Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 20

 

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups W's & L's (Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups   W’s & L’s
(Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

Setting the stage: 

For those of you looking for a quick read/preview of tonight’s game against the Raptors, click here.  At worst, the Timberpups will enter week 20 with a .500 record.  From a 30,000 foot view, the week ahead is another great chance for the Wolves to make up some ground on the Mavericks and/or Suns.  However, those teams keep chugging along.  Friday night’s action was a little insane for both the Wolves and Mavs who had 30+ point advantages and almost blew their performances by allowing their opponents to come back into the game.

The Wolves’ defense needs to vastly improve over what they have been doing over the past few weeks.  Only once in the last seven games (again, this is ahead of Sunday’s game) have the Wolves held their opponent under 100 points; and it isn’t like the team has been playing a murderers’ row of opponents on the schedule (like their late November, early December schedule).

The Pups can’t lose a game this week.  There is no room left for a letdown game.  After a Monday night game against the Clippers, the Suns will play six games in a row against Eastern Conference opponents.  Read: the schedule eases up for them.  The Mavs’ schedule looks to be a bit more daunting this coming week with games in Golden State and OKC (as well as Utah).

So here we go with less than 20 games remaining on the schedule.  Can the Wolves pull it off?  It starts off with …

Game 64: Tuesday, 3/11, 7pm – Milwaukee Bucks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Suffice it to say that the Bucks are not very good.  They are floating around the .200 line in terms of win percentage and are merely 30+ games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.  Progress.  Can we please move this team to Seattle under new ownership?  This would also give the Wolves another opportunity to petition the league for switching conferences.  Is anyone reading this against this plan?!

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Knight – Statistically speaking, Knight is having a pretty good season.  Clearly, it isn’t leading to many victories.  We’ll see how Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea look to contain Knight and his new PG brethren, Ramon Sessions.

Predictions:

Bucks in six?  If the Pups lose this one, board up the Target Center and start working on renovations.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Bucks 95

Game 65: Friday, 3/14, 6pm – Timberpups @ Charlotte Bobcats (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home-stand ends with a trip to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats.  Charlotte will be coming in off of a game Wednesday night in Washington so they should be equally rested.  The Pups destroyed the Bobcats in Minnesota in early January and there is nothing to suggest the results should be different for this game – unless you believe in the Bobcats ~.500 record at home this season.

Opponent to watch:

Al Jefferson – Al is back!  Jefferson is putting up the normal 20+ppg/10+rpg … and his team remains under .500.  No, I am not pinning this on Al, it is just an interesting correlation that continues to rear its ugly head.  Will Kevin Love go off when facing his former mentor in Minnesota?

Predictions:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolves drop this one, and I won’t be surprised if I’m bitching out JJ Barea while it happens.  That said, I’m going to go with … Final score: Timberwolves 112, Bobcats 105

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Sunday’s game will conclude a 7 game road trip for the Kings and they are playing Saturday night in Chicago.  Congratulations Timberwolves, you were finally handed a scheduling “gimme”.  Now, don’t screw this up on your home court like that Knicks game from this past week.

Opponent to watch:

Isaiah Thomas – In two games thus far this season, Thomas has lit up the Wolves to the tune of 24ppg and 7.5apg, while shooting a scorching 59% from the field.

Predictions:

Again, the end of a long road tour for the Kings, who are playing in less meaningful games right now than the Wolves.  (See what I did there?)  Final score: Timberwolves 116, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

This week and the one prior really could have been the time for the Wolves to spark a little more excitement as we go through March.  Unfortunately, that Knicks loss at Target Center was simply deflating.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 98, Sacramento Kings 101

demarcus_vs_pekGame Summary:

Here we go again. Following a last-ditch pass from Ricky Rubio to Dante Cunningham for a missed desperation three-point attempt, the Wolves found themselves on the wrong side of a matchup against a vastly inferior opponent in the Sacramento Kings. Led by young guards Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans, the Kings defeated Minnesota by a score of 101-98.

Inching closer to full strength, the Wolves once again started the lineup of Rubio-Ridnour-Kirilenko-Williams-Pekovic but saw marginal production from their primary scorers. AK-47 provided just 6 points on 3-9 shooting while Luke Ridnour shot just 1-7 from the field notching only 4 points.

Some good news for Timberwolves fans from Thursday night was the return of Chase Budinger, who after suffering a torn meniscus back on November 10th was able to log 18 minutes against the Kings. It is too late for Chase to help Minnesota push to the playoffs, but he is sure to provide improved perimeter shooting for the last month of the season. Budinger finished with 9 points (3-7 FG) and 4 rebounds.

Who would have thought that 66 games into the season, Minnesota would have a worse record than the 25-44 Sacramento Kings. This is a tremendous failure for a team that came into the season with legitimate playoff aspirations. Regardless of the myriad of injuries this team has faced, the Kings should in no way be outperforming the Love-less Pups.

Derrick Williams had a tough night shooting as he scored 12 points on 6-16 shooting. Following a strong past month of play, D-Will has been unable to gain consistency in his scoring on a nightly basis and it is tough to know which Derrick is going to show up. I will be the first to admit that I have been very impressed by the 21-year-olds growth this season as he has come a long way since the final two months of the previous season, but I really want to see Derrick use the last several weeks to start to produce on a much more consistent basis.

Nikola Pekovic led the Timberwolves in scoring with 18 points to go along with 12 boards, but shot only 6-12 from the field. Minnesota really needs Pek to step up in a big way if they are to finish the season on a strong note.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three-point shooting – It is very difficult to win a game when you shoot 1-19 from three. Well, that is precisely what the Timberwolves did as they lost by a mere 3 points. Finding and signing three-point shooters must be a priority of the Timberwolves brass this coming summer as they have struggled mightily from beyond the arc this season.
  • Shot-blocking – The Wolves blocked just two shots compared to 6 by the Kings. Minnesota has not done a great job of protecting the rim this season as they lack athleticism and length in their frontcourt.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Tyreke Evans – Evans managed to score 19 of his 21 points in the second half to go along with 5 points and 5 rebounds in 39 minutes. Despite a quiet first half in which Tyreke seemed to disappear, the third-year guard stayed patient and was ultimately the key to Sacramento’s victory. Evans shot 8-11 from the floor and put on full display the top end talent and abilities that made him the rookie of the year just a few years ago.
  2. Isaiah Thomas – Taken with the 60th – and final – selection of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has turned into a valuable piece of the Kings young rotation. After Aaron Brooks flopped as the starting point guard for Sacramento, Thomas has continued to provide crafty scoring and good passing as the starter. Standing at only 5-foot-9, Thomas matched up well against JJ Barea but had a more difficult time on the defensive end opposite of the taller and longer Ricky Rubio. In 35 minutes, Thomas finished with 24 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3PT), 6 assists and 3 rebounds.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Another near triple-double for Ricky, who committed only 1 turnover in 32 minutes while recording 12 points (4-13 FG), 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. It was another frustrating night shooting the ball for the Spaniard, and it is clear that shooting must be the focus of his offseason training for this coming summer. Although he has established himself as an above-average free throw shooter, Ricky has a lot of trouble knocking down shots off the dribble in the speed of the NBA game.