Thunder Pull Away From Timberwolves, 113-99

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a Kevin Durant-less Thunder squad who continues to fight for their playoff lives.  The Wolves gave their own big gun, Kevin Garnett, the night off as well.  Enough foreplay, let’s get to the action!

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng (i.e. still no Nikola Pekovic).  The Thunder mixed things up a bit in an effort to get more offensive firepower in the starting lineup, going with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Mitch McGary.

Both teams came out firing on the offensive end, putting up points with very little regard for the defensive side of the ball.  Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins put the Wolves on their shoulders in the first quarter, with the rookie drawing fouls and going to the line 10 times and making all 10!

However, the Wolves frontcourt defense left more than a little to be desired.  Adreian Payne struggled to cover his man or rotate when necessary.  The lack of prowess led to a quick timeout from Flip Saunders in the quarter, but he pretty much gave up hope shortly thereafter, allowing play to continue throughout a few rough patches.  While the future Rookie of the Year kept his team in the hunt, the Thunder took a 31-26 lead into the second quarter.

Zach LaVine had another “I’m not a PG and stop making me play one on TV” start to the second quarter, with a missed 23 footer, a turnover, and allowing DJ Augustin go off to build the Thunder’s lead to 39-28.  With that, Flip burned another timeout and brought back in the Unicorn.  This sparked a 12-0 run to give the Wolves a 40-39 lead.

As goes the Wolves season, Kevin Martin blew a layup on the next possession and bricked a three-pointer after a nice block from Dieng.  That seemed to give OKC some life as they went on a 5-0 run and were consistently beating the Wolves on the boards.  The Thunder scored 11 points in the final 2:45 of the half and took a 55-49 lead into the locker room.

Halftime highlights include:

  • Gorgui Dieng already amassed a double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds … to go with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 assist.  Please stop “tinkering” (PG-rated) with Gorgui’s minutes and role.  He should be a part of the long term plan.
  • Adreian Payne … I don’t see it.  11 minutes and a game low -14.  I know he has shown a few sparks, but to give up a future 1st rounder for the guy is not likely to end well.
  • Aided by Wiggins’ 10-10, the Wolves finished the half 13-13 at the FT line, while the Thunder went 8-8.  Nice, fundamental basketball there!

Aside from a few Justin Hamilton highlights (pick-and-pop made jumper, emphatic dunk) the first six minutes of the third quarter were an abomination for the Wolves.  The Wolves had four points in the first five minutes of the quarter before realizing that the second half started.  After trailing by as many as 14 in the quarter, the Wolves fought back to cut the lead in half heading into the final frame – 79-72.

With the Wolves continuing to trail by seven points, 87-80, the Wolves PR crew sent out the following:

(Insert stomach punch / game over)

As you might expect, this was the actual end of the game as the Thunder pulled away quickly thereafter.  While the Thunder announcers praised the potential for the Wolves, at some point this needs to turn a corner.  Here are a few thoughts from Twitter …

The final score, Thunder 113 – Timberwolves 99 

A few notes from the game:

  • Russell Westbrook barely missed a quadruple-double – 29 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and 8 turnovers
  • Following up on the halftime notes – Dieng finished with 21 and 14, while Payne finished with a -22 in 20 minutes of action
  • Justin Hamilton finished with a career high 17 points and added 10 rebounds
  • Enes Kanter continues to be a thorn in the Wolves’ side, finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds

Timberwolves Lose Close Game to the Clippers

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

Monday’s game proved exciting for all four quarters, and the final score came down to the wire. Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, the Wolves just couldn’t hang on and fell 110-105 to the Clippers. Gary Neal joined the starting lineup and led the Wolves with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio followed close behind with 18 points apiece.

As expected, Chris Paul put on quite the performance for LA, and he played a major role in pulling out the win. Paul, who is averaging 18.2 points and 10 assists per game, finished the game with an impressive 26 points and 14 assists. The point guard made the play of the night, grabbing a bucket over Kevin Garnett with 38 seconds remaining. That basket sealed the win for the Clips.

“[Paul] is a hell of a player,” said head coach Flip Saunders following the game. “We defended him as well as we could on that play, and he makes that shot.”

Garnett praised Paul as well, saying, “He’s probably the best general in the game as far as a guy executing. They’re playing better than anybody.”

