Bryant Breaks MJ’s Record, Timberwolves Fall to Lakers 100-94

(foxsports.com)

(foxsports.com)

Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant made history in Minnesota on Sunday night, when he passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bryant beat Jordan’s record with a pair of free throws in the second quarter; he tallied 26 points on the night to total 32,310 for his career.

The Timberwolves delivered a strong performance at home, and fans saw several glimpses of young players finding their groove on the court. In the end, though, it seemed fitting that Bryant knocked down a couple of clutch shots to slip away with the 100-94 win. Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to lead the Wolves with an impressive 28 points and nine rebounds, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 16 points.

The game was an entertaining one, to say the least. LA and Minnesota exchanged leads five times throughout the game, and it all came down to the wire when Wiggins tied it up 94-94 at the free-throw line with under two minutes remaining. The Target Center crowd was electric, hoping for the Wolves to come away with the “W,” but Bryant stepped back and drilled a long three-point shot to put the Lakers up 97-94. Minnesota was forced to follow in an effort to slow things down, and LA made three out of four shots from the charity stripe to seal the game.

Although not getting the win they hoped for, several Wolves players expressed nothing but respect for Bryant and his career accomplishment. For a few of the younger players on the roster, they were only toddlers when Bryant started in the NBA. Wiggins was just one year old.

“I witnessed greatness tonight,” Wiggins said postgame. “A living legend passed Michael Jordan, who everyone thinks is the best player of all-time. That’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

Following the game, Bryant gave kudos to Wiggins, comparing the No. 1 pick to himself in earlier years.

“It was a strange feeling because I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I remember playing against Michael [Jordan] my first year. And to be here tonight playing against [Wiggins], seeing the baby face and the little footwork or technique thing that he’s going to be much, much sharper at later on, was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago.”

The game stopped for a few brief moments when Bryant hit the milestone; the guard received congratulatory hugs and affirmations from both teammates and opponents, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor presented Bryant with the game ball before play resumed.

“It was different,” Bryant said. “I’m so used to being the villain all the time on the road it took a minute to kind of adjust. It felt good to be appreciated like that.”

Despite falling short of the win, head coach Flip Saunders called Sunday’s matchup a “learning experience” for the team. There were several glimpses of good things for the Wolves, as they shot 42.2 percent from the field and actually outscored the Lakers 54-38 in the paint.

Muhammad had arguably his best game of the season. The forward’s 28 points came in just over 27 minutes on the floor, and he continued to create shot after shot.

“When [Shabazz] goes in the game I think everyone knows … that when he gets it he’s probably going to look to score,” Saunders said. “They’re really trying to guard him now … and he still finds ways to create opportunities for himself. That’s a positive.”

Corey Brewer and Zach LaVine added that spark of energy for their team, adding 10 points apiece for the evening. Brewer also dished out nine assists and grabbed two steals.

Sunday’s loss dropped Minnesota’s record to 5-18, currently last in the Western Conference.

The Wolves will leave for a two-game road trip to face the Wizards on Tuesday (6 p.m. CST) and then the Celtics on Friday (6:30 p.m. CST).

 

Timberwolves Sink Lakers, 120-119

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

The 3-10 Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road to take on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team that is off to the worst in franchise history at 3-12.  Despite the return of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference with our Pups.  The Lakers lottery pick, Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and things have gone from bad to worse for Los Angeles.  As you might expect, the Lakers would receive zero pity points from the Wolves, who continue to take the court with a ton of missing pieces.

The Wolves opened up with a returning Mo Williams at PG, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Lakers came out with Jeremy Lin, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill.

Mo Williams started off the game with the shooter’s touch, scoring 8 of the Pups’ first 13 points.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, Kobe was in the zone to begin the game as well.  Bryant was all over the court, putting up 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in the 1st quarter.  In the final 4-5 minutes of the opening quarter, the Wolves turned the ball over entirely too much (7 in the first quarter) and it led to the Lakes taking a seven point advantage into the second quarter, 30-23.

