Recap – Pelicans 98, Timberwolves 91

pelicansmascot

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 24-25 and are looking at the next four games before the all-star break as an opportunity to get a few games above the Mason-Dixon Line.  That sounds like a good plan, no?  The team traveled to New Orleans for Friday’s encounter with the 21-27 Pelicans.  While under .500 for the season overall, the Pelicans were 12-12 going into the action Friday night.

The Wolves got back a few starters after they missed Wednesday’s game, opening up with: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Turiaf.  Nikola Pekovic remains out with his injury.  The Pelicans are dealing with a slew of injuries of their own, but their starting lineup Friday night was: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca.  Added bonus for future trivia: tonight was the first game in the “Smoothie King Center”. Let’s just move on …

First Half 

Game got off to a slow start in the scoring department. As an added “bonus” for Wolves fans, Kevin Love seemed to tweak something early and looked slow and banged up. Going into the first timeout with just over 5 minutes left in the opening frame, the Pelicans held a 14-12 lead, led by the Unibrow, who got it going early with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. (Congrats to the ‘Brow on being named to the Western Conference All-Star team – more than deserved!)

Kevin Love picked up a quick second foul and that led to Dante Cunningham’s early arrival in the game. For the record, Love probably should have taken a seat when he couldn’t get past half court to play defense, but you know … Adelman. (I’m quickly turning to the dark side.) Before I get in trouble, the Wolves held a 26-25 lead over the Pelicans at the end of the quarter. Corey Brewer led the Pups with 9 points and creating chaos, including one of the ugliest fast-breaks you will ever see in NBA history; however, it ended with a Kevin Martin three pointer, so no complaints here.

The early minutes of the second quarter can be summarized with this:

It isn’t like we signed this guy to a new contract this past summer or anything, right? (Crickets) Beyond this little tidbit, the Wolves played a Pelicans-inspired slowed down pace, outscoring the home team 21-17 in the quarter and taking a 47-42 into the locker room.

Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Despite not scoring in 14 minutes of action, Dante Cunningham had a nice half of basketball with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal
  • Kevin Love had 10 & 8 at the half and was solid offensively, but Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 17 points at the same time – interesting match-up!
  • Ronny Turiaf – defensive presence!  (3 blocks by halftime!)

Second Half 

Despite Kevin Love looking like a broken body multiple times in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves played a solid final few minutes to increase their lead a bit.  Love was fouled (but not called) by Greg Stiemsma and looked like he was going to need to be scraped off the floor after a few attempts in the paint on the ensuing possession after not being able to get back on defense.  There is going to be a time when we are going to regret this.  However, it wasn’t through the third quarter, as the Wolves built a 71-61 lead going into the final frame.

All of the good from the 3rd quarter came to a screeching halt with the Pelicans going on a massive run to begin the 4th quarter, going up 78-77 – a 17-6 run before Adelman finally called a timeout.  The onslaught continued as the Pelicans poured it on in the 4th quarter, while the Wolves found ways to increase their deficit – bad defense, terrible shot selection, and overall bonehead play.  With about 2.5 minutes to go, the Pelicans held an 89-82 lead, outscoring the Pups 28-11 to this point in the quarter.  Let’s hit the fast forward button because nothing positive happened the rest of the way for our Pups.  They continued to fall flat on their face and wound up giving up 37 points in the 4th quarter, losing to the Pelicans, 98-91.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Anthony Davis – great game for the ‘Brow, 26 & 10 and looked like a leader on the floor
  2. Eric Gordon – huge second half for Gordon, who finished with 20 points and it felt like he threw two or three daggers at the Wolves
  3. Kevin Love – who I am somewhat expecting to hear “trade request” from this all-star break.  26 & 18 for the starting PF in the Western Conference … 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves continue to shoot three pointers for no apparent reason other than “it’s flashy” … 4-17 in tonight’s game, including a 0-6 from Love.
  • Huge advantage for Minnesota at the FT line, going 31-37 on the evening, compared to NOLA’s 12-16.  Somehow, someway, the Wolves still managed to lose this game.
  • Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer create havoc on both ends of the floor … however, their lack of fundamental defense (along with Kevin Martin’s lack of any defense) is killing this team.  This already feels like a very long second half of the season.

