Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Pelicans 98, Timberwolves 91

pelicansmascot

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 24-25 and are looking at the next four games before the all-star break as an opportunity to get a few games above the Mason-Dixon Line.  That sounds like a good plan, no?  The team traveled to New Orleans for Friday’s encounter with the 21-27 Pelicans.  While under .500 for the season overall, the Pelicans were 12-12 going into the action Friday night.

The Wolves got back a few starters after they missed Wednesday’s game, opening up with: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Turiaf.  Nikola Pekovic remains out with his injury.  The Pelicans are dealing with a slew of injuries of their own, but their starting lineup Friday night was: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca.  Added bonus for future trivia: tonight was the first game in the “Smoothie King Center”. Let’s just move on …

First Half 

Game got off to a slow start in the scoring department. As an added “bonus” for Wolves fans, Kevin Love seemed to tweak something early and looked slow and banged up. Going into the first timeout with just over 5 minutes left in the opening frame, the Pelicans held a 14-12 lead, led by the Unibrow, who got it going early with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. (Congrats to the ‘Brow on being named to the Western Conference All-Star team – more than deserved!)

Kevin Love picked up a quick second foul and that led to Dante Cunningham’s early arrival in the game. For the record, Love probably should have taken a seat when he couldn’t get past half court to play defense, but you know … Adelman. (I’m quickly turning to the dark side.) Before I get in trouble, the Wolves held a 26-25 lead over the Pelicans at the end of the quarter. Corey Brewer led the Pups with 9 points and creating chaos, including one of the ugliest fast-breaks you will ever see in NBA history; however, it ended with a Kevin Martin three pointer, so no complaints here.

The early minutes of the second quarter can be summarized with this:

It isn’t like we signed this guy to a new contract this past summer or anything, right? (Crickets) Beyond this little tidbit, the Wolves played a Pelicans-inspired slowed down pace, outscoring the home team 21-17 in the quarter and taking a 47-42 into the locker room.

Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Despite not scoring in 14 minutes of action, Dante Cunningham had a nice half of basketball with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal
  • Kevin Love had 10 & 8 at the half and was solid offensively, but Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 17 points at the same time – interesting match-up!
  • Ronny Turiaf – defensive presence!  (3 blocks by halftime!)

Second Half 

Despite Kevin Love looking like a broken body multiple times in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves played a solid final few minutes to increase their lead a bit.  Love was fouled (but not called) by Greg Stiemsma and looked like he was going to need to be scraped off the floor after a few attempts in the paint on the ensuing possession after not being able to get back on defense.  There is going to be a time when we are going to regret this.  However, it wasn’t through the third quarter, as the Wolves built a 71-61 lead going into the final frame.

All of the good from the 3rd quarter came to a screeching halt with the Pelicans going on a massive run to begin the 4th quarter, going up 78-77 – a 17-6 run before Adelman finally called a timeout.  The onslaught continued as the Pelicans poured it on in the 4th quarter, while the Wolves found ways to increase their deficit – bad defense, terrible shot selection, and overall bonehead play.  With about 2.5 minutes to go, the Pelicans held an 89-82 lead, outscoring the Pups 28-11 to this point in the quarter.  Let’s hit the fast forward button because nothing positive happened the rest of the way for our Pups.  They continued to fall flat on their face and wound up giving up 37 points in the 4th quarter, losing to the Pelicans, 98-91.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Anthony Davis – great game for the ‘Brow, 26 & 10 and looked like a leader on the floor
  2. Eric Gordon – huge second half for Gordon, who finished with 20 points and it felt like he threw two or three daggers at the Wolves
  3. Kevin Love – who I am somewhat expecting to hear “trade request” from this all-star break.  26 & 18 for the starting PF in the Western Conference … 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves continue to shoot three pointers for no apparent reason other than “it’s flashy” … 4-17 in tonight’s game, including a 0-6 from Love.
  • Huge advantage for Minnesota at the FT line, going 31-37 on the evening, compared to NOLA’s 12-16.  Somehow, someway, the Wolves still managed to lose this game.
  • Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer create havoc on both ends of the floor … however, their lack of fundamental defense (along with Kevin Martin’s lack of any defense) is killing this team.  This already feels like a very long second half of the season.

