Timberwolves Pick, Spurs Roll 121-92

Yes Kevin Martin, you are injured too!  The Pups season is falling apart before Thanksgiving. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Yes Kevin Martin, you are injured too! The Pups season is falling apart before Thanksgiving. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

The Timberwolves returned home to the Target Center on Wednesday to defeat a struggling New York Knicks team.  However, the good news and vibes didn’t last long as the Pups announced that Kevin Martin will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist.  Martin continued playing in Wednesday’s game after the 1st quarter injury and dropped in 37 points against the Knicks.  The injury left the Wolves without Martin, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic for Friday night’s game against the Spurs because of injury, while Thad Young remains away from the team due to his family’s loss.

The Timberwolves PR Twitter feed summed things up pretty nicely …

Breaking news at the Target Center early on in the game, as Tony Parker was announced as “good at basketball”.  Parker helped the Spurs build a 20-13 lead and accounted for 11 points and 1 assist in the first seven minutes of the opening quarter.  Mo Williams did his part to keep the Wolves close though, cutting the lead to 22-18 and forcing the Spurs into a timeout.  In a highly entertaining and competitive quarter, the Spurs took a 29-26 advantage into the 2nd quarter.

The Wolves continued to play well into the 2nd quarter but Danny Green 47-37 hit two three pointers in row and took the Spurs lead from 41-37 up to a ten point lead.  Despite a few offensive highlights from Mo Williams and Gorgui Dieng, the Spurs maintained their double digit lead through much of the rest of the quarter, trailing at one point by 17 points. At the half the Spurs held a 59-48 advantage, highlighted by the Point Guard match-up.  Parker led the Spurs with 23 points on 10-15 shooting, while Williams led the Pups with 15 points and 3 assists.

The proverbial “it got ugly” would be one way to describe the third quarter for the Timberwolves.  They gave up multiple offensive rebounds and second chance points to the Spurs while showing virtually nothing in terms of offensive flow on the other side of the court.  The Spurs opened up a 20 point lead within four minutes of the second half and the game had a certain feel to it.  With the Timberwolves down a number of players and the second of a back-to-back to consider, it was time to keep an eye on the scoreboard and game clock.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Spurs built their lead to a commanding 91-62 advantage by outscoring the Wolves 32-14 in the quarter.

With the game out of reach, Flip Saunders turned his attention to getting more minutes from the bench.  That meant heavier minutes for Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine, Chase Budinger, and Robbie Hummel.  While it could be viewed as meaningless, the Wolves did put up 30 points in the final quarter … noting that the club also gave up 30 points in the final frame as well.  The final score from the Target Center, Spurs 121, Timberwolves 92.

Game Notes:

  • Kevin Martin averaged 35.5ppg in his last two performances before the injury and his offense will be sorely missed.  Martin’s 20.4ppg are going to have to be made up by someone or some platoon of players on the roster.
  • Several numbers point to the one-sided outcome of tonight’s game.  The Spurs held a 53-34 rebounding advantage and shot 55% from the field, including 62% on 21 attempted three pointers.
  • Anthony Bennett led the Timberwolves with a season high 20 points on 9-14 shooting.
  • Congratulations to Glenn Robinson III for scoring his first career basket late in the 4th quarter
  • Interesting fact from this evenings game …

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 4

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

 

Setting the stage:

After competitive games through the first two weeks of the season, the loss of Ricky Rubio has proven to be a catastrophic loss for our Timberpups.  The Wolves have lost five in a row, having last seen victory on Wednesday, 11/5 in Brooklyn.  This past week was particularly rough for the Wolves, losing in Mexico City to the Rockets, getting shellacked in New Orleans, and falling in Dallas to close out the week.

The Pups are getting virtually nothing from their veterans right now.  Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are struggling on both ends of the floor.  Mo Williams remains an important cog off the bench but is not stepping up when replacing Zach LaVine on the floor.  Flip Saunders is/was relying on these veterans to not only perform on the court but to keep things in order in the clubhouse.  This season is going to be a learning process and keeping the locker room together is going to be a challenge for Flip and his staff.

On the docket for this week are three home games (among a four game homestand).  For some reason the schedule calls for another break in the action as the Wolves won’t start this week until Wednesday.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 10: Wednesday, 11/19, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Knicks are, once again, an abomination of a team and franchise.  At least they are on the hook for the rest of Carmelo Anthony’s prime, right?  I’m not sure if that is a good thing either.  If it weren’t for the 76ers, the Knicks would be the worst team in the NBA.  As an added bonus, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas you could say there is for the rebuilding 76ers and our own Pups.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony leads the team in scoring (of course) and in assists (what?!).  ‘Melo resigned with New York for the league maximum and remains unsuccessful in making anyone around him better – despite those 3.7 assists per game.

Game 11: Friday, 11/21, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The NBA champs have come out of the gate somewhat slowly and are playing in the league’s strongest division.  Cause for concern?  Of course not.  Popovich is monitoring minutes among his veteran squad and knows exactly what he is doing.  I learned about five years ago, stop discounting and giving up on the Spurs … they will always prevail.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – After watching LaVine get torched by J’rue Holiday on Friday night, this is going to be another tough matchup for the Pups rookie.  Parker leads the Spurs in scoring and assists and will use his wily veteran skills to teach a few lessons to the rookie.

