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.”

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 14

The Timberwolves took a trip to Cleveland to take on the new “big three” including ex-Pup Kevin Love. (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

Guess who is coming to Minneapolis this week? (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

 

Setting the stage:

At 7-36 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially on pace and watch to finish with the worst record in the NBA and in franchise history.  Truth be told, this wouldn’t be that annoying if Flip Saunders would stop talking about how injuries have derailed the season and would have accepted blowing up the roster by trading Kevin Martin for ten cents on the dollar before the season started.  Saunders must find a way to get out of his contract, as well as finding out if/where there is a market for Nikola Pekovic.  While I want to see more of a Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng frontcourt, the sooner Saunders realizes that a full reset is the best way to go, the sooner this team will become relevant again outside of Minnesota (and one household in New Jersey).

The Pups have a heavy workload this week with four games, including tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder.Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 44: Monday, 1/26, 7pm – Timberpups @ Oklahoma City Thunder (TV: FS North)

With the Thunder floating around .500 ball with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back on the court, it is beginning to look like a lost season for OKC.  Even if they squeak into the playoffs, they are likely on the road to start each series.  While he it mentions it an annoying frequency, I agree with Bill Simmons on the fact that OKC’s ownership blew it by getting rid of James Harden and refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Opponent to watch:

Dion Waiters – OKC’s new Shooting Guard is playing relatively well for the Thunder, averaging over 11ppg.  He’s not Harden, but it was an interesting move to acquire the maligned Waiters.  How he fits in with Durant and Westbrook over the coming months is an interesting storyline worth watching.

Game 45: Wednesday, 1/28, 7pm – Boston Celtics @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wednesday night’s game will be the last of a six game road trip for the Celtics, who will have played in Utah on Monday night.  This is a good opportunity for the Pups to take advantage of a team that is probably looking ahead to getting back home.  The Wolves lost big in Boston back in December, with the final score 114-98.

Opponent to watch:

Kelly Olynyk – Olynyk put on a show back on 12/19 against the Pups.  In only 25 minutes, he had 21 points (8-13 FG’s) and 8 rebounds.

Game 46: Friday, 1/30, 6pm – Timberpups @ Philadelphia 76ers (TV: FS North)

Last week’s preview was “We’re going streaking!” and had it not been for Saturday’s game, this week’s preview was going to be “We’re going tanking!” thanks to Friday’s game against the Sixers.  These two teams, along with the Knicks, are in a bloody brawl for the league’s worst record.  Who will come out of this in a better place?  Only a frozen envelope away from that answer …

Opponent to watch:

Nerlens Noel – Noel isn’t lighting up the box score but is seemingly making progress averaging over 8ppg and 7rpg.  It should be a fun matchup between he and Dieng.

Game 47: Saturday, 1/31, 7pm – Cleveland Cavaliers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Well, here we go Wolves fans!  Here is your chance to boo the holy heaven out of Kevin Love … or you can go the other way and cheer him on for bringing some level of competency to the franchise for several years.  There were more than a handful of nights where Love simply dominated the opponent while wearing the Wolves’ uniforms.  Unfortunately, my favorite memory of Love will always be his “What are we doing” tweet after David Kahn drafted seventeen PG’s in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – Too easy to pick Love here.  James is the best player on the planet, so in between your cheers and jeers for Kevin, sit back and enjoy LeBron’s game.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods are doing the Wolves no favors, consistently flipping back and forth between home and road games throughout the week.  While it would be nice to see a win vs. Cleveland on Saturday night, I don’t have high expectations there.  The Pups do have a legitimate chance of at least splitting W’s and L’s this week though.  Let’s go Wolves!

Happy Birthday Crunch – Wolves Lose to Pelicans 92-84

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter - @WolvesCrunch)

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter – @WolvesCrunch)

 

The 7-34 Minnesota Timberwolves completed their brief homestand on Friday night against the 21-21 New Orleans Pelicans.  Both teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions but one is clearly still playing for something this season while the other continues to receive more bad news.  Reports have surfaced that Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury is worse than originally thought.  That quickly took all of the steam out of Nikola Pekovic’s return to action on Wednesday night.  The Pelicans have been struggling with their own injury news of late with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missing time recently.

