Timberwolves Battle, Fall to Washington on the Road

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

In the first of two road games for Minnesota, the Timberwolves gave a valiant effort against the Wizards. In a game that stayed close in score for a majority of the contest, it was foul shooting that most hurt Minnesota, and Washington pulled away with the 109-95 final score. Thaddeus Young led the team with a season-high 29 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad who added 21 off the bench. On the opposing side, Rasual Butler tallied 23 points, 18 of them occurring in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards shot off to an impressive start early on, going on a 14-2 run in the first four minutes of the opening quarter. The Wolves slowly worked to battle back. Rookie Zach LaVine added a spark with a nice three-point bucket by rookie at the 4:55 mark, but Washington continued to make its shots and keep a lead over the Wolves. Minnesota entered the locker room at halftime down by 10, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. The team controlled the ball well and committed only four turnovers in the first half.

Where most teams would make up that point deficit, at the free-throw line, the Wolves played terribly. Throughout the first two quarters, Minnesota went just 4-of-14 from the charity stripe. At the end of the game, less than 60 percent of the team’s free throws were successful.

On the opposing side, Washington 50 percent from the field and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line.

“They’re just too good for us right now,” coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “We just don’t have enough firepower.”

Seven Washington players scored in double-digit points, including fourth-year guard John Wall. Wall recorded a double-double on the evening when he scored 21 points and dished out 17 assists. Wall earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

“I think [John] still has the best ahead of him,” coach Randy Wittman said. “He deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, `That’s no big deal, you deserve it.’ There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it.”

The Wizards improved their record 18-6, demonstrating why they are currently ranked No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota fell to 5-19, losing nine of its last 10 games. The team continues to struggle with three of its starters (Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin) being sidelined indefinitely.  Young players are learning on the fly, and the squad is scrappy at the very least. However, the Wolves know they need to start finding a way to win, and soon.

Next up is the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. (CST) at the TD Garden arena.

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!

Minnesota Timberwolves 100 – Washington Wizards 104

Bradley Beal

Photo Credit: Washington Post

The Timberwolves traveled to Washington on Tuesday night for a matchup with a healthy Wizards squad. Minnesota witnessed first hand the Wizards’ impressively refined offense and saw glimpses of greatness from both Bradley Beal and John Wall. Beal led Washington with 25 points (9-21 FG) and Wall himself tallied 14 points (5-17 FG) to go with a game-high 16 assists and 5 rebounds as the Wizards defeated the Wolves 104-100.

The first quarter was very evenly played by the two teams. Washington focused on running their offense through the post, cycling Nene to the high post where he hit a few jump shots right off the bat. On the opposite end of the floor, Kevin Love had himself quite a first quarter. Coming into tonight’s game, Love ranked third in the NBA in first quarter scoring with just under 9 points. He nearly doubled his first quarter points average as he finished the period with 16 points on 5-6 shooting.

Into the second quarter, Minnesota’s bench (which has been particularly problematic this year) helped to extend the Wolves lead putting it at 53-37 with nearly 6 minutes left in the first half. The Wolves were able to maintain around a 10-point margin until the 2:30 mark, when a Nene layup brought the game back to single digits. However, the Wolves came right back and headed to the locker rooms with a 63-51 lead.

The second half consisted of absolutely spectacular play from the young Beal. The former number-3 overall selection put on a shooting clinic beginning with around 8:00 in the quarter when back-to-back three-pointers by the former Gator brought Washington to within one point of the Wolves. Behind more hot shooting from the Eric Gordon clone, Washington knotted things up at 81 heading into the final quarter.

