Timberwolves Eclipse Suns, 111-109

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

 

NBA action returned to the Target Center Friday night as the Timberwolves hosted the Phoenix Suns, the first game for both teams since the All-Star break.  Phoenix shook up its roster at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, picking up Danny Granger, John Salmons, Brandon Knight, and Marcus Thornton.  None of those players were available for Phoenix Friday night.  Despite all of those moves, the Timberwolves made just as much noise with one trade at the deadline, acquiring “The Kid” for one last run.  Kevin Garnett will make his debut for the Wolves this coming Wednesday night against the Wizards.

As for Friday night’s action, the Suns opened up with Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.  The Pups countered with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Nikola Pekovic.

Minnesota got off to a quick start, specifically Kevin Martin who scored 8 of the team’s first 10 points.  After two back to back buckets by Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves led 14-9 and led to the game’s first timeout.  The Wolves wound up building a 9 point lead before the Suns started to chip away.  The Morris twins largely led that effort and after the 1st Quarter, the Wolves held a 26-24 lead.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, with about three and a half minutes left in the opening frame, Anthony Bennett was rolled over by two Suns players and had to head to the locker room.

The second quarter was really a thing of beauty for the Wolves and one to forget for the Suns.  Phoenix missed shots, free throws, turned the ball over carelessly and allowed the Wolves build a double digit lead.  Minnesota outscored the Suns 26-18 in the quarter and took a 52-42 lead into halftime.

Here are a few additional halftime notes/stats:

  • Phoenix shot 36% (16-44) in the first half, while Minnesota shot 42% (19-45).
  • The main reason the Wolves only shot 42% was Pekovic’s 1-7 and Rubio’s 2-6 from the field.  Ouch.
  • Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a combined 24 points, with both shooting 5-8 from the field in the first half.

The Suns came storming out (see what I did there?) in the third quarter to tie the game with a 15-5 run within the first six minutes of the quarter.  Things may have been a little more negative had this not happened …

Which was preceded by this from the Timberwolves official Twitter account …

Seriously, let’s just pretend it is 2004 for the next few months.  Deal?  Deal.

Despite giving up 35 points in the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-77 lead into the final 12 minutes as Zach LaVine drove to the basket for a layup and the foul with a second left on the clock.  Unfortunately, LaVine missed the free throw thereby proving that he doesn’t want Wolves fans to only say nice things about him.

The fourth quarter was phenomenal from a fan perspective.  The teams combined for 63 points and went back and forth, trading blows throughout.  After multiple lead changes, the Wolves were in a position to close out the game after a Wiggins layup gave the Pups a 110-107 lead with 17 seconds left in the game.  However, the Wolves missed three of their final four free throws giving the Suns a last second heave to pull off a miracle.  Without a timeout to use the Suns had to launch a shot but decided to throw a pass and hope the clock malfunctioned.  It didn’t and the shot the Suns did put up was after time expired (it missed anyway).

The final score of a highly entertaining game at Target Center: Minnesota 111, Phoenix 109.  The Wolves are now off until Monday’s matchup in Houston against Kevin McHale and the Rockets.  What year is it again?

Game Notes:

  • Markieff Morris led the Suns with 31 points, followed by an 11-10-6 (points-rebounds-blocks) performance from Alex Len.
  • The Timberwolves missed 11 free throws on the evening (27-38) … some things never change.
  • While led by Kevin Martin’s 28 points, Wiggins continues to come up with the big plays when the Wolves need them.
  • While Rubio had a terrible night shooting (2-10), he finished with 10 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.  He deserves at least one vote for 5th place in NBA MVP balloting given how much he means to this club.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Post All-Star Weekend

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine impressed during All-Star Weekend and will look to bring that energy to the second half of the Timberpups season. (Credit: NBAE/ Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine impressed during All-Star Weekend and will look to bring that energy to the second half of the Timberpups season. (Credit: NBAE/ Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

The NBA gets back to the grind Thursday and Friday night after an eventful All-Star Break that saw the young Pups take center stage.  While the season has slogged along, aided by the significant injuries to key players, the Wolves were able to make some noise during the break and put a little bit of spotlight on the young, potential stars on the roster – Andrew Wiggins, as well as Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad.

