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.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Oklahoma City Thunder 127

RickyrubioGame Summary

Coming off of a win Wednesday night at home against Philadelphia, the Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a league powerhouse in the Thunder.  As an added bonus, the Wolves were back on national television to kickoff ESPN’s Friday night doubleheader.  Unfortunately for those that don’t follow the Wolves closely, they are seeing half of a finished product.  Friday night was not much different as the Wolves found themselves down early and were never able to recover.

The Thunder got off to a hot start, going 8-11 from the field to start the game.  This led to an early 18-11 lead over the Wolves going into the first timeout of the game.  Ricky Rubio picked up two early fouls and was already on the bench prior to the timeout.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder held a ten point lead (33-23) and the game was not looking very promising for the Pups.

Aside from Rubio’s foul trouble, Derrick Williams finished the quarter 0-5 from the field, missing two 3 pointers and a few layups at the rim.  Russell Westbrook led the Thunder to the fast start, finishing the quarter with 11 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.  If you were looking for a silver lining, Kevin Durant was struggling from the field, only 1-4 from the field and finishing the quarter with 6 points.

In the 2nd quarter the Pups received several strong performances from their second unit, including; JJ Barea, Cunningham, Stiemsma, and Shved.  While the defensive effort didn’t improve much, at least the team was able to compete offensively and keep the game in striking distance.  At the end of the half, the Wolves cut the Thunder lead to 5 points and then Luke Ridnour pulled another bonehead play with the clock ticking down, fouling Russell Westbrook on a 3 pointer.  Westbrook hit all three free throws to give the Thunder a 66-58 lead going into the half.

Here are several halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves second unit were the only reason they were in the game as the starters were shooting a woeful 7-25 from the field
  • Derrick Williams was the main ‘contributor’ to these shooting problems, throwing up a 1-8 from the field, including a number of blown layups
  • The ESPN crew ripped apart the moves David Kahn has made over the past few years during their halftime show – and I found myself agreeing with them in many cases, which just made it that much more annoying

The 3rd quarter could easily be described as a quarter of runs.  The Thunder increased their lead to 17 points, the Wolves cut it back to 8, and then the Thunder responded to increase the lead back to 17 points to close the quarter.  It was not a defensive struggle in Oklahoma City Friday night, as the home team held a 100-83 lead going into the final frame.  Unfortunately for the Pups, Kevin Durant got hot in the 3rd quarter, leading to a strong feeling of doubt that the Wolves had much of a chance of making a comeback.

The 4th quarter mentally felt like extreme “gah-bage” time, even though you could easily make an argument that the Wolves were technically in the game.  A quick kudos to Ricky Rubio who continued to run all over the court in an effort to pick up a quick steal, create a turnover, etc.  Outside of this effort, there really wasn’t too much to talk about – evidenced by the lack of game insight the ESPN crew were providing at the same time.  The final score of Friday’s game was a 127-111 victory for the Thunder.  The Wolves actually never held an advantage in the game.

Keys of the Game

  • Talent – This probably sounds pompous, but the Wolves just do not have the star power that the Thunder have.  Durant and Westbrook simply brought it on Friday night and took full advantage of the depleted Wolves.
  • Shutting down Pek – Coming off of a huge performance Wednesday night, Pekovic couldn’t get anything established for himself vs. Kendrick Perkins, and even to a lesser extent, against Hasheem Thabeet.  In 22 minutes, Pek had 5 points on 1-4 shooting with 2 rebounds.
  • The shooter’s touch – As a team, the Thunder were absolutely lights-out Friday night: 58% from the field, 64% from 3PT range, and a perfect 22-22 from the FT line.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Westbrook aided in getting Rubio into early foul trouble and took over the game from that point.  He finished with 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists.
  2. Kevin Durant – Despite the slow 1st half, Durant finished the game strong to reach “his numbers” – 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists of his own.
  3. Kevin Martin – This could have gone to Rubio, but with the “blowout” loss, it didn’t feel right to give this to a Pup.  Martin was extremely efficient coming off the bench with 17 points on 7-11 FG’s.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 2/22/13

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

The Timberwolves travel to Oklahoma City on Friday night to take on the defending Western Conference champion Thunder.  Minnesota comes into the game off of a victory against Philadelphia Wednesday night to move their record to 20-31 on the season.  The Thunder come into Friday’s game off a loss to the Rockets in Houston the same night, dropping their record to 39-15.

While these two teams are heading in very different directions this season, they tend to match-up well against one another and always seem to be enjoyable games to watch.  That wasn’t necessarily the case when Minnesota traveled to OKC on 1/9, as they were blown out of the building, 106-84.  This could have been a product of the Thunder returning the favor for their loss at the Target Center on 12/20.

