A Fantastic Double OT Win for the Timberwolves over the Heat, 122-121

LeBron James selfies ... odd (Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

LeBron James selfies … odd
(Photo credit: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

 

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 37-37 on the season, but only 15-22 on the road.  The Miami Heat have pulled into virtual tie with the Indiana Pacers for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference over the past week and came into Friday’s game with a 30-6 home record.

There were a boatload of injuries to report going into tonight’s game.  For the Wolves, Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Marin (sore right foot) were unavailable.  The Heat were without Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden.  Adelman sent out Rubio, Barea, Brewer, Love, and Dieng to start the game.  The Heat countered with Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh.

First Half

Fast start for both teams who flew up and down the court for the majority of the first six minutes of the quarter and heading into the first timeout.  The Heat held a 16-12 lead going into the break as both teams displayed a balanced attack on offense and defense.  It is worth noting that Gorgui Dieng stood out once again with four buckets early and strong effort on both ends of the floor.  (In case you missed the article from earlier this week, we talked about Dieng’s emergence in recent weeks.)

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Heat held a 29-24 lead.  The Wolves were able to cut a 10 point lead in half in the final few minutes of the quarter.  However, it could have been worse for the Heat, as the Wolves struggled from three point range (0-4) and free throw line (2-7) in the quarter.

Minnesota continued their strong play in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, taking a three point lead with a little over five minutes to play in the half.  Unfortunately for Pups fans, the Heat flipped the switch and went on a 13-0 run to retake a 10 point lead, 52-42.  Coming out of a timeout, the Wolves ripped off 10 in a row to tie the game at 52 and did enough to stop LeBron at the buzzer.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Very nice flow to the game and nice to see the Wolves not fold their hand when they went down by 10 points (either time)
  • Shabazz Muhammad injured his knee in the first half and would not return to action
  • Another strong performance from Dieng, but a surprisingly strong performance from Chase Budinger

Second Half

Kevin Love came to life about midway through the 3rd quarter, scoring 8 straight points for the Wolves and helping them build a 70-63 lead.  That run seemed to wake up LeBron a bit as he went on his own little run, scoring 12 points in a row for his team.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Wolves held a 77-75 lead.  It could have been even more damaging as LeBron missed a three pointer at the buzzer and that would have very likely caused the arena to explode.

A returning from injury Ray Allen apparently needed a few quarters to get his legs under him, as the lethal shooter hit back-to-back three pointers to tie the game at 82 with under 9 minutes to go.  Combined with his old Sonics counterpart (Rashard Lewis) the Heat took a 1 point lead before JJ Barea and Budinger hit back-to-back three pointers of their own to give the Wolves their own 5 point lead.

The remainder of the 4th quarter can be best described as “chaos”.  Both teams would go on runs, then both teams would stink up the gym for 90 seconds.  With the game tied at 97 and just a few ticks on the clock, Love got a three pointer off as time expired, only to see it go in and out.

In overtime, the teams continued to trade baskets and the lead.  Chase Budinger nailed a three pointed to give the Wolves a 107-106 lead and forced the Heat to take a timeout with 1:19 left to play.  After a few no-calls from the referees, a foul was called on the Wolves as Chalmers was sent to the line for two free throws to potentially win the game.  He missed the first and made the second to tie the game at 109.  Once again, the Wolves went to Kevin Love as time expired and once again the shot clanged off the rim to send the game to double overtime.

Fast forward a few minutes … with 30 seconds left in double overtime, Love had another opportunity and nailed a three pointer to give the Wolves a 119-117 lead.  JJ Barea reentered the game and subsequently hit two free throws to give the Wolves a 121-118 lead.  Less than two seconds later (of playing time), Chris Bosh hit another three pointer to tie the game at 121.  After bobbling the ball, Love threw up a pass to Corey Brewer around the rim and he was fouled on the shot attempt to go to the line.  Brewer subsequently hit 1 of 2 and this game was destined to end no matter what happened in the 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  Ray Allen wound up with the last shot of the game and missed a fall away jumper, giving the Wolves the 122-121 win in Miami!

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Chase Budinger – This one goes to Budinger who had, by far, his best game of the season; 24 points on 7-9 shooting (5-7 3PT’ers), to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals
  2. LeBron James – The best player on the planet finished with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block
  3. Ricky Rubio– The Unicorn finished with 13 points and 14 assists     

Key Takeaways

  • Honorable mention to Kevin Love with 28 & 11.  I still think he is taking too many 3PT FG’s, but he is the clear leader of this team.
  • I have no idea why Gorgui Dieng only played 25 minutes tonight.  None.
  • In a double overtime game, ex-Pup Michael Beasley received a DNP-CD.  Amazing.

