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!

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…]

VOTW – Twolves Rising Stars

While this week’s “Video of the Week” may get your blood boiling if you think back to this era for too long, it should also be a fond memory of some of the few good ole days in the Pups history. Ahmad Rashad hosted ‘Rising Stars’ and in this edition, they focused on the up and coming Twolves Rising Stars.

With Stephon Marbury joining KG and Googs, things looked to be on the up and up and the promise land would be reached in only a matter of time. We know what happened not too far down the road, but rather than focus on the negative, let’s remember the good days of this version of the big three. [Read more…]

Timberwolves VOTW: Kevin Garnett Wins All-Star Game MVP 2003

In the spirit of All Star Weekend for the NBA, this week’s VOTW takes us back to the 2003 All Star Game, when Kevin Garnett put on a clinic in the double overtime victory for the Western Conference.  While this game might be remembered for its tribute to Michael Jordan … or Mariah Carey’s halftime performance as each and every NBA player laughed in the background … it was KG who took over the game itself, finishing with 37 points on 17-24 shooting.  He also collected 9 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 assists.  All in a day’s work, even if he did put in 41 minutes.  I’m sure Flip Saunders wasn’t thrilled about that.

Sit back and enjoy the six-plus minutes of highlights of KG.  At the same time, note that KG played in his fifteenth All Star Game this past weekend!  Congratulations KG!

Minnesota Timberwolves 94 – Boston Celtics 104

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Boston on Wednesday night for the tail end of their back-to-back road trip in what was to be an exciting matchup against the franchise’s former poster boy, Kevin Garnett. The Wolves, never having defeated Boston since the blockbuster trade that sent “The Big Ticket” out east, entered the TD Garden the night after an 18-point win over Philadelphia in which the team sank 13 three-pointers. However, last night’s blessings did not hold true and the Timberpups fell to the Celtics 104-94.

This game ultimately came down to defense and free throw shooting. The Pups had a miserable night at the charity stripe, only converting on 14 of their 30 attempts. Having lost the game by 10 points, it is very concerning when the entire team missed a total of 16 free throws and shooting under 50% from the free throw line. It is pretty tough to win a game when you are unable to take advantage of points handed to you from the opposing team, especially in a very tough road environment. It also did not help that Andrei Kirilenko was once again unavailable due to back spasms.

A main storyline of tonight’s game was the frontcourt matchup of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic against Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Minnesota’s frontcourt was largely expected to dominate the game in the paint, but the ageless KG was once again able to overpower Love while forcing turnovers out of the Pups’ bigs. At age 36, Garnett played an extremely efficient 27 minutes and finished the game with 18 points (8-13 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.

On the other end, K-Love had a game to forget as he turned the ball over 5 times while missing 6 of his 12 free throw attempts. Love did far too much arguing with referees and far too little of hustling back on defense. The All-Star PF looked clearly rattled in his matchup against KG, and should definitely be criticized for his effort on the defensive end. As I have stated before, one blatant difference separating Love from Garnett is KG’s devotion to the defensive side of the ball, whereas Love has been a marginal to poor defender his entire career to date. Yes, Love lacks the athleticism that had previously made KG such an imposing defender. But at age 36, Garnett no longer has the same bounce and agility that he once did, and it could be argued that Love is currently better suited to be a great defender than KG himself. The lack of effort on defense is what continues to keep Love from achieving the ultimate superstardom that KG previously attained.

Fresh off his two-game suspension, PG Rajon Rondo returned to Boston’s starting lineup against the Wolves in what promised to be a significant mismatch against Minnesota PGs Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. Rondo, one of the quickest players in the NBA, did an excellent job of penetrating and kicking out of the Timberwolves half-court defense. Rondo finished with 17 points and 11 assists in 38 minutes.

Boston did a masterful job hard-hedging off screens and effectively slowed down Minnesota’s pick-and-roll game. Boston’s compensated for their lack of dominant interior defense by their tremendous use of double-teaming and excellent defensive rotations. As all Doc Rivers’ teams do, the Celtics were persistent closing out shots and were able to get a hand in Wolves players faces all night.

The Timberwolves headed into the locker room at halftime with a 51-47 lead, while having only converted on 7 of their 14 free throw attempts. Minnesota held the advantage on turnovers, as the Celtics committed 10 to only 5 Pups turnovers. KG got hot early defended by Love, and used his signature turnaround to drain non-defendable 10-footers over his successor.

The Pups did a very poor job of boxing out in the second half and allowed far too many second chance opportunities. Rookie Jared Sullinger was one of the main beneficiaries of Minnesota’s rebounding struggles, as he provided 7 points and 7 rebounds in a productive 18 minutes off the bench.

