Bulls Charge Past Wolves, 96-89

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

 

Two nights after the most exciting game at Target Center in years, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to the court to take on the Chicago Bulls.  Before the game started, the teams announced that key players would be missing from both squads.  Most importantly for Wolves’ fans, Kevin Garnett was ruled out of Friday night’s game in Chicago.  Prior to tip-off, the Bulls announced that Pau Gasol would miss Friday’s game, after also announcing that Derrick Rose had successful surgery earlier in the day and may be able to be back on the court in 4-6 weeks.

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, an on-fire in recent weeks Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Nikola Pekovic.  The Bulls made the appropriate adjustments due to the aforementioned injuries and countered with Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah.

The Bulls got off to a quick start, taking a 15-8 lead and forcing Flip Saunders to burn an early timeout.  Chicago had seven assists on their first seven made field goals.  However, the Andrew Wiggins show started to warm up shortly thereafter, as the rookie scored seven points in a row (for the Wolves) to cut the Chicago lead to 21-19.  At the same time the Bulls were forced to take a timeout as Taj Gibson was injured (and subsequently ruled out for the remainder of the game).  For the remainder of the quarter both teams slowed things down and plodded along a bit.  Chicago took a 27-23 lead into the second quarter.

In typical Bulls’ fashion, the game continued to a somewhat ugly pattern or form well into the second quarter.  If the Wolves were looking for a silver lining, they may look no further than Gary Neal.  Halfway through the quarter and Neal scored or assisted on all but two Timberwolves’ baskets and led the charge giving the Wolves a 37-34 advantage.

That timeout sparked a 10-2 by the Bulls, giving them a 44-39 advantage, sparked by two three pointers from Mike Dunleavy.

For the second consecutive quarter, points became a premium in the final three minutes of the half.  Chicago took a 51-44 lead into halftime and the Wolves were a little lucky it wasn’t worse, as Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler worked the offensive end of the floor but couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the basket.

The Bulls came out of the locker room and couldn’t have looked more lethargic.  The Wolves tied the game at 51 in the first three minutes of the game thanks to the efforts of Rubio and Martin.  After the timeout, the game became a Free Throw contest, with both teams leaving a good number of points on the table.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Bulls held a 73-67 advantage.

Zach LaVine entered the 4th quarter with two minutes gone by and tried to take over the game.  It worked for a little while, but with the Wolves down by two points on two different occasions, LaVine turned the ball over that led to a Jimmy Butler layup and then grabbed a defensive rebound and dribbled the ball all the way down the court and took missed an off-balance layup.  LaVine then made and assisted on the Wolves next two baskets, but subsequently didn’t rotate or get his hands up on a made three-pointer from Aaron Brooks.

Flip Saunders saw the same thing and called a timeout, replacing LaVine with Rubio.  The moral of the story?  We are still seeing the ups and downs on a minute by minute basis with the rookie.

That three-pointer from Brooks opened up an 84-79 lead for the Bulls and could have been the dagger.  However, the Timberwolves scored the next six points to take an 85-84 lead with about five minutes to play.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they went cold from that point forward, missing shots, turning the ball over, and most frustratingly, missing free throws.  The combination of all three led a 12-4 Bulls charge past the Timberwolves and a 96-89 victory for the home team.

A few notes from the game:

  • Two Wolves had double-doubles – Pekovic with 12 points / 11 rebounds and Rubio with 15 points / 10 assists.
  • Andrew Wiggins was only 4-10 from the line, with the team going 21-31 from the stripe for the evening.  That is a nice way to lose a close game.
  • Gorgui Dieng had 3 turnovers in 25 minutes, but it feels like Flip has way too quick of a leash on the second year pro relative to others.
  • Unrelated to Friday’s action specifically, RIP Earl Lloyd, the first African American to ever play in the NBA who passed away on Friday at the age of 86.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Poor Offense Brings 113-102 Loss in Houston

(photo credit: chatsports.com)

(photo credit: chatsports.com)

Minnesota’s defense looked a lot better in the road contest against Houston Monday night, and it was only defense that kept the Wolves in the game as long as it did. The Timberwolves’ offensive performance was abysmal, and they fell 113-102 to James Harden and his squad. Rookie Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a career-high 30 points on his 20th birthday.

