Corey Brewer Owns the Night – Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

It's your world Corey Brewer, we're just living in it!  (Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It’s your world Corey Brewer, we’re just living in it!
(Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It feels like every Friday night the Timberwolves are back to .500 ball, entering tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets at 39-39.  The Rockets entered the game at 52-26 and in the 4th seed of the Western Conference, battling to maintain home court advantage in the first round with the Portland Blazers.

The Wolves announced that Kevin Love would not be in the lineup tonight with a hyper extended elbow.  Add in the injuries to Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and Chase Budinger and you have quite the recipe for “let’s end this season without any further injuries please”.  With all of those names out, the starting lineup consisted of Rubio, Brewer, Hummel, Cunningham, and Dieng.  Call me old fashioned, but it still doesn’t sit well with me that Dante Cunningham is in the lineup at all, let alone starting for the team at this point.  The Rockets opened up the game with Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, and Omer Asik.

First Half

If you were looking for someone to get off to a hot start for the Timberwolves, I hope you had your eyes (and money?) on Corey Brewer.  Brewer finished the 1st quarter with 16 points, leading the Wolves to a 39-32 advantage at the end of the first twelve minutes.  The Wolves actually held a 15 point lead with just about 90 seconds to go in the opening frame, but the Rockets closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, including a Jeremy Lin three pointer at the buzzer.

As goes the story of this season for our Pups, the end of the 1st quarter was a nice foreshadow of things to come in the 2nd quarter.  The Rockets stormed all the way back to take the lead about halfway through the quarter.  Going into a timeout around this same time, we saw Ricky Rubio holding his hand in pain and checked out of the game.  That pretty much sums up this season perfectly.  Thankfully, Rubio returned minutes later to close out the half.  (Phew)

At the half of this offensive juggernaut of a game, the Rockets held a 63-59 lead.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Brewer … Wow!  26 points, which included a ~50 footer at the buzzer to cut into the Rockets lead!
  • Remember when David Kahn had Chandler Parsons on the Wolves?  Apparently, he does too.  18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
  • LRMAM and JJ Barea were -16 and -13 respectively in the first half.  Add in Ronny Turiaf’s -10 and you can sum this up with “bench play …”

Second Half

Normally, I would prefer to give a “how it happened” type of recap throughout the final 24 minutes of the game.  However, tonight was one of those nights and I’m not talking about this being my last recap of the season.  Tonight was special.  Why?

Corey Brewer went off.  Way off.  Off to the tune of 51 points and absolutely erupting the Target Center crowd.  Corey has been maligned since he was drafted by the Wolves many years ago and a number of fans hated when Flip resigned him to come back to Minnesota.  Tonight felt like a little bit of redemption and it is exactly why you should still attend NBA games even if your team is out of the playoff race.  Corey was 19-30 from the field, 11-15 from the FT line and added in 6 steals for good measure.

The final score of tonight’s events: Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Obviously
  2. Gorgui Dieng – Somewhat unheralded given what was going on tonight, Dieng hit the final shot of the game to give the Wolves
    the win and finished with 12 points and 20 rebounds.
  3. Chandler Parsons – Huge game for Chandler who finished with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals 

Key Takeaways

  • The only reason this game was still in doubt was the Timberwolves poor shooting from the FT line (27-40) and from 3PT range (3-12)
  • Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham each had double-doubles on the evening and they were both needed, as the Wolves got close to nothing from their bench tonight.
  • Congratulations to Corey Brewer once again for his 50+ point performance, a night he will never forget!

You want more …

Corey Brewer now averages 10.0 PPG, 5th-lowest career scoring average among players with 50 points in a game in NBA history. (@EliasSports)

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 12, 2014

Adelman on Brewer: "Theydidn't know what to do with him. And we didn't, either." #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 12, 2014

Without Martin, Pekovic, Timberwolves Fall to Houston Rockets

Monday night’s homestead was a game of runs. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they came up on the wrong side in the fourth quarter, and they watched Houston pull away with the 107-89 win.  Wolves starters Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Martin (finger) viewed the loss from the sidelines–Minnesota felt their absence in a very big way. Head coach Rick Adelman also missed the game due to personal reasons, and assistant coach Terry Porter stood in at the helm.  Kevin Love played through an upper thigh contusion and tried to carry the team with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Chase Budinger followed with 15 points and seven rebounds.