The two teams met early on this season in New Orleans, with the Pelicans undressing the Wolves to the tune of 139-91 – the worst loss in Wolves’ franchise history.

Looking for a reason to celebrate Wolves’ fans?  The Wolves celebrated Crunch’s birthday Friday night at the Target Center.  So at least there’s that for those in attendance.

Let’s take a look at how Friday night’s action went down at the Target Center.  The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Pelicans countered with the following starting five: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, ex-Pup Dante Cunningham, the aforementioned Davis, and Omer Asik.

The one Pup that I have consistently laid into this season (Thad) started off a house of fire, accounting for 7 of the Wolves first 11 points, which led to NOLA Coach Monty Williams to call a very quick timeout with his team down 11-1.  While the Wolves continued to hustle and play relatively well coming out of the timeout, the shooting percentage came back to earth and the Pelicans were able to tie the game at 18, forcing Flip Saunders to burn the Wolves first timeout with just over three minutes left to play in the 1st Quarter.

With Wiggins and Pekovic a combined 1-8 in the opening quarter for the Wolves, the Pelicans took a 24-20 lead into the break.  As time expired in the 1st, Chase Budinger drew a foul on a three pointer, only to see the referees swallow their whistles.  It has been a rough enough season for Chase, he doesn’t need any help from the zebras.

After taking a 32-29 lead in the 2nd Quarter on a beautiful post move from Gorgui Dieng, the Wolves turned the ball over on consecutive series and quickly gave up their lead.  Concentrating on the positive for a moment, Dieng’s offensive game continues to grow stronger as the weeks continue to pass by.  If for no other reason, and I can’t think of another one, Pekovic’s injury has had at least one benefit for the Wolves and that is the improvement in Dieng’s all around game (and likely his confidence).

At the half, the Wolves trailed 45-44.  Halftime notes/stats:

  • Thad Young with a team high 11 points on 5-8 shooting … but 0 rebounds
  • Conversely, Dieng finished the half with 8 points and 7 rebounds
  • The Wolves shot 44% from the floor in the 1st half, while the Pelicans shot 59%
  • Pups only got to the free throw line six times in the half – as did the Pelicans – but only made two of their attempts

The 3rd Quarter seemed to slog along with some ugly basketball being played.  Through the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wolves had one made basket and two free throws.  After Dante Cunningham made two long range jump shots, Flip Saunders called a timeout to try to straighten the ship.

The Pelicans opened up a double digit lead but the Wolves were able to cut it back down to four.  Nate Wolters scored as the clock was running down in the quarter, giving the Pelicans a 69-63 lead heading into the final frame.

There were several mini-runs for each team to start the 4th Quarter, with the Wolves trimming the Pelicans lead thanks to some strong offensive play from Chase Budinger, who scored all but two of his ten total points in the 4th.  However, the Wolves could never get over the hump and fell to the Pelicans.

With about :40 seconds to go in the game, the Pelicans were inbounding the ball up by six.  With a foul to give before going into the penalty, the Wolves scrambled to try to trap an opponent defensively.  It didn’t work but with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the Wolves then commit the foul.  That resets the shot clock to 14 seconds and the Wolves then have to commit another foul before forcing the Pelicans to the line.  In no way, shape or form was this a defensive strategy worth repeating.  Ever.  Either foul early and stretch the game as much as possible or play and hope they miss the shot.

The final score: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Happy birthday Crunch!  You don’t look a day over 26 …
  • If the Wolves have any interest in winning games the rest of the way, a Pekovic-Dieng frontcourt is going to need to be used
  • Mo Williams had a quiet double-double on Friday night, tallying 12 points and 10 assists
  • In fact, the Wolves assisted on 27 of their 35 made baskets (77%)

Timberwolves Big Men Have Off Day in Loss to Hornets

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

The Timberwolves had two quarters in which they failed to reach 20 points, and that sort of offense is not enough to defeat the Charlotte Hornets—especially a Charlotte Hornets squad with Al Jefferson in back in the lineup.  The center returned from a groin injury and came off the bench to add eight points and five rebounds against his former team. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves in scoring with 18 points, followed by Andrew Wiggins with 12. In the end, Minnesota wrapped up its road trip with a 105-80 loss.

