Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 1 of 2014/15

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

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

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back and fans have their #EyesOnTheRise!  Welcome to the start of the 2014/15 NBA season and our weekly preview here at Timberpups.com.  While this is very likely to be a year of transition, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine joining the club and being paired with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng.  With other pieces remaining in the mix from last season, the Wolves have a decent balance of youth and veteran experience.  Who remains with the club throughout the season, past the trade deadline and into the next few years is a bit of question mark.  However, there is excitement in the air and that should be carried over to the crowds filling into the Target Center in the days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief preview of each game on the schedule, along with who to watch for and a prediction on the outcome.  The quest for an 82-0 season begins soon and we’ll see how long the team can stay at that pace.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/29, 7pm – Pups @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

Look at this – the Wolves don’t open another season against the Sacramento Kings!  The Grizzlies are coming off of its second 50+ wins season.  The Grizz took the OKC Thunder to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs but failed to advance.

Memphis has added several interesting pieces to their roster this season, including Vince Carter and Earl Clark.  While the Wolves turned the corner and gave up on the failed and flawed ‘playoffs or bust’ philosophy, the Grizzlies continue to look for ways to advance in the postseason.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley is entering his eighth season in the NBA and with the Grizzlies.  Conley really beat up Rubio and the Wolves’ backup Point Guards last season, averaging 17.5ppg and 6.3rpg.

Predictions:

This is a tough start for the Wolves, playing on the road and against a veteran club that looks to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.  Final score: Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 84

Game 2: Thursday, 10/30, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Pups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home opener is against a team that has struggled to build an identity over the past handful of seasons and has thrown free agency money around with no sense of direction.  Enter Stan Van Gundy as the new coach and a new philosophy.

While there are players that can fill up the box score in the Pistons lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with the club.  Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are all interesting players for your NBA fantasy team, but they aren’t leading to many victories for the Pistons.

Monroe had an interesting offseason in which he was charged with a DUI and suspended two games, so he won’t be in uniform against the Wolves.  He also turned down a contract extension from the club and is playing on the one year, qualifying offer.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Drummond – Drummond enters his third season in the NBA and has shown signs of continued improvement in the preseason.  Andre averaged 13.5ppg and 13.2rpg last season, starting all 81 of the games he played in.  It will be a nice litmus test for both Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to see how they match up with the Pistons big man.

Predictions:

With the absence of Monroe and a fired up Target Center, the Wolves have a good chance to pull off the victory.  The Pistons will also be flying into Minnesota off of a Wednesday night game, having to face the Nuggets in Denver less than 24 hours prior to tip-off of Thursday’s action.  Final score: Timberwolves 95, Pistons 91

Game 3: Saturday, 11/1, 7pm – Chicago Bulls @ Pups (TV: NBA TV & FSN Plus)

Assuming they can stay healthy – and that is a big assumption to make – the Chicago Bulls are one of a handful of legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship this season.  The team will be looking to fix what looked to be broken at the end of last year, after losing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs (without Derrick Rose).

Opponent to watch:

Pau Gasol – One of, if not the most underappreciated players in today’s game, Gasol left the Lakers to join the Bulls for a chance at another run at a ring.  Gasol will team with DPOY Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to make for one of the more dominant frontline rotations in the NBA.

Predictions:

The Wolves will have a hard time keeping pace with the Bulls.  Final score: Bulls 113, Timberwolves 96

Wrap-up:

The Wolves face two very tough teams to open the season in the Grizzlies and Bulls.  I am hoping they are able to showcase their young talent in the home opener and get the fanbase excited early.  A win against the Pistons club would mean “a lot”.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Wrap up Road Trip with 95-86 Win Over Chicago

Photo: Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been five years almost exactly since the Timberwolves have beaten the Bulls, and Monday night’s performance snapped that streak when Minnesota came up with a 95-86 win in Chicago. The victory wrapped up a four-game road trip for the Wolves and brought them back to .500 with a 22-22 record. Kevin Love led his team with 31 points and eight rebounds, followed by Ronny Turiaf with a season-high 14 points and seven rebounds.

Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, and D.J. Augustin added 19 points in an effort to tame the Wolves.

Minnesota looked to be the better team from the point of tipoff, shooting an impressive 54 percent in the first quarter. The Wolves were better shooters cross the board, and the Bulls couldn’t keep up with their opponents’ fast-break points. Minny also outscored Chicago at the free-throw line, coming away with 22 points to the Bulls’ 14.

“It’s a matter of playing to a certain level, and then we are going to win our share of games,” said Wolves head coach Rick Adelman.

The Bulls played without starting center Joakim Noah, and they also continued to miss Kirk Hinrich on the floor. Taj Gibson filled in for Noah and scored 10 points, but Turiaf proved the stronger big man.

“They had some people out too, but we knew it was going to be a physical game,” Adelman said. “We knew how they were going to play, and I thought we responded pretty well.”

The Timberwolves played tough defense against their opponents, grabbing eight steals and 35 defensive rebounds. Minnesota held Chicago’s bench squad to only 11 points total, while the Wolves’ reserves tallied 35 points.