A quick note about the trade deadline from Thursday – the Wolves made exactly zero moves to their roster and I have to say that I am not disappointed.  Derrick Williams can only help his trade value from now until the 2013 draft.  The team isn’t good enough to push Ridnour or Barea off to someone else for a short term rental (since we aren’t making the playoffs this season).  Finally, a semi-kudos to the team for not making a salary dump move to save a few dollars in Glen Taylor’s wallet.  Net/net, this team will be very active again this summer and has a full stock of assets to leverage.

While the Wolves stood pat, the Thunder made two minor moves that probably make them a bit stronger for the playoffs.  In separate trades, they sent Eric Maynor to the Blazers for a trade exception and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for a 2nd round pick.  (I wonder if James Harden’s explosion Wednesday night aided their desire to make this move and get a little bigger in the back court.)

Oklahoma City remains a powerhouse in the Western Conference and have high aspirations come playoff time.  Led by perennial all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team will look to work its way through the Western Conference and once again challenge for the NBA Championship.  Anything less is likely to be seen as a disappointment to fans.

With that mindset, this preview has been done in conjunction with the ‘Welcome to Loud City’ blog on SB Nation.  Here are the questions that we posed to J.A. Sherman from the team’s blog.  He passed along a few Wolves-related questions as well, and you can find those questions and our answers on their site.

Here’s were my questions for Trey …

Thunder Question #1 for Trey:

As a fan of the Thunder, can you please explain the mindset of “championship or bust” to us Wolves fans, who have been continuously tortured since 1989?  Do these expectations make the games easier or harder to watch regularly?  Would you consider anything less than a conference championship a failure? 

Trey:

As a Thunder fan, it’s certainly nice to have “championship or bust expectations.” It’s like being the Yankees of the NBA and the team has only been in the city since 2008. It makes the game easier to watch because you’re always dissecting the team’s play, no matter the opponent. Even if they’re on top for most of the game, it’s still fun to see what Durant and Westbrook are going to do next. Of course there are blowouts and nobody likes watching 48 minutes of a 20-point game, but it’s worth the price for 50-win seasons and Finals appearances.

This season, anything less than a conference championship would have to be considered a disappointment. I doubt there is anybody in the organization that feels any other way. After taking the step last year with their WCF win over San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder would be satisfied with anything less. They’ve got the same two stars and although they sent Harden to Houston, Kevin Martin is still a good enough scorer to give them substantial firepower off the bench.  

 Thunder Question #2 for Trey:

Is there a particular weakness for the Thunder and/or do you fear that there might be something in the current construction of the team that could be exploited down the stretch and in the playoffs?  Coming off Harden’s performance Wednesday, does an elite wing worry you?

Trey:

I think one thing that showed up against Houston and also against the Heat before the All-Star Game is the fact Oklahoma City has problems running their offense while down late in games. I think it becomes too much Durant and Westbrook one-on-one rather than finding a good shot every possession. People tend to blame Westbrook because he’s the point guard. However, it’s just as much Durant’s fault. They both tend to force shots when the team is trailing late. Could a team in the West exploit this? I don’t think so because I’m not sure the Spurs or Clippers can develop big leads against the Thunder and force them into those one-on-one situations.

Well, if you consider LeBron James a wing, which I do, then I would be extremely worried. Harden and LeBron are obviously different players with much different arsenals and Harden is great, but in a seven-game series I’m not worried about him taking over for four victories. However, LeBron has dominated the Thunder this season. They don’t have an answer for him right now and unless newly acquired Ronnie Brewer can give him problems, the Heat could be looking at a second straight Finals victory over the Thunder.

 Thunder Question #3 for Trey:

Rather than ask you a question about Durant or Westbrook, let’s go deep into the rotation.  What are your thoughts on Hasheem Thabeet?  Do you think he has a long term future in the league?  Is there a light bulb there that might go off?  Finally, how would you grade his (limited) performance thus far?  

Trey:

I’m not sure Hasheem Thabeet has a long-term home in Oklahoma City, but he is putting up better numbers than last year’s backup center Nazr Mohammed. He seems to be a popular player in the locker room and usually give Scott Brooks quality minutes, but it’s hard to see him developing into much more than a 10-12 minutes kind of player.

I would give him a B so far this season. Like I said, he’s outplayed Mohammed’s production from a year ago, but with his size and frame you would think he could have more of an impact every night. Unless the Thunder moves Kendrick Perkins for somebody with more of an offensive game in the future, I can’t see the Thunder hanging on to Thabeet. This is already his fourth team since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Grizzlies in 2009 and I doubt it’s his last.

 

To see our Pups-related Q&A, please click here.

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and the Thunder.  Again, you can read more from J.A. at the Welcome to Loud City blog or follow them on Twitter.  As always, you can read more from John on Twitter.

Minnesota Timberwolves 84 – Oklahoma City Thunder 106

Photo Credit: (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Photo Credit: (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Game Summary

Facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped to start 2-0 against the defending Western Conference Champions playing in a sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena. Once again without head coach Rick Adelman who has missed the previous two games due to personal reasons, the T-wolves simply lacked the star power to gain any sort of control in this game, and fell by a score of 106-84.