Minnesota played well for most of the game, but the fourth quarter proved especially trying for Minnesota. Coming off a 37-point second quarter and 54.5 percent shooting in the third, the Wolves collapsed in the final stretch. The Clippers held Minny to just 7.1 percent from the field, which equaled just a single basket. Of the 18 points the Wolves tallied in the fourth, 16 of those came from the charity stripe. Looking at these numbers, it seemed unrealistic that Minnesota was actually given the chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Neal attempted a shot to even the score, but the launch fell short.

Neal did have the most points in the game, but his shooting was not particularly impressive. The guard shot only 6-of-17 from the field and 2-of-7 from behind the 3-point line.

“We were struggling and I thought [Neal] just thought he could make a shot,” Saunders said. “He thought he maybe got clipped a little bit in his legs. It was kind of a combination of he was looking for a call and also trying to shoot.”

The Wolves shot 43.9 percent overall Monday night, and they easily out-shot LA from the free-throw line with 82.9 percent compared to the Clippers’ 52.6 percent. Minnesota also out rebounded its opponents 47-43.

Here is something you don’t see every day: seven of the eight Wolves players who saw minutes scored in double-digit points. Adreian Payne proved a huge asset off the bench, adding 12 points and five rebounds, and rookie Zach LaVine also contributed 14 points. Garnett tallied 12 points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in his third game back with Minnesota.

Rubio was the stat line of the night, though, grabbing his fourth triple-double of the season. The point guard finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Several good things happened for Minnesota, but in the end it’s still a game in the Loss column. The Associated Press’ Jon Krawcynski posted the following after the game:

Monday’s game marked the first of three home games this week for the Wolves. Up next, they welcome Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Make it Official, Bringing Kevin Garnett Back to Minnesota

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Welcome home, KG.

In a swirl of events on the day of the NBA Trade Deadline, the Timberwolves have made it official—Kevin Garnett is coming back to Minnesota.

This morning, I checked my Twitter feed at 5:57 a.m.—because isn’t that what everyone does first thing in the morning—and read several posts about Minnesota negotiating a trade with Brooklyn to bring Garnett back to the team he was drafted by.

Rumors buzzed around the Internet all morning and through the lunch hour, and then, at 1:34 p.m., we got this:

So, there you have it. For better or worse, The Big Ticket will once again don a Timberwolves jersey. According to sources, Minnesota traded forward Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn in exchange for Garnett. The final decision was ultimately up to KG, because he had a no-trade clause written into his contract with the Nets. In an earlier post, ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote the following:

“Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.”

It seems he made an exception  for Flip Saunders and the Wolves, though, as it will offer him a chance to finish out his NBA career with the city he first called home.

Garnett will be returning to play for Saunders, who coached the forward during Minnesota’s only eight playoff appearances (1997-2004). He will also be coached by former teammate Sam Mitchell, whom Garnett has described as “The Great Sam Mitchell” and offers nothing but respect and praise for. Earlier this season, Garnett said the following of the coaching duo:

“It’s refreshing [to see them back together in MN]. I know those are great basketball minds, great basketball IQs, two guys that are really competitive, teaching young guys. I think the league needs more of that […] I thought when the league got rid of a lot of veterans, it took away a lot of dignity and professionalism with it. It’s good to see those guys back.”

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

KG won an MVP during his final season in Minnesota, after leading the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals. Over his time here, he averaged 20.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. There is no denying the fact that Garnett is aging, though. This season, at 38 years old, the veteran is averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. So, was this a poor move for Minnesota?

It is certainly a bummer for Wolves fans to say good-bye to Young, who is only 26 years old and more in the prime of his career. Young is currently averaging 14.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, which looks much more appealing on paper, but he also has an opt-out clause following this season, and this is not the first time Minny has shopped Young around. In addition, the forward puts a $10 million hit against the Timberwolves’ cap space.

A general trend across social media this afternoon is that most fans are beyond excited to see KG back in the Target Center, but that the trade is really a marketing scheme by the Wolves—after all, nostalgia sells tickets.

So is that all this is? Is this just a “two-month victory lap“?  The Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski says “no.”

In a radio interview with KFAN, Krawczynski expressed that there really is a plan here to utilize Garnett for the experienced veteran that he is. After all, No. 21 entered the league as a teenager—just like rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine did this year.

“Flip really does believe that having Garnett here can really set the stage for Wiggins and these young guys,” Krawcynski said. “[He’s an …] investment in the future of the franchise.”

In addition, the Wolves have made it clear that they are interested in signing Garnett to a two-year extension. As Krawcynski pointed out, “KG is aware the Wolves want to do the extension. No doubt that factored into his decision to waive no-trade.”

