Short-Handed Timberwolves Fall 106-97 to Thunder

The Timberwolves faced the 40-11 OKC without the help of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer. Despite playing without some of their top scorers, the Wolves gave a valiant effort. Minnesota actually held the lead a few times during the first half, and the teams battled back and forth. It was the Thunder that held the upper hand, though, and came away with the 106-97 win. Ricky Rubio led the team with 19 points, while Dante Cunningham filled in as a starting forward and added 18.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “They busted their tails the whole game.”

TWolvesTweet

OKC’s Kevin Durant scored 26 points on the evening, but he surprisingly didn’t become the deciding factor in the fourth.  The star forward scored only two points for the Thunder in the final period, but his teammates still managed to pull away from Minnesota for the win.  Reggie Jackson added 20 points (seven in the fourth quarter) and dished out nine assists.  Wednesday marked the Thunder’s 12th win in 13 games, and they are the first team in the league to hit 40 wins this season.

Minnesota scored 54 points in the first half but only 43 in the second, shooting an overall 47 percent from the field.  Rubio and Cunningham really stepped up offensively in the absence of Love and Brewer, and JJ Barea delivered another strong performance with 11 points and four assists off the bench.  Where Minnesota felt a loss the most was in rebounding. With both Love and Pek sidelined, the Wolves only grabbed 39 boards to OKC’s 49.

“I knew they’d play scrappy with three starters out,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.  “A wounded team generally steps up. But I thought we played good defense for only about four minutes in the first quarter and then in the fourth quarter. Other than that we didn’t play the kind of defense we usually do.”

The Timberwolves held their own through three quarters of basketball. At the end of the third quarter, Derek Fisher hit a buzzer-beating three and led a 16-4 Thunder run, growing the deficit to 12. From that point on, Minny found itself unable to catch up.  Robbie Hummel came off the bench to hit a three at the 3:45 mark, and that brought the score to 95-89, but that was the closest the Wolves got to regaining their footing.

Rubio said the following after the game: “We came into the game aggressive and we fought all the way through, but in the last five minutes, I think we missed too many free throws and easy shots while they made shots at the end.”

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

The tough loss dipped Minnesota’s record below .500 once again. The Wolves currently sit at No. 11 in the Western Conference, falling to five games out of the No. 8 playoff spot. They will continue on to New Orleans to face the Pelicans Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline and Injury Notes

Brewer missed the game with Family Leave after the birth of his son on Tuesday.  Coach Adelman says he expects Brewer to rejoin the team for Friday’s game.

Pekovic remained sidelined with a nagging ankle injury, and Love was listed as a “sore neck” after taking a nasty fall against the Lakers Tuesday night.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 10

 

David Sherman/Getty Images

David Sherman/Getty Images

Setting the stage:

With the holidays upon us, should we be celebrating the fact that our Timberpups have reached the .500 mark?  I have mixed feelings on this roster as a whole and would like to see more minutes given to the rookies, particularly Gorgui Dieng.  Someone needs to work with Ricky Rubio all offseason on his shooting stroke because it is clearly still broken.  All of that said, the Wolves are 15-15 and hopefully ready to roll going into 2014.  Much of the positives have to be credited to Kevin Love and his incredible play thus far this season – 26.1ppg (3rd in the NBA) & 13.8rpg (1st), with a PER of 28.5 (2nd).  Can we tear up his contract and max him out for the next five or six years?

Since I previewed week 8 of the season, the team has improved to 2nd in the league in scoring at 106.4ppg, 3rd in rebounding (46.2rpg) and 6th in assists (23.4apg).  Nothing much has changed on the defensive end, with the team giving up 102.3ppg, “good” for 23rd in the NBA.

Game 32: Monday, 12/30, 7pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North) [Read more...]

Recap – Thunder 113, Timberwolves 103

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After Saturday night’s win in Dallas to bring the team back to .500, the Pups were right back at it on Sunday night to take on the Thunder.  Going into Sunday’s game the Thunder were an impressive 11-3 on the season and a perfect 8-0 at home.  No changes in the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  No surprises in the Thunder lineup either: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins.  Perhaps the only surprise is that Perkins is still in the starting lineup over Steven Adams.  I digress.

Game Summary

Another highly entertaining match-up against the Thunder for fans that unfortunately ended in disappointment.  The Wolves didn’t trail in this game until an OKC 8-0 run to start the 4th quarter put them on top for the first time and for good.  The Pups never recovered from that stomach punch to start the quarter and looked gassed towards the end of the game.  [Read more...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 1

"Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!" (Photo credit: NFL.com)

“Playoffs? Playoffs?!?!”
(Photo credit: NFL.com)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back in action in meaningful, regular season games!  The world is a better place, right?  We know what this team did over the course of the offseason and we know what the final roster looks like now.  Finally, now you know what the Timberpups.com preview is going to look like.  We’re thinking about previewing the week ahead every Sunday/Monday vs. doing a preview for every single game.  While we will look to continue last season’s co-authoring of previews with blogs from the opposition from time to time, this is where we have netted out … for now at least.  (That’s quite a bit of waffling in case you couldn’t connect the dots.)