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.

 

Timberwolves Take Down LA Lakers, 109-99

Minnesota welcomed an injury-riddled Lakers squad Tuesday night, and the Wolves rolled over LA in a 109-99 final score. Minny had a huge first half and then struggled a bit to land its shots in the third quarter. The team hung on, though, and pulled out the win in the end. The Wolves have now won six of their last nine games, and last night’s “W” brings the team back to .500 and two spots out of the current playoff race. Kevin Martin led the evening with 32 points, followed closely by Kevin Love with 31.

Martin and Love proved unstoppable from the beginning, scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the first period. Everyone hit their shots, and the team kept up a fast pace that kept LA from finding its groove.

Ronny Turiaf filled in for the injured Nikola Pekovic. Although Turiaf isn’t a top scorer in the game, the big man created a spark on defense that Minnesota needed. Turiaf added five rebounds and two blocked shots on the evening, and his single bucket came off a powerful slam dunk at the 6:18 mark of the first quarter.

The Timberwolves scored 38 points in the first quarter, and the second quarter went just as smoothly. The Lakers were completely disorganized in the first half, suffering from an injury bug the Wolves have experienced themselves. LA took the floor without Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Jordan Farmer, and Jodie Meeks went down early in the game with an ankle injury. The Lakers did, however, welcome back veteran point guard Steve Nash, who has played only six games this season with a back injury.

“I feel a bit selfish in that we lost, but it felt great just to play in the NBA again,” Nash said post-game. “Obviously the game didn’t go as we hoped, but for me personally that’s pretty cool to be back out there.” Nash finished the game with seven points and nine assists.

(photo credit: espn.com)

(photo credit: espn.com)

After going into halftime with a 68-52 lead, the Wolves found themselves floundering in the third quarter. A couple missed shots gave the Lakers a chance to come back, and LA quickly cut the deficit to eight. Despite missing so many players, LA’s reserves proved an athletic bunch that worked to tire the Wolves starting lineup. Minnesota refused to give up the lead, however, and never allowed its opponents to get closer than six points behind.

“It seems like the game is never going to be as easy as you like it, so you just have to persevere,” head coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s a scrappy team. I’ve looked at their games recently [...]. They don’t go away.”

The “Kevins” weren’t the only ones scoring, as a few role players made a significant impact in the win.  Corey Brewer had a strong with 11 points and three steals.  JJ Barea also came up big, driving for a couple key layups in the third quarter and tallying 11 points on the evening.

Overall, Minnesota shot 44.6 percent from the field to LA’s 41.8 percent. Perhaps the team’s most impressive stat, the Wolves went 47 percent from downtown, knocking down eight three-point shots. Martin claimed four of the long balls, and Love had two.

Love’s performance marked his 25th game with 30+ points, which broke the record previously held by Kevin Garnett. It was fitting for Love to break KG’s record in this game, as it was an especially physical one for the power forward. Love took several bumps and bruises en route to this 31 points, including a play in the fourth quarter in which he took a frightening fall.  As Love drove to the basket and went up for a shot, Robert Sacre hit him hard, knocking his legs out from under him midair. The forward crashed to the floor, his head audibly connecting with the hardwood.  The All-Star stayed down for a few minutes but ultimately came back to finish leading his team to victory.

“I got real bad whiplash,” Love said after the game. “I haven’t seen the play, but it felt like my head snapped back pretty good and hit the floor [...]. I’ve taken a few shots here and there, but I just wanted to stay in the game.”

“[Kevin] has incredible toughness,” said Martin. “That’s why we pay him the big bucks. That’s why he’s an All-Star starter.”

(photo credit: nba.com)

(photo credit: nba.com)

The Wolves schedule won’t let up much, as they head to OKC to take on the Thunder Wednesday evening and then on to New Orleans for a Friday night game.  Saturday, the Timberwolves will be back at the Target Center to welcome Portland for a 7 p.m. matchup.

 

In-Arena Moment

Target Center fans received an entertaining halftime show Tuesday night. Tag Team was in the house, and the hip-hop duo rolled out their classic hit, “Whoomp! (There it Is).”