Few players impressed me tonight, the first being Nikola Pekovic. Pek countered double-teams on the low post with smart kick outs to the perimeter, and did not record a single turnover in 32 minutes of action. Minnesota’s starting center finished the game with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals.

Another player who has really impressed me these past few weeks has been Josh Howard, who after recording a double-double last night provided 12 points and no turnovers tonight. Howard has done a remarkable job getting an arm in passing lanes and was able to provide 3 steals in 33 minutes.

I could dissect this game and individual performances as long as I want to, but it seems like that would be unfair given the nature of this game. Yes, the Wolves were not going to shoot 60% again tonight, and in fact they really struggled. The missed free throws seemed to be a chain reaction as once Love started missing them, everyone followed suit. What bothers me most about tonight is K-Love’s pouting and lack of effort on defense. He is getting to the point in his career where he needs to recognize that in order to be truly dominant, he needs to become at least an above-average defender. Here are my three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Garnett
  2. Jason Terry
  3. Rajon Rondo

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings

The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Sacramento Tuesday for the third game of their present road trip and take on a Kings squad fresh off a win against the Utah Jazz. Minnesota, who is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, has had a tough time acclimating to the return of All-Star Kevin Love, who has played well despite regaining strength in his right shooting hand. On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, Love threw his protective black glove to the sidelines in frustration and played the remainder of the game with no restrictions on his right hand, and it appears that he is officially done with the protective glove.

Andrei Kirilenko was a main component of the Timberwolves unexpected 5-2 start, but has had a tough time getting in a rhythm since the return of K-Love. In the past three games, AK-47 has shot a tough 9-29 from the field after starting the season red-hot. Kirilenko sat out practice on Monday due to back spasms, but states that he is fine to start tonight against the Kings.

While many have begun to panic due to the Timberwolves continued losing despite the addition of Love, the notion that this team is better without Love in the lineup is absolutely unjustifiable. Yes, the team has seen poorer defensive efficiency numbers from their star in the middle and K-Love has had a tougher time shooting due to his strengthening wrist, but it is obviously going to take time before the offense and defense gains the appropriate chemistry they missed out on when Love sat out the preseason and start of the season.

An important thing to note is the success that the Timberpups had when playing without their main offensive focus, and how they used good ball movement and cutting to beat tougher opponents. With Love back in the mix, there has been less ball movement and more one-on-one basketball, and this has likewise caused players like AK-47 to play a much different kind of basketball than they were used to. This adjustment will unquestionably take time, and a few losses, in order to get back up to speed.

I have no problem with Love taking 20 shots a game, for he is certainly the best scorer on the team and gets to the free throw line at a very effective rate. However, within Adelman’s corner offense, I would really like to see more passing out of the superstar PF. Love is a more than capable passer and sees the floor as well as anyone on the team, and the success of the offense relies on passing and cutting from the high post, where Love is used to getting the ball. Just as Kobe has begun to adjust with the Lakers new offense, when the focus of the opposing defense is to shut Love down, there will be many more backdoor cutting opportunities for players like AK and Dante Cunningham which could create for an increase in high-percentage scoring chances.

Since I am a Timberwolves fan, I am ultimately going to constantly compare Kevin Love to our former superstar, KG, whether it is unfair or justified. The main difference I see in their games at this stage in their development is that Garnett started to become a world-class passer and was better at identifying when to score and when to find his teammates.  Love is averaging just 1.7 assists per contest, while Garnett averaged 4.3 in his fourth season in the league. In order to truly be a complete offensive force, K-Love must follow KG and evolve from a high-usage scorer to a true floor general. As we have seen from the effects of Ricky Rubio, a main key to the Timberwolves winning games lies in passing and ball movement, and the Wolves have certainly not done a good job of that since getting Love back in the lineup.

Tonight, the Pups face a vastly inferior opponent and should benefit from the opposition’s immaturity and lack of confidence. I want to see better rotations on defense and for Love to get AK more involved in the offense. Here is my prediction for the three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans

All-Time Timberwolves 1st & 2nd Teams

The team here at Timberpups.com thought it would be a good introduction to the new site if we introduced a topic that each and every one of you has an opinion on: who would you put on your all-time Timberwolves team?  With that in mind, here are my own, personal thoughts on who should be included on this list, along with some perspective:

ALL TIMBERWOLVES 1st TEAM:

PG: Stephon Marbury

SG: Isaiah Rider

SF: Wally Szczerbiak

PF: Kevin Garnett

C: Kevin Love
[Read more…]