Harden was the story of the night, notching yet another triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He didn’t start out that way, however. Harden played 12 minutes in the first quarter and went 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. Houston kept the game going and patiently waited for its super star to catch up–which he certainly did.

“When I get my teammates confident to shoot their shots and be aggressive and get them in their rhythm, I can get into mine and that makes everything easy,” Harden said.

On the other side, it was an entire team that shot poorly. The Rockets held Minnesota to a season-low 33 percent from the field, including just 28.5 percent in the second half. The Wolves’ best quarter was the second, in which they shot 52.4 percent and tallied 31 points. If they could have kept the game going at that pace, a win would have been in the cards for the young team.

Kevin Martin added 21 points for the team, a solid contribution, but even he wandered from his usual consistency and made only 32 percent of his shots. Martin also committed six turnovers, which combined with the 20 total errors Minny made on the night.

Ricky Rubio has been playing well since his return from injury, but he struggled to find a groove Monday. The point guard made all 10 of his attempts from the free-throw line, but he was only 2-0f-13 in his other shots. The Associated Press’ Jon Krawzcynski posted on Twitter during the game:

The Wolves did hang on for most of the game, thanks in large to Wiggins, and they trailed by only a single point with under four minutes remaining. Unfortunately, though, Minnesota ran out of steam. Houston went on a 14-2 run in the final minutes of the game, and it was over.

“They kept getting us down, but we kept on fighting,” coach Flip Saunders said. “But we just didn’t have enough there at the end.”

Adreian Payne made his first NBA start on Monday, and the center played much better than he did in Friday night’s contest. Payne finished the game with a double-double, adding 11 points and 10 rebounds. The rookie started in the absence of the injured Anthony Bennett, who is slated to be out for two weeks with an ankle sprain.

The biggest news for Minnesota remains the return of Kevin Garnett to the team that drafted him. The 38-year-old Garnett will have his first practice with the team Tuesday, and he will be officially introduced in a presser at 3 p.m. The team has announced that Garnett will make his debut in Wednesday’s home game against Washington. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Anthony Bennett Out Two Weeks

Anthony Bennett says “hold on just one minute”. (Photo: FantasyDingo.com)

Anthony Bennett says “hold on just one minute”. (Photo: FantasyDingo.com)

 

The Timberwolves announced on Saturday that Power Forward Anthony Bennett will miss at least two weeks with a sprained ankle.  The Wolves PR feed rolled out the following within an hour of each message …

This is yet another setback for Bennett who can’t seem to catch a break this season.  With the Pups trading away Thad Young at the deadline and not rushing Kevin Garnett into the lineup (he will make his first appearance on Wednesday night) it seemed like a great week for Bennett to showcase his talents for the staff and fans alike.

Bennett was rolled up on by two Phoenix Suns players in the first quarter of Friday night’s game.  He went to the locker room and never returned to the court.

This leaves the Wolves with Adreian Payne at the PF position, along with Gorgui Dieng, who will likely have to slide over to the 4 position on the floor quite a bit Monday night.  Of course, Wolves fans will be looking ahead to Wednesday night’s game when KG makes his return to the Target Center in a Wolves uniform.

Additional injury note per the above tweets (in case you glanced over them) – Shabazz Muhammad will not travel with the team to Houston.

Timberwolves Eclipse Suns, 111-109

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

 

NBA action returned to the Target Center Friday night as the Timberwolves hosted the Phoenix Suns, the first game for both teams since the All-Star break.  Phoenix shook up its roster at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, picking up Danny Granger, John Salmons, Brandon Knight, and Marcus Thornton.  None of those players were available for Phoenix Friday night.  Despite all of those moves, the Timberwolves made just as much noise with one trade at the deadline, acquiring “The Kid” for one last run.  Kevin Garnett will make his debut for the Wolves this coming Wednesday night against the Wizards.

As for Friday night’s action, the Suns opened up with Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.  The Pups countered with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Nikola Pekovic.