The Timberwolves open up their post-Break with a home game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night and then move into the following week with four more games.  At 11-42 thus far on the season, fans are more interested to see what tweaks might be made to the roster (or future draft picks) as we close in on the NBA trade deadline.  Timberwolves’ fans will then pivot their attention to ping pong balls as the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers continue their tanking ways.

Here is a preview of the next five games:

Game 54: Friday, 2/20, 7pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

The Suns enter the second half of the season as the 8 seed in the Western Conference but have the OKC Thunder right on their heels.  To make matters worse, Goran Dragic has told the club he won’t be resigning with them this summer.  The team is reportedly looking to move Dragic before the trade deadline so that they don’t lose him for nothing.  It could be an interesting dynamic to watch on Friday night.

The Wolves lost twice to Phoenix in mid-January, one on each team’s court.  However, the game in Minnesota was a nailbiter, with the Suns pulling out a 113-111 victory.  The teams combined to score 75 points in the final quarter, with the Suns outdueling the Wolves 42-33 to take the victory.

Opponent to watch:

Eric Bledsoe – Pick a Guard of your choosing as the Suns have a plethora of talent in the backcourt.

Game 55: Monday, 2/23, 7pm – Timberpups @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

It’s Flip Saunders vs. Kevin McHale night in Houston!  There hasn’t been this many past and present Timberwolves coaches on the same court since … Friday, December 5th when the Wolves lost to the Rockets in overtime.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden put in 38 points in that OT victory against the Wolves and Wiggins will have his hands full trying to guard one of the very best offensive players in the NBA.

Game 56: Wednesday, 2/25, 7pm – Washington Wizards @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wait a minute, we’re getting McHale and then Randy Wittman two nights later?  Did Flip make the schedule himself?  If it weren’t for the incredible season the Atlanta Hawks are having, the Wizards would be in serious contention for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference … with Wittman as their Head Coach.

Opponent to watch:

John Wall – 17+ points and 10+ assists per game and you still don’t hear THAT much about Wall.  He’s going to give Ricky Rubio fits.

Game 57: Friday, 2/27, 7pm – Timberpups @ Chicago Bulls (TV: FS North)

The Bulls defeated the Pups on 11/1 earlier this season, 106-105.  Kevin Martin had 33 points and Rubio had 17 assists but the Bulls came through at the end hitting clutch free throws to put the game away.

Opponent to watch:

Jimmy Butler – Butler was the player who hit those two free throws at the end of the game.  Jimmy is also likely target 1A, 1B, or 1C on most Wolves’ fans free agency lists this coming offseason.

Game 58: Saturday, 2/28, 7pm – Memphis Grizzlies @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

The Timberpups lost the season opener in Memphis but defeated the Grizzlies shortly before the All-Star Break.  You may remember this game as the one where Rubio willed his team to victory, returning to the court after rolling his ankle and causing hearts to skip a few beats.

Opponent to watch:

Zach Randolph – Randolph was a no-show in the Wolves’ victory against the Grizzlies in their last meeting.  It will be interesting to see if his teammates force-feed him the ball to get him involved early and often.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods do the Wolves no favors again to start the second half of the season.  Tough opponents and the team continues to travel back and forth from Minnesota after each game.

Here is to staying healthy and not doing anything dumb at the trade deadline!  Let’s go Wolves!

