Timberwolves Grab Win Over Miami in Nail-Biter Finish

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

It seems that things are finally starting to come together for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as three starters who have missed weeks due to injuries are finally back in the lineup. With Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and [finally] Ricky Rubio all healthy, games have suddenly become a lot more competitive. Wednesday’s home game proved to be a real nail-biter down to the final seconds, but Minnesota came up with the 102-101 victory over Miami. Martin led the Wolves in scoring with an impressive 30 points, and Thaddeus Young added 16 points to the effort.

Martin proved the biggest highlight of the game, shooting 47.8 percent from the field and knocking down the game-winning shot off an assist from Young.

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said. “He’s been doing that for 10-12 years. We all know he’s going to step up when we need it.”

Rubio also had a strong performance in his second game back. The point guard tallied eight points on the evening and also dished out nine assists. Prior to the game, head coach Flip Saunders emphasized that he would keep Rubio in the 21-22 minute range as he transitions back. In such a close game, however, Saunders bent his own rules a bit. He left Rubio in during the end of the game, and Rubio helped control the pace of the game.

“We’re just a different team with him,” Saunders said post-game. “I was just excited to come and watch Ricky play with our guys to see what he can do with some of these guys. We haven’t had a chance to see that a lot this year.”

Mo Williams also returned after missing a few games, and he came off the bench to contribute 10 points and 10 assists.

The Wolves held a lead for much for the first half, but in the third quarter things started to unravel in an all-too-familiar fashion. Miami controlled the ball for much of that quarter, outscoring Minnesota 32-23 and capitalizing off turnovers. Just when it seemed that the game may end up like so many other games this season, Timberwolves fans saw the momentum switch heading into the fourth.

During the final quarter, Minny scored 26 points. Even more significant, though, the Wolves held Miami to just 18 points—including just a single bucket during the deciding seven-minute stretch.

Despite being out-rebounded 47-32 by the Heat, Minnesota made 51 percent of its shots and gutted out the night for a much-needed win. Although the Wolves season is arguably “over” at this point, as far as the postseason is concerned, each victory improves team morale and offers a glimpse into the future of the team if anyone remains healthy.

And if nothing else, the Wolves certainly acted as spoilers Wednesday. The loss dropped Miami’s record to 21-28, and the Heat are in a must-win situation. Forward Chris Bosh, who added 14 points for Miami, said the following after the game:

“Hell yeah, it’s a missed opportunity. We’re not going to get it back. That’s one thing about this league: If you’re in a situation where you can’t really afford to lose any games, things are slipping away from us […] We’re about to be out of the playoff race. I mean, not the race, but as far as the seeding we’re about to be out. And we’re not concentrating. I don’t understand that.”

The Timberwolves improved to 9-40 on the season, and they will remain home to host Memphis Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Timberwolves Embarrass Themselves, Lose to 76ers 103-94

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Ahead of the emotional return of Mike Miller and Kevin Love to the Target Center Saturday night, the Timberwolves took the show on the road to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers.  Along with the Knicks, the Wolves and Sixers are aiming for the most ping pong balls come lottery time and Flip Saunders’ Timberwolves took a commanding lead for the pole position.

Friday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center was downright embarrassing as the Wolves have lost both match-ups against a terrible basketball team this season.  This one came with Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup.  Just about every preconception I had on this year’s team came to fruition in last night’s game.  I typically reserve some of my thoughts until seeing it with my own eyes … and that is exactly what happened last night.

The first 22 minutes of the game were pretty entertaining basketball if you like offense.  If you like defense, you might have wanted to look away.  The Wolves got big performances from Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, while the Sixers were led by Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) and ex-Pup LRMAM.

With about two minutes to go in the first half, the Wolves started to fall apart and the body language of the vast majority of the squad became disturbing.  After multiple turnovers, the Wolves gave the ball back to Philadelphia with 3.8 seconds on the clock.  MCW received the inbounds pass and drove all the way to the hope for a buzzer beating layup.  The lack of energy, effort, frankly anything from the Wolves on that play set the tone for the second half.