Game 12: Saturday, 11/22, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Perhaps the surprise team of the first month of the NBA season, the Kings are 6-4 and getting an A+ effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  He is also putting up 22.1ppg, second behind …

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – No one can question Gay’s ability to score throughout his career.  This will be a tough matchup for Andrew Wiggins and a nice barometer for how his defensive ability has adjusted to the NBA over the first month of his career.

Wrap-up:

The Pups need to return home and grab the “W” over the Knicks to start off this homestand and give the Target Center a reason to cheer.  From there, this week looks challenging.  Hopefully, Thad Young is able to return to the club after his mother’s passing and will give the club a boost.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Visit Mexico City, Lose Third Straight Game

With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely, the Timberwolves lost their third straight game Wednesday night. The final score was 113-101.

The contest was technically listed as a home game for Minnesota but was played in Mexico City. The Wolves held their own against the Rockets during the first half, but in the end the young squad could not matchup against Dwight Howard and James Harden who led Houston with 22 and 23 points, respectively. Corey Brewer came off the bench to lead Minnesota with 18 points, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 15.

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The teams’ stat lines actually line up fairly evenly. The Rockets scored a little higher from the floor, 48 percent to the Wolves’ 44 percent, but the number of rebounds, assists and turnovers were almost identical. The area where Minnesota was entirely outdone, however, was the three-point line. Houston landed an impressive 13 shots from downtown, while the Timberwolves made only six. Rockets reserves Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou were 100 percent with their three-point shots, and Papanikolaou scored a career-high 14 points.

Houston and Minnesota battled back and forth for two quarters, matching most shots and pacing each other well. At halftime, the Wolves fell short just slightly in the 53-49 score. So far this season, the third quarter has proved the most electric for the Wolves. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned as Houston pulled away after halftime. The Rockets outscored Minny 31-21, and their entire lineup seemed to be scoring. Howard, who had been sick earlier in the season, gave the Mexico City fans exactly what they had been looking for. Howard said the following after the game:

“It’s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort. I’ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end … I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.”

Head coach Flip Saunders implemented a large lineup in the fourth quarter—Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Robbie Hummel, and Ronny Turiaf all seeing some minutes—in an attempt to stave off their opponent. The plan was short-sightedly successful, as the Wolves scored 31 points in the final quarter, but ultimately it was not enough to grab the win.

Despite the tough loss, there were several positive takeaways from the game.

Brewer, who notched his 51-point game against the Rockets in April, came out strong again. The 28-year-old went 7-for-7, grabbing his 18 points in only 24 minutes on the floor and adding four rebounds and a steal. Wiggins continues to grow more and more comfortable on an NBA court, and excitement surrounding the 19-year-old will only continue to grow.

Since losing Rubio to a severely sprained ankle on Friday, rookie Zach LaVine has been called up. LaVine entered this season with the most skepticism from critics, as he appears to be the most raw of the young players. It stands to be reasoned that he would not have seen much playing time had Rubio not been injured, but he has taken the responsibility well. In two games starting at point guard, LaVine has tallied 13 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.

“I got [the confidence] from my dad,” LaVine told CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “My dad was a professional athlete so he instilled that in me. All the greats are really, not to say cocky, but confident. I want to be great, so I guess I have that mindset.”

Saunders commented on LaVine’s preparedness after Rubio suffered the sprain:

“Zach is part of what our future is. There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”

LaVine and the rest of the squad will have to continue learning, and fans hope they can break in a few more wins soon. Minnesota has two more stops on its three-week road trip: New Orleans on Friday (7:00 tipoff) and Dallas on Saturday (7:30 tipoff). The Wolves will then enjoy some time off before returning to the Target Center to welcome the Knicks on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

The Dawn of a New Era: Notes from Preseason Game #1

Timberwolves basketball is back. Sort of. The Wolves first basketball game since April ended in a 103-90 loss to Indiana. Since only 14 players can dress for preseason games, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic sat out. Kevin Martin and Anthony Bennett were also inactive, due to minor injuries. Consequently, the majority of the Wolves minutes went to the young guys. The result was fans receiving an unobstructed view of what the future has in store.

(Charlie Nye/ Indy Star)

(Charlie Nye/Indy Star)

[Read more…]

Three Team Trade Sends Kevin Love to Cavs, Wolves Get A Solid Return

Kevin Love was supposed to be the next savior for the Wolves and that never came to fruition.  (John Autey, Pioneer Press)

Kevin Love was supposed to be the next savior for the Wolves and that never came to fruition. (John Autey, Pioneer Press)

It is August 23rd and the Wolves are back in the news, as it is now 30 days since Andrew Wiggins signed his NBA rookie contract and can now be traded.  It didn’t take long for today’s announcement, as Wiggins and Anthony Bennett are on their way to Minnesota for three time All Star, Kevin Love.  As had been rumored for weeks, the Philadelphia 76ers worked their way into the deal and will send PF Thad Young to the Wolves.  In return, the 76ers will receive Alexey Shved, LRMAM, and Miami’s 2015 #1 pick.

