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.”

Celtics Outlast Timberwolves, 114-98

Kelly Olynyk put on a show against the Timberwolves Friday night in Boston (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Kelly Olynyk put on a show against the Timberwolves Friday night in Boston (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up a quick two game swing to the East Coast on Friday night in Beantown.  Both teams entered the game well under .500 and have started making the appropriate moves for their roster.  Earlier Friday, Woj dropped news that the Timberwolves worked out a trade with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers.  Fan favorites Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf are on their way out of Minnesota, with our Pups getting back SG Troy Daniels and two second round picks.  Hours earlier the Celtics sent Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks with Dwight Powell for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, picks, and a trade exception.

With all of that roster movement out of the way, the Wolves and Celtics took to the floor this evening in an entertaining night of basketball.  The Pups opened up with Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Celtics countered with Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller.

The Wolves held a 13-12 lead six minutes into the game and heading into the first stoppage in play.  Wiggins was off to a slow start (0-3 shooting) but Shabazz had two nice post-up moves for two buckets.  The Celtics were led early by Avery Bradley who was attacking the Wolves’ rookie PG, putting up seven shots in the first six minutes.

Tyler Zeller picked up two fouls and gave way to Kelly Olynyk.  The Garden quickly became Olynyk’s playground as the Center finished the 1st quarter with 11 points on 5-7 shooting, to go along with 3 rebounds, an assist, and a block.  At the end of Q1 the Celtics held a 27-24 advantage.

The teams battled back and forth in the 2nd quarter.  Olynyk continued to lead the way for the Celtics, while the Pups offered up a balanced attack on the offensive end of the floor … and very little defensively.  Chase Budinger received some early minutes tonight and made the most of them, opening up by hitting his first three shots for 7 quick points.  However, the Celtics went on a little bit of a run to close out the half, going up by eight eights before Shabazz hit a three pointer to cut the lead to 53-48 at the half.

After showing signs of falling apart late in the second quarter, the Wolves defense became visibly worse coming out of the locker room.  The Celtics rebuilt an eight point lead largely due to poor team defense and an inability to control the defensive boards.  With Anthony Bennett on the bench, Flip stuck with Thad Young against Jared Sullinger and all that did was hurt the Wolves on the defensive end of the floor.  At the end of the third quarter, the Celtics held an 83-77 lead.

Despite strong efforts for three and a half quarters, the Wolves started to fall apart late in the 4th quarter.  The Celtics opened up a double digit lead and seemed to track down every loose ball and find the open man on the Wolves’ defensive rotations.  After cutting the lead to three points (95-92), the Celtics pulled away and finished the game on fire from the field.  The last six minutes of the game were an abomination for the Wolves, who struggled in every aspect of the game.

The final score: Boston 114, Minnesota 98.

Game Notes:

  • Shabazz Muhammad took his role as starting wing seriously, putting in 26 points on a very efficient 11-15 shooting to go along with a career high 5 assists.
  • Chase Budinger had a season high 19 points on 8-12 shooting.
  • The Celtics had six different players with double digit points, led by Olynyk’s 21 points on 8-13 shooting.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 8

When will any of these guys return to the Timberwolves lineup? (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

When will any of these guys return to the Timberwolves lineup? (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

Setting the stage:

The Minnesota Timberwolves head into week eight with a 5-17 record before Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Target Center.  After Sunday’s game the Wolves will head east for two games before returning home to wrap up the week.  The injuries continue to plague the team/roster with little help in sight.  While this should help in the long run, it is frustrating and sometimes painful to watch right now.  The minutes that Flip Saunders is giving to Zach LaVine will help judge where he fits best with this club – which position, role, etc.  Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng are getting heavy minutes and the learning curve would seem to be quickening because of it.

The week ahead has several very winnable games for our Pups.  Here is a brief preview for each:

Game 24: Tuesday, 12/16, 6pm – Timberpups @ Washington Wizards (TV: FSN Plus)

The Wizards may be the surprise team in the league right now with a 16-6 record, with a home game on Sunday against the Utah Jazz.  A win on Sunday would be their fourth in a row.  Washington is .5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks to lead the Southeast division.