After falling behind by as many as eleven points, the Wolves went on a small run to cut the Lakers lead down to three, 52-50.  The Wolves were led by Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, who were the only two players doing much of anything on the offensive end of the court.  Heading into a timeout, LaVine had quickly become the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field.

At the half of a relatively exciting and certainly entertaining game, the Lakers held a 58-54 advantage.  While the Wolves were heavily relying on Mo Williams, LaVine, and Bennett, the Lakers were getting contributions across the board.  Six of the ten players that entered the game had scored at least six points for the home team.

The Timberwolves came out and scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 58.  From there, the two teams went toe to toe and bucket for bucket throughout an amazing show of offense in the third quarter.  Basketball purists may also suggest that NBA team defense regressed 25 years as well.  When Wes Johnson is going off, you know there are issues on the defensive end of the court.  The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 39-38 in the third quarter but trailed 96-93 after three quarters.

It looked like the Wolves were in trouble when Nick Young started to get hot and brought the crowd alive in the 4th quarter.  However, Mo Williams answered the call with eight straight points for the Wolves and tied the game at 117.  The play/sequence of the game followed Williams’ last bucket as Kobe got Andrew Wiggins to bite on a few up-fakes and drew a foul.  However, Bryant missed both free throw attempts allowing the Wolves to take a two point lead on a Thad Young bucket.  Kobe tied the game at 119 with another basket but the Wolves had five seconds on the clock to get a shot off.  Flip Saunders drew up a play for Thad and he drew a foul on Nick Young to go to the free throw line.  After missing the first, Young made the second to give the Wolves a 120-119 lead with two seconds left in the game.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Kobe Bryant missed a relatively open three pointer as time expired, giving the Pups the victory, 120-119.  After losing 22 straight to the Lakers, the Timberwolves have now won four of the last five.

Game Notes:

  • The Lakers wore an alternative black t-shirt jersey this evening, which led to the Timberwolves wearing their home white jerseys.  The NBA is confusing.
  • While Wiggins probably had his worst game of the season Friday night, fellow rookie Zach LaVine finished with a career high 28 points on 11-14 shooting.  LaVine of course was returning to the Los Angeles area after his one season at UCLA.
  • If it weren’t for LaVine, Mo Williams would easily be considered the player of the game, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists.

The Whoa Nelly Recap – Timberwolves 143, Lakers 107

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises! (Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises!
(Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

 

At 35-35 the Timberwolves have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs, although this isn’t official.  The original basketball team from Minneapolis paid a visit to the Twin Cities Friday night, coming in with a 24-47 record and a team whose season was over before it really began.  With Kobe Bryant remaining on the shelf, Mike D’Antoni has apparently been busy floating his name in the college ranks.  There aren’t many more dislikeable head coaches in the NBA, are there?  That said, Wolves Twitter had their own little news today with a little more meat to the potato of Rick Adelman’s departure.  (In short, we’ll cover this at the end of the season when it becomes official, but this could be filed under “no surprise”.  You could also argue that Adelman has mailed it in since the beginning of 2014 … but I won’t … here/yet/now.)

So, with all of those tidbits out of the way, let’s talk about Friday night’s action at Target Center.  Nikola Pekovic returned to action and the starting lineup, which also included Rubio, Martin, Brewer, and Love.  The Lakers started the game with Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.  Good grief Charlie Brown … no Pau Gasol for the Lakers.

First Half

The Wolves welcomed back Pek in a big way, as the Serbian scored the first six points for the Wolves, giving the home team an early 6-2 lead.  After a quick timeout by the Lakers, the Wolves continued to dominate the early stages of the quarter, building a 20-4 lead.  Pekovic played the first seven minutes and was replaced by Gorgui Dieng.  Early minutes for the rookie and I’ll ignore that the Wolves had already built a ~20 point advantage.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 41-24 lead, thanks to Pek’s aforementioned efforts and Kevin Love’s 15, 5, and 4 in the first twelve minutes.