The first few minutes looked a bit rough as the Rockets went on a 19-8 run. However, the Wolves found their groove and fought back, going on a 6-0 run of their own that was highlighted with a nice JJ Barea layup. The two teams battled back and forth for most of the game, but a “W” just wasn’t in the cards against the 35-17 Rockets.

Houston is a challenging opponent on any night, plain and simple. For Minnesota, facing the team with a less-than-complete roster made the task even more difficult. The Rockets have now won six games in row, led primarily by James Harden and Dwight Howard–the duo is averaging 23.6 and 18.8 PPG, respectively. The Wolves stayed with them for the remainder of the game, though, holding on for the first three quarters. Minnesota struggled a bit to defend in the first half, allowing the Rockets to put 67 points on the board. Porter addressed the issue during halftime and the Timberwolves held Houston to 40 points in the second half. But although their defense improved, Minny just couldn’t get shots to drop.

“I thought our guys had great effort tonight,” said Porter post game. “… Unfortunately for us, we just couldn’t make shots.”

budinger_houston

 

The Wolves lessened the deficit to just four points to end the third, trailing 82-78.  Unfortunately for Minnesota, everything fell apart in the final period. No starters were on the floor to start the fourth quarter, and Houston went on an 11-0 run  as Wolves players missed shots left and right.  Alexey Shved had 11 points off the bench and made a significant impact earlier in the game, but the guard made several poor passes in the fourth and committed three turnovers. Howard proved a nagging force against Minnesota, blocking three shots and grabbing 11 defensive rebounds.  Ronny Turiaf started in Pek’s absence, and he just wasn’t an even matchup against Howard. Turiaf tallied 10 rebounds on the night, but he scored only two points in 30 minutes of play. Gorgui Dieng played 11 minutes to give Turiaf a break, and he failed to make a single bucket.

Porter called a timeout and adjusted the lineup at the 8:55 mark, but Minnesota couldn’t regain its footing. Timberwolves fans watched Houston pull away with the win. In the end, the Wolves scored just 11 points in Q4, dropping their shooting percentage of the night to 35.6 (24 percent from the three-point line).

Monday night’s loss brought the Timberwolves record to 24-28, and the team falls to No. 11 in the Western Conference standings. They will have to pull things together in a hurry if they hope to making the playoffs. Minnesota will remain at home to play Denver Wednesday night before enjoying a week off for the All-Star break.  Following the break, the Wolves’ next game will be Feb. 19 against the No. 1 Indiana Pacers.

“We’ve just got to keep pushing,” Turiaf said. “Regardless of if we feel it or not, we got to keep pushing. And that’s what basketball is about. You have tough stretches like that, you give in or you just keep your head above water… WE know at the end of the day, things need to turn around eventually.”

Rubio_Houston

Timberwolves Play of the Game: 

With 6:19 remaining in the second quarter, Alexey Shved drove down the lane and came up with a monster dunk over Terrence Jones.

You can view the play here.

 

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 4

Only one of these Kevin's will be frequenting the Target Center this week (Photo credit: NBA.com)

Only one of these Kevin’s will be frequenting the Target Center this week
(Photo credit: NBA.com)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves enter the fourth week of the season with an impressive 7-4 record.  As of Sunday morning, that is good for a sixth place tie in the Western Conference and percentage points away from second in the Northwest Division.  As most expected, the team looks like an offensive juggernaut, averaging 108.5 points per game – 3rd in the NBA.  The team is also 5th in the league in both rebounds and assists per game.

After missing one game with the flu, Kevin Martin returned to form Saturday night and remains one of the most impressive stories early on this season.  Kevin Love continues to play at an All-Star level, averaging 26.8ppg and 13.6rpg, with a PER at 29.7!  While Ricky Rubio continues to struggle with his shot, he continues to do everything else with 9.6apg and just over 3 steals per.  Ricky put up a triple double last Sunday against the Lakers and if he continues to put in ~10+ppg, this team is very dangerous.