Timberwolves Sail Over Pelicans, 88-77

It was not the most graceful of games, but a win is a win. The Timberwolves held New Orleans to a season-low 77 points at the Target Center while tallying 88 to take their fifth win in six games. Kevin Love led the Wolves with 30 points and 14 rebounds, and Kevin Martin added 18 points.

Both teams played without a major starter. Nikola Pekovic was listed inactive for Minnesota with the ankle injury, and the Pelicans missed forward Anthony Davis due to a dislocated finger.

Davis tends to hit the mid-range shots in addition to being a threat on the inside; New Orleans struggled in his absence, shooting just 35 percent from the field and an ugly nine percent from behind the arc.

Ronny Turiaf replaced Pekovic for most of the game, and his defensive game certainly cannot be criticized. With Turiaf being a lower-scoring player (he grabbed four points on the evening), though, Love absorbed some pressure to compromise offensively.

“With Pek out, we really have to find a way to relieve the pressure off [Love], move him around and stuff,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We know teams are going to come at him. … So we have to find ways to figure it out.”

Turiaf_Pelicans

Love proved unstoppable, playing more aggressively than has been seen of late. He covered all areas of the floor, even dishing out five assists when Ricky Rubio went to the bench with four fouls.

JJ Barea and Dante Cunningham came off the bench to score 10 and 12 points, respectively, which helped give some relief to Minnesota’s starting lineup.

Al-Farouq Aminu worked to keep his team afloat, grabbing 18 points and 12 boards, but it wasn’t enough. New Orleans’ Greg Steimsma, who played with the Wolves last season, scored just three points as the starting center, and point guard Brian Roberts added only nine.

In all honesty, both teams looked terrible in the second half. Turnovers were a regular occurrence on each side, and players looked lackluster across the board.

Minnesota kept the upper hand, though, capitalizing on second-attempt buckets and free throws to stay in the lead. Defensively, the Wolves played better than they have most of the season, and they held New Orleans to 15 points in the fourth quarter.

“This is when you have to step up, and we just didn’t do it tonight,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams. “That happens.”

Rubio_Pelicans

Wednesday’s win brought the Wolves to two games over .500 for the first time since November, and fans certainly hope the team has turned a corner on the season.

“We’ve been playing great over these past six games and we just want to continue doing whatever we’ve been doing,” Martin said post-game.

Minnesota will host the Memphis Grizzles Friday night at the Target Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline Moment: 

(from NBA.com): During a second quarter break, the Wolves played a video tribute to Love for being named an All-Star starter. The video also encouraged fans to put the pressure on the All-Star coaches to name Pekovic a reserve by tweeting to #pekgoestoo, claiming the bruising duo doesn’t like being separated. The two big men stood together and watched, sharing a laugh while Love pointed at Pekovic and gave his shoulders a shake.

“[Nikola's] one of my best friends in the world,” said Love, “and I want to make sure he goes too.”

 

 

Can the Wolves Survive Without Nikola Pekovic?

 

From the classic "Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic" video

From the classic “Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic” video

In case you missed it, Nikola Pekovic left Monday night’s game in Chicago and was originally listed as “Doubtful” to return later in the game.  We now have word that Pekovic is “Out” for the next 7 to 10 days and will be reevaluated at that time due to bursitis in his right ankle.  Here is the official announcement from the team on Twitter:

 

Well, that certainly doesn’t make you feel very well, does it?  Maybe the most concerning part, beyond him definitively missing the next 7-10 days, is the “He will be sidelined indefinitely”.  Pek has missed a number of games in season’s past, but had appeared in all 44 games thus far this season, averaging a career high 18.4ppg and 9.3rpg.  As you are also well aware, Pek is in the first year of his new 5 year, $60 million contract – and if all of this doesn’t make Wolves’ fans nervous, I’m not sure what will.  (Maybe numb?)