Already missing Mo Williams due to injury for Friday’s contest, Zach LaVine went down for a while with an ankle injury.  After heading to the locker room for a bit, LaVine later returned to the court to play in the 4th quarter.  I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, outside of the fact that the injury itself doesn’t seem to be significant.  LaVine is very clearly not ready to play Point Guard in the NBA on either side of the court.  MCW crushed him throughout the night.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, LaVine’s backup is not an NBA caliber player.  Lorenzo Brown’s return to the team that drafted him should be over upon the return of Ricky Rubio.  The Brown signing is the type of laziness that exudes from the Wolves front office – “We drafted this guy a few years ago, so there was something there. He’s available and we need a PG.  Sign him!”

The second half was the worst half of basketball I have ever seen with my own eyes.  The Wolves put up 18 points in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Sixers 18-17.  Not to be outdone, Minnesota put up 17 points in the 4th quarter to allow the Sixers to put them away for good.  The loss moves the Wolves to 8-38 on the season, while the Sixers go to 10-37.  Minnesota now has a clear track to the most ping pong balls with two losses to Philadelphia.  Joy.

The final score: 76ers 103, Timberwolves 94

Game Notes:

  1. I want to touch on the body language again as there were a few particular examples worth calling out:
    • Kevin Martin and the returning to Philly Thad Young could not have looked more disinterested.  Martin was a chucker (5-18 FG’s) and Young didn’t seem to have much emotion returning to Philadelphia.
    • The one guy that visibly cared the most, was wearing a suit and still recovering from his ankle injury.  Ricky Rubio jumped out of his seat when the Wolves failed to execute in the fast break.  The Wolves are lucky Rubio was willing to resign earlier this season.
    • When LaVine twisted his ankle it was quite telling that not a single teammate stayed by or even really went to his side before heading to the locker room.  This season and all of the losing is likely leading to a lot of this, but in the back of my mind is the fact that this is a Flip Saunders run team and he has never been known to enforce or instill camaraderie with his club.  This isn’t going to end well.
  2. It was not a packed house last night …

Kevin Martin Returns to Lineup, Wolves Pick up Home Win Over Celtics

KevinMartin

The active roster looked a little different than it has over the past several weeks, and the changes worked in Minnesota’s favor. Guard Lorenzo Brown, originally drafted by the Timberwolves, signed a 10-day contract with the team and grabbed 11 points in Wednesday’s contest despite not yet having a full practice with the team. Kevin Martin returned to the floor after missing 34 games with a fractured wrist, and he looked better than ever in the 110-98 win over Boston. Martin led the team in scoring with 21 points, and Gorgui Dieng added a double-double to the stat sheet with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Martin had been listed as questionable before the game, as he had experienced swelling in his wrist earlier that week. However, he played 24 minutes and said his wrist felt great.

“I’m just a scorer at the end of the day,” Martin said. “It felt good early on to see a couple go in. I went through a little [rough] stretch there and just had to knock some of the rust off and got back at it in the fourth. It’s just fun to get a win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Both teams shot well at the Target Center, but Minnesota was able to grab the upper hand, no doubt feeling momentum as the lineup slowly gets healthy. An impressive 14 players scored in double digits, seven from each team. The Wolves shot 49.4 percent from the field, more accurate that fans have witnessed in awhile. One nice change was their 3-point game, as Martin and Brown added two buckets apiece from downtown. The Celtics shot 46.2 percent on the evening.

The game proved an exciting one for four quarters, as neither team could run away with it. Boston and Minny exchanged the lead five times throughout. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Wolves really stepped up and sealed the deal. The home team tallied 29 points in the final quarter, and Martin scored 12 of his 21 points within that time frame. The guard arguably had the key move in the game, when he converted a 3-point play during the fourth quarter that helped the Wolves extend their lead.

Zach LaVine was recently listed as a participant in the NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest, and he is favored to win. Whether due to that excitement or simply feeling re-energized, the rookie came out Wednesday with all cylinders firing. LaVine had a strong performance, adding 17 points and six assists to help the Wolves win their first game at the Target Center since Dec. 10. Nikola Pekovic, also recently returned, added 14 points, and Thaddeus Young grabbed 12 points and nine rebounds for the Wolves.

On the opponents’ side, Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“If you want to make it to where we’re trying to make it, these games cannot happen,” said Sullinger. “These types of games cannot happen.”

The win extended Minnesota’s record to 8-34. Up next, the Wolves will travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Friday.

“We’ve got another three weeks of Training Camp,” head coach Flip Saunders joked after the victory. “These guys coming back, it’s going to take them about three weeks to get their sea legs back. […] We’re going to find out how our pieces all fit together.”