Timberwolves Waive Stiemsma and Gelabale

To close out the holiday weekend, the Timberwolves officially announced that they have waived Center Greg Stiemsma and Forward Mickael Gelabale.  Neither of these moves should really be too surprising for Timberwolves fans, but here was the official news from the Timberwolves PR Twitter account:

First, in regard to Greg Stiemsma, there simply isn’t enough room on the roster for him.  Given the presumed return of Nikola Pekovic, the drafting of Gorgui Dieng, and the guaranteed (and cheaper) contract of Chris Johnson, there really wasn’t an easier solution for the front office.  You have to assume at this point that the club has done their homework and will be comfortable matching any offer that comes to Pekovic.  Which of course is a good thing. [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 108 – San Antonio Spurs 95

Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports

The Pups had a chance to close the season on a winning note Wednesday night in San Antonio after losing their last home game at Target Center to Utah on Monday.  The Spurs came into Wednesday’s game a little banged up and it shouldn’t have been too surprising to see them give their regulars limited roles in the game.

Nikola Pekovic sat out Wednesday’s game again, finishing the season having missed 20 of the 82 games, allowing legitimate questions about his durability given his forthcoming free agency.  That said, taking out Love’s 18 game season, Big Pek led the team in scoring and rebounding, with 16.3 and 8.8 per game respectively.

The Timberwolves opened the game with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Spurs countered with Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Matt Bonner.  Minnesota actually got off to a pretty strong start, jumping out to an 11-4 lead.  About halfway through the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 20-11, with Tim Duncan looking like the only Spur to have brought a live body to the court on the evening.  Conversely, each Pup starter was on the board with at least one basket, led by Rubio and Williams.

In typical Spurs fashion, they continued to chip away into the lead over the next few minutes, tying the game at 24 with about one minute to go.  Rubio and Budinger hit a pair of three points in the final minute or so to give the Wolves a 30-24 lead going into the 2nd quarter. [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 117 – Phoenix Suns 86

Photo credit: AP/Matt York

Photo credit: AP/Matt York

Game Summary

After a cold night shooting in Sacramento on Thursday, the Timberwolves visited the Phoenix Suns with the hopes of warming up in the desert on Friday.  With both seasons virtually over, there wasn’t too much excitement in the air, and with the Gophers playing a late game in the NCAA tournament Friday night, you might excuse fans in Minnesota of being distracted from the Wolves.  Nevertheless, here is a recap of Friday night’s game.

The Wolves opened up with the same lineup – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Suns opened up with Goran Dragic, Wes Johnson, Markieff Morris, PJ Tucker, and Luis Scola.  Wolves’ fans might notice that the Suns are now starting Wes at the SG position.  If you were wondering why the Suns were playing .333 ball that would be part of the answer.  Also note that the Suns were without Gortat (probably out for the season, per Suns announcers), O’Neal, and Dudley for Friday’s game.

After a slow first few minutes, the Timberwolves came alive in the 1st quarter, somewhat erasing the memories of Thursday night in Sacramento.  Pekovic and Kirilenko led the way and really controlled the paint on both ends of the floor.  With about 6.5 minutes left in the quarter, the Wolves were up 13-10.  From that point, the Wolves owned the 1st, outscoring the Suns 21-8, taking a 31-18 lead into the 2nd quarter.

While Pups fans might have expected the team to come back to earth a bit, the 2nd quarter looked very similar to the 1st, with the visiting team pouring it on offensively against the Suns.  Chase Budinger helped start the quarter off strong, forcing Suns coach Lindsey Hunter to call a timeout within the first minute of the 2nd.  Budinger was an early 3-4 from the field and helped increase the Wolves lead to 15+ points.  It was off to the races from this point on.

The Suns big men were all in foul trouble – as Scola and Morris were clearly outplayed by the Wolves frontline.  At the half, the Wolves held a 67-39 lead.  The 67 points from the Wolves are/were the most points the team has scored in a half all season.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • It is pretty amazing what the Wolves look like when they shoot north of 44%, and they look very formidable when around 50%.
  • The Suns are an abysmal team and looked asleep at the wheel.  This is what happens when you rely on Beasley and Johnson.

All the Wolves had to do was avoid playing “not to lose” in the second half and they would pull out the victory.  That’s exactly what they were able to do.  The Suns fans remaining in the stands in the 3rd quarter were treated to an exciting quarter of basketball, even if you could hear crickets through the television.  The Suns weren’t able to do much of anything in terms of making a comeback.  While outscoring the Wolves 30-28 in the 3rd quarter, it did virtually nothing to make it more of a game.  At the end of the quarter, the Wolves held a 26 point advantage and a 95-69 lead.