The story of the 2nd quarter was “more of the same”.  The Wolves’ bench played well and helped double up the Lakers to the tune of 60-30 with under 5 minutes to play in the half.  That breaks down to a 19-6 run in the first ~7 minutes of the quarter.  Dante Cunningham had a nice stint on the floor, with 6 points and 3 rebounds during that span.

If there were a mercy rule in the NBA, I think it would have been called at the half.  The Wolves held a 74-43 advantage as the teams went into the locker room.  It was 50/50 if the Lakers would come back out for the 3rd quarter.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • The Wolves put up a season high 74 points in the 1st half, with the bench really contributing.  Fantastic!
  • Conversely, the Lakers are really, REALLY bad.
  • Someone should clip the box score out of the local newspapers tomorrow and tape them to Love’s locker.

Second Half

To answer the question “Did it get any better for the Lakers in the second half?” … the answer is “NO”!  Tonight’s game could not have gone any better for the Pups.  They reached 100 points with about five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  Kevin Love had 19, 9, and 9 in the same amount of time.  At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves held a 111-77 lead, and as an added bonus, Love tracked down a last second rebound to give himself a triple double for the evening.

I’ll save you the suspense, the Wolves managed to hold on to win this one.  The members of the end of the rotation (Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved, etc.) all played heavy minutes in the 4th quarter and everything wound up A-OK.  Final score, Timberwolves with a big win of 143-107 over the Lakers.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Welcome back the big guy!
  2. Kevin Love – Triple double alert!
  3. Wolves Bench– I could easily make the case for Kevin Martin here but I think this one deserves to go to the group of guys who I have personally thrashed much of this season.  Tonight they played with passion and near flawless execution.

 Key Takeaways

  • Tonight’s 143 points were a franchise high in points for the Timberwolves
  • The Lakers are really, really bad.  There is absolutely nothing on this roster that would warrant trade rumors of Kevin Love going to this team via trade.  Repeat, NOTHING!
  • I hope the Wolves enjoy this one because they now enter a four game streak of potential doom (Nets, Clippers, Grizzlies and the Heat).

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 8

 

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season! (Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season!
(Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Setting the stage:

The Wolves enter another busy week in the early months of the 2013/14 season with another 4 games, playing every other day after tonight’s back to back game.  Our Pups enter the week on the Mason-Dixon line of .500 ball after a gritty win in Memphis Sunday night.

Similar storylines continue to exist for this roster – very strong on offense, a work in progress on defense, and a desperate need for help from the bench so that the starting lineup doesn’t start to keel over come March and April.  The Pups are 4th in the league in scoring at 105.5ppg, 6th in rebounding (45.2rpg) and 8th in assists (23.0apg).  Unfortunately, the team remains in the bottom quarter of the league on defense (24th entering Monday’s play) giving up 101.7 points per game.

Game 26: Wednesday, 12/16, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ Boston Celtics (TV: FS North & NBA TV) [Read more…]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 2

 

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season! (Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season!
(Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Setting the stage:

I have never been as excited for the second week of the NBA season as I am for this coming week!  Why?  For the first time, I will be frequenting the Target Center for some Timberwolves action!  Yes!!  I will be in town for the Wednesday and Friday games this week, so if anyone is interested in grabbing a Teddy Bruschi or Charles Brewkowski before or after either game, please do shoot me a note here or on Twitter.

Aside from that shameless promotion, the Timberwolves are coming into the week off of a promising week – going 3-0 with a dramatic home opener, a blowout against OKC, and a solid road win at MSG – despite giving up a big lead – on Sunday.  As it always seems to be with the Wolves, with the good comes a little bad, with the team announcing that Ronnie Turiaf has a fractured elbow and is out indefinitely.  That will put Gorgui Dieng in the spotlight early on in his rookie season and he’ll need to step up and contribute behind Nikola Pekovic.

The Wolves enter the week looking like an offensive juggernaut, averaging 110 points per game through the first three.  The team is also top 10 in the league in rebounds and assists per game, at 43 and 23 respectively.  Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are leading the way in the box score, but it has been solid contributions from the entire rotation that have helped the team to its 3-0 start.