The Wolves missed countless opportunities in the fourth quarter and ultimately fell 104-100, despite a strong bench performance from rookie Robbie Hummel. Hummel, who fought for and won a roster spot back in training camp, looked very sharp as he tallied 7 points (2-2 3pt) and 6 rebounds without turning the ball over once in 22 minutes. K-Love really cooled down in the second half and ultimately posted a casual 25 point (8-17 FG) and 11 rebound line while Ricky Rubio was largely ineffective throughout much of the game, finishing with only 10 points and 2 assists. Martell Webster deserves a lot of credit as he hit the go-ahead three-pointer which effectively won the game for the Wizards.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Bradley Beal: The 20-year-old shooting guard showed us why he was taken with such a high pick as he shot lights out despite facing fairly decent close outs by Timberwolves defenders. The backcourt of Wall and Beal should be fun to watch for many years to come.
  2. John Wall: With a game-high 16 assists, Wall is proving that he knows how to play the point guard position extremely well and knows when to act as facilitator and when to attack the rim. And while he may need some work done to his jump shot, he is currently a much more developed all around player than La Pistola.
  3. Kevin Love: It has become customary to see Love put up ridiculous numbers in games that aren’t necessarily considered great games for the big fella. Love did a lot with little support from his teammates tonight and provided sparks when the team needed them. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t Minnesota’s night.

Key Takeaways

  • Marcin Gortat was a nice offseason pickup for Washington. He adds a defensive presence to Washington’s frontcourt to help compensate for the rebounding deficient Nene.
  • What’s up with Nikola Pekovic? He seems to disappear for long periods of time during games so far this season and I am seriously wondering if it has something to do with Bill Bayno being gone as an assistant coach. Pek and Bayno clearly had a solid connection and it is a real bummer they were unable to retain him. One thing is clear: Pek needs to regain his confidence if the Wolves are to seriously compete later on this season.
  • It was a very nice game for the former Pup Webster, who shot 5-10 from beyond the arc on his way to 17 points and 9 rebounds. Webster, who is finally healthy, enjoyed a breakout season for Washington last season shooting over 40% from three.
  • Was it just me, or was Jan Vesely pretty impressive out there tonight? The former 6th overall pick just a few seasons ago who has largely been considered a bust shot 4-4 from the floor while grabbing 6 rebounds and even being the beneficiary of a couple of sweet alley-oops in transition.
  • Off night for Rubio. Wall played solid defense and did a good job at not allowing Ricky much penetration, effectively containing him.

2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

Minnesota Timberwolves 87, Washington Wizards 82

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Game Summary:

On Wednesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced off at home against the Washington Wizards in a battle of two lottery-bound teams. The Wizards and Timberwolves entered the game with 19 and 20 wins, respectively, despite beginning the season with aspirations for a postseason berth. Washington was without rising rookie Bradley Beal, who injured his ankle after a nasty fall in Washington’s recent win over the 76ers. Beal narrowly escaped with only a sprained ankle, and will likely be out for up to another week.

Unsurprisingly, Minnesota was also without two of their starters in Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic as both have been ravaged by a myriad of small injuries since the All-Star break. Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma started in their places in what was sure to be a snoozefest for the devoted fans who continue to occupy the graveyard atmosphere that the Target Center has once again become.

The matchup of Ricky Rubio and John Wall was sure to be a captivating one at that, with the first overall pick of the 2009 draft versus the fifth overall pick from the same draft. With both players standing at 6-foot-4, the game featured a matchup of two of the tallest point guards in the NBA despite having very skill sets. Wall, not known for his shooting, started off the game by knocking down several mid-range jumpers that are considered one of his weaknesses. Rubio started the game sagging off Wall by a step or two in order to take away his elite ability to get to the rim, and the former Kentucky standout responded by showing off an uncharacteristic soft touch from 16-18 feet. With the Wizards leading 29-24 after the first quarter, Wall had hit all 4 of his field goal attempts. Rubio held his own as he recorded 6 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in the opening period.

The Wolves did a much better job on the defensive end in the second quarter as the tandem of Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson provided strong interior defense. Johnson, who has received sporadic minutes since Rick Adelman returned from missed time, was pure energy and hustle during his minutes in the first half. The long and skinny Johnson pushed the tempo beating the defense down the court and converted all three of his field goal attempts. Although Johnson is mainly receiving minutes due to the absence of Pekovic from the lineup, he continues to produce in the minutes he receives and is consistently the first Pup down the court on offense and the first player back on defense.