 

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.

Minnesota Timberwolves 81, Miami Heat 97

AP Photo/Jim Mone

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Game Summary

Well, that was fun.  The Miami Heat visited the Twin Cities and left with another victory, their 15th win in a row this season.  The Timberwolves brought a lot of effort but their shorthanded staff really hurt Monday night and honestly, no one should really be surprised.  Here is how the game transpired.

The Pups were still without Pekovic and Kirilenko – to go along with the ‘regulars’ who have missed significant time this season.  The starting five for the Wolves was the same from Saturday night in Portland and included Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  No surprises from the Heat, who opened up with Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh.

The game got off to slow start offensively.  Going into the first timeout of the game, the Heat held an 11-8 lead.  The Wolves turned the ball over twice early, and Rubio missed two free throws.  In essence, not much changed since the road trip.  Meanwhile, it was the Wade and James show on Miami’s end.  They accounted for all 11 points and several highlight moves around the rim.

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Heat held a 22-16 lead.  Chris Bosh also came to life in the latter stages of the quarter, chipping in 5 points and 3 rebounds.  No one on the Wolves had more than 4 points and it was a rather dull opening twelve minutes.

After Miami widened its margin to double digits, the Wolves answered with their own 9-2 run to cut the lead to 4 points.  Derrick Williams hit a few mid-range jumpers while Rubio was active on the defensive end which led to fast break points.  The remainder of the 2nd quarter was played at a nice pace with the home team being able to keep it close.  Unfortunately for the Wolves (and the pad underneath the rim), Rubio missed a tip-in as time expired in the half.  (Rubio subsequently right-crossed the pad and stormed into the locker room.)

At the half, the Heat held a 50-43 advantage.  Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • JJ Barea was 1-7 from the field in the 1st half and completely maddening to watch
  • I wish Rubio’s effort and visible frustration with losing was more contagious with the Pups
  • Mike Miller gets 0 PT in Miami (although I figure he will see some time in the 2nd half)

The Heat opened up the 3rd quarter with a 12-5 run and opened up their biggest lead of the game to that point (14 points).  However, once again the Wolves were able to respond with a 6-0 run of their own.  This included Ricky Rubio pickpocketing Mario Chalmers around half court and scoring on a layup on the other end of the floor.

Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and small contributions from Shved and Cunningham, helped keep the Wolves in the game through three quarters.  While the Pups were trailing 69-63, they were right there going into the final twelve minutes, despite the albatross that is, JJ Barea; who was 1-9 from the field through three quarters.

Minnesota continued to scrap with the Heat, which included JJ Barea getting under Ray Allen’s skin by … being JJ Barea.  Allen wasn’t amused at all and some choice words were exchanged.  During a commercial break, the refs decided that Barea’s foul was a Flagrant 2, which made absolutely no sense.  To make matters worse, the refs also gave Adelman one technical and on the next trip down the floor, called Alexey Shved for a leg kick-out after a made three pointer, which nullified the basket and essentially killed the Wolves momentum.

When an actual basketball game resumed, the Heat took command of the game and pulled away from the Wolves.  This included the aforementioned Mike Miller sighting.  With nothing more to say about the game itself, Jim Pete went into a thirty second rant about how infuriating Miller’s time with the Wolves was.  Thank you Jim, thank you!

After Barea was tossed, the Heat closed the game on a 21-11 run and took their 15th straight victory with a 97-81 win at the Target Center.

Keys of the Game

  • Strength – Sounds ridiculous huh?  Well, when you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade against an undermanned and undersized Wolves team, I’ll just go with “strength” over “talent”.  James and Wade were able to do virtually whatever they wanted, particularly in getting to the paint.
  • Shooting Percentages – This is getting old right?  Heat = 51% FG%, 84% FT%; Wolves = 38% FG%, 67% FT%.
  • Bad JJ Barea – I’m not talking about his trucker/potty mouth either.  1-11 from the field, and no regard for running Adelman’s offense.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Dwyane Wade – Wade abused Ridnour and the rest of the Pups that tried to guard him.  32 points on 15-23 shooting, to go with 10 assists and 7 rebounds.
  2. LeBron James – For the first time seeing LeBron play (this work week), I have to say he is pretty good.  James finished with 20 & 10.  Despite the 7 turnovers, James dominated around the paint and set the tone early with Wade.
  3. Ricky Rubio – The Unicorn finished with 14 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 6 steals.  Quite the performance from Ricky on another nationally televised game.