Week 4 for the Wolves is going to be tough, with two sets of back-to-back games and travel.  A few old faces will be clashing with the Wolves this week and it is a perfect time for the team to put on some throwback jerseys (#Twolves25)!!  Here are a few thoughts for each game this week.

Game 12: Tuesday, 11/19, 6pm – Timberwolves @ Washington Wizards (TV: FSN Plus)

The Wizards will enter this game at 2-7 and Randy Wittman is the early leader in the “coach most likely to get fired first” category (again).  It would be an understatement to say the Wizards are underachieving.  The Pups will come into Tuesday’s game with two full days of rest (so will Washington).  Hopefully, this game will be as easy as it looks on paper.

Opponent to watch:

Bradley Beal – Beal is off to a great start this season in Washington, playing right around 40 minutes per game and averaging a shade under 20 points.  The second year SG will look to make it tough on Kevin Martin on both ends of the floor.

Predictions:

Despite this game being on the road, do you really think I’m picking a team coached by Randy Wittman that is grossly underperforming to start the season?  Final score: Timberwolves 106, Wizards 99

Game 13: Wednesday, 11/20, 7pm – Los Angeles Clippers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Pups will travel back home from Washington to face the Clippers on Wednesday night and will be looking to avenge the nail biting loss that they suffered back on 11/11.  Love and Nikola Pekovic will look to continue their strong play against the solid tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  Let’s see if Matt Barnes can talk himself out of the NBA before tip-off of this game too.  (Good grief.)  In an effort to get completely ahead of ourselves, this is actually a pretty big game for the Wolves, who will look to even the season series and keep the Clippers (and others) well within their grasps when thinking about playoff seeds.  (Yep, we went there before Thanksgiving!)

Opponent to watch:

Chris Paul – The queen/king of flopping outplayed Rubio in the first outing and will likely need to do so again for the Clippers in order for them to win.

Predictions:

Quite honestly, the Wolves are dealt a tough deck here.  The Clippers will be off the night prior, and coming into the game off of a four game home stretch.  The Wolves will be flying back from DC and won’t get home until late Tuesday / early Wednesday.  The only reason I’m taking the Wolves is because, well, I hate the Clippers.  Final score: Timberwolves 114, Clippers 112

Game 14: Friday, 11/22, 7pm – Brooklyn Nets @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

A few things about this game and how it relates to the national TV schedule.  First, since this game is on a Friday, how in the world is it not on ESPN?  The young, improving Wolves vs. the star-studded (albeit underachieving) Brooklyn Nets.  Second, this is possibly KG’s last game ever at Target Center – even though his contract goes for one more season.  What brainpower decided that this game wasn’t worthy of ESPN coverage?

Third, and changing the focus on national media, why couldn’t this match-up, in Target Center, be on TNT on a Thursday night with Kevin Harlan in the booth?  Fourth, pivoting again, please, PLEASE, PLEASE make this a throwback jersey night!  I really don’t ask for that much.

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Garnett – I don’t care that he is averaging under 25mpg and his averages are well below what we have all become accustomed to.  This is KG and it might be his last run on the Target Center floor.  If you have the ability to get to Target Center, you should be there.

Predictions:

I’m going to predict a “throwback night” from KG as well, who will come into the game firing on all cylinders.  Assuming Deron Williams plays (D2D with an ankle injury), I’m going to predict my first loss in this weekly column for the Pups.  Final score: Nets 102, Timberwolves 100

Game 15: Saturday, 11/23, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

You can literally take just about everything that I said above in the first paragraph for the Nets game and place it here too.  With Kevin McHale on the opposing sideline, this is another opportunity for the Wolves to throw on a few old school jerseys (cough, ORIGINAL BLUE’S, cough).  Do it!  DO IT!!

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden has picked up right where he left off last season, stuffing the box score night in and night out.  Harden lit up Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin in the playoffs last year.  While Martin had one really bad game (game 5) in that series, he bounced back nicely in game 6 to knock the Rockets out of the playoffs.

Predictions:

The Wolves can’t afford to get that “game 5 Martin” in this one, as they will be on the back end of a back-to-back against a team that will not have played since Wednesday night in another part of Texas (Dallas).  Final score: Rockets 112, Timberwolves 106

Wrap-up:

The Pups don’t catch any breaks this coming week from the scheduling gods whatsoever.  If they can go 2-2 this week, I would be content.  3-1 would be impressive and 4-0 would be glorious.  Let’s go Wolves!