Minnesota got off to a quick start, specifically Kevin Martin who scored 8 of the team’s first 10 points.  After two back to back buckets by Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves led 14-9 and led to the game’s first timeout.  The Wolves wound up building a 9 point lead before the Suns started to chip away.  The Morris twins largely led that effort and after the 1st Quarter, the Wolves held a 26-24 lead.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, with about three and a half minutes left in the opening frame, Anthony Bennett was rolled over by two Suns players and had to head to the locker room.

The second quarter was really a thing of beauty for the Wolves and one to forget for the Suns.  Phoenix missed shots, free throws, turned the ball over carelessly and allowed the Wolves build a double digit lead.  Minnesota outscored the Suns 26-18 in the quarter and took a 52-42 lead into halftime.

Here are a few additional halftime notes/stats:

  • Phoenix shot 36% (16-44) in the first half, while Minnesota shot 42% (19-45).
  • The main reason the Wolves only shot 42% was Pekovic’s 1-7 and Rubio’s 2-6 from the field.  Ouch.
  • Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a combined 24 points, with both shooting 5-8 from the field in the first half.

The Suns came storming out (see what I did there?) in the third quarter to tie the game with a 15-5 run within the first six minutes of the quarter.  Things may have been a little more negative had this not happened …

Which was preceded by this from the Timberwolves official Twitter account …

Seriously, let’s just pretend it is 2004 for the next few months.  Deal?  Deal.

Despite giving up 35 points in the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-77 lead into the final 12 minutes as Zach LaVine drove to the basket for a layup and the foul with a second left on the clock.  Unfortunately, LaVine missed the free throw thereby proving that he doesn’t want Wolves fans to only say nice things about him.

The fourth quarter was phenomenal from a fan perspective.  The teams combined for 63 points and went back and forth, trading blows throughout.  After multiple lead changes, the Wolves were in a position to close out the game after a Wiggins layup gave the Pups a 110-107 lead with 17 seconds left in the game.  However, the Wolves missed three of their final four free throws giving the Suns a last second heave to pull off a miracle.  Without a timeout to use the Suns had to launch a shot but decided to throw a pass and hope the clock malfunctioned.  It didn’t and the shot the Suns did put up was after time expired (it missed anyway).

The final score of a highly entertaining game at Target Center: Minnesota 111, Phoenix 109.  The Wolves are now off until Monday’s matchup in Houston against Kevin McHale and the Rockets.  What year is it again?

Game Notes:

  • Markieff Morris led the Suns with 31 points, followed by an 11-10-6 (points-rebounds-blocks) performance from Alex Len.
  • The Timberwolves missed 11 free throws on the evening (27-38) … some things never change.
  • While led by Kevin Martin’s 28 points, Wiggins continues to come up with the big plays when the Wolves need them.
  • While Rubio had a terrible night shooting (2-10), he finished with 10 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.  He deserves at least one vote for 5th place in NBA MVP balloting given how much he means to this club.

 

Timberwolves Make it Official, Bringing Kevin Garnett Back to Minnesota

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Welcome home, KG.

In a swirl of events on the day of the NBA Trade Deadline, the Timberwolves have made it official—Kevin Garnett is coming back to Minnesota.

This morning, I checked my Twitter feed at 5:57 a.m.—because isn’t that what everyone does first thing in the morning—and read several posts about Minnesota negotiating a trade with Brooklyn to bring Garnett back to the team he was drafted by.

Rumors buzzed around the Internet all morning and through the lunch hour, and then, at 1:34 p.m., we got this:

So, there you have it. For better or worse, The Big Ticket will once again don a Timberwolves jersey. According to sources, Minnesota traded forward Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn in exchange for Garnett. The final decision was ultimately up to KG, because he had a no-trade clause written into his contract with the Nets. In an earlier post, ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote the following:

“Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.”

It seems he made an exception  for Flip Saunders and the Wolves, though, as it will offer him a chance to finish out his NBA career with the city he first called home.