Suns Defeat Timberwolves 110-99

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer?  How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer? How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves returned to action on Friday night after breaking their 15 game losing streak this past Tuesday in Indianapolis against the Pacers.  The story of the night was of course Mo Williams52 point effort.  Could the Pups ride the ‘wave of momentum’ into Friday’s action in Phoenix?  The Suns opened up the night with a 23-18 record, which would slot them into the 8 seed in the Western Conference if the NBA Playoffs started today.  With the Wolves giving up a league worst 108ppg and the Suns scoring 107ppg (4th in the NBA), you would expect a run and gun type of game.  Here is how the action went down this evening … as the teams celebrated Halloween a little late, with both teams in short-sleeved jerseys, the Pups in black and the Suns in orange.

The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  (News of course has broken that the Wolves are open to dealing Thad before the deadline, which makes all the sense in the world given that he can opt out of his contract.  Quite frankly, he hasn’t panned out and he isn’t the answer for the Wolves at PF for the next five seasons.)  The Suns opened up Friday’s game with the following starting five: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.

Both teams got off to a hot start, with the Wolves taking a 13-12 lead into the first timeout with about 7.:43 left in the opening quarter.  Minnesota opened up 6-6 from the field for their 13 points and each member of the starting five had a basket.  That’s how you open the game on the offensive end of the floor!  Dragic and Len each had six points heading into the timeout for Phoenix.  After the timeout Dragic continued to pick apart the Wolves, scoring the Suns seven of the next nine points, leading to a 21-17 advantage for the Suns and forcing Flip Saunders to call a timeout.

At the end of the first quarter, the Suns held a 32-27 advantage.  The teams played at the expected, fast pace and neither team seemed interested in taking a charge or knocking someone down in the paint.

The second quarter reminded me of the legendary 1990’s video game NBA Jam.  It felt like every Wolves’ bucket was a three pointer or dunk/layup in the paint.

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person - dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person – dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

The Wolves were able to cut the Suns lead to three points, 59-56, at the half.  Wiggins, Dieng, and Williams were all in double figures in the scoring department.  Meanwhile, the only player that got on the floor for the Suns and not score in the first half was PJ Tucker.

In the third quarter I got my first look at Miroslav Radjujica and it wasn’t too pretty.  In five minutes he was 0-1 from the field with a turnover and two personal fouls.  His missed FG was a “below-the-rim” layup attempt and all I could do was shake my head.

The remainder of the Wolves’ roster seemed to follow suit in the 3rd quarter, as the team seemed to hit a bit of a wall.  The Suns built a double digit lead, while the Wolves’ shooting percentages dropped and they started turning the ball over more frequently.  At the end of the third quarter the Suns held an 86-75 advantage.

The Wolves weren’t able to do much in the 4th in terms of going on an extended run and cutting into the Suns lead.  Wiggins left the game in the 4th quarter and didn’t return.  The Wolves announced that he had a sickness.  Keep your eyes on that news as the Wolves play again Saturday night in Denver.

The final score: Phoenix 110, Minnesota 99.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 11

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

Our Minnesota Timberwolves come into the week with a 5-27 record and are coming off of a relatively terrible week that included two losses against the Jazz, pushing their losing streak to 11 games.  The Wolves start the week with a continuation of a four game homestand against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.  Aside from a trip quick to Milwaukee for Friday’s game, the Wolves will remain at home for the remaining three games this week.  Surprisingly, the Pups have a “home game” against the Spurs that takes place in Minneapolis this week.

As we get closer to the return of Ricky Rubio, Wolves fans are left wondering where this team is heading into the trade deadline (February 19th).  With Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin still on the shelf, would any team be willing to take on either contract?  Will Flip Saunders be able to get more than sixty cents on the dollar for either?  Only time will tell.

For now, let’s concentrate on the week ahead.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 33: Monday, 1/5, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Denver defeated the Wolves 106-102 the day after Christmas in their first matchup of the season between the Northwest division foes.  Denver remains under .500 and is struggling to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Opponent to watch:

Kenneth Faried – Someone is going to have to contain Faried this time around, as he dropped an overwhelming 26 & 25 on the Wolves in their last meeting.  Again, with Thad Young incapable of grabbing ~10 rebounds a game, Flip Saunders needs to provide more minutes to Anthony Bennett to see if he can be a solid contributor for this franchise moving forward.