Even less Suns fans remained for the 4th quarter and those that did deserve a refund from the Sarver family because it was a pathetic effort from the team.  After giving up 95 point in three quarters to one of the worst offensive teams in the league, you would think the Suns would have come out in the 4th with a little bit more pride.  Again, I guess it shouldn’t have been expected when you are led by those two ex-Timberwolves.  Anyone that wishes either of those two were still on the team doesn’t understand the locker room impact on a team and/or that some players just don’t have what it takes internally to ‘turn it on’.

The Wolves outscored the Suns 22-17 in the 4th quarter and coasted to a very easy 117-86 victory.  Friday’s game was exactly what the Wolves players (and fans) needed; a victory that was never in doubt in the 2nd half.  Adelman had the ability to limit the minutes of many of his starters, particularly Pekovic, Kirilenko, and Williams’.  In fact, he was able to limit the minutes of everyone on the end of a back to back, and were afforded to do so because the reserves also outplayed anyone the Suns put on the floor.

Keys of the Game

  • Free Throws – The Wolves were 15-21 from the FT line in the 1st half, while the Suns were only 4-8.  That trend continued into the 2nd half as the Wolves finished 31-40 on the game.  Conversely, the Suns (and their lack of heart/effort) finished the game 10-21 from the line.  Again, just a pathetic effort all around from Phoenix.
  • Whistles – A deep correlation to FT’s but worth calling out separately, as the Suns big men were in foul trouble all night and couldn’t contain Minnesota’s frontline – both the starters and reserves.  The Suns were whistled for 29 personal fouls in the game vs. just 18 for the Wolves – which includes Stiemsma’s 5 PF’s.
  • Shooting – The Wolves shot 58% from the field in the 1st half to blow the game open and stayed above the 50% line throughout, finishing 42-79 for 53% on the night.  While the three point shooting woes continued (2-12), the team limited the total number attempted … as they should through the remainder of the season.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Greg Stiemsma – I’m going to go with Stiemsma as the #1 start due to the big minutes he played, but also because his contributions made a big impact in building the Wolves lead in the 1st half.  Greg finished 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a game high 34+ minutes.
  2. Andrei Kirilenko – Friday night felt like the return of the “real” (or at least desired) Kirilenko.  He was active on both ends of the floor and was a main cog in the machine that helped drive the huge advantage for the Wolves on the scoreboard.  Andrei finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds, including getting to the line 10 times on the evening.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Again, I’m going with guys that played heavier minutes in the 1st half to drive home the advantage over someone like Dante Cunningham, who played great Friday night, but it was in excessive garbage time in my opinion.  (There is nothing wrong with that by the way.)  Rubio finished the game with 12 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals.  By the way, he’s awesome!

Minnesota Timberwolves 92 – Sacramento Kings 80

November 2, 2012. Associated Press – Jim Mone.

In the home and season opener for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the T-wolves knocked off an inferior Sacramento Kings team by a score of 92-80 for their first win of the 2012-13 season. Fans got to witness a completely different style of basketball and a revamped roster, led by newcomer Andrei Kirilenko and second-year Timberpup JJ Barea.

Left without team leaders Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio until approximately mid-December, the Pups were not as offensively competent as they will be at full strength. However, their matured team IQ was on full display against a very young and undeveloped Kings squad. For the Kings, there were flashes of great basketball, but also glimpses of absolute immaturity – as shown by Isaiah Thomas’ missed fast-break layup and Thomas Robinson’s double dribble.

The biggest difference in this game came down to foul trouble and team defense, as the Kings committed 34 fouls to the Wolves 17. Demarcus Cousins was especially hampered by foul trouble, as he was only able to play 25 minutes while scoring a mere 11 points.

The top performances of the night came from Andrei Kirilenko and JJ Barea. AK-47 put on a defensive clinic for all eyes to witness while having an extremely efficient night scoring. Kirilenko finished with the following stat line: 10 points (4-7 from the field), 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 block in 30 minutes of play. The addition by subtraction of trading Wes Johnson, combined with the addition of Kirilenko, made the Timberwolves wing play look like a much improved area, even with Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger having off-nights.

JJ Barea ultimately was the key to thoroughly manipulating the Kings team defense as JJ used his speed to find holes in the defense and got to the rim very effectively. The Puerto Rican was a game-high +26 on the floor and had what I believe to be his best game as a Pup. He finished with 21 points (6-11 from the field, 8-8 from the free-throw line), 5 assists, 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 27 minutes. It was performances like these in the 2010 playoffs that prompted the Wolves to sign Barea and I am sure they were very pleased by his performance of last night. It also helped that Barea’s matchup was one of the only other PGs in the league who is smaller than him (Isaiah Thomas, 5’9”).