Opponent to watch:

John Wall – Wall is having a career year averaging 17.8ppg, 10.5apg, and over 2 steals a game.  This is likely going to be a very rough matchup for Zach LaVine in trying to contain Wall and even if Flip rotates a bit, that would put the Wolves’ rookie on Bradley Beal – who is coming off of a big performance this past week against the Lakers.

Game 25: Friday, 12/19, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ Boston Celtics (TV: FS North)

The Celtics enter the week with a 7-14 record and will face the Sixers and Magic on Monday and Wednesday night respectively ahead of Friday night’s matchup in Beantown.  The Celtics are coming off of an embarrassing loss against the Knicks and will look to recover against two other sub-par Eastern Conference teams ahead of the Wolves.

Opponent to watch:

Jeff Green – While underwhelming on the court to many, I have always liked Green and thought he would have been a good fit on the Wolves’ roster.  Green is averaging over 20ppg this season and has a PER of 16.6.  He isn’t rebounding at a high level but is the clear #1 option on offense for the Celtics.  Mr. Wiggins will have another opportunity to guard the top scoring option of the opposition.

Game 26: Sunday, 12/21, 6pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The coldest team in the league is the Indiana Pacers, having lost eight games in a row.  They will be in Denver for a game on Saturday night and will have to fly to Minnesota for Sunday’s matchup at Target Center.  Sunday’s game could be a nice return home for the Wolves who have the ability to pull off the victory against a struggling team.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – The Pacers are somewhat faceless this year due to injuries.  Hibbert has been up and down but will be a tough test for Gorgui Dieng.  Hibbert is only averaging 11.6ppg and 7.3rpg but should be able to turn it on at any point.  At least one would think that.

Wrap-up:

The Timberwolves could easily win at least two games this week with several struggling opponents from the Eastern Conference.  How many wins do you foresee for the team this week?  Go Pups!

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.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 6

Flip's the man in charge!  (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Flip’s the man in charge! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

 

Setting the stage:

The 4-10 Timberwolves (pending Sunday night’s result in Portland) head into a busy week of action in week 6 – wrapping up a trip to the West Coast in Los Angeles before returning home for two games and heading back on the road to close out the week.  After defeating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night, the team traveled to Portland for a game on Sunday, only to have to return to Los Angeles for Monday’s game against the Clippers.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 16: Monday, 12/1, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Los Angeles Clippers (TV: FS North)

A back-to-back traveling up and down the coastline with another opponent that is playing really well to start the season.  The Clippers remain a tremendously talented, regular season team that must do more in the playoffs to earn respect around the league.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin continue to put up big numbers on a nightly basis.

Opponent to watch:

DeAndre Jordan – Assuming Nikola Pekovic doesn’t return for this game, Jordan will likely be a headache for the Wolves.  While Gorgui Dieng provides respectable defense, a lot of his strength is in help defense and not so much in a one-to-one set – yet, at least.  That should come as Dieng continues to become more familiar with the pro game.

Game 17: Wednesday, 12/3, 7pm – Philadelphia 76ers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North Plus)

The Sixers open the week at 0-16 and will likely be 0-17 when they come to Minneapolis, given that they face the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.  The Wolves need to win games like this one for morale and to keep the home fanbase at bay.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Wroten – Wroten leads the Sixers in points, assists and steals per game.  Paging Andrew Wiggins.  Wiggins continues to guard the strongest wing opponent night in and night out and it shouldn’t change when Philly comes to town.

Game 18: Friday, 12/5, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Take a second to go look at divisional standings and how far ahead the Southwest division is vs. all others.  Friday’s game against the Rockets starts a five game stretch of very hard match-ups for the Wolves.  Kevin McHale’s Rockets enter the forthcoming week at 13-4 and have a huge match-up against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Selfishly, please allow me to use this space as another plea to leverage a game against Kevin McHale to break out the original blue uniforms from the Timberwolves early years.