2013/2014 Western Conference Preview

Western Conference Logo

Well, we can now call this an annual tradition, so welcome back to another Timberpups.com’s preview of the NBA’s Western Conference.  I’m going to stick with a similar flow for the preview, ranking the conference from worst to first and taking a stab at how I see the playoffs unfolding.  As I was ranking the teams this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t a team in the conference that doesn’t have its flaws.  I also have no idea how things are going to pan out at the top of the conference given injuries, old age, and a few other wrinkles we’ll tackle when we get there.  Enough foreplay, here we go …

15. Phoenix Suns: I’m not even sure where to start.  If I were a Suns fan going to home games, my regular attire would start with a brown bag.  The owner is reprehensible, the front office is something a little less derogatory, and the roster is a mess.  Eric Bledsoe is going to be a fantasy basketball stud.  Marcin Gortat should put up nice numbers as well, given the Suns’ rookie is Alex Len and already listed as “Day-to-Day”.

14. Sacramento Kings: Any time you have a coach-killing, I don’t give a crap, locker room cancer up for a new contract, you have to max them out, right?  Particularly after a lost season when your old ownership group dragged the entire city through the mud.  This will be a fun team to watch with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore in the backcourt, but I hate their frontcourt and I’m not moving this team up any further with Cousins the proud new owner of a max contract.

13. Portland Trailblazers: This is likely where I lose a lot of readers, but I foresee a lost year for the Blazers, who will be held hostage by LaMarcus Aldridge – reportedly not happy with the team and looking to move on.  The Blazers are another team that will look great playing small ball with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and McCollum, but I think they suffer from the distractions.  One final question: is Thomas Robinson going to figure out life in the NBA this season?

12. Utah Jazz: The Timberwolves’ trade partner from draft night!  Trey Burke and Alec Burks make for an intriguing backcourt (and an announcers nightmare).  This team still has 2 or 3 too many wings on the roster and a complete lack of balance.  They have no depth at PF/C, so expect a lot of run for Favors and Kanter, and then expect them to hit a wall after the all-star break.

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Who knows when Kobe will come back, but what I do know is that he isn’t human.  So when he does return, he’ll be at least 80% of Kobe and that’s better than 90% of the players in the NBA.  At the same time, I think this team can tread water thanks to Nash, Gasol, and to a much lesser extent, Kaman.  If they would have signed one decent wing this offseason, I think they would fight for the last playoff spot.  Sorry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson fans.

10. Denver Nuggets: This year’s winner of my “I literally have no idea what to expect from this team” award.  I think Brian Shaw is going to be a good coach, unless he tries to replicate Kurt Rambis’ performance in Minnesota.  I like Lawson and Faried, while Gallinari/Chandler are certainly serviceable (note that Gallinari is injured).  But then I look and see their SG rotation (Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, and Quincy Miller) and their starting Center (JaVale McGee) and think there is no way this team flirts with 40 wins.  Again, I have no idea where this goes.  (#Analysis)

9. Dallas Mavericks: This was my surprise team in last season’s preview.  That didn’t go too well, but the team was still competitive.  They are another year older (Dirk, Marion, and Wince Carter) and have a huge question mark in the paint – Sam Dalembert.  The addition of Monta Ellis adds a lot of intrigue, if only to see how long it takes for Rick Carlisle to become the first coach to ever attack a player on the floor with a chair from the first row.  The West is too strong/competitive for the Mavs to make the playoffs in my opinion.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. New Orleans Pelicans: New team name, new mascot, and a few new faces.  This is one of the few teams that are on my “must watch” list to see how these guys work together.  The Pelicans stole the draft by getting Jrue Holiday, but then went out and got Tyreke Evans.  If Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers can stay healthy (I know, I know), this team is going to be highly entertaining.  I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Davis yet, who had a strong rookie season and will only get better.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: So, I have to be honest.  The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded and I wound up seeding the playoff teams with two thoughts: 1. some semblance of how I legitimately thought things would wind up and 2. one eye on the playoffs and creating exciting first round match-ups.  We’ll get there, trust me.  The Wolves are already down one man (Budinger) after last season’s debacle and really can’t afford to lose anyone else, particularly on the wing.