Three-point shooting was a major concern last night, and following last night’s performance many of those same concerns were not alleviated. As a team, the Wolves shot a combined 2-17 (12%) from downtown and newcomers Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger – who are supposed to be big answers to the team’s shooting woes – went a combined 0-10 from three-point range. The fact that Minnesota shot so poorly and was able to win by a healthy margin appears to be a good problem to have, but after watching so many threes rattle off the rim last night it remains a little concerning. The loss of K-Love was obviously going to take a toll on the Wolves’ ability to shoot the long ball, but the Pups will need to have a few players step up and start knocking down some threes.

Brandon Roy played his first regular season NBA game since 2010 and had an efficient yet quiet night. Roy was most notable in his directing of the offense and his smooth passing. In 30 minutes, Roy finished with 10 points (4-14 shooting), 6 assists, 5 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He also drew a very clutch offensive foul on a driving Tyreke Evans with 3:45 left in the game, another display of the veteran savvy he brings to the end of games. Overall, I thought Roy had a decent game and if he can start knocking down more shots – particularly from three – we should have an above-average starting SG. It must be noted that it is very evident on the court that Roy’s foot speed and cutting ability are a shadow of his former abilities. However, Roy is smart enough and is an adequately capable passer and spot shooter, which should allow him to continue to be a very nice player in this league should his knees not fail him.

In his NBA debut, Alexey Shved struggled to gain any sort of rhythm and looked nervous and scared in front of all those Target Center fans. The skinny and lanky Russian import was indecisive and did not look confident with or without the ball, and it is clear that the nerves of his first NBA game were contributing to his obvious timidity on the court. I am not trying to bash the guy, because I sincerely believe that his abilities in the pick-and-roll are enough to potentially make him a very effective second option in this Adelman offense. However, it may take some time – and a weight and strength program – to get the Russian up to speed.

Nikola Pekovic had a relatively quiet night, and Sacramento’s frontcourt did a nice job defending the slimmed down center. In 32 minutes, Pek finished with 9 points (2-8 shooting), 5 rebounds and 1 block. Getting his Timberwolves debut was Greg Stiemsma, who played a very good game in Pek’s stead off the bench. Stiemsma brought hustle and tremendous defense and was everything that Darko could not be last night. In only 16 minutes, Stiemsma finished with 9 points (3-7 shooting), 7 rebounds and a very impressive 4 blocked shots. Now, the Steamer may not have a very pretty jump shot, but the energy and shot-blocking he brought was a huge difference maker and was something the Pups desperately lacked last season.

Alongside Stiemsma in the second unit frontcourt was new addition Dante Cunningham, who also provided tremendous defense on the low block. The thing I loved seeing the most out of Cunningham is his obvious understanding of his role and his knowing exactly where he fits with this team. Last year we had to put up with Anthony Tolliver hoisting up every three-pointer he could get his hands on, but Cunningham instead focuses on running set plays, setting screens, and taking shots only when adequately set up for him. It is not to make him appear timid, but to recognize that he understands the limitations of his game and instead focuses on his strengths. Cunningham finished with 7 points (3-6 shooting), 9 rebounds, and a +21 in 25 minutes.

The biggest off-nights came from Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, and Luke Ridnour. While Ridnour did not play excessively poorly, it was more so that Barea greatly outplayed him and so limited the team’s starting PG to only 20 minutes. D-Will struggled mightily, scoring 8 points off a horrendous 3-12 shooting and failing to maintain body control on his drives and cuts. Williams needs to slow the game down for himself, and find a way to get quick separation in order to get more space on his shots. Budinger also shot 3-12 from the field including missing all 5 of his three-pointers, and will need to start draining the outside shot if he is to be particularly effective in this offense.

Overall, it was a nice win for our Pups and a solid start to a season when considering the absence of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Here are my three stars of the game:

  1. JJ Barea
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Greg Stiemsma

Kevin Love Breaks Hand, Out 6-8 Weeks

Well, here we are again, Minnesota sports fans. In a fluke accident that involved knuckle push-ups, Kevin Love suffered a broken right hand while working out with personal trainer Rob McClanaghan at his condo on Wednesday. After a trip to New York to visit Doctor Andy Weiland, it was confirmed that Love broke the third and fourth metacarpals in his hand and the initial diagnosis of a 6-8 week recovery period was confirmed. K-Love commented on the shocking blow to a team that is already without Ricky Rubio in a release sent out by the Timberwolves:

“Yesterday I had a post-practice commitment and decided to work out at my home with my personal trainer before heading to Target Center,” he said. “While doing various pushups, including knuckle pushups, which are a part of my regular workout routine, I hurt my hand. I immediately knew something was wrong and called head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam.