Game 34: Wednesday, 1/7, 8:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberpups (TV: ESPN)

The Timberwolves make another appearance on national TV with ESPN in town to cover the game.  To be honest, I thought last year was a fluke for the Suns, who finished the season with a 48-34 record.  They are proving me wrong (again) as the team remains in heavy contention for the playoffs and are only a few games behind the Clippers for second place in the Pacific division.

Opponent to watch:

Eric Bledsoe – Bledsoe was tied to the Pups in the offseason rumorville but remained with the Suns despite the fact that the Suns’ roster is loaded with backcourt talent.  With or without Rubio, this would make for a tough matchup for the Wolves.  Godspeed Zach LaVine and Mo Williams.

Game 35: Friday, 1/9, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ Milwaukee Bucks (TV: FS North)

A close game through the first three quarters, the Bucks blew out the Wolves in Minneapolis in late November.  Milwaukee received a balanced performance from its roster, with seven players scoring in double figures in the first meeting.  Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor in his first official meeting against fellow rookie Jabari Parker.  Unfortunately, Parker has since been lost for the season due to injury and the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award is likely Wiggins’ to lose.

Opponent to watch:

Larry Sanders – Sanders had a nice game in Minneapolis putting in 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks.  The Sanders vs. Gorgui Dieng matchup is probably the most appealing among the starting five on the current, available rosters for both teams.

Game 36: Saturday, 1/10, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The champs hit a rough patch in December, losing nine games in a calendar month for the first time in the Tim Duncan era.  However, the Spurs have lit up the Wolves in the two prior meetings this season, scoring 121 and 123 points in each game, respectively.  While the Spurs remain over .500, they can’t afford to fall too far behind in the loaded Southwest division.

Opponent to watch:

Tim Duncan – Enjoy him while you can Wolves’ fans.  You never know when he may finally decide to call it a career.

Wrap-up:

Our Timberpups face a tall task this week, with three games against tough, Western Conference foes.  The ability to stay close to home may provide some stability for the club but this may be an ugly week in the W-L column and in the box scores.  Nevertheless, Go Wolves!

Wolves Announce A Few Signings

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

This past week the Wolves announced that they have come to terms with a few players that may or may not have a large role with the club this coming season.

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract with the club this week, likely cementing his spot on the opening day roster.  Whether or not that is in street clothes or a uniform is likely to be determined during his performance in the preseason.  The biggest question on Robinson might be what jersey number he is going to where as he was introduced with the #22 jersey.  That has since been claimed by some Andrew Wiggins guy on the club.  I’m not sure if you have heard much about him.

The Wolves also announced that they have signed Kyrylo Fesenko and Brady Heslip to non-guaranteed contracts.  Both players played on the Wolves’ Summer League club and had their moments.  After Summer League I thought that Fesenko did enough to warrant serious attention for a roster spot, particularly without knowing what the specifics were in a forthcoming Kevin Love deal.  Heslip had a brief moment or two in Summer League that warranted some consideration as well, but it would be a stretch to consider him a “lock” to make the opening night roster.

There is an added wrinkle that could be of benefit to Fesenko’s chances of making the Wolves opening night roster.  It is being reported that the Wolves are offering Eric Bledsoe a max contract.  There could be a sign and trade to be considered in which Bledsoe comes to Minnesota for Nikola Pekovic and filler.  Not to hijack the above signings, but there are a lot of different scenarios that could be considered here and we are better off talking about that later this weekend and in a separate write-up.

Do you think Robinson, Fesenko, and/or Heslip will be on the opening night roster?  Let’s go Wolves!

2013/2014 Western Conference Preview

Western Conference Logo

Well, we can now call this an annual tradition, so welcome back to another Timberpups.com’s preview of the NBA’s Western Conference.  I’m going to stick with a similar flow for the preview, ranking the conference from worst to first and taking a stab at how I see the playoffs unfolding.  As I was ranking the teams this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t a team in the conference that doesn’t have its flaws.  I also have no idea how things are going to pan out at the top of the conference given injuries, old age, and a few other wrinkles we’ll tackle when we get there.  Enough foreplay, here we go …

15. Phoenix Suns: I’m not even sure where to start.  If I were a Suns fan going to home games, my regular attire would start with a brown bag.  The owner is reprehensible, the front office is something a little less derogatory, and the roster is a mess.  Eric Bledsoe is going to be a fantasy basketball stud.  Marcin Gortat should put up nice numbers as well, given the Suns’ rookie is Alex Len and already listed as “Day-to-Day”.

14. Sacramento Kings: Any time you have a coach-killing, I don’t give a crap, locker room cancer up for a new contract, you have to max them out, right?  Particularly after a lost season when your old ownership group dragged the entire city through the mud.  This will be a fun team to watch with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore in the backcourt, but I hate their frontcourt and I’m not moving this team up any further with Cousins the proud new owner of a max contract.

13. Portland Trailblazers: This is likely where I lose a lot of readers, but I foresee a lost year for the Blazers, who will be held hostage by LaMarcus Aldridge – reportedly not happy with the team and looking to move on.  The Blazers are another team that will look great playing small ball with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and McCollum, but I think they suffer from the distractions.  One final question: is Thomas Robinson going to figure out life in the NBA this season?

12. Utah Jazz: The Timberwolves’ trade partner from draft night!  Trey Burke and Alec Burks make for an intriguing backcourt (and an announcers nightmare).  This team still has 2 or 3 too many wings on the roster and a complete lack of balance.  They have no depth at PF/C, so expect a lot of run for Favors and Kanter, and then expect them to hit a wall after the all-star break.

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Who knows when Kobe will come back, but what I do know is that he isn’t human.  So when he does return, he’ll be at least 80% of Kobe and that’s better than 90% of the players in the NBA.  At the same time, I think this team can tread water thanks to Nash, Gasol, and to a much lesser extent, Kaman.  If they would have signed one decent wing this offseason, I think they would fight for the last playoff spot.  Sorry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson fans.

10. Denver Nuggets: This year’s winner of my “I literally have no idea what to expect from this team” award.  I think Brian Shaw is going to be a good coach, unless he tries to replicate Kurt Rambis’ performance in Minnesota.  I like Lawson and Faried, while Gallinari/Chandler are certainly serviceable (note that Gallinari is injured).  But then I look and see their SG rotation (Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, and Quincy Miller) and their starting Center (JaVale McGee) and think there is no way this team flirts with 40 wins.  Again, I have no idea where this goes.  (#Analysis)

9. Dallas Mavericks: This was my surprise team in last season’s preview.  That didn’t go too well, but the team was still competitive.  They are another year older (Dirk, Marion, and Wince Carter) and have a huge question mark in the paint – Sam Dalembert.  The addition of Monta Ellis adds a lot of intrigue, if only to see how long it takes for Rick Carlisle to become the first coach to ever attack a player on the floor with a chair from the first row.  The West is too strong/competitive for the Mavs to make the playoffs in my opinion.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. New Orleans Pelicans: New team name, new mascot, and a few new faces.  This is one of the few teams that are on my “must watch” list to see how these guys work together.  The Pelicans stole the draft by getting Jrue Holiday, but then went out and got Tyreke Evans.  If Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers can stay healthy (I know, I know), this team is going to be highly entertaining.  I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Davis yet, who had a strong rookie season and will only get better.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: So, I have to be honest.  The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded and I wound up seeding the playoff teams with two thoughts: 1. some semblance of how I legitimately thought things would wind up and 2. one eye on the playoffs and creating exciting first round match-ups.  We’ll get there, trust me.  The Wolves are already down one man (Budinger) after last season’s debacle and really can’t afford to lose anyone else, particularly on the wing.