Wolves fans have seen a glimmer of hope over the past several games, with victories coming against Indiana and Denver—both on the road. Monday afternoon’s game proved a different story, however. While Charlotte’s big men Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson combined for 27 points (not to mention Jefferson as a reserve), Robbie Hummel and Gorgui Dieng combined for only nine. Since Corey Brewer was traded to Houston and Shabazz Muhammad is sidelined due to injury, Hummel has been implemented into the starting lineup. Unfortunately for Minny, “Always Ready Robbie” proved he isn’t always ready. The sophomore played just over 24 minutes and couldn’t find a single bucket.

Hummel was not the only one to struggle, though. Across the board, the Wolves squad had a hard time hitting their shots and contesting shots on the other end. Minnesota allowed Charlotte reserves P.J. Hairston and Gary Neal to contribute 22 points, including five 3-point buckets between the two of them.

“They mauled us, really,” head coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “They’re a very good defensive team. We did not react the right way to their physicality.”

The first half really set the tone of the game, and Minnesota struggled from the get-go. No matter what the team tried, the Wolves looked sluggish and disjointed compared to Charlotte. In the second quarter, they made just 28 percent of their shots and tallied only 13 points.

With so many injuries plaguing the Wolves this season, especially to their starters, the young players are facing many more minutes than would have been expected, and the level of fatigue is becoming evident. Overall, the team shot 36.2 percent from the field and struggled to control the ball. Minnesota committed 17 turnovers, an alarming five of those coming from the hands of Dieng.

The Hornets defense proved insurmountable by the Wolves. Charlotte extended its lead to 30 in the third quarter, and it was all the tired squad could do to claw the deficit to the 20s. Over two games, the Hornets have forced 37 turnovers and held their opponents to under 90 points.

At this point the in the season, fans can only hope that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin return to the floor sooner rather than later, and that Wiggins continues to be patient. The rookie has tallied double-digit points over the past 14 games, and one wonders how long his positive attitude will last with this sort of record.

Monday’s game dropped Minnesota to 7-33 on the season, while increasing Charlotte’s record to 17-25. The Wolves will return home to the Target Center to face Dallas Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Click here to listen to postgame audio from Monday’s game. 

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 12

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

Setting the stage:

With a 15 game losing streak (?!?!) in tow, the Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road this week for three games.  The losing streak has moved the Timberpups record to a dreadful 5-31 and puts them in competition with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.  In no way, shape or form is that a compliment.

The Wolves open up the coming week on Tuesday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers, a game that Minnesota really needs to find a way to pull out a “W”.  After Tuesday’s game, the remaining schedule for the week and beyond is awfully tough until a match-up against the Celtics on Wednesday, 1/28.  Let’s hope they don’t get to that Boston game with the losing streak still intact.

There has been nothing new reported on the potential returns of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and/or Kevin Martin.  The Timberwolves obviously miss these guys, but I’m not sure if it makes much sense to put any of them out there until they are 100%.  As mentioned before, it would be nice to move Pekovic or Martin before the trade deadline next month and make the rebuild that much more official.

Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 37: Tuesday, 1/13, 6pm – Timberpups @ Indiana Pacers (TV: FS North)

As referenced above, it would behoove the Pups to find a way to pull out the victory here and snap the losing streak.  The 15-24 Pacers are coming off of a loss against the Sixers on Saturday night, so they will be well rested.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – Hibbert has become a bit of an enigma with the Pacers and is underachieving this season.  Without Paul George and others, Hibbert should be putting up monster numbers.  However, he’s averaging just 11.4ppg and 7rpg.  Tuesday will be another interesting matchup for Gorgui Dieng.

Game 38: Friday, 1/16, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Suns just played this past week in Minnesota, where the Pups gave up the lead late and fell 113-111.  Andrew Wiggins had a chance to hit a game winning three pointer, but missed it at the buzzer.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic lit up the Wolves on 1/7 to the tune of 25 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, along with a handful of highlight plays.  Zach LaVine and Mo Williams must do a better job of containing Dragic and the Suns’ other backcourt members.