Leading 48-43 after the first half behind 51% shooting. The two teams sparred in the third quarter as neither club was able to get hot shooting the ball or creating opportunities in the half-court offense. The Wolves headed into the final quarter of play with a 65-63 lead.

One of the highlights of the fourth quarter came from Luke Ridnour in an uncharacteristic display of frustration with the officiating as he chucked the ball down the court following a no-call on a drive. Washington shot ahead to a 73-65 lead and it began to appear as if the Wolves were headed towards another fourth-quarter collapse. However, our Catalan leader put together another near quadruple-double and JJ Barea knocked down some key looks and the Wolves ended their losing streak, winning 87-82.

Notable Performances:

Martell Webster, after being cut by Minnesota before the season, entered the game with the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA. Ironically, the Wolves are currently the worst three-point shooting team in the league. Starting for the Wizards at Small Forward, Webster logged 41 minutes of playing time despite only knocking down 2 of his 8 long-range attempts.

Derrick Williams put up a respectable line of 16 points and 8 rebounds, but shot just 4-12 from the field and struggled mightily after a strong first quarter.

Trevor Ariza continued his strong play of late as he recorded 16 points (4-10 FG, 3-7 3PT), 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 38 minutes. Ariza was acquired by the Wizards along with Emeka Okafor last summer in hopes of boosting Washington into playoff contention.

Keys of the Game:

  • Turnovers – Washington shot themselves in the foot time and time again and they committed 24 turnovers to only 14 by Minnesota.
  • Personal Fouls – As if the game was not made sloppy enough by all of Washington’s turnovers, they committed an absurd 29 personal fouls and essentially handed Minnesota the game in the final period of play.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Ricky Rubio – This selection is a no-brainer. For the second time since the All-Star break, Ricky legitimately flirted with the mystic quadruple-double as he finished the night with 15 points (4-15 FG), 11 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals in 38 minutes. Although he had another tough game shooting the ball, Tricky Ricky provided for the Wolves in so many different ways on both ends of the floor and willed the team to victory.
  2. John Wall – Wall showed a lot of improvement in his game especially in his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. As tremendous of a player as Wall is, there still remains many areas in which he will need to master if he is to become the superstar that he was predicted to be when he was selected with the first pick. Wall finished the night with 19 points (7-15 FG), 7 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers in 39 minutes.
  3. JJ Barea – JJ came up big in the fourth quarter and was one of the only Wolves who could make a shot in the second half. He held his own on defense despite having enormous size disadvantages in his matchups and was able to provide 12 points in 23 minutes off of the bench.

Minnesota Timberwolves 101, Washington Wizards 114

Wall blocking RickyGame Summary

The 17-22 Timberwolves travelled east to take on the 9-31 Washington Wizards on Friday night.  Hope everyone set their DVR’s.  The Pups opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Wizards countered with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene Hilario, and Emeka Okafor.  Wall was making his first start of the season in his eighth game of the year, as if the Wolves have not been pummeled enough by opposing PG’s.

The early minutes of the game was played at warp speed.  However, it was also terribly sloppy.  Going into the first timeout, the Wizards held a 17-9 lead.  Washington was 7-9 from the field but had three turnovers.  The Wolves were only 4-12 from the field and matched the Wizards three turnovers.

Despite struggling mightily from the field for much of the quarter and falling down by as many as eleven, the Wolves closed the quarter on a 9-2 run.  Jordan Crawford hit a floater at the buzzer to give the Wizards a 29-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.  Going back to Wednesday night’s game, it would be nice to see the Wolves execute in the closing seconds of any quarter.

The second quarter was full of mini-runs by both teams and the Pups drew the short straw when all was said and done.  After building their lead to nine, the Wizards allowed the Wolves to cut it back to a two possession game.  Then, both teams set NBA basketball back about thirty years with some awful play in the middle of the quarter.  As soon as that train of thought started popping into my mind, the Wizards went on a nice run to close out the quarter.

