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

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 11

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

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

 

Setting the stage:

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

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

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

Wrap-up:

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

Timberwolves Continue to Struggle in Home Loss to Utah

(photo credit: nba.com)

(photo credit: nba.com)

The Timberwolves extended their loss streak to 11 in one of the more embarrassing performances of the season for a short-handed Minnesota squad. The Wolves did make a strong effort in the fourth quarter, but they came up short in the 101-89 final score. Mo Williams and Andrew Wiggins led the team with 20 apiece, but a lackluster defense proved inadequate against Trey Burke and the rest of the Jazz lineup.

Minnesota fans undoubtedly felt the irony of Burke’s 28-point performance at the Target Center Saturday night. In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves drafted Burke at No. 9 before immediately trading the pick to Utah in a deal that brought Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng to Minny. Although Dieng and Muhammad have both proved to be nice returns for the Wolves, it was especially painful as the young squad saw Burke score 28 points on the evening.

Head coach Flip Saunders expressed a seemingly new level of frustration following the game. He emphasized disappointment in the starting five’s performance, stating that a lineup adjustment is needed. Saunders said the following:

“That’s probably about as bad of a loss as we’ve had in a long time, from the perspective that we’ve lost a bunch of games in a row […] to come out the way we did is uncalled for. We talked to our team afterwards just about what it is to be professional. […] It was just really disappointing.”

The Wolves cannot seem to get away from slow starts to games; it wasn’t until the 4:27 mark of the first quarter that they reached double-digit points to tie the game at 11.

Utah struggled a bit early on as well, and neither team could get their shots to drop. Following halftime, however, the Jazz found the spark they were looking for, and the Timberwolves clambered to find any sort of groove. Despite a nice effort from Wiggins and a trio of three-point buckets from Williams, nothing clicked.

The Jazz shot 50.7 percent, including 55 percent from behind the arc. They also out-rebounded Minnesota 47-37.

The worst part of Saturday’s loss was how avoidable it should have been. Utah is just as injury-plagued as its opponent, and the team had only 11 wins entering the game.

“We’re playing in the NBA,” Muhammad said. “We have to turn it around because the energy just isn’t there. It’s embarrassing.”

At this point, fans can only hope that starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, all sidelined with injuries, will return to the court sooner rather than later. Until then, it will be interesting to see if—and how—Saunders follows through with his promise to shake things up within the roster.

The Wolves will remain in town to host the Denver Nuggets Monday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Cavaliers Big Three Drive Past Timberwolves, 125-104

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

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

The 5-21 Minnesota Timberwolves strolled into Cleveland to take on the NBA’s latest edition of a “Big Three” to take on the Cavaliers.  That of course meant it was the Wolves’ first meeting with ex-Pup Kevin Love.  The Cavs have been somewhat disappointing so far this season with a 16-10 record and playing a methodical pace of basketball under new head coach, David Blatt.

The Pups opened up with Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  Cleveland countered with Kyrie Irving, another ex-Pup Mike Miller, LeBron James, Love, and Anderson Varejao.

Cleveland won the opening tip and quickly went down to the post to Love, who subsequently blew a layup (instead of dunking the ball …).  The Wolves went to Wiggins early and he responded with an early bucket and helped draw two of the three quick fouls called against Mike Miller.  Heading into the game’s first timeout, the Cavs held a 14-9 advantage.

At the end of the first quarter, the Cavs held a 27-26 advantage in a back and forth quarter that saw six lead changes.  The Wolves were led by Wiggins (11 points) and Dieng (6 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals) in the opening frame.  Love finished the first quarter with 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.

If there is an intriguing storyline or subplot to keep an eye on over the next few weeks/months, it is what becomes of Chase Budinger.  Chase has shown signs of life over the past two weeks and may be rounding into form.  He opened up the second quarter by hitting his first two buckets for five points.  (Note: He also entered towards the end of the third quarter and that is, where you will find, the unraveling of the game for the Pups.)

With a little less than six minutes left in the half, the Cavs went on a mini-run and opened up a 9 point lead, 46-37.  Cleveland’s ‘Big Three’ led the charge, assisting and/or scoring on just about every bucket the Cavs scored up to that point in the quarter.  However, Wiggins and the Wolves came right back, going on an 11-4 run to cut the Cavs lead to two points (50-48) and forcing David Blatt to call a timeout.  Cleveland answered the call and went on a 7-2 run to open up another five point lead.  At the half, the Cavs held a 64-56 lead.

The third quarter wasn’t a banner quarter for the Cavs as Love and Varejao both went down with injuries and to the locker room.  Love would return to the floor just minutes later.  At the same time, Andrew Wiggins was heating up, scoring or assisting on five of the club’s first seven baskets in the quarter.  After cutting the Cavs lead to one point, James and Irving hit back to back three points to open up the lead once again.

Unfortunately, the close (and good) game seemed to end towards the end of the third quarter.  Cleveland went on a 16-1 run and held a 96-79 advantage heading into the final frame.

The fourth quarter was unfortunately more of the same from the final few minutes of the third.  The Cavs essentially imposed their will on the Wolves and were able to maintain their double digit lead throughout.  The final score: Cleveland 125, Minnesota 104.

Game Notes:

  • Anderson Varejao was reported to have a left ankle injury and didn’t return to the court on Tuesday night.  According to the Cavs broadcast, he will be reevaluated on Wednesday.
  • Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season.
  • Andrew Wiggins finished the game with a team high 27 points on 9-16 shooting from the floor.
  • Anthony Bennett probably had the worst game of his career and certainly his worst performance in a Wolves uniform.  He finished the game with 0 points on 0-4 shooting, poor defense, and was -27 in the +/- column.
  • You likely have already seen this, but Flip Saunders told Jon Krawczynski the following ahead of Tuesday night’s game regarding Kevin Love:

    “Minnesota people are pretty loyal. You turn on Minnesota, they don’t forgive you,” Saunders said after practice on Monday. “So I think people probably appreciated him while he was here. But you leave under the terms that he did, just the way Minnesota people are, they’re not pretty forgiving along those lines.”