Game 39: Saturday, 1/17, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: None)

No local television for Saturday night’s game and I’m not sure how that is feasible in 2015.  The teams also just played one another on 1/5 with the Nuggets winning with relative ease.  While the final score was 110-101, it wasn’t really that close, as Denver outscored the Wolves 35-21 in the 1st quarter and had a 62-41 lead at halftime.

Opponent to watch:

Arron Afflalo – Afflalo led the way last week for the Nuggets, putting up 34 points at the Target Center.  Wiggins will likely be asked to check Afflalo in this one and will hopefully be able to contain him.

Wrap-up:

The Wolves need to pull out a victory this week to get out of their current funk.  They would tie the franchise record of 18 straight losses (2011) at the end of the week if they don’t pull one of these off.  Let’s avoid this please.  Go Wolves!

Unlucky 13 as Wolves Drop 14th in a Row to Bucks, 98-84

Look who isn't attacking the ball on the defensive end Friday night.   (Photo credit: 2015 NBAE - Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Look who isn’t attacking the ball on the defensive end Friday night.
(Photo credit: 2015 NBAE – Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

A thirteen game losing streak was on the line as the 5-29 Minnesota Timberwolves took the short road trip to Milwaukee to take on the 19-18 Bucks Friday night.  What was originally scheduled to showcase the two top rookies in the NBA, Friday’s game fell a little flat on high expectations given the season ending injury that Jabari Parker suffered earlier in the season.  However, Andrew Wiggins has been nothing but impressive of late, averaging about 40 minutes of action a night and putting in 22.6ppg over the past five games.

The Pups opened up with Zach LaVine, Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  Milwaukee opened up with with Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokoounmpo, Khris Middleton, Johnny O’Bryant, and Zaza Pachulia.

Zach LaVine got off to a nice start for the Wolves, filling up the stat sheet with rebounds, assists, and a steal in the early minutes.  It could have been even better if the Wolves hit a jump shot or two off of a LaVine pass.  The game had a slow feel to it as the Milwaukee crowd was pretty quiet in the early going.  The first timeout of the game wasn’t taken until 5:13 remained in the opening quarter, with the Timberwolves holding a 13-10 advantage.

At the end of the first quarter the Wolves held a 22-19 lead.  Two major takeaways that need to be discussed – 1. What does Flip Saunders believe he has in Thad Young? and 2. Will the real Chase Budinger please stand up?  Young is an incredibly frustrating player to watch.  The lack in consistency is probably the most pertinent issue.  As for Budinger, he entered the game in the first quarter and responded with 5 points on 2-2 shooting in three minutes.

OJ Mayo answered the call in the second quarter, opening up with two quick three pointers to give the Bucks a 27-24 lead and forcing a Timberwolves timeout.  It didn’t stop there for Milwaukee as they went on a 22-8 run to start the second quarter and opened up a ten point advantage, 41-31.  Unfortunately, the Wolves looked lost throughout the second quarter.  It seems like this has happened every night and the Wolves shoot themselves in the foot at some point each and every time.  The Bucks built a 15 point advantage heading into the locker room, 53-38.  Here’s how bad the second quarter looked:

The defensive effort and intensity was missing to start the third quarter and Flip wound up burning a quick timeout to presumably try to light a fire under the Wolves’ collective asses.  The strategy worked for a few minutes as the Wolves cut the Bucks’ lead to single digits.  However, the Bucks fought back and rebuilt the double digit lead with a few minutes left in  the quarter.  Jerryd Bayless hit a jumper to close out the quarter as the Bucks reclaimed a 14 point advantage heading into the final 12 minutes, 72-58.

The Bucks signed Kenyon Martin to a 10 day contract and he made his first appearance as the 4th quarter got started.  Martin and Bucks Head Coach Jason Kidd were of course teammates when the New Jersey Nets went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.

The familiar story of the losing streak continued Friday night.  Too many turnovers, porous defense, and poor shooting percentages were all on display for the Pups.

The final score: Milwaukee 98, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Every Bucks player that got on the court scored at least four points in tonight’s game
  • Thad Young had a season high 5 steals
  • Glenn Robinson III entered late in the 4th quarter and added a bit of nostalgia, as his dad was the #1 pick for the Bucks back in 1994