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 14

The Timberwolves took a trip to Cleveland to take on the new “big three” including ex-Pup Kevin Love. (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

Guess who is coming to Minneapolis this week? (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

 

Setting the stage:

At 7-36 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially on pace and watch to finish with the worst record in the NBA and in franchise history.  Truth be told, this wouldn’t be that annoying if Flip Saunders would stop talking about how injuries have derailed the season and would have accepted blowing up the roster by trading Kevin Martin for ten cents on the dollar before the season started.  Saunders must find a way to get out of his contract, as well as finding out if/where there is a market for Nikola Pekovic.  While I want to see more of a Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng frontcourt, the sooner Saunders realizes that a full reset is the best way to go, the sooner this team will become relevant again outside of Minnesota (and one household in New Jersey).

The Pups have a heavy workload this week with four games, including tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder.Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 44: Monday, 1/26, 7pm – Timberpups @ Oklahoma City Thunder (TV: FS North)

With the Thunder floating around .500 ball with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back on the court, it is beginning to look like a lost season for OKC.  Even if they squeak into the playoffs, they are likely on the road to start each series.  While he it mentions it an annoying frequency, I agree with Bill Simmons on the fact that OKC’s ownership blew it by getting rid of James Harden and refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Opponent to watch:

Dion Waiters – OKC’s new Shooting Guard is playing relatively well for the Thunder, averaging over 11ppg.  He’s not Harden, but it was an interesting move to acquire the maligned Waiters.  How he fits in with Durant and Westbrook over the coming months is an interesting storyline worth watching.

Game 45: Wednesday, 1/28, 7pm – Boston Celtics @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wednesday night’s game will be the last of a six game road trip for the Celtics, who will have played in Utah on Monday night.  This is a good opportunity for the Pups to take advantage of a team that is probably looking ahead to getting back home.  The Wolves lost big in Boston back in December, with the final score 114-98.

Opponent to watch:

Kelly Olynyk – Olynyk put on a show back on 12/19 against the Pups.  In only 25 minutes, he had 21 points (8-13 FG’s) and 8 rebounds.

Game 46: Friday, 1/30, 6pm – Timberpups @ Philadelphia 76ers (TV: FS North)

Last week’s preview was “We’re going streaking!” and had it not been for Saturday’s game, this week’s preview was going to be “We’re going tanking!” thanks to Friday’s game against the Sixers.  These two teams, along with the Knicks, are in a bloody brawl for the league’s worst record.  Who will come out of this in a better place?  Only a frozen envelope away from that answer …

Opponent to watch:

Nerlens Noel – Noel isn’t lighting up the box score but is seemingly making progress averaging over 8ppg and 7rpg.  It should be a fun matchup between he and Dieng.

Game 47: Saturday, 1/31, 7pm – Cleveland Cavaliers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Well, here we go Wolves fans!  Here is your chance to boo the holy heaven out of Kevin Love … or you can go the other way and cheer him on for bringing some level of competency to the franchise for several years.  There were more than a handful of nights where Love simply dominated the opponent while wearing the Wolves’ uniforms.  Unfortunately, my favorite memory of Love will always be his “What are we doing” tweet after David Kahn drafted seventeen PG’s in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – Too easy to pick Love here.  James is the best player on the planet, so in between your cheers and jeers for Kevin, sit back and enjoy LeBron’s game.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods are doing the Wolves no favors, consistently flipping back and forth between home and road games throughout the week.  While it would be nice to see a win vs. Cleveland on Saturday night, I don’t have high expectations there.  The Pups do have a legitimate chance of at least splitting W’s and L’s this week though.  Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

Setting the stage:

With a 15 game losing streak (?!?!) in tow, the Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road this week for three games.  The losing streak has moved the Timberpups record to a dreadful 5-31 and puts them in competition with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.  In no way, shape or form is that a compliment.

The Wolves open up the coming week on Tuesday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers, a game that Minnesota really needs to find a way to pull out a “W”.  After Tuesday’s game, the remaining schedule for the week and beyond is awfully tough until a match-up against the Celtics on Wednesday, 1/28.  Let’s hope they don’t get to that Boston game with the losing streak still intact.