Garnett will be returning to play for Saunders, who coached the forward during Minnesota’s only eight playoff appearances (1997-2004). He will also be coached by former teammate Sam Mitchell, whom Garnett has described as “The Great Sam Mitchell” and offers nothing but respect and praise for. Earlier this season, Garnett said the following of the coaching duo:

“It’s refreshing [to see them back together in MN]. I know those are great basketball minds, great basketball IQs, two guys that are really competitive, teaching young guys. I think the league needs more of that […] I thought when the league got rid of a lot of veterans, it took away a lot of dignity and professionalism with it. It’s good to see those guys back.”

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

KG won an MVP during his final season in Minnesota, after leading the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals. Over his time here, he averaged 20.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. There is no denying the fact that Garnett is aging, though. This season, at 38 years old, the veteran is averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. So, was this a poor move for Minnesota?

It is certainly a bummer for Wolves fans to say good-bye to Young, who is only 26 years old and more in the prime of his career. Young is currently averaging 14.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, which looks much more appealing on paper, but he also has an opt-out clause following this season, and this is not the first time Minny has shopped Young around. In addition, the forward puts a $10 million hit against the Timberwolves’ cap space.

A general trend across social media this afternoon is that most fans are beyond excited to see KG back in the Target Center, but that the trade is really a marketing scheme by the Wolves—after all, nostalgia sells tickets.

So is that all this is? Is this just a “two-month victory lap“?  The Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski says “no.”

In a radio interview with KFAN, Krawczynski expressed that there really is a plan here to utilize Garnett for the experienced veteran that he is. After all, No. 21 entered the league as a teenager—just like rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine did this year.

“Flip really does believe that having Garnett here can really set the stage for Wiggins and these young guys,” Krawcynski said. “[He’s an …] investment in the future of the franchise.”

In addition, the Wolves have made it clear that they are interested in signing Garnett to a two-year extension. As Krawcynski pointed out, “KG is aware the Wolves want to do the extension. No doubt that factored into his decision to waive no-trade.”

There’s no guarantee that Garnett will bring any sort of offensive explosion to the floor—although you can bet that the first dish from Rubio to KG for a slam dunk will blow the doors right off the Target Center. One thing people aren’t acknowledging, though, is the defensive energy Garnett still demonstrates. NBC Sports‘ Aaron Gleeman posted the following:

The Wolves defense has not been anything worth raving about in several seasons, and even this statistic about KG brings a little more upside to the deal.

However you look at it, there are a lot of variables in this trade—there are a lot of things difficult to predict. Will Garnett transition well back to Minnesota? Will he improve the Wolves offense? Will he sign an extension, and for how much? But for now, today, one thing is enough for Minnesota Timberwolves fans:

KG is back in the house.

Timberwolves Crushed in the Bayou 139-91

pelicansmascot

Timberwolves and Pelicans Game Recap – 11/14/14

 

After dropping Wednesday night’s game in Mexico City, the 2-5 Timberwolves returned to action on Friday night to take on the 4-3 New Orleans Pelicans in the Bayou.  Already with Ricky Rubio, the Wolves announced earlier on Friday that Thad Young would miss at least the next two games due to the death of his mother.  (From all of us at Timberpups, we pass along our condolences to Thaddeus and his family.)

With Young missing tonight’s game the Timberwolves opened up with a Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Nikola Pekovic starting lineup.  Selfishly, I love the thought on the starting lineup, as Dieng has nothing but earn the extra minutes.  However, even with the Twin Towers approach, the Wolves got off to a real slow start falling behind 7-0 and then 20-6 in the 1st quarter.  It didn’t get much better from there over the first twelve minutes as the Pelicans closed the quarter just as they began and held a 43-19 advantage.  The Wolves shot a collective 6-19 in the 1st quarter, doing themselves no favors in trying to keep up with the home team.

Corey Brewer continued his solid play coming off of his perfect performance (7-7) on Wednesday night.  Corey tried to cut into the Pelicans lead to start the second quarter but the Pelicans came storming back quickly to retake a 25 point lead.  With about five minutes left in the half, the Pelicans were more than doubling the Wolves up on both the scoreboard (67-31) and in shooting percentage (75%-36%).