What does this mean for the team moving forward?  Well, in the next ten days, the Wolves play seven games, starting tonight at the Target Center against the Pelicans and finishing on Saturday, 2/8, home against the Blazers.  Excluding the game on 2/1 against the Hawks, the Wolves will face foes from the Western Conference – the Pelicans twice, Grizzlies, Lakers, Thunder, and finishing up with the Blazers.  To say this is an important stretch of games for the team is an understatement, given their current 11th place seeding in the conference.  They are a game and a half behind the Grizzlies in the W/L column, so that is a huge game.  They will need to find a way to beat the Pelicans and Lakers, or at least take two of those three.  The Thunder and Blazer games might be too much to handle, but if they can split those two, that would be a plus.

Beyond the games ahead, and the uncertainty of when a much-needed Nikola Pekovic will return to the lineup, there might be one silver lining in all of this.  There is playing time to be earned from this and two of the items I mentioned in our half-season review might be coming to fruition quickly.  First, this basically forces Adelman’s hand a bit in giving some playing time to Gorgui Dieng.  While Ronny Turiaf will certainly receive extended minutes, Dieng will likely be seeing the floor more over the next two weeks and showcase his talents.  Second, we might see a bit more of Kevin Love at the Center spot, playing alongside Dante Cunningham and LRMAM.  At least one of these two is going to have to step up and play to, at least, their potential, as both have struggled mightily this season for the Pups.

I don’t want to mince words, the loss of Pek is significant.  The team must take a ‘next man up’ attitude and battle through the next few weeks.  We can hope that Pek returns in that ~10 day diagnosis, but the league isn’t going to shuffle the schedule for us and the team needs to push through this.  A couple of questions for consideration:

  • Do you think this will knock the Pups out of the playoffs?
  • Who do you envision stepping up over the next two weeks?

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Wrap up Road Trip with 95-86 Win Over Chicago

Photo: Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been five years almost exactly since the Timberwolves have beaten the Bulls, and Monday night’s performance snapped that streak when Minnesota came up with a 95-86 win in Chicago. The victory wrapped up a four-game road trip for the Wolves and brought them back to .500 with a 22-22 record. Kevin Love led his team with 31 points and eight rebounds, followed by Ronny Turiaf with a season-high 14 points and seven rebounds.

Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, and D.J. Augustin added 19 points in an effort to tame the Wolves.

Minnesota looked to be the better team from the point of tipoff, shooting an impressive 54 percent in the first quarter. The Wolves were better shooters cross the board, and the Bulls couldn’t keep up with their opponents’ fast-break points. Minny also outscored Chicago at the free-throw line, coming away with 22 points to the Bulls’ 14.

“It’s a matter of playing to a certain level, and then we are going to win our share of games,” said Wolves head coach Rick Adelman.

The Bulls played without starting center Joakim Noah, and they also continued to miss Kirk Hinrich on the floor. Taj Gibson filled in for Noah and scored 10 points, but Turiaf proved the stronger big man.

“They had some people out too, but we knew it was going to be a physical game,” Adelman said. “We knew how they were going to play, and I thought we responded pretty well.”

The Timberwolves played tough defense against their opponents, grabbing eight steals and 35 defensive rebounds. Minnesota held Chicago’s bench squad to only 11 points total, while the Wolves’ reserves tallied 35 points.

Turiaf was part of that bench team, and he was called on when starting center Nikola Pekovic left the game early on with an Achilles injury. Turiaf stepped up to the plate, not only adding points but also blocking three shots. He added the energy the Wolves needed to wrap up the road trip, and he proved a real leader on the floor.

“My goal this year, regardless of the situation, is just to go out there and have some fun,” Turiaf said. “No matter how much or how little I play, I just want to have fun.”

Turiaf_Bulls

Although Minnesota’s shooting slowed down a bit throughout the game, the Wolves still finished with 46.6 percent from the floor, whereas Chicago shot only 37.6 percent.

Chicago’s Augustin made a three-pointer with 1:29 remaining to bring his team to within five, but the Wolves answered right back. Love turned around to score an easy layup, and Corey Brewer came up with a big dunk inside the final minute.

Coming Up Next:

Monday night’s win brings Minnesota back to .500 before finally heading home.  The Timberwolves’ next two games will be at the Target Center, when they host New Orleans Wednesday night and the Grizzlies on Friday. Both tipoffs are set for 7 p.m.