There’s no guarantee that Garnett will bring any sort of offensive explosion to the floor—although you can bet that the first dish from Rubio to KG for a slam dunk will blow the doors right off the Target Center. One thing people aren’t acknowledging, though, is the defensive energy Garnett still demonstrates. NBC Sports‘ Aaron Gleeman posted the following:

The Wolves defense has not been anything worth raving about in several seasons, and even this statistic about KG brings a little more upside to the deal.

However you look at it, there are a lot of variables in this trade—there are a lot of things difficult to predict. Will Garnett transition well back to Minnesota? Will he improve the Wolves offense? Will he sign an extension, and for how much? But for now, today, one thing is enough for Minnesota Timberwolves fans:

KG is back in the house.

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!

Timberwolves Come Up Short, Fall 94-91 to Golden State

(photo credit: wizofawes.com)

(photo credit: wizofawes.com)

In a game that came down to the wire, the Timberwolves had a legitimate chance to pull off a win over the weary Golden State Warriors. In the end, though, Minnesota came up on the short end of the 94-91 game. Kevin Martin led the team in scoring with 21 points, followed closely behind by Ricky Rubio with 18. On the other side, Stephen Curry had another huge night with 25 points.

“We had a chance,” head coach Flip Saunders said following the game. “If we come out better from the beginning, we might have had a better opportunity.”

“We didn’t start the game very well especially against one of the best teams in the league,” Rubio said. “We’ve got to learn from this game that we have to play 48 minutes.”

The game had close moments throughout the first three quarters, and the Wolves held Golden State starters Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes to a combined 11 points on the evening. Even though the Warriors looked a bit more lackluster than usual, the 41-9 squad gradually pulled away from its opponents.

At the 7:30 mark of the fourth quarter, the Wolves trailed by 14. It seemed certain that the game would pull away from them. Rubio lit a spark of energy, however, and the team battled back to have a legitimate chance at winning. With Minnesota down 92-91, Nikola Pekovic missed a crucial layup that would have given his team the lead with less than 10 seconds left. Following the missed shot, Andrew Wiggins fouled Curry in a last-ditch effort to keep the Wolves in the game. Curry made both shots from the charity stripe, extending the lead to 94-91. With one final chance to throw up a three and tie the game, Klay Thompson tipped an inbound pass intended for Chase Budinger with 1.4 seconds left, and the game was over.

It was the reserves crew that made a difference Wednesday night. The Warriors led Minnesota 32-14 in bench points and shot 17 for 30 from the field.

“[Their reserves] won the game for them,” Saunders said, “and our bench didn’t match what they were able to do throughout the game.”

Minnesota’s bench players scored only 14 points as a unit, including a disappointing performance from Gorgui Dieng. The center 0-of-5 from the field and grabbed only two rebounds in almost 14 minutes of play.

The home loss dropped Minny’s record to 11-42 on the season. This was the final game heading into the All-Star break, so the team will get some much-needed rest. Up next, the Wolves will host Phoenix on Feb. 20.

Timberwolves Embarrass Themselves, Lose to 76ers 103-94

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Ahead of the emotional return of Mike Miller and Kevin Love to the Target Center Saturday night, the Timberwolves took the show on the road to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers.  Along with the Knicks, the Wolves and Sixers are aiming for the most ping pong balls come lottery time and Flip Saunders’ Timberwolves took a commanding lead for the pole position.

Friday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center was downright embarrassing as the Wolves have lost both match-ups against a terrible basketball team this season.  This one came with Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup.  Just about every preconception I had on this year’s team came to fruition in last night’s game.  I typically reserve some of my thoughts until seeing it with my own eyes … and that is exactly what happened last night.

The first 22 minutes of the game were pretty entertaining basketball if you like offense.  If you like defense, you might have wanted to look away.  The Wolves got big performances from Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, while the Sixers were led by Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) and ex-Pup LRMAM.

With about two minutes to go in the first half, the Wolves started to fall apart and the body language of the vast majority of the squad became disturbing.  After multiple turnovers, the Wolves gave the ball back to Philadelphia with 3.8 seconds on the clock.  MCW received the inbounds pass and drove all the way to the hope for a buzzer beating layup.  The lack of energy, effort, frankly anything from the Wolves on that play set the tone for the second half.