At the half the Pelicans held an 80-44 advantage and it was time to rest Pekovic and Martin to get them ready for Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Wolves and Flip Saunders, the second half consisted of more of the same.  Flip seemed to commit to the growing pains of the evening by leaving the young Pups in there to gain “game experience”.  The only Wolves that seemed to show up were Wiggins and Brewer.  At the end of the 3rd quarter the Pelicans held a 118-72 advantage.

In the end, the Timberwolves gave up a franchise record 139 points and lost by 38 in New Orleans.  There weren’t many positives to take away from tonight’s game as the defense was non-existent and the offense simply came when the game was already decided.

Notes:

  • Interested in a little bit of good news?  Kevin Garnett told Yahoo Sports that he would like to own the Timberwolves when his playing days are over.  Glen Taylor has put the team on the market before, but it would certainly be entertaining to have KG come back to ‘Sota as the owner of the franchise.  Yes/No?
  • Assuming there are going to be at least a handful more games like this over the course of the season, GM Flip Saunders has several important decisions to make before the trading deadline, namely, what to do with any player not named Rubio that you can classify as an “NBA veteran”.

Rubio shines as Wolves topple Nets

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

All three of the Wolves prior contests this season had come down to the final few minutes. In Brooklyn on Wednesday night, it was no different. Instead of folding in the clutch like a season ago, this years Wolves have excelled. Especially the newly re-signed Spanish Unicorn known as Ricky Rubio.

At the 2:38 mark, with the Wolves down four to the Nets, Rubio swished a contested 20 footer.

27 seconds later, Rubio rifled an overhead pass from the right wing. Rubio hits Kevin Martin perfectly in the chest in the opposite corner, who buried the triple to give the Wolves the lead.

After committing a reach in foul on the Wolves subsequent defensive possession, Rubio sends Joe Johnson to the line. As Johnson releases the second attempt, Rubio sneaks into the lane, grabbing the ball after it hits front iron. He hurries the ball up and passes it to Martin, who misses a contested three on the right wing.

After an iso Joe bucket against Wiggins on the resulting possession, 1:28 remains, with the Wolves down two. Rubio takes the ball up. Alone with Deron Williams on the strong side, Ricky switches his dribble to his left hand, torches Williams, and banks home a lay-up to tie the game.

On the Nets next possession, with 1:08 to play, Thad Young takes the ball away from Joe Johnson. Young hands it to Rubio. Young sets a screen on Williams, forcing Johnson to cover Rubio and Williams to cover Young. Rubio is able to easily throw it into Pekovic in the post, who due to the switch, only has Brook Lopez to worry about. Pek forces his way into a three point play with 48.6 remaining.

Brooklyn takes timeout, and on the ensuing inbounds, Rubio makes sure to run right into Lopez’ extended elbow. With a little bit of spanish flair, Rubio draws the illegal screen and the Wolves get the ball.

The very next possession, Thad and Ricky play catch for a while, before Thad, with 30.9 to play, receives a Rubio pass at the top of the key. Thad fakes his defender, drives into the lane and banks home the floater. With 27.2 seconds on the clock, the Wolves lead is now five.

To summarize, over a span of 2:01, Rubio tallied four points, three assists, a rebound and drew an offensive foul, while the Wolves went from trailing by four to leading by five.

So yes, Ricky Rubio is worth 4 years and $55 million. And no, these are not last years Wolves.

Other Notes:

  • Andrew Wiggins had his best game as a pro, scoring 17 points and only committing one turnover. His flashes of greatness are brilliant, but he suffers from many of the typical rookie mistakes. He was caught biting on the pump fake a few times again tonight, and took a few shots he probably should have holstered.
  • Early Coach of the Year candidate: Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy. His one-on-one work with Rubio seems to have helped tremendously.
  • Young, Pek and Rubio were made to play together. All are excellent passers for their positions, and the spacing is beautiful to witness.
  • Big Daddy Canada (AKA Anthony Bennett) two handed power-slams are my favorite kind of dunks (besides LaVine free-throw line windmills).
  • Increasingly after every game, I wonder what exactly Corey’s place on this team is. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with the pieces that are in place.

I leave you with these Andrew Wiggins highlights. Enjoy the win.