Turiaf was part of that bench team, and he was called on when starting center Nikola Pekovic left the game early on with an Achilles injury. Turiaf stepped up to the plate, not only adding points but also blocking three shots. He added the energy the Wolves needed to wrap up the road trip, and he proved a real leader on the floor.

“My goal this year, regardless of the situation, is just to go out there and have some fun,” Turiaf said. “No matter how much or how little I play, I just want to have fun.”

Turiaf_Bulls

Although Minnesota’s shooting slowed down a bit throughout the game, the Wolves still finished with 46.6 percent from the floor, whereas Chicago shot only 37.6 percent.

Chicago’s Augustin made a three-pointer with 1:29 remaining to bring his team to within five, but the Wolves answered right back. Love turned around to score an easy layup, and Corey Brewer came up with a big dunk inside the final minute.

Coming Up Next:

Monday night’s win brings Minnesota back to .500 before finally heading home.  The Timberwolves’ next two games will be at the Target Center, when they host New Orleans Wednesday night and the Grizzlies on Friday. Both tipoffs are set for 7 p.m.

Minnesota Timberwolves 80 – Chicago Bulls 87

Following a tough game vs. Indiana, the Timberwolves were on the road to complete the back to back against Chicago.  The Pups starting lineup had a slight change due to the inactive Brandon Roy and his chronic knee problem.  We’ll probably be typing that a lot this year.  The starting lineup included Ridnour, Budinger, AK47, DWill, and Pekovic.  No changes or surprises in Chicago’s starting five – Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah.

Going into the first TO of the game, the Bulls held a 12-8 lead.  The Bulls big men were leading the way early while DWill started the game 0-3 from the field, all on jump shots.  Pekovic was active against Noah, but seemed “off” – for the lack of a much better word – with a missed defensive rotation, an offensive foul, and a blown layup.  However, Noah wound up with a laceration on his knee and had to sit out the rest of the quarter.  At that point, Pek took over, finishing the quarter with 10 and 6.

At the end of the 1st, the Wolves trailed by one point, 20-19.  Aside from Pek turning it around, the story of the quarter was the lackluster shooting, particularly from DWill (0-5) and AK47 (1-4).  As mentioned in the game preview, I thought we needed to counter Chicago’s big men and that shooting percentage wasn’t going to cut it.  Chicago was led by Deng, Noah, and Rip, who had all but 1 of Chicago’s 20 points in the quarter.

About four minutes into the 2nd quarter and the Wolves second unit’s net production was again, very positive.  Dante Cunningham had four quick points and the Wolves took a 25-24 lead into the first TO of the quarter.  Unfortunately, this was followed by a Bulls run and a mini outburst from Nate Robinson.  The Wolves had to burn a TO to stop the bleeding, as they fell six down, 31-25.  True to form, over the course of the following few minutes Nate Robinson became the Wolves MVP with a few careless TO’s allowing the Pups to regain the lead.

At the half, the Pups had the lead 41-40.  Their lack of TO’s (3) relative to Chicago’s (8, including 5 from Nate Robinson) was the crux of why the Pups were leading.  While it pains me to say this, the Bulls with and without Noah on the floor is night and day.  Here were my halftime thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • As mentioned earlier, Pek dominated while Noah was out and led the team with 14 & 6 at the half.
  • Dante Cunningham had a very nice half and the expectation is to see less of DWill in the final 24 minutes.
  • Again, you don’t realize it and then you look at the box score and AK47 has 4-6-4-2-1.  I’m not even going to provide context there for what each number is in the box score, just know he continues to do a bit of everything.

The 3rd quarter consisted of sloppy, but competitive basketball.  There were a number of lead changes throughout the quarter, but the Bulls wound up outscoring the Pups 23-18 to take a 63-59 lead into the 4th quarter.  The one consistent: DWill missing shots, finishing 0-10 from the field through three quarters.  Ridnour and Budinger kept the Wolves in the game, while Noah and Robinson did the same for Chicago.  Also of note, Kirk Hinrich never came out for the 2nd half for Chicago after straining his hip.  Again, doesn’t there seem to be a lot of injuries this season?

The 4th quarter opened up with a barrage of three pointers from Marco Belinelli to help the Bulls open up a nine point lead.  Unfortunately, during the quarter, Chase Budinger became the latest Pup to go down to an injury and is having an x-ray taken of his leg.  Again, what is with the injuries?!

Still down by nine with just a few minutes left in the game, the Wolves had the ball and Shved hit a three pointer that was waived off due to a moving screen from Cunningham.  This felt like the dagger, but the Wolves continued to fight, with AK47 scoring five straight points for the team, cutting the lead to five points with a minute left to play.

With the ball, tonight’s nemesis Joakim Noah, posted up Pek and hit an up and under to stretch the lead to seven.  After a wild scramble, the Wolves were able to cut it back to five with a layup from Cunningham with just over thirty seconds to play.  From that point, it was just a matter of the Bulls closing it out and they were successful in doing so.  Another hard fought game from the Pups, but they just didn’t have enough firepower to pull out a win.

The loss drops the Wolves to 4-2, with their next game on Monday night in Dallas.

Here are my Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Joakim Noah
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Luol Deng

Until Monday … Wolves fans need to come up with some type of ‘good health’ rain dance.