There has been nothing new reported on the potential returns of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and/or Kevin Martin.  The Timberwolves obviously miss these guys, but I’m not sure if it makes much sense to put any of them out there until they are 100%.  As mentioned before, it would be nice to move Pekovic or Martin before the trade deadline next month and make the rebuild that much more official.

Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 37: Tuesday, 1/13, 6pm – Timberpups @ Indiana Pacers (TV: FS North)

As referenced above, it would behoove the Pups to find a way to pull out the victory here and snap the losing streak.  The 15-24 Pacers are coming off of a loss against the Sixers on Saturday night, so they will be well rested.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – Hibbert has become a bit of an enigma with the Pacers and is underachieving this season.  Without Paul George and others, Hibbert should be putting up monster numbers.  However, he’s averaging just 11.4ppg and 7rpg.  Tuesday will be another interesting matchup for Gorgui Dieng.

Game 38: Friday, 1/16, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Suns just played this past week in Minnesota, where the Pups gave up the lead late and fell 113-111.  Andrew Wiggins had a chance to hit a game winning three pointer, but missed it at the buzzer.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic lit up the Wolves on 1/7 to the tune of 25 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, along with a handful of highlight plays.  Zach LaVine and Mo Williams must do a better job of containing Dragic and the Suns’ other backcourt members.

Game 39: Saturday, 1/17, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: None)

No local television for Saturday night’s game and I’m not sure how that is feasible in 2015.  The teams also just played one another on 1/5 with the Nuggets winning with relative ease.  While the final score was 110-101, it wasn’t really that close, as Denver outscored the Wolves 35-21 in the 1st quarter and had a 62-41 lead at halftime.

Opponent to watch:

Arron Afflalo – Afflalo led the way last week for the Nuggets, putting up 34 points at the Target Center.  Wiggins will likely be asked to check Afflalo in this one and will hopefully be able to contain him.

Wrap-up:

The Wolves need to pull out a victory this week to get out of their current funk.  They would tie the franchise record of 18 straight losses (2011) at the end of the week if they don’t pull one of these off.  Let’s avoid this please.  Go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 11

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

Our Minnesota Timberwolves come into the week with a 5-27 record and are coming off of a relatively terrible week that included two losses against the Jazz, pushing their losing streak to 11 games.  The Wolves start the week with a continuation of a four game homestand against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.  Aside from a trip quick to Milwaukee for Friday’s game, the Wolves will remain at home for the remaining three games this week.  Surprisingly, the Pups have a “home game” against the Spurs that takes place in Minneapolis this week.

As we get closer to the return of Ricky Rubio, Wolves fans are left wondering where this team is heading into the trade deadline (February 19th).  With Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin still on the shelf, would any team be willing to take on either contract?  Will Flip Saunders be able to get more than sixty cents on the dollar for either?  Only time will tell.

For now, let’s concentrate on the week ahead.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 33: Monday, 1/5, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Denver defeated the Wolves 106-102 the day after Christmas in their first matchup of the season between the Northwest division foes.  Denver remains under .500 and is struggling to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Opponent to watch:

Kenneth Faried – Someone is going to have to contain Faried this time around, as he dropped an overwhelming 26 & 25 on the Wolves in their last meeting.  Again, with Thad Young incapable of grabbing ~10 rebounds a game, Flip Saunders needs to provide more minutes to Anthony Bennett to see if he can be a solid contributor for this franchise moving forward.

Game 34: Wednesday, 1/7, 8:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberpups (TV: ESPN)

The Timberwolves make another appearance on national TV with ESPN in town to cover the game.  To be honest, I thought last year was a fluke for the Suns, who finished the season with a 48-34 record.  They are proving me wrong (again) as the team remains in heavy contention for the playoffs and are only a few games behind the Clippers for second place in the Pacific division.

Opponent to watch:

Eric Bledsoe – Bledsoe was tied to the Pups in the offseason rumorville but remained with the Suns despite the fact that the Suns’ roster is loaded with backcourt talent.  With or without Rubio, this would make for a tough matchup for the Wolves.  Godspeed Zach LaVine and Mo Williams.

Game 35: Friday, 1/9, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ Milwaukee Bucks (TV: FS North)

A close game through the first three quarters, the Bucks blew out the Wolves in Minneapolis in late November.  Milwaukee received a balanced performance from its roster, with seven players scoring in double figures in the first meeting.  Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor in his first official meeting against fellow rookie Jabari Parker.  Unfortunately, Parker has since been lost for the season due to injury and the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award is likely Wiggins’ to lose.