Already missing Mo Williams due to injury for Friday’s contest, Zach LaVine went down for a while with an ankle injury.  After heading to the locker room for a bit, LaVine later returned to the court to play in the 4th quarter.  I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, outside of the fact that the injury itself doesn’t seem to be significant.  LaVine is very clearly not ready to play Point Guard in the NBA on either side of the court.  MCW crushed him throughout the night.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, LaVine’s backup is not an NBA caliber player.  Lorenzo Brown’s return to the team that drafted him should be over upon the return of Ricky Rubio.  The Brown signing is the type of laziness that exudes from the Wolves front office – “We drafted this guy a few years ago, so there was something there. He’s available and we need a PG.  Sign him!”

The second half was the worst half of basketball I have ever seen with my own eyes.  The Wolves put up 18 points in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Sixers 18-17.  Not to be outdone, Minnesota put up 17 points in the 4th quarter to allow the Sixers to put them away for good.  The loss moves the Wolves to 8-38 on the season, while the Sixers go to 10-37.  Minnesota now has a clear track to the most ping pong balls with two losses to Philadelphia.  Joy.

The final score: 76ers 103, Timberwolves 94

Game Notes:

  1. I want to touch on the body language again as there were a few particular examples worth calling out:
    • Kevin Martin and the returning to Philly Thad Young could not have looked more disinterested.  Martin was a chucker (5-18 FG’s) and Young didn’t seem to have much emotion returning to Philadelphia.
    • The one guy that visibly cared the most, was wearing a suit and still recovering from his ankle injury.  Ricky Rubio jumped out of his seat when the Wolves failed to execute in the fast break.  The Wolves are lucky Rubio was willing to resign earlier this season.
    • When LaVine twisted his ankle it was quite telling that not a single teammate stayed by or even really went to his side before heading to the locker room.  This season and all of the losing is likely leading to a lot of this, but in the back of my mind is the fact that this is a Flip Saunders run team and he has never been known to enforce or instill camaraderie with his club.  This isn’t going to end well.
  2. It was not a packed house last night …

Kevin Martin Returns to Lineup, Wolves Pick up Home Win Over Celtics

KevinMartin

The active roster looked a little different than it has over the past several weeks, and the changes worked in Minnesota’s favor. Guard Lorenzo Brown, originally drafted by the Timberwolves, signed a 10-day contract with the team and grabbed 11 points in Wednesday’s contest despite not yet having a full practice with the team. Kevin Martin returned to the floor after missing 34 games with a fractured wrist, and he looked better than ever in the 110-98 win over Boston. Martin led the team in scoring with 21 points, and Gorgui Dieng added a double-double to the stat sheet with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Martin had been listed as questionable before the game, as he had experienced swelling in his wrist earlier that week. However, he played 24 minutes and said his wrist felt great.

“I’m just a scorer at the end of the day,” Martin said. “It felt good early on to see a couple go in. I went through a little [rough] stretch there and just had to knock some of the rust off and got back at it in the fourth. It’s just fun to get a win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Both teams shot well at the Target Center, but Minnesota was able to grab the upper hand, no doubt feeling momentum as the lineup slowly gets healthy. An impressive 14 players scored in double digits, seven from each team. The Wolves shot 49.4 percent from the field, more accurate that fans have witnessed in awhile. One nice change was their 3-point game, as Martin and Brown added two buckets apiece from downtown. The Celtics shot 46.2 percent on the evening.

The game proved an exciting one for four quarters, as neither team could run away with it. Boston and Minny exchanged the lead five times throughout. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Wolves really stepped up and sealed the deal. The home team tallied 29 points in the final quarter, and Martin scored 12 of his 21 points within that time frame. The guard arguably had the key move in the game, when he converted a 3-point play during the fourth quarter that helped the Wolves extend their lead.

Zach LaVine was recently listed as a participant in the NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest, and he is favored to win. Whether due to that excitement or simply feeling re-energized, the rookie came out Wednesday with all cylinders firing. LaVine had a strong performance, adding 17 points and six assists to help the Wolves win their first game at the Target Center since Dec. 10. Nikola Pekovic, also recently returned, added 14 points, and Thaddeus Young grabbed 12 points and nine rebounds for the Wolves.

On the opponents’ side, Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“If you want to make it to where we’re trying to make it, these games cannot happen,” said Sullinger. “These types of games cannot happen.”

The win extended Minnesota’s record to 8-34. Up next, the Wolves will travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Friday.

“We’ve got another three weeks of Training Camp,” head coach Flip Saunders joked after the victory. “These guys coming back, it’s going to take them about three weeks to get their sea legs back. […] We’re going to find out how our pieces all fit together.”