After one half of basketball, the Wolves trailed by 14 points, 60-46.  When would you like me to mention how the Wolves performed to close out the quarter?  Right here (it was awful) or through my Wolves lens and halftime thoughts …

  • At halftime, it had been at least six quarters since the Pups closed out a quarter well
  • The only reason the Wolves weren’t losing by 20 or more points is because of how well they were rebounding the ball on the offensive end, holding a 13-3 advantage over the Wolves
  • The coaching staff needs to rein Dante Cunningham’s jumper in a bit – 16 feet and in until he gets things going again (1-6 from the field in the first half)
  • FG and FT shooting are killing the Pups right now.  But other than that …

In the interest of not looking like a maniac, let’s agree that the second half was atrocious and just move on, fair?  The Wolves didn’t do anything right in the half, with Terry Porter leading the charge and just about every member of the roster following suit.  Derrick Williams finished the game with a double-double (18 & 11) but it felt completely irrelevant.  Luke Ridnour had a nice game shooting but he probably gave up double that on the other end of the court.  The Pups ten day contractors continued to put up positive results, but I’m not sure if this is actually a good thing or bad thing at this point.

Outside of rebounding the ball on both ends, the Wolves did virtually nothing well on Friday night.  The Wolves shot 44% from the field, while their defense, or lack thereof, aided in the Wizards shooting a lights out 58%.  As an added bonus, the Wolves missed thirteen (?!) free throws Friday night, going 20-33 from the “charity” line.

To complete the trifecta, the Wolves were 3-14 from 3PT range again tonight and there might be a need to ban three point shooting tomorrow night in Charlotte.  I wish I were joking, but if I were coaching this team I would consider fining anyone that shoots a three pointer tomorrow night.  The team really needs to focus on an inside out game even if their post players don’t fit the bill.

The Wizards go to ten wins on the season, beating the Pups 114-101 and it didn’t really feel like that close of a game at all in the second half.  The loss is the Wolves third in a row and eighth in their last nine.  Thankfully, Big Al is covering Saturday night’s game in Charlotte …

Keys of the Game

  • FT Shooting – I’m not sure I’ve done a recap where this hasn’t been a problem for the Wolves.  The cynic in me would point out that if the Wolves were perfect from the line, the game would have been tied and gone into OT.  I’m not that ridiculous though.
  • Energy – This might sound a little ridiculous, but the difference in energy levels and body language was very telling.  This Wolves team is obviously struggling and it is starting to show all over the place.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Bradley Beal – 16 points and a game high+24 in the box score, but more impressive was the 4 blocked shots, including one on a Wolves fast break that was probably the play of the game
  2. John Wall – Wall only played 20 minutes but he broke down defenders consistently and hit what became open jumpers.  Breaking: John Wall is good.
  3. Chris Johnson – Struggling to find a third star, so I want to give kudos to Chris Johnson, who put up 9 & 5 in a little over 20 minutes.  What I want to commend him for is banging in the paint and being some type of “presence” for the team.  Doogie sent out the note below that should be of interest to Pups fans …

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Washington Wizards, 1/25/13

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

This Friday’s game sends the Timberwolves to the nation’s capital to face the Wizards.  The Pups enter the game with a 17-22 record and are coming off a loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.  Ricky Rubio was not pleased with sitting the entire 4th quarter in Wednesday’s game, so we’ll see where this season goes next with this news. It probably isn’t a good thing for an assistant coach to tick off the number one draw for the franchise.  Just a thought…

While the Wizards have the worst record in the league, their season has seemingly turned the corner with the recent return of John Wall to the lineup.  At 9-31 on the season, the team is clearly playing for pride and to show fans what the future may have in store.  Friday’s game also allows Pups fans to catch another glimpse of their former head coach, Randy Wittman.

For tonight’s preview we’re working with Abdullah Sharif from the WizardsExtreme.com team blog.  As you may have seen here on Timberpups.com, we have put together Q&A sessions with a writer from the opposition in an effort to get some inside perspective on what to expect on Friday night game nights.