Let’s see if this can continue into week two.  Here are a few thoughts for each game this week.

Game 4: Monday, 11/4, 6pm – Timberwolves @ Cleveland Cavs (TV: FS North)

The Wolves will travel to Cleveland off of Sunday night’s game at MSG, with the opponent having an off day to recover from Saturday’s game against the Pacers.  The Cavs are off to a slow start this season, entering the game 1-2 thus far.  They are near the bottom of the league in scoring at only 85.3 ppg.  Kyrie Irving is leading the team in scoring and assists but his shot is a bit off right now.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Cavs have gotten minutes from Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum, who may make things a little tough in the paint.

Opponent to watch:

Kyrie Irving – While there are a few intriguing storylines with the Cavs (Michael Bennett and Bynum particularly), I’m giving the nod to Irving for this go-round given the overall excitement he can create and the speed in which he can play at.  Hopefully Rubio can contain Irving and/or Kyrie’s shot remains off for one more night.

Predictions:

I’m not predicting a loss until the Wolves drop a game.  I wouldn’t be surprised though if the team falls here, given the back to back schedule.  How is that for hedging bets?  A big game from Kevin Love puts the Wolves over.  Final score: Timberwolves 98, Cavs 92

Game 5: Wednesday, 11/6, 7pm – Golden State Warriors @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

I visit the Twin Cities with the Warriors in tow from Philly.  Not really, they should already be in town.  Wednesday’s game at Target Center is the middle game for Golden State’s three game road swing.  This is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA and we can expect a high scoring affair.  Klay Thompson dropped a cool 38 points on opening night and the Wolves will need to find a way to contain him and Stephen Curry.  The Wolves frontcourt is also going to have to find a way to slow down David Lee, who put up gaudy stats in week one.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Iguodala – Many Wolves fans have clamored for AI2 for years (I’m not one of them) and Wednesday is another opportunity to see him play at the Target Center.  Through the team’s first three games, AI2 has not been scoring much, but that isn’t necessarily what GS needs from him.  He is however, filling out the box score, contributing in all aspects of the game – passing, rebounding, steals, and blocks.

Predictions:

The highest scoring regular season game in NBA history (without overtime) was on 11/2/90 between the Warriors and Nuggets.  The teams combined for 320 points.  The bar is set for this game, make it happen!  Final score: Timberwolves 130, Warriors 122

(I have never, ever predicted 130 points for an NBA team.  This will be a special night all-around.)

Game 6: Friday, 11/8, 7pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Mavericks will visit the Target Center on Friday night, coming off of a nationally televised game Wednesday night in OKC.  The team made several, significant moves in the offseason and to this point, it has paid off.  They finished the first week of the season 2-1, with wins at home against Atlanta and Memphis, and the loss coming on the road in Houston.  Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are off to hot starts, each averaging more than 20 ppg.

Opponent to watch:

Dirk Nowitzki – My eyes are going to be on Dirk, as I have never seen him play in person.  He may have lost a step, but I’m intrigued to see just how sweet his offense looks in person.

Predictions:

I’m confident that the Twolves will win this game.  That’s never a good thing.  It will likely be the polar opposite of Wednesday’s game against GS though.  Rubio shines in this one and I get to gloat about it all the way back to NJ.  Final score: Timberwolves 96, Mavericks 88

Game 7: Sunday, 11/10, 8:30pm – Timberwolves @ LA Lakers (TV: FS North)

The Wolves head west to take on the Lakers Sunday night to start a back to back against both LA teams.  The Lakers will come into the game off of a three game road trip that took them through two-thirds of Texas and New Orleans.

This will be Wolves’ fans first opportunity to see the almighty Wes Johnson in purple and gold.  Have I mentioned him in the past?  I think I have.  While we won’t see Kobe Bryant, I still think this team can tread water for a while.  This past Friday night, the team stayed with Duncan-less Spurs and almost pulled it out.