Last season was supposed to be the year the team returned to the playoffs and broke the curse, thereby allowing this season to be “the next step”.  So we are behind a year on that roadmap, but I do believe this team is a lock for the playoffs if it can stay healthy.  How far it can go heavily depends on Love returning to his “Best PF in the NBA” tag and Rubio making a significant leap in rankings among PG’s.  If those two things happen, and they are big “if’s”, this team can do a lot of damage, as all of the complementary pieces are there – shooting, depth, veterans, young guns, and more.

One last thought: Derrick Williams or Shabazz Muhammad must wedge themselves into Adelman’s rotation to fill minutes at multiple positions.  If this happens, the team will be ready to roar come playoff time.

6. Golden State Warriors: This team is scary good on paper and there lies the problem.  Do I really want to rely on Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and not miss significant time over the course of a season?  Is Harrison Barnes going to breakout?  Is Andre Iguodala a nice stats, falters when it matters type of player?  Everything about this team says it could be a top four team in the conference, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it any higher than this spot.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: We know what Memphis did last season in the playoffs and quite honestly, that is the only reason I have them above GS.  I really like what the Grizzlies did in getting Ed Davis.  However, I thought Tayshaun Prince could have been shopped this offseason in order to find an upgrade on the wing.  Gasol and Randolph are going to bring it every night and Mike Conley has found himself as a PG in the NBA.  This is just a really good “team” on both ends of the floor and I’m not going to discount that.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Here is what I wrote last season for the Clippers:

I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul.  However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me.  Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle.  Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball.  The owner of this team is disgusting.  Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers? 

Nothing has changed.  In fact, I had them at #4 last season as well.  Chris Paul is running the entire franchise, but to his credit, players are coming to LA to play for the Clippers, the latest example being JJ Redick.  They have a solid starting five and three solid backups in Collison, Crawford, and Barnes.  Beyond that eight man rotation though, it is a little frightening if you are a Clippers fan (Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jamison?  Yikes!).

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Well, the James Harden trade certainly didn’t work out.  As I mentioned after the trade, I hate seeing teams sell when they have a very legitimate shot at a ring and that’s what Sam Presti did and now they have to figure out how to right the ship.  It always helps when you have Kevin Durant.  The injury to Russell Westbrook will cost the team at least a couple of wins in the early part of the season and that is going to cost them a top two seed in my opinion.  Are we sure Serge Ibaka is only 24 years old?  He was drafted by the Sonics and that team hasn’t been around in what feels like a decade.

2. Houston Rockets: You may notice what I’m doing here if you are a Wolves fan, but I slide the Rockets into the 2 seed of the conference.  You may have heard that Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this offseason.  James Harden took ‘the leap’ last year and became one of the top players in the league.  PG play is a concern, but the Rockets have good depth at the forward positions (while not spectacular) and a top three player at their respective positions in Howard and Harden.  This equates to a lot of regular season wins and the 2 seed in my book.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Why?!  Will this team please go away!  I say this half in jest because the Spurs play great basketball and showed the nation that they could hang with the Heat.  The NBA Finals were as good as professional basketball can look.  Naturally, the Spurs found diamonds in the rough in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and every other franchise just continues to shake their collective heads.  I can’t make a case for anyone else in the 1 seed, given the injury to Westbrook in OKC.

Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:

2014 Western Conference Playoff Predictions

As mentioned earlier, I tried to make the first round as entertaining as possible with the seeds.  Spurs roll over a ‘happy to be here’ Pelicans team, the Clippers again in the 1st round (YES!), the Thunder take care of a pesky Warriors team, and the Wolves upset the Rockets!

Come on, look at all those storylines: Adelman vs. McHale, Dwight choking in the playoffs, the Wolves getting stronger as the season progresses and culminating in the upset!  This would be fantastic.  Honestly, name a worse first round opponent for the Rockets, not named the Spurs and Thunder.  Pekovic and Love can frustrate the heck out of Howard, and the team can throw a number of players out there to man up on Harden … or at least provide their respective six fouls.  Make this series happen!