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota (This is Kevin Love's jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota
(This is Kevin Love’s jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Paging Mr. Wiggins again!  Harden is having another phenomenal season with a PER just under 24.

Game 19: Saturday, 12/6, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ San Antonio Spurs (TV: FS North)

The second of a back-to-back against the defending champs.  Why not just have this game in Mexico City?  The Spurs blew out the Wolves in Minnesota earlier this season (121-92), largely due to …

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – Parker led the Spurs in Minnesota with 28 points on 12-18 shooting.  Mo Williams struggled to contain the Spurs PG as he ran as an efficient of an offense as you will find in the NBA.

Wrap-up:

Week 6 is a very tough week for the Timberwolves, who need to protect the Target Center floor against the Sixers.  The Pups can’t be the first team the Sixers defeat this season.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Sink Lakers, 120-119

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

The 3-10 Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road to take on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team that is off to the worst in franchise history at 3-12.  Despite the return of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference with our Pups.  The Lakers lottery pick, Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and things have gone from bad to worse for Los Angeles.  As you might expect, the Lakers would receive zero pity points from the Wolves, who continue to take the court with a ton of missing pieces.

The Wolves opened up with a returning Mo Williams at PG, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Lakers came out with Jeremy Lin, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill.

Mo Williams started off the game with the shooter’s touch, scoring 8 of the Pups’ first 13 points.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, Kobe was in the zone to begin the game as well.  Bryant was all over the court, putting up 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in the 1st quarter.  In the final 4-5 minutes of the opening quarter, the Wolves turned the ball over entirely too much (7 in the first quarter) and it led to the Lakes taking a seven point advantage into the second quarter, 30-23.

After falling behind by as many as eleven points, the Wolves went on a small run to cut the Lakers lead down to three, 52-50.  The Wolves were led by Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, who were the only two players doing much of anything on the offensive end of the court.  Heading into a timeout, LaVine had quickly become the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field.

At the half of a relatively exciting and certainly entertaining game, the Lakers held a 58-54 advantage.  While the Wolves were heavily relying on Mo Williams, LaVine, and Bennett, the Lakers were getting contributions across the board.  Six of the ten players that entered the game had scored at least six points for the home team.

The Timberwolves came out and scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 58.  From there, the two teams went toe to toe and bucket for bucket throughout an amazing show of offense in the third quarter.  Basketball purists may also suggest that NBA team defense regressed 25 years as well.  When Wes Johnson is going off, you know there are issues on the defensive end of the court.  The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 39-38 in the third quarter but trailed 96-93 after three quarters.

It looked like the Wolves were in trouble when Nick Young started to get hot and brought the crowd alive in the 4th quarter.  However, Mo Williams answered the call with eight straight points for the Wolves and tied the game at 117.  The play/sequence of the game followed Williams’ last bucket as Kobe got Andrew Wiggins to bite on a few up-fakes and drew a foul.  However, Bryant missed both free throw attempts allowing the Wolves to take a two point lead on a Thad Young bucket.  Kobe tied the game at 119 with another basket but the Wolves had five seconds on the clock to get a shot off.  Flip Saunders drew up a play for Thad and he drew a foul on Nick Young to go to the free throw line.  After missing the first, Young made the second to give the Wolves a 120-119 lead with two seconds left in the game.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Kobe Bryant missed a relatively open three pointer as time expired, giving the Pups the victory, 120-119.  After losing 22 straight to the Lakers, the Timberwolves have now won four of the last five.

Game Notes:

  • The Lakers wore an alternative black t-shirt jersey this evening, which led to the Timberwolves wearing their home white jerseys.  The NBA is confusing.
  • While Wiggins probably had his worst game of the season Friday night, fellow rookie Zach LaVine finished with a career high 28 points on 11-14 shooting.  LaVine of course was returning to the Los Angeles area after his one season at UCLA.
  • If it weren’t for LaVine, Mo Williams would easily be considered the player of the game, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists.