Timberwolves Battle, Fall to Washington on the Road

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

In the first of two road games for Minnesota, the Timberwolves gave a valiant effort against the Wizards. In a game that stayed close in score for a majority of the contest, it was foul shooting that most hurt Minnesota, and Washington pulled away with the 109-95 final score. Thaddeus Young led the team with a season-high 29 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad who added 21 off the bench. On the opposing side, Rasual Butler tallied 23 points, 18 of them occurring in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards shot off to an impressive start early on, going on a 14-2 run in the first four minutes of the opening quarter. The Wolves slowly worked to battle back. Rookie Zach LaVine added a spark with a nice three-point bucket by rookie at the 4:55 mark, but Washington continued to make its shots and keep a lead over the Wolves. Minnesota entered the locker room at halftime down by 10, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. The team controlled the ball well and committed only four turnovers in the first half.

Where most teams would make up that point deficit, at the free-throw line, the Wolves played terribly. Throughout the first two quarters, Minnesota went just 4-of-14 from the charity stripe. At the end of the game, less than 60 percent of the team’s free throws were successful.

On the opposing side, Washington 50 percent from the field and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line.

“They’re just too good for us right now,” coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “We just don’t have enough firepower.”

Seven Washington players scored in double-digit points, including fourth-year guard John Wall. Wall recorded a double-double on the evening when he scored 21 points and dished out 17 assists. Wall earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

“I think [John] still has the best ahead of him,” coach Randy Wittman said. “He deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, `That’s no big deal, you deserve it.’ There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it.”

The Wizards improved their record 18-6, demonstrating why they are currently ranked No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota fell to 5-19, losing nine of its last 10 games. The team continues to struggle with three of its starters (Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin) being sidelined indefinitely.  Young players are learning on the fly, and the squad is scrappy at the very least. However, the Wolves know they need to start finding a way to win, and soon.

Next up is the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. (CST) at the TD Garden arena.

Timberwolves Break Losing Streak, Top Trailblazers 90-82

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

The Timberwolves snapped a six-game losing streak and came away with the “W” over Portland Wednesday night. Rookie Andrew Wiggins led the team with 23 points and 10 rebounds, notching his first career double-double. Corey Brewer followed with 19 points. On the opposing side, Damian Lillard tallied 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists in an effort to keep the Wolves at bay. In the end, though, the young Wolves squad pulled together for the 90-82 victory.

Minnesota came out looking familiarly weak in the very beginning, but the squad soon turned things around. Wiggins played well right out of the gate, and Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench in the first quarter to add six points in less than six minutes on the floor. The Wolves improved their shooting percentage to 41 percent in the second quarter—compared to just 35 in the first—and found their groove much quicker than their opponents.

Wiggins and Muhammad had already combined for 22 points going into halftime, and the Wolves held a nine-point lead. Fans may have felt that not-to-comfortable feeling with only a single-digit advantage, but the team came out charging to start the second half, and things only got better as Minnesota pulled away to extend the gap to 20.

Besides executing good ball movement and making their shots, the Wolves performed much better on defense than they have since Ricky Rubio was injured. Minny held LaMarcus Aldridge to only 10 points on the evening, an accomplishment for any team. Aldridge is averaging 21.7 points per game, and the Timberwolves shut him down. Wednesday marked Aldridge’s only scoreless first half since 2008. Overall, Minnesota blocked three shots and got away with an impressive 13 steals, five of those takeaways credited to Brewer.

“[The defense is] much improved recently,” said head coach Flip Saunders after the game. “In the last two games against two of the best offensive teams in the league we’ve come out and we’ve played hard and we’ve challenged.”

Portland did work to cut the deficit to four points near the end, but it wasn’t enough. Wiggins led the charge to hang onto a lead, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter alone.

“I feel comfortable and I know my team is always going to be there,” Wiggins said.* “We made plays together. It wasn’t just me. Without them executing the plays, helping me get open, I wouldn’t have found my shots.”

“Wiggins looked like the No. 1 pick tonight,” Saunders said post-game. “He got his shots, took things over, took big shots late, had 10 rebounds, got on the floor for a couple loose balls, had a couple steals […] He came and he delivered.”

Thaddeus Young added 13 points to the Wolves’ effort, and rookie Zach LaVine came off the bench to grab 10 points and dish out five assists. Newest addition Jeff Adrien also made an impact. The 28-year-old tallied eight points and 11 rebounds in just his fifth game with the team.

Brewer voiced the Wolves’ general feelings following the win, expressing that it was a much-needed win and will hopefully serve as a “stepping stone” moving forward.

As Saunders said, “the baby Wolves grew up a little bit.”

 

Up Next:

The Timberwolves will remain at home to host Oklahoma City on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

*Listen to Wiggins’ post-game interview here.

Timberwolves Hand Sixers First Win of the Season

MINvsPHI

Philadelphia entered the Target Center Wednesday night desperately hoping to find its first win. After starting the season 0-17, the Sixers were set to tie with New Jersey for the NBA record of longest loss streak to start a season. Luckily for Philly, the Timberwolves could not get anything going. At the end of the night, Minnesota scored just 77 points to its opponents’ 85, and the Sixers walked away with their first victory. Thad Young led the Wolves with 16 points against his former team, and Gorgui Dieng grabbed a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Michael Carter-Williams tallied 20 points and nine rebounds for Philadelphia.

Perhaps foreshadowing of the poor play ahead, the game got off to a weird start when both teams lined up incorrectly at tip-off. The confusion led to Philly heading the wrong direction upon possession, and in a very rare instance, the game was restarted. From that point on, both teams struggled immensely.

Neither squad could seem to find the basket, and ball handling proved sloppy on both sides. In the first quarter alone, 12 turnovers occurred. Minnesota shot just 27 percent from the field for a total of 13 points in the first period.

Young made the biggest difference in the second quarter, finally finding his groove and grabbing six points to help the Wolves back into the contest. The game was one of several runs, and the teams exchanged the lead a few times. Despite coming back from behind and playing more consistently after the first quarter, however, the Wolves looked completely lost on offense.

Head coach Flip Saunders said following the game that Philadelphia switched up its defense several times, and that generated confusion for the Wolves offensively. While providing this semblance of an explanation, though, Saunders emphasized it was no excuse.

“When they [switch up defense] on you, you have to just play basketball.”

Despite Dieng and Young stepping up, a flashy slam dunk from rookie Zach LaVine, and improved shooting in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late. Minnesota shot just 35.7 percent and turned the ball over 19 times in the Wolves’ 11th loss in 13 games.

Tension clogged the air of the Wolves locker room following the game. Perhaps the loss would have been easier to take had the Sixers simply played good basketball all. They didn’t. At the end of the game, Philadelphia finished with 39 percent from the field and only 64 percent from the free-throw line.

“That’s what makes it bad,” forward Corey Brewer said. “They play that bad and we still lose? We have to look at ourselves, man. It’s tough. We can’t lose that game, period.”

Saunders echoed Brewer’s sentiments in a very quiet post-game presser: “We’re not a very good team right now. We’ve all got to get better. We’ve got to work with our guys more to get them to do what we need to do.”

The upcoming schedule for Minnesota can only get more difficult from this point, and rookie Andrew Wiggins (4-for-12 on the night) said he hopes that this game will serve as an eye opener for the team.

The Wolves will remain home to face Houston Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff before flying to San Antonio for a Saturday night game.

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.