Beyond the first round, you see a pretty straightforward run by the Spurs and Thunder, setting up the rematch to represent the conference in the Finals.

Where am I off my rocker in the conference rankings?  Who do you see representing the conference in the Finals?  Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be on the lookout for an Eastern Conference Preview within the next week or two.

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.

Minnesota Timberwolves 100 – Houston Rockets 108

wolvesrockets315Game Summary

On Friday night the Wolves visited the Houston Rockets to start the St. Patrick’s Day holiday weekend.  There was no luck of the Irish (or any other nationality) for our Pups in the Toyota Center as the Wolves fell and fell hard.  Interested in a quick Recap – Minnesota Timberwolves 100 – Houston Rockets 108.  Interested in more?  Here is how the night transpired.

The Wolves continued on without Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, their 8th and 9th games missed in a row, respectively.  The starting lineup remained as Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Rockets opened up with Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas, and Omer Asik.

Early in the game, Derrick Williams picked up an offensive foul that was arguably the worst I have seen called all season.  Not two minutes later, Williams picked up his second offensive foul and he was on the bench less than four minutes into the game; with the team already down to a bare minimum of able bodies.  The writing felt like it was on the wall for this one pretty early.

However, the Wolves played very well early despite missing Williams.  Dante Cunningham played well and the Wolves hit 59% of their shots in the 1st quarter.  Mickael Gelabale had a very strong quarter, with 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.  Greg Stiemsma also played well, shooting 3-3 from the field for 6 points to go with 2 blocks.  At the end of the 1st, the Pups held a 27-22 over the Rockets.

The good times continued for the Wolves in the 2nd quarter, as they were able to stave off an early run from the Rockets.  In the latter portion of the quarter, the Wolves were able to increase their lead and it had the early looks of a blowout.  Minnesota outscored Houston 30-17 in the quarter to take a 57-39 lead.   Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The NBA TV studio crew practically destroyed the Wolves in pregame and spent most of halftime trying to change the topic
  • The Rockets looked like they were asleep at the wheel, with 15 turnovers through 2 quarters
  • Total team effort from the Wolves; 57 points, with four different players with a team high 8 points
  • It is amazing how well the Pups look when they hit shots – 55% at the half

The Rockets started the 3rd quarter like a completely different team, hitting jump shots and playing much better defense.  They started the quarter on a 12-5 run to cut the Wolves lead to 11, forcing Adelman to burn an early timeout.  James Harden came alive in the 3rd quarter and took it to the Wolves.  Unfortunately, the Wolves didn’t make any defensive adjustments (i.e. switching Rubio and Ridnour on one end of the floor) until there were less than two minutes in the quarter and after the Rockets cut the lead to 5 points.  After a wild, final ninety seconds of the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-74 lead into the 4th quarter.

There was another 12-5 run by the Rockets to start the 4th quarter, which gave the home team the lead and forced another timeout by Adelman.  The remainder of the quarter was not much better.  With two minutes left in the game, the Rockets still had the Wolves doubled up in the quarter, 25-12 and held a 99-92 lead.  At this point, realistic fans should have been well aware that this game was over.  The Wolves couldn’t do anything to stop or contain the Rockets in the second half and ultimately fell 108-100.

Keys of the Game

  • Game of two halves – Wolves defense gave up 39 points in the 1st half and 69 points in the 2nd.  They scored 57 points of their own in the 1st half and were held to 43 in the 2nd.
  • Rebounding – The Rockets outrebounded the Wolves 44-36, allowing Carlos Delfino to grab 10 rebounds (4 offensive).
  • Three point shooting – The coaching staff needs to put a limit on 3PT’s taken during a game and put some type of penalty on the team when it exceeds said number.  For a team that is really, REALLY bad at long range shooting, the Wolves remain way too trigger happy.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. James Harden – Huge second quarter from Harden without any response from the Wolves – 37 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, including 16-18 from the FT line.
  2. Jeremy Lin – Virtually the exact same comment as above for Harden.  24 points and 8 rebounds.
  3. JJ Barea – Barea had a nice game for the Wolves, with 19 points off the bench on 8-12 shooting.