Last season was supposed to be the year the team returned to the playoffs and broke the curse, thereby allowing this season to be “the next step”.  So we are behind a year on that roadmap, but I do believe this team is a lock for the playoffs if it can stay healthy.  How far it can go heavily depends on Love returning to his “Best PF in the NBA” tag and Rubio making a significant leap in rankings among PG’s.  If those two things happen, and they are big “if’s”, this team can do a lot of damage, as all of the complementary pieces are there – shooting, depth, veterans, young guns, and more.

One last thought: Derrick Williams or Shabazz Muhammad must wedge themselves into Adelman’s rotation to fill minutes at multiple positions.  If this happens, the team will be ready to roar come playoff time.

6. Golden State Warriors: This team is scary good on paper and there lies the problem.  Do I really want to rely on Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and not miss significant time over the course of a season?  Is Harrison Barnes going to breakout?  Is Andre Iguodala a nice stats, falters when it matters type of player?  Everything about this team says it could be a top four team in the conference, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it any higher than this spot.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: We know what Memphis did last season in the playoffs and quite honestly, that is the only reason I have them above GS.  I really like what the Grizzlies did in getting Ed Davis.  However, I thought Tayshaun Prince could have been shopped this offseason in order to find an upgrade on the wing.  Gasol and Randolph are going to bring it every night and Mike Conley has found himself as a PG in the NBA.  This is just a really good “team” on both ends of the floor and I’m not going to discount that.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Here is what I wrote last season for the Clippers:

I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul.  However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me.  Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle.  Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball.  The owner of this team is disgusting.  Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers? 

Nothing has changed.  In fact, I had them at #4 last season as well.  Chris Paul is running the entire franchise, but to his credit, players are coming to LA to play for the Clippers, the latest example being JJ Redick.  They have a solid starting five and three solid backups in Collison, Crawford, and Barnes.  Beyond that eight man rotation though, it is a little frightening if you are a Clippers fan (Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jamison?  Yikes!).

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Well, the James Harden trade certainly didn’t work out.  As I mentioned after the trade, I hate seeing teams sell when they have a very legitimate shot at a ring and that’s what Sam Presti did and now they have to figure out how to right the ship.  It always helps when you have Kevin Durant.  The injury to Russell Westbrook will cost the team at least a couple of wins in the early part of the season and that is going to cost them a top two seed in my opinion.  Are we sure Serge Ibaka is only 24 years old?  He was drafted by the Sonics and that team hasn’t been around in what feels like a decade.

2. Houston Rockets: You may notice what I’m doing here if you are a Wolves fan, but I slide the Rockets into the 2 seed of the conference.  You may have heard that Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this offseason.  James Harden took ‘the leap’ last year and became one of the top players in the league.  PG play is a concern, but the Rockets have good depth at the forward positions (while not spectacular) and a top three player at their respective positions in Howard and Harden.  This equates to a lot of regular season wins and the 2 seed in my book.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Why?!  Will this team please go away!  I say this half in jest because the Spurs play great basketball and showed the nation that they could hang with the Heat.  The NBA Finals were as good as professional basketball can look.  Naturally, the Spurs found diamonds in the rough in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and every other franchise just continues to shake their collective heads.  I can’t make a case for anyone else in the 1 seed, given the injury to Westbrook in OKC.

Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:

2014 Western Conference Playoff Predictions

As mentioned earlier, I tried to make the first round as entertaining as possible with the seeds.  Spurs roll over a ‘happy to be here’ Pelicans team, the Clippers again in the 1st round (YES!), the Thunder take care of a pesky Warriors team, and the Wolves upset the Rockets!