“Although I’m disappointed that this injury happened, I will work extremely hard to stay in shape and return to the court as quickly as possible. We have added a lot of depth to our roster this season, and I have complete confidence in my teammates and coaching staff that they will step up and we will be successful during this time. I’m looking forward to supporting our team and helping out any way I can until I get back on the court.”

The Wolves have been predicted by many to be in an extremely competitive race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference, and playing without Rubio and Love for upwards of two months could be enough to put the team in a hole to deep to get themselves out of once they get their two top players back. One thing is for certain: several players will have to step up big in order to keep this team afloat by the time mid-December comes, and a realistic – yet seemingly improbable – goal for the team will be to be sitting around .500 basketball by the time they get their two stars back.

David Kahn and Rick Adelman’s offseason moves will be in the spotlight for the first few months of the season, as newly acquired players Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger, Lou Amundson, and Greg Stiemsma will likely be called upon to provide much greater roles than initially expected. The biggest X-factors will include Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams, as both players will need to produce on the low-block at a much higher rate without K-Love as the focal point of the offense.

Love was certainly the best three-point option for the Wolves last year, and the team will now look largely to Roy and Budinger to provide perimeter shooting in place of Love’s prolific shooting. If Derrick Williams ever needed some serious adversity to elevate his game to the next level, well here it is. D-Will now has the opportunity to get the minutes he wants and a role that is vastly increased, and without Love Williams could assume a role very similar to the one he had at Arizona. If the former number 2 pick can prove that he can handle big minutes and provide inside-out scoring, it would be a tremendous help to a team in dire need for some leadership.

Andrei Kirilenko was initially seen as the starting SF with Love in the lineup, but he will likely move to PF with Williams operating at the 3. Both AK-47 and D-Will are tweener forwards, so they may very likely have interchangeable roles in the offense. Pekovic will now be the focal point of the offense in the post, and I am truly excited to see how the lean and extra mean Pek responds to an increase in touches.

Timberwolves Summer 2012 Recap

Since David Kahn took over as President of Basketball Operations in May 2009, we have heard the continual promotion of flexibility, youth, rebuilding, cap space, etc. etc.  Shortly after Kahn was able to convince Kevin Love to sign an extension back in January, this all changed, as Love started to provide his own thoughts to the media on how the Twolves needed to start showing improvement and to get to the playoffs.  With a decent amount of flexibility and the added pressure of appeasing one of team’s core pieces, Kahn and the rest of the front office had their work cut out for them this offseason.  To Kahn’s credit, at least he didn’t take a month off to go fishing …

Here’s my take on the Timberpups offseason.

NBA Draft

Heading into Draft week, the Twolves held the 18th and 58th picks.  Two nights before the draft, Kahn sent the 18th pick to Houston for Chase Budinger.  In general, I hate seeing trades like this.  If you have something like this lined up, why not wait until draft night?  I understand that Houston was looking for ways to get Dwight Howard, but I still hate the notion of giving up your pick so far in advance.  I would like to think there will be a time when the Twolves actually take advantage of someone else’s panic move over the course of a draft night.  When this happens, I’ll immediately drive to Shop Rite to stock up on their can-can special.

As for the trade itself, I like Budinger as a complementary wing / role player at SF.  If nothing else, he’s competent and that is more than what we can say about any wing on last year’s roster.  As an added bonus – based off of his Twitter feed – he seems to have a great personality.

With the 58th pick, the Twolves selected Robbie Hummel, who has had quite the busy summer.  Given the moves that the Wolves have made since (we’re getting there, promise), Hummel decided to sign with a team in Spain (Obradoiro).  I think that was a wise choice for Hummel given the team’s other moves and the lack of PT that would have come his way, if any at all.  More than likely, he would have wound up in the D-League.  However, since going over to join the team in Spain, Hummel has since torn his meniscus again and will be out for several weeks.

I had high hopes going into the draft; A. trading Derrick Williams and filler for MKG or Beal and B. trading Wes Johnson for Crowder / anyone worthwhile.  The DWill moves were a bit of a pipedream.  However, Kahn technically had 34 chances to find a way to get Jae Crowder and trading Wes to anyone in the late first round / early second would have been a fantastic move.  Alas, no avail.

This wasn’t the start of the offseason that I was looking for.  Beyond Ricky Rubio falling into Kahn’s lap with the fifth pick in ’09, his draft night performances have been 50 shades of abysmal.  (See what I did there?  Building your female audience 101)

My draft grade: C-
[Read more…]