Derrick Williams (and not Mike Miller) gets an honorable mention as DWill had another double-double (25 & 10) for the Wolves and remains the only bright spot on the club beyond Rubio.

Minnesota Timberwolves 92 – Miami Heat 103

LeBron StuffThe Timberwolves finished off their trip to Florida on Tuesday night with a loss to the Miami Heat.  As mentioned before the team even left Minnesota (i.e. please do not fine us Commissioner!), the Wolves played without Ricky Rubio tonight in order to avoid aggravating his knee and putting the stress of back-to-back games on it.

The Wolves opened up with the same starting five from last night – Ridnour, Shved, Kirilenko, Love, and Pekovic.  The Heat opened up with Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, some guy named LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh.  The Heat had been playing LeBron at the PF spot, but they went big to open the game to better match up against the Pups, or at least that is what I’m telling myself to feel better about the game.

The Wolves played solid basketball in the first quarter.  Pekovic and Kirilenko were playing well on both sides of the ball.  Unfortunately, Alexey Shved met the wrath of D Wade, who was probably the first opponent this season to make Shved look like a rookie.  Going into the first timeout, the Wolves held a 14-12 lead thanks to a Ridnour jumper.

With just under a minute to go in the quarter, AK47 hit a three pointer to give the Wolves a 27-21 lead.  Unfortunately, despite two additional trips down the court, the Wolves couldn’t build the lead any further, as Ridnour missed two three pointers to end the 1st with the same 27-21 advantage.  Thank goodness for AK47, who led the Wolves in the 1st with 11 points and terrific defense on LeBron.

The 2nd quarter started in a similar back and forth mode with neither team capable of making a large run going into the official timeout and the Wolves holding a 33-29 advantage.  It was also nice to see Mike Miller make an appearance on the court.  (I loathed every second of the Mike Miller era with the Pups.  I’ll stop here.)

After an offensive rebound for the Wolves, Kevin Love drew a loose ball foul on the Haslem, who then drew a technical foul for himself to boot.  After hitting a FT and making a layup seconds later, the Wolves held a 41-32 lead.  If fans started to feel good about the advantage it must have quickly evaporated as the Heat went on a 9-1 run to cut the lead to a single point before Shved made a jumper to bring the score to 44-41.

After a few rounds of throwing punches, Mario Chalmers hit what felt like could have been the knockout uppercut punch at the buzzer to give the Heat a 52-49 lead going into the locker room.  Even though the game was still very close, this felt like something that could deflate the Wolves team and build momentum for the Heat going into the start of the 2nd half.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Kevin Love’s shooting percentages will even out over the course of the season.  (Keep repeating this to yourselves)
  • The Wolves were dominating the paint against the Heat
  • Without AK47, I don’t think the Wolves have six wins on the season

The first four-five minutes of the 3rd quarter continued the competitive spirit and balance that was seen in the first half.  Despite struggling with his shot in the game, Shved made a few real nice passes to Kirilenko and Pekovic for dunks, giving the Wolves a 63-62 lead.  Then, it all came crashing down.

Dwyane Wade somehow convinced the officials that the Wolves were committing fouls on the defensive end and hit two FT’s to give the Heat the lead.  In succession after this we saw a Wolves turnover, a Bosh from James layup, another Wolves turnover, and a Wade from James layup.  This gave the Heat a 68-63 lead and the Wolves fell apart from here.

The Wolves went cold from the floor and missed a number of short jumpers despite numerous offensive rebounds.  This coincided with LeBron coming to life and hitting a few jump shots and suddenly the lead was up to 10 points, 78-68.  For the final two minutes of the quarter, there was little to no offense, with both teams only scoring points from the FT line.  At the end of three quarters, the Heat held an 80-72 lead.

The Pups opened up the 4th quarter very cold as they were held scoreless (by themselves) for the first 2+ minutes.  By this point, the Heat built their lead to 14 points, 86-72.  To be perfectly honest, I basically threw in the towel a few minutes later when Adelman did … with about 7 minutes left in the game, Stiemsma and Amundson entered the game for the Wolves and that about did it for me too.  This was preceded by a Shane Battier three pointer that increased the Heat lead to 97-78.  The only item worth noting from the extensive “gah-bage” time was Derrick Williams’ time on the floor which felt productive, but again, it was during a stretch of game action where the game was already decided.

The final score looks a lot closer than this one felt, with the Wolves falling to the Heat 103-92.  The Wolves return home for Thursday night’s game against the other defending conference champion, the OKC Thunder.  (Mercy!)

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. LeBron James
  2. Dwyane Wade
  3. Andrei Kirilenko good defense, and the only starter that didn’t turn the ball over