Opponent to watch:

Larry Sanders – Sanders had a nice game in Minneapolis putting in 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks.  The Sanders vs. Gorgui Dieng matchup is probably the most appealing among the starting five on the current, available rosters for both teams.

Game 36: Saturday, 1/10, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The champs hit a rough patch in December, losing nine games in a calendar month for the first time in the Tim Duncan era.  However, the Spurs have lit up the Wolves in the two prior meetings this season, scoring 121 and 123 points in each game, respectively.  While the Spurs remain over .500, they can’t afford to fall too far behind in the loaded Southwest division.

Opponent to watch:

Tim Duncan – Enjoy him while you can Wolves’ fans.  You never know when he may finally decide to call it a career.

Wrap-up:

Our Timberpups face a tall task this week, with three games against tough, Western Conference foes.  The ability to stay close to home may provide some stability for the club but this may be an ugly week in the W-L column and in the box scores.  Nevertheless, Go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 10

Shabazz Muhammad and the Timberwolves will take on the Jazz twice this week, a great effort to stop the bleeding on their current losing streak. (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

Shabazz Muhammad and the Timberwolves will take on the Jazz twice this week, a great effort to stop the bleeding on their current losing streak. (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the week with a 5-24 record and have lost eight straight.  The week ahead gives the Pups two games against a very beatable Utah Jazz team, with the Sacramento Kings sandwiched in between.  There may be a light ahead, as reports have surfaced that the Wolves expect Ricky Rubio to return to the court in mid-January.  Rubio has been stretching his legs during warm-ups with assistants and will be more than a welcomed sight on the floor for Flip Saunders and his crew.  While it looks like Rubio is almost ready to return to the court, there is no news out there right now for Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic.

As the season continues to slog along, it will be interesting to see if GM Flip is able to convince Head Coach Flip to make a move and clear more of the deck to make the franchise rebuild that much more official.  Here is a brief preview for each game of the coming week:

Game 30: Tuesday, 12/30, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Jazz open up the week with a 10-20 record and will be in Los Angeles on Monday to take on the Clippers.  The Wolves catch the benefit of the schedule gods, as the Jazz will have to travel home after Monday night’s game to play the next night.  With the Wolves’ injuries continuing to wreck the season, any benefit the team sees is well received.

Opponent to watch:

Gordon Hayward – Hayward is putting up strong numbers so far this season (18.9ppg, 5.3rpg, and 4apg).  He isn’t “worth” what the Jazz resigned him for, but I don’t understand the current NBA salary structure anymore than the next person.  Hayward does pose another tough night for Andrew Wiggins on both ends of the floor … yet again.

Game 31: Thursday, 1/1, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Timberwolves open up the 2015 calendar year against the team they have faced 1,000 times to open up past NBA seasons.  The Kings open up the week with a 13-17 record and will also face the Timberwolves off of a game the night before.  Sacramento will be in Boston for a game against the Celtics on Wednesday night and will travel to Minnesota afterward for Thursday’s game.  The Kings are 10th in the league averaging 102.6ppg but are giving up 103.9ppg – “good” for 26th in the league.

Opponent to watch:

Darren Collison – Collison is going to be a very tough matchup for Zach LaVine and Mo Williams.  Collison has picked up starting PG duties for the Kings admirably, averaging 16.3ppg, 6apg, and 1.3spg.

Game 31: Saturday, 1/3, 7pm – Utah Jazz @ Timberpups (TV: FSN  Plus)

The Jazz and Wolves will face off for the second time in less than a week.  For the third time in a row, the Pups’ opponent will be coming off of a game the night before, as the Jazz will be in Atlanta on Friday night.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors seems to have found his groove in the NBA, putting up 15.7ppg and 8.3rpg.  He will be a tough matchup for Thad Young.  I would prefer Flip goes to Anthony Bennett early and often at PF, particularly against the Jazz.

Wrap-up:

Scheduling quirks are a reason to be optimistic this week for the Pups to finally break the losing streak.  If the streak happens to get to ten, expect the Wolves to beat the Jazz on Saturday, as that will be Utah’s fourth game of the week.