It looks like the final roster is set, now that the Wolves have cut Jeffers and Brown, and are apparently willing to eat the remaining money on Chris Johnson’s contract (thanks again Kahn!).  Congrats to the guys that were on the cusp and wound up making the team!

Let’s look ahead to this coming week!  Week 1 of the regular season has the Pups home for the first two games of the season before going on the road to the World’s Most Famous Arena.  In what may be the biggest surprise, the season opener is NOT against the Kings, who we seem to have opened up against for the past ten seasons.  Here is a quick rundown of the week ahead, along with some thoughts and predictions.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/30, 7pm – Orlando Magic @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Magic are not going to be very good this season, this much is known.  However, they do have an intriguing backcourt rotation that might give the Wolves a little bit of trouble.  Between Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo, and Arron Afflalo, the Wolves guards might need to get ready for a physical game.  However, there is nothing on the front line that compares to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.

Opponent to watch:

Victor Oladipo – No surprise here, we get to watch the player Flip was rumored to be enamored with going into the 2013 draft.  (I will not write any more about this … I will not write any more about this!)  We’ll see how much run Oladipo gets in his debut and it will be interesting to see how he can defend against someone like Kevin Martin, who I imagine will be running around in circles trying to lose and confuse the rookie.

Predictions:

This should be a relatively easy “W” for the Pups, with the home crowd amped for the season opener and an inferior opponent on paper.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Magic 88

Game 2: Friday, 11/1, 7pm – Oklahoma City Thunder @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Wolves catch a little bit of a break here with the OKC Thunder coming to town.  Why?  For one, Russell Westbrook’s injury will be keeping him out of the lineup for a while.  Second, the Thunder open up on Wednesday night in Utah, so Friday’s game in Minnesota will be the end of short road trip for the team before heading back to Oklahoma for their home opener on Sunday.  There is some potential here to jump on an opponent that is looking ahead (and likely coming off an opening night win against the Jazz).

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Durant – Does this even need to be said?  A top three talent in the league and he will likely be hoisting up 25 shots a night without Westbrook.  Let’s hope he isn’t ‘en fuego’ in Minnesota.  While you will all be rooting for the Wolves, take a second to enjoy Durant’s game.

Predictions:

For the reasons mentioned above, I’m going to give this one to the Wolves as well.  With or without the star players, the games against OKC always seem to be highly entertaining.  Get your popcorn ready!  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Thunder 102

Game 3: Sunday, 11/3, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ New York Knicks (TV: FSN Plus)

The Pups’ first road game of the season takes them to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks.  I decided to not buy tickets to this game and will enjoy it from the couch.  I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good … at all.  However, they will enter this game with two full days rest, having not played since Thursday night.

Opponent to watch:

Andreas Bargnani – I’m interested in seeing how Bargnani meshes with the Knicks.  The team’s big offseason deal made the team that much worse defensively and this might lead to a Mike Woodson meltdown at any point.  For the record, I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good.  Did I mention this already?

Predictions:

I am a big believer in teams coming off of rest, but the Wolves aren’t playing on back to back nights.  So even with the extra rest, I think Minnesota has a lot more talent than New York and will pull this one out.  Would I be shocked to see the Pups drop this one?  Not at all.  However, until they lose, I’m going to predict all W’s.  Final score: Timberwolves 105, Knicks 91

It is good to be back in the saddle of another Timberwolves’ season!  What are you most excited for as the season gets underway?  I really want to see Rubio make the leap this season and climb his way up the ranks of NBA point guards.  The team needs this to happen in order to become legitimate contenders somewhere down the line.

“Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!?”  Yes Jim, the Pups begin their quest to get back the playoffs and I see a sharp 3-0 start!

Let’s go Wolves!

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.

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule Released!

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule Decisions, Decisions ...

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule
Decisions, Decisions …

After a few weeks’ worth of delays, the NBA finally unveiled the 2013-14 schedule/calendar.  You can find the full Timberwolves’ schedule here on Timberwolves.com.  On Monday, the team released their preseason schedule as well.

The preseason officially begins on 10/7 with a game at the Target Center against CSKA Moscow.  Who will Alexey Shved, Vladimir Putin, and Eric Snowden be rooting for?  Tune in to find out.  The Wolves will actually travel a good amount during the preseason, playing in Toronto, Montreal, South Dakota, Philadelphia, and Detroit.  They will only have one other preseason game at the Target Center (10/12 against Toronto). [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 101 – Oklahoma City Thunder 93

Rubio over Durant ... Yes!  (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

Rubio over Durant … Yes! (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

Game Summary

The 53-19, Northwest division leaders, OKC Thunder took their show on the road to the Target Center Friday night to take on our Timberwolves for the last time this season.  The Timberwolves beat the Thunder at home back on 12/20, but have dropped the last meetings in Oklahoma City by a wide margin.