With word coming out that Kevin Love will indeed require surgery to repair his broken right hand and will most likely miss between 8 and 10 weeks, the Wolves will now rest their hopes for making the playoffs in a successful return from Ricky Rubio. Rubio appears to be improving his conditioning as of late and did a much better job of staying in front of OKC PG Russell Westbrook than he did the previous time these two teams met. While he did not score a point on 0-3 shooting, Rubio dished out 7 assists in 22 minutes while turning the ball over twice.

JJ Barea was a late scratch due to back spasms, and Luke Ridnour was forced to assume a larger role despite an unfavorable matchup against Westbrook. Ridnour, who has had a miserable time shooting the ball this season, noticeably lacks the quickness he once had and is too often settling for contested jump-shots when he chooses to shoot. His decision-making has been questionable this season, and the Wolves really miss having Rubio be able to play entire games, especially fourth quarters. In 31 minutes, Ridnour had 11 points on 4-9 shooting while turning the ball over 3 times.

With strong play as of late, Derrick Williams was rewarded with 28 minutes of playing time but struggled to get in a groove against a tough defensive frontcourt. Although he recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds, Williams was -23 on the floor and had a very tough time finishing at the rim with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defending the basket. The thing that I was most frustrated with was the D-Will attempted only 1 three-point attempt in his 15 shots, and I believe that his three-point shooting will be vital to the Wolves’ success if they are to make a legitimate run at the playoffs.

Keys to the Game 

  • Turnovers – OKC 12, MN 19: The turnover battle was essential for OKC controlling the game, as Minnesota was never able to effectively get into a rhythm in the half court offense. Russell Westbrook, who averages 3.5 turnovers per game this season, committed only 1 turnover in 30 minutes of play and did a very good job securing the basketball. While we are so often used to seeing Westbrook drive the lane out of control and turning the ball over, he was very smart about deciding when to drive and when to dump off to a teammate. For the Pups, the primary scapegoat was Alexey Shved, who scored 18 points but turned the ball over a game-high 7 times in 39 minutes. One thing that Shved has to pay particular attention to is not leaving his feet before making passes, as it makes him increasingly vulnerable to turnovers which usually lead to transition buckets for the opposing team. On the pick-and-roll, he needs to keep the ball lower and tighter to his body in order to effectively fend off ball swipers on the perimeter, especially because he does not yet have the strength to overpower most of his defenders.
  • Three-point Shooting – OKC 11-20, MN 3-13: Nothing new here with the Pups shooting woes from long range. All 3 thee-pointers were knocked down by either one of the two Russian imports, and Minnesota’s best three-point shooter, Derrick Williams, attempted only 1 three-pointer in this game. Missing Love, Barea and Budinger certainly removes most of the Pups ability to shoot threes, but the lack of perimeter shooting by Ridnour this season is very unsettling. Much of Luke’s role on this team for the past two seasons relied on his ability to knock down open three-pointers, but he has been an absolute non-factor from the perimeter this season as shown by his 31% rate from downtown. For OKC, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 5-8 from beyond the arc and Minnesota defenders did not do a good enough job of closing out and contesting shots. Kevin Martin also knocked down 4 of his 7 tries off the bench after missing OKC’s previous matchup against the Wolves.
  • Fast Break Points – OKC 23, MN 8: The Thunder capitalized on Minnesota’s turnovers by scoring 23 points in transition, and Durant and Westbrook are simply unstoppable when running the floor on fast breaks. When you shoot yourself in the foot as many times as the Pups did, it is very difficult to win when you have two of the best players in the NBA running the floor in 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Russ was nearly perfect tonight, controlling the OKC offense while taking over the scoring duties when opportunities presented themselves to him. Needing to play only 30 minutes in the blowout victory, Westbrook scored 23 points on 7-14 shooting (3-4 3FG) while tallying 8 rebounds and 7 assists, he turned the ball over just once and was a game-high +22 on the floor. 
  2. Kevin Durant – He’s lean, he’s mean, he’s KD! OKC’s original superstar gave the fans plenty to cheer about with 26 points on 10-17 shooting (2-4 3FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks and 3 turnovers. Since the departure of James Harden, both Durant and Westbrook have expanded their games and are doing a little more of everything this season. KD did a great job against one of the top perimeter defenders in Andrei Kirilenko, knocking down seemingly every open look he got tonight and stopping any momentum that the Wolves tried gaining.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – Big Pek is turning into Mr. Consistency this season and despite playing with an injured hip notched another double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds (5 offensive). Nikola converted on 6 of his 10 shot attempts, while the Pups did a very poor job of finding him on the low block. At this point, in order for the Wolves to be at their best they are going to need to flow the offense through Pekovic in the low post and initiate the offense with his scoring in the paint. This means more lateral ball movement to the weak-side to allow lane penetration and quick dump offs to Pek waiting on the block.