superstars.  Does he have enough “fire” in him to will a team to a championship or is he better suited as a second banana?

David:

When Jason Kidd came to the Nets several years ago, he was a superstar.  He brought out a level of play in Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittle and Richard Jefferson that even THEY didn’t know they had.  Deron does not have that same level of “fire” as you put it, but he knows how to play the position very well.  He is truly the quarterback of this team…and the other players recognize that and respect him for it.  Deron is someone who could take the last shot (and I would have total confidence in him) or someone who could dish the last shot (and if that other player missed, I would not fault Williams for not taking it….I trust him that it was the right play.)  Sure I would love to see more of that “We are NOT losing this game” face from Deron Williams, but in a league where there are only a small handful of great point guards, I think Deron is a key piece to a championship team.

 

Nets Question #2 for David:

I was vehemently against David Kahn signing Andray Blatche this past offseason.  Was I wrong again on this one or are there still character/knucklehead concerns?  How would you grade his performance thus far this season?

David:

This team lives each day with a million questions around it.  Can Lopez stay healthy?  Is Johnson past his prime?  Has Blatche entered the “Tyson Zone? (That one is for you John.)  And I don’t think that question will ever really go away.  But I do think he has been a solid contributor on the court and considering what we need him for (energy off the bench, a solid shooter who can be a first or fourth option on the court, etc).

I have been very happy with him.  His scoring has been exactly what I would expect / want.  He is grabbing the boards that we need him to (even at a slightly higher rate than his career average, especially on the offensive side.)  It sounds cliché, but if Blatche could keep himself out of trouble and maintain what he has been doing for us, it will be an excellent signing.

 

Nets Question #3 for David:

Can the Nets hold on to one of the top seeds in the East or are they too fragile (Lopez, Wallace)?  What are your expectations come playoff time and how far can this team go?

David:

My biggest question about this team is “Are they good enough to compete deep into the playoffs or will the rest of the league begin to make adjustments and expose certain flaws?”  Brook Lopez is playing the best basketball of his career and being the player we all hoped he would be.  But will he stay healthy or will teams begin to realize the threat he is and play him tighter?  Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace are playing better than expected but can they keep up the energy for 82 games?  Can Johnson return to the 21 PPG player that he once was without taking points away from anyone else? (which I believe he can)

The “Fan” in me says I want them as a 2-3 seed in the playoffs and there is no reason why we can’t play Miami in the ECF.  However, the realist in me says that they are a 4-5 seed and if we make it to the second round, I should consider this year a good step towards building a real championship team next year.

I want to thank David for answering a few questions on Nets and providing some perspective on the Pups opponent.  You can follow David on Twitter or check out this web site.  (Yes, he is also a magician … and a good one at that.)

Player to watch:

Joe Johnson – Johnson is having a fantastic month of January, averaging just under 20ppg and clearly shooting much better than he did earlier in the season.  Wolves’ fans shouldn’t be surprised if this continues Wednesday night, given the lack of size to match-up against Johnson whatsoever.  Alexey Shved practiced with the team on Tuesday, but this could be a nightmare match-up for the rookie.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Deron Williams.  Deron put up 18 points and 13 assists earlier this season against the Pups, while Rubio was still rehabbing his knee.  Ricky is coming off a poor performance on Monday night, so it will be interesting to see if he can “bounce back”.  Given all of the injuries, this is clearly the match-up to keep an eye on and the marquee match-up.

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out.  (Again, you can just call me “The Cooler” at this point, because I have zero ability to predict what Wolves team shows up night to night.)

Final score prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves 92, Brooklyn Nets 104

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Joe Johnson
  2. Brook Lopez
  3. Derrick Williams

Let’s go Wolves!

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks, 1/21/13

MLK DaySetting the stage:

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Timberwolves will play against the Atlanta Hawks.  In what has become a longstanding tradition for the NBA, Monday’s game will be played in the afternoon given the Martin Luther King holiday.

The Wolves travel to Atlanta off a … baffling (?) astonishing (?)  miraculous (?) … surprising win on Thursday night against the Rockets, moving their record to 17-20 on the season.  Despite being severely undermanned, the Pups completely outplayed the Rockets throughout the game and were led by AK47 and two players that weren’t even in the NBA 24 hours prior to tipoff.  Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson played significant minutes and made significant contributions in the team’s win.

January has not been kind to the Hawks.  They have lost 8 of their first 11 games this month, including the loss in Minnesota on 1/8.  They have dropped to the six seed in the East and their record coming into Monday’s game is 22-18.  This past Friday the team announced that they have lost Lou Williams for the season with a torn ACL.  This puts more pressure on Jeff Teague and Devin Harris to come through and carry their backcourt the rest of the way.

Player to watch:

Josh Smith – Which Josh Smith shows up is likely the key to this game.  Will we see the efficient player that can look like an all-world athlete or we see the player that falls in love with jump shots and long range bombs?  Josh has the potential to be a double-double machine but takes nights off and isn’t always “there” when on the court.  We’ll probably see AK47 on Smith much more than DWill.

Match-up to watch:

Greg Stiemsma vs. Al Horford.  Horford is putting up approximately 15 & 10 this season and will be a handful for Stiemsma to try to contain.  A “small”, quick center like Horford could give the Greg fits around the basket.  With Nikola Pekovic sidelined, it will be important for Stiemsma to be able to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble.

Predictions:

I have no idea what to expect night in and night out anymore from the Wolves, so take this with a grain of salt.

Final score prediction: Twolves 96, Hawks 91

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Derrick Williams
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Al Horford

Let’s go Wolves!

Starting at Center, Number 16, Pau Gaasoollllll!?

Surprise surprise, rumors are swirling again that the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to move starting PF Pau Gasol. The 32 year old Spaniard is again the victim of the Lakers early season struggles. This season for the Lakers has been one of big dreams and mass blame. Early on it was Mike Brown, who in reality should never have been chosen over Rick Adelman in the first place. Brown got the quick axe and now it looks to be the once loved Lakers big man who is getting the LA “Death Stare”.

Thus far Gasol has registered a career low 12.6 PPG while shooting .420 percent from the floor. The rest of his game seems to be around his career average with 8.8 RPG and a respectable 3.5 APG. But with the unsatisfactory drop from his Laker average 18.4PPG, it is easy to put a target on the 7’0” big man. Unfortunately for Pau, his surroundings seem to be his downfall. He is on one of the most covered and decorated sports franchises of all time, playing with one of the greatest NBA players of all time and is once again paired with a post player who is taking Pau’s touches , looks, and space in the paint. Granted Pau can hit it from anywhere within 18 feet, he needs to be fed the ball down low. I don’t know if the Lakers forgot, but Pau Gasol has one of the best jump hooks in the league today, and not to mention he can do it with either hand! But so can Dwight Howard right………..? [Read more…]