While the Timberwolves have been playing better via getting injured players back into the lineup over the past two weeks, the team was hit with a bit of bad news earlier Friday; Kevin Love still isn’t cleared to play because of his hand injury.  We might learn more next week on whether or not Love will be able to return to action at all this season.

Here is how Friday night’s game progressed.  The Wolves opened up with the following lineup – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Thunder countered with Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins.

Both teams started off cold from the field with the Wolves taking a small lead in the early minutes.  Going into the first timeout, the Thunder and Wolves were tied at 10, but both teams were shooting under 35% from the field.  Coming out of the timeout, Russell Westbrook seemed to decide that it was his time to take over, putting in a quick 7 points and 3 assists with a few minutes left in the 1st quarter.

At the end of the 1st, the Timberwolves and Thunder were tied at 23 apiece.  The Wolves were able to stick with the Thunder via their offensive rebounding prowess, collecting 7 in the first twelve minutes.  Nikola Pekovic had a very strong 1st quarter, with a game high 8 points and 7 rebounds going into the 2nd.  The only other worthwhile note from the 1st would be a chippy sequence between Barea and Kevin Martin.  Barea seems to get under someone’s skin every game now (if you include mine).

The Thunder came out strong in the 2nd quarter, including a surprise performance from Hasheem Thabeet.  Thabeet put down a thunder dunk (pun alert) in the opening minute and then picked up a steal to lead to a fast break.  After a Derek Fisher three pointer, the Thunder took their biggest lead of the game, 30-23.  However, the Wolves countered quickly with their own 7-0 run to tie the game up, leading to a Thunder timeout.

A back and forth affair continued through the remainder of the 2nd quarter.  The good news; the Wolves held a 53-48 lead at halftime.  Chase Budinger had a solid few minutes as well – going 2-3 from the field, both of his makes from three point range, and 2-2 from the free throw line for 8 points.  The bad news; Dante Cunningham left the court and went to the locker room with a wrist injury in the 2nd quarter.

Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Breaking: Kevin Durant is good.  8-9 for 17 points in the 1st half and it looked effortless
  • Russell Westbrook and the Thunder forced two early fouls on Rubio but he was able to avoid picking up a third for the remainder of the half.  (A huge break)
  • Paging Andrei Kirilenko!  Where are you?

Minnesota continued their strong play in the 3rd quarter, going down low to Pekovic, but also coming alive from long range as well.  Durant and Westbrook continued to carry the Thunder, keeping the team within striking distance.  Tonight’s game actually has me rethinking my thoughts on the forthcoming playoffs.  I have been thinking it was the Thunder’s really to lose and didn’t see it happening.  However, without a consistent Kevin Martin / third wheel, they are going to struggle to get through the conference and are absolutely beatable in a seven game series.

Pekovic continued to dominate in the paint, finishing the 3rd quarter with 18 & 14.  Kirilenko and Rubio had strong quarters as well.  In more good news, Dante Cunningham returned to the court for the final few seconds of the 3rd quarter.  After three quarters of very enjoyable basketball, the Pups held an 80-77 lead going into the final twelve minutes.

The Thunder went cold in the 4th quarter allowing the Wolves to extend their lead to 11 points with five minutes left in the game.  Rubio, Cunningham, Budinger, and Pekovic were all making positive contributions.  However, you knew the Thunder weren’t going to go away quietly, as they quickly cut the lead down to 5 points with about four minutes to go.

Despite their effort, the Thunder couldn’t complete the comeback.  The Wolves wind up splitting the season series with the Thunder, with both teams winning their two, respective home games.  Final score from the Target Center was Minnesota Timberwolves 101 – Oklahoma City Thunder 93.  A great, team win from our Pups!

Keys of the Game

  • Bench play – The Wolves bench scored 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.  Solid performances throughout the rotation for the home team.  OKC’s bench was virtually nonexistent, putting up 17 points; including a miserable performance from Kevin Martin (1-9 from the field for 4 points and very little else).
  • Free throws – While by no means did the Wolves dominate this area (22-27 vs. 16-20 for OKC) it is an area worth calling out, given the Thunder’s overall strength in getting to and converting on free throws (#1 in the league in both).

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – A huge night from Pekovic from beginning to end.  He dominated the Thunder in the paint, finishing with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
  2. Kevin Durant – Durant showed the locals why he is the NBA’s second greatest star right now, behind LeBron.  KD finished with 36 points on 13-19 shooting and 7 rebounds.
  3. Ricky Rubio – This was very close to going to Chase Budinger, and then Rubio poked away the ball with twenty seconds remaining in the game to seal the victory.  Rubio finished with 17 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals.  Rubio was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line tonight.