Here’s our Q&A …

Wizards Question #1 for Abdullah:

First and foremost, John Wall is back in action and looks like he is close to 100% already.  What have you noticed thus far in his play – strengths, potential weaknesses, where he may be struggling, etc.? 

Abdullah:

Wall’s return has posed an immediate impact on the team, as the Wizards find themselves playing with a refreshing sense of aggression and fluidity that’s been rare to the Wizards faithful up until his recovery from the stress fracture in his knee. Over the past week and a half, the Wizards have won 5 of their last 7 games, including wins over Oklahoma City, Denver and Portland. Wall has defied several concerns regarding his conditioning, physical strength, and his overall rust from being away from the game for so long. While he displays the same speed and agility we’ve been used to, Wall has also been facilitating the offense in a more disciplined manner.

However, Wall has also proven that he still has some improvements to be made. His mid-range jump shot remains questionable, although his form has clearly improved. At times, Wall finds himself underestimating his speed down court, which usually results in making the wrong decision in transition, leading to a charging foul or a turnover. But overall, Wall’s long absence has proven his worth, as the Wizards now find themselves in the midst of newfound success, with John Wall being the catalyst.

 

Pups Question #1 for John:

How frustrating has the health of Kevin Love been this season and how have the Timberwolves been able to fill the void with the absence of his inside presence as well as threat as a shooter around the perimeter?

John:

Kevin Love’s broken hand from knuckle push-ups essentially set the tone for what was yet to come this season for the Timberwolves.  This freak accident started off a stretch of terrible luck in the injury department that has hit the vast majority of the lineup.  To be honest, before losing Budinger, Roy, Pekovic, and/or Shved (not to mention Josh Howard or the random games that JJ Barea and Andrei Kirilenko have missed … yes, this is all in a half a season) the Wolves were doing “OK” and treading water in Love’s earlier absence from the team.

However, the roster is far too deep in the water at this point and it is hard seeing this team stay afloat while Love recovers from the surgery and extended amount of time he’s now scheduled to miss (8-10 weeks after the surgery, which happened about a week after the injury occurred.  This was due to … the surgeon being sick and out of the office.  You can’t make this stuff up with how the season is going.)

At this point, they aren’t able to make up for Love’s absence.  Earlier in the season, Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham, and Derrick Williams were filling in admirably and rotating nicely based on match-ups.  Unfortunately, that isn’t happening anymore.  To your last point, the team is abysmal from beyond the arc.  Love’s hand injury led to a lot of his own struggles here when he was playing, but there really isn’t another player on the current roster that can consistently hit a three pointer right now.

 

Wizards Question #2 for Abdullah:

Tell us how you feel about Randy Wittman, but please keep it PG-13.  As a former coach for our Pups, I remember Wittman driving fans criminally insane in Minnesota.  Has he made any improvement whatsoever?  Would you like to see him return as coach next season? 

Abdullah:

Wittman’s tenure in Minnesota is very similar to his current one in DC. Besides the short stint he had coaching Kevin Garnett in 2006 and then-rookie Kevin Love in 2008, Wittman’s basketball teams have been sorely untalented. When his predecessor Flip Saunders was fired 17 games into the season last year, Wittman was called upon to take over a squad in complete disarray and misdirection. If you follow DC sports, you’ll clearly notice the blame for the team’s failure is directed more towards the men in upper management, as opposed to the coach himself. While Wittman does endure scrutiny for his questionable player rotations and strategies, many consider Wittman to be a victim of a bad culture and a coach who has had very little talent to work with. Wittman’s Wizards finished the season last year riding a six-game win streak, but several key injuries and managerial mishaps led to an underachieving lineup and the worst start in franchise history.

As mentioned in my previous answer, the Wizards are now back at full strength with John Wall back in the lineup, along with a healthy Nene and a vastly progressing rookie in Brad Beal. In his short time as Wizards coach, Wittman has proven that with the right tools and personnel, he can make for a respectable coach in the NBA.

 

Pups Question #2 for John:

What are the general outlook and opinion of Ricky Rubio and his potential success as a member of the Timberwolves? How much of a difference maker is he when on the floor and how does his game compare to John Wall’s?