There are a number of pieces to this puzzle worth commenting on, so I’m going to break this up a bit.  The future of the Timberwolves is now much clearer and there is some strange light that I’m seeing in the distance.

Au revoir Kevin Love

First and foremost, I think the Wolves did a great job in finding a new home for Kevin Love when all things are considered.  He wanted to go play in a specific city and the Wolves found themselves able to acquire a decent haul that provides them with both talent and flexibility moving forward.  Love has never been able to get the Timberwolves into the playoffs, has occasionally been considered a stats-focused player, and certainly has limitations on the defensive end of the floor.  That said, he is an all-world rebounder, fantastic offensive player and is, in my opinion, the best PF in the game today.

Love has been the face of the franchise since 2010/11 when he became the teams go-to player.  Statistically speaking, he hasn’t disappointed.  In the four seasons as a regular starter, Love has averaged over 22ppg and almost 14rpg and that includes an injury riddled – knuckle push-ups led – 2012/13 season.  While he has been the most marketable player for the franchise, he has not been able to get the club back into the playoffs.  There are any number of caveats that can be thrown on this statement, but the fact remains that the Wolves did not make the playoffs during Love’s tenure with the club.  His attitude has been called into question and the quotes provided to the media left a lot to be desired.

It was time to move on and we should all do the same.  Kevin Love was not the next Kevin Garnett.  He was the first Kevin Love, an exciting player that brought some attention to the franchise.  Let’s not forget that a lot of this may have been avoided if David Kahn and Glen Taylor just gave Love the max-max deal and/or didn’t agree to his opt-out clause in his current contract.

The franchise core moving forward

Flip Saunders now turns his attention to rebuilding the Wolves once again.  There are certainly pieces to work with, including Ricky Rubio, last year’s 1st round pick Gorgui Dieng, and this year’s selection, Zach LaVine.  When you throw in Wiggins, there is a lot of promise and potential in the Twin Cities.  This is certainly a core group that Wolves’ fans can get excited about and it is a group of players that should be able to grow together with extended minutes on the court next season.

There is one glaring need when looking at that core of four and it is outside shooting.  That is where the remaining flexibility that Flip has, or will have in the coming 18 months, needs to be  focused on.  For those wondering, no, Kevin Martin is not the answer here.  He and JJ Barea are the next two players that need to be moved to another city.

The remaining pieces of the Wolves roster

Anthony Bennett had a terrible rookie season, averaging 4.2ppg and 3rpg in under 13mpg.  However, he is 21 years old and now has a season under his belt.  I’m glad he is staying with the Wolves and was not part of the package that went to Philadelphia, based simply on a “let’s roll the dice and see what we have with him” philosophy.  He may not get much better, but he’s one year into his rookie contract so there isn’t much to lose in this situation.

Thad Young just turned 26 years old this summer but has seven years of NBA experience.  He is a fantastic athlete who averaged 17.9ppg and 6rpg last season on the 76ers.  I’m skeptical as to what Flip Saunders thinks he is getting in Young, but for what the Wolves gave up to acquire him, this was a no-brainer.

(You can pretty much assume that Chris Bosh gets injured this coming season, the Heat sit Wade once this happens and Miami wins the NBA lottery, thereby giving the Sixers this pick.  This is what happens when the Wolves are involved in the lottery.  The title of a novel based on the Wolves’ history in the lottery would be rightfully named “The Worst”.)

The only other player on the Wolves roster that warrants mentioning here is Corey Brewer.  He is likely the only other (relevant) Pup that I see being with the Wolves 24 months from now.  His ideal role is an off-the-bench, energy guy in a 8 or 9 man rotation.  Assuming Coach Flip doesn’t have a “we must win this game” mentality next season, Brewer should start to become acclimated to this role.

In summary

Pinch me, but I think the Wolves received quite the return package for a player that wasn’t going to be here much longer and two guys that underachieved and/or underwhelmed during their tenure in Minnesota.

What do you think Wolves Nation?  Are you happy with the return or are you boycotting the Target Center next season?  I think you’ll see some exciting basketball being played on the floor, with a good number of speed bumps hit along the way.  I’m happy to see this drama resolved, that we have a core group of guys that can grow together and players that could very likely lead this team back to the playoffs one or two seasons from now.

Recap: Las Vegas Summer League – Wolves 86, Suns 77

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Summer League started the tournament portion of its competition on Wednesday, kicking off with the #9 seed Phoenix Suns against our #24 seed Timberwolves. Despite being 0-3 in its prior Summer League action, the Pups came out on Wednesday and produced a solid victory to move on in the winner’s bracket.

The Wolves opened up with Zach LaVine, Markel Starks, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Kyrylo Fesenko in the starting lineup. A little “twin tower” action up front for the Wolves and perhaps a preview of things to come in the 2014/15 season. Dieng, Fesenko and LaVine all started off strong, while Shabazz Muhammad got off to a 0-6 start from the field, continuing to move his shooting percentages in the wrong direction in Vegas. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Suns held a 19-14 advantage. [Read more…]