Come on, look at all those storylines: Adelman vs. McHale, Dwight choking in the playoffs, the Wolves getting stronger as the season progresses and culminating in the upset!  This would be fantastic.  Honestly, name a worse first round opponent for the Rockets, not named the Spurs and Thunder.  Pekovic and Love can frustrate the heck out of Howard, and the team can throw a number of players out there to man up on Harden … or at least provide their respective six fouls.  Make this series happen!

Beyond the first round, you see a pretty straightforward run by the Spurs and Thunder, setting up the rematch to represent the conference in the Finals.

Where am I off my rocker in the conference rankings?  Who do you see representing the conference in the Finals?  Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be on the lookout for an Eastern Conference Preview within the next week or two.

Minnesota Timberwolves 90, Los Angeles Clippers 96

Eric BledsoeAfter missing the past 11 games to tend to his wife Mary Kay who is suffering from seizures, Timberwolves Head Coach Rick Adelman returned to the bench only to witness the Pups suffer their fifth consecutive loss as Minnesota fell to the Los Angeles Clippers 96-90. While the Wolves nearly knocked off the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, there is little consolation for dropping yet another game at home and falling for the fifth time in as many games.

Game Notes

I am going to skip the traditional game recap format and simply offer some game notes, as I feel like I continue to recycle the same thoughts concerning the Timberwolves’ struggles:

  • Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic returned from injury, and Pek got the start at center while Shved came off the bench. Shved, who was recently added to the Rising Stars rookie roster over All-Star weekend, played fairly well and was +3 on the court and scored 12 points on 5-13 shooting with 3 assists in 21 minutes. Pek added 17 points and 12 boards.
  • Ricky Rubio really struggled last night, contributing just 9 points and 4 assists in 27 minutes. He had a tough time hanging with Clippers PG Eric Bledsoe, who finished with 10 points, 10 assists, and 6 steals as he continues to fill in for the injured Chris Paul.
  • Derrick Williams played only 13 minutes and it appears as if Adelman’s frustration with the former number-2 overall pick has not swayed, despite his long absence from the team. The Timberwolves NEED to figure out what they are going to do with Williams, because as his minutes begin to shrink, so does his trade value.
  • Blake Griffin ravaged the Wolves front line with 26 points and 13 boards in 36 minutes. Minnesota clearly lacks athleticism on their front line, and it was very apparent last night against arguably the most athletic player in the NBA.
  • The Timberwolves need a shooting guard (what’s new?). The absence of a knock-down shooter has crippled the Timberwolves this season, and it must be their number one priority heading into this summers free agency. I cannot see this team going very far with Luke Ridnour as the team’s starting 2-guard, and Alexey Shved is a few years of strength training away from being a bonafide starter.
  • Matt Barnes is the enforcer that the Clippers need. Say what you will about Barnes, but he has brought a swagger to the Clippers that have fueled the teams transformation into a legitimate championship contender. After a scuffle with Wolves center Greg Stiemsma in the second period, Barnes was ejected from the game. Despite his tendencies to allow his emotions to dictate his play, his “never back down” mentality brings confidence and physicality to a team that desperately needed it following last season
  • Eric Bledsoe is awesome. Who would have thought that the relatively unknown 2-guard from the 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcats team would end up being arguably as effective in the NBA as fellow teammate and former number-1 overall draft selection John Wall? Bledsoe has been perfect insurance for CP3 this season but this will likely be the last season he plays for the Clippers. The up-tempo PG is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and will likely receive very generous offer sheets from teams desperate for a starter at the point. I hope he gets a chance to start somewhere next year because he has a chance at becoming a very, very good player.

I apologize for the brevity of this recap, but hopefully you got a good idea about last nights match. The Wolves will now take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at the Target Center. The Lakers are coming off a loss to the Phoenix Suns in which former Pup Michael Beasley dropped 27 on the Lake show. Keep the faith, Wolves fans.