John:

(Disclaimer: I’m a huge Rubio backer)

Rubio is struggling to find his form right now as he continues to fight his way past the torn ACL injury from last season.  He is passing up too many open shots and then when he is taking them, they are consistently falling flat and drawing iron.  He has shown flashes of brilliance, but you won’t see it in the box score on most occasions, as the team has been very strict in limiting his minutes and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Ricky is very clearly who David Kahn and company want to build around.  Assuming he shakes the rust off over the course of the rest of this season and comes back to form (and beyond) to what was seen in his rookie year, you can expect a maximum offer on the table waiting for Ricky to sign.  There are a lot of “what if” scenarios to play out between now and then though, so it is impossible to say whether or not he remains with the team through all of that.

His potential success is off the charts.  On the court, his vision is bar none.  He almost singlehandedly made the bounce pass cool again in the NBA last season.  From what is seen from afar, teammates love playing with him.  You can sense his leadership on the court and it seems to carry over to practice and the day to day life with teammates.

I believe he is more “valuable” than Kevin Love.  I’m not saying he is “better”, but I do believe he is more valuable to winning games for this franchise.  Frankly, they need each other to succeed in Minnesota, but Rubio definitely makes everyone else around him better and I can’t necessarily say the same thing about Love.

 

Wizards Question #3 for Abdullah:

Rumors swirled recently that Bradley Beal might be available for the right price.  What do you think of the rookie and his play thus far?  What does he need to improve on to become a complete player for this franchise (or another)?  Can the team build a contender with both Wall and Beal? 

Abdullah:

Bradley Beal got off to a bit of a slow start to his NBA career. As a player who was touted for his deadly shooting and abilities to create scoring opportunities, Wizards fans initially observed a player who lacked aggression and shot poorly from the field. Just a few weeks later, Wizards fans observed a player who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December. During that span until now, the 19-year old has found his comfort on the floor and is no longer shy about attacking the rim. Beal shows great poise and confidence. His skill set is starting to take great shape as he has shown his ability to create offense and find open space for high percentage jumpers. These factors all led to the dismissal of potential trade offers and the decision to keep him in DC with the pursuit of eventually constructing one of the more dangerous backcourts in the league along with John Wall.

 

Pups Question #3 for John:

With the halfway point of the season approaching, the Wolves are just a few games out of the final playoff spot. What areas do the Wolves need to address in order to make their second half push and secure that spot?

John:

Simply put: Health and good luck.  Unfortunately, the former is nowhere to be found and it isn’t coming back to this roster anytime soon.  With Budinger out until February/March, Love out until March or so, Roy out indefinitely (and probably done), and Rubio still working out the kinks, it just seems like too much to overcome.  The team’s recent play suggests that they have finally hit that threshold where enough is enough.  They have not looked very good over the past few weeks and I fear that there isn’t an end in sight to this.

It also doesn’t help that Rick Adelman has left the team to be with his ailing wife and the sidelines have been left to Terry Porter.  (To clarify this so it isn’t interpreted incorrectly – Adelman needs to do whatever it is he feels best for his family.  The point I’m making here is we are very clearly “trading down” when going from Adelman to Porter on the sidelines.)  While a tremendous amount of the current situation is due to injuries, you will likely get a chance to see a few head scratchers from the coach in Friday night’s game.

To be honest, I’ve already talked myself into the fact that this team is not going to make the playoffs again this season.  Going into the trading deadline, I don’t expect to see a significant move made.  However, I wouldn’t be shocked if JJ Barea or Luke Ridnour is moved for more of a true SG.  In the offseason, I do expect at least one of them moved, potentially with Derrick Williams, as the former #2 pick in the draft will have a new home for the ‘13/’14 season.  Hopefully, those one or two moves provide the team with a significant upgrade at the SG or SF position to move into next season with.

 

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Wizards.  Again, you can read more from Abdullah at WizardsExtreme.com and/or follow them on Twitter.  You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter as well.