Opponent to watch:

Wes Johnson – Just kidding, unless you want to induce a coma.

Pau Gasol – This will be a tough match for Pekovic, given Pau has returned to the middle of the floor.  Pau is putting up solid numbers early on in the season.  With Kaman as the backup, we might see a little more of Kevin Love at the Center spot, as Pekovic and Dieng will have their hands full.

Predictions:

I expect a big night from Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer going against the Lakers’ wings.  Final score: Timberwolves 103, Lakers 94

Wrap-up:

A pretty busy week for the Wolves lies ahead, with four games in seven nights.  The countdown has already begun for my trip to the Twin Cities.  Looking forward to meeting as many of you as I can over anything but a Martina Navratibrewski (because you can’t have more than ‘ski’ at the end of the root word).

Here’s to hoping the Pups continue their winning ways!  Please don’t let me be there for the first loss.  Please!  Let’s go Wolves!

2013/2014 Western Conference Preview

Western Conference Logo

Well, we can now call this an annual tradition, so welcome back to another Timberpups.com’s preview of the NBA’s Western Conference.  I’m going to stick with a similar flow for the preview, ranking the conference from worst to first and taking a stab at how I see the playoffs unfolding.  As I was ranking the teams this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t a team in the conference that doesn’t have its flaws.  I also have no idea how things are going to pan out at the top of the conference given injuries, old age, and a few other wrinkles we’ll tackle when we get there.  Enough foreplay, here we go …

15. Phoenix Suns: I’m not even sure where to start.  If I were a Suns fan going to home games, my regular attire would start with a brown bag.  The owner is reprehensible, the front office is something a little less derogatory, and the roster is a mess.  Eric Bledsoe is going to be a fantasy basketball stud.  Marcin Gortat should put up nice numbers as well, given the Suns’ rookie is Alex Len and already listed as “Day-to-Day”.

14. Sacramento Kings: Any time you have a coach-killing, I don’t give a crap, locker room cancer up for a new contract, you have to max them out, right?  Particularly after a lost season when your old ownership group dragged the entire city through the mud.  This will be a fun team to watch with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore in the backcourt, but I hate their frontcourt and I’m not moving this team up any further with Cousins the proud new owner of a max contract.

13. Portland Trailblazers: This is likely where I lose a lot of readers, but I foresee a lost year for the Blazers, who will be held hostage by LaMarcus Aldridge – reportedly not happy with the team and looking to move on.  The Blazers are another team that will look great playing small ball with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and McCollum, but I think they suffer from the distractions.  One final question: is Thomas Robinson going to figure out life in the NBA this season?

12. Utah Jazz: The Timberwolves’ trade partner from draft night!  Trey Burke and Alec Burks make for an intriguing backcourt (and an announcers nightmare).  This team still has 2 or 3 too many wings on the roster and a complete lack of balance.  They have no depth at PF/C, so expect a lot of run for Favors and Kanter, and then expect them to hit a wall after the all-star break.

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Who knows when Kobe will come back, but what I do know is that he isn’t human.  So when he does return, he’ll be at least 80% of Kobe and that’s better than 90% of the players in the NBA.  At the same time, I think this team can tread water thanks to Nash, Gasol, and to a much lesser extent, Kaman.  If they would have signed one decent wing this offseason, I think they would fight for the last playoff spot.  Sorry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson fans.

10. Denver Nuggets: This year’s winner of my “I literally have no idea what to expect from this team” award.  I think Brian Shaw is going to be a good coach, unless he tries to replicate Kurt Rambis’ performance in Minnesota.  I like Lawson and Faried, while Gallinari/Chandler are certainly serviceable (note that Gallinari is injured).  But then I look and see their SG rotation (Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, and Quincy Miller) and their starting Center (JaVale McGee) and think there is no way this team flirts with 40 wins.  Again, I have no idea where this goes.  (#Analysis)

9. Dallas Mavericks: This was my surprise team in last season’s preview.  That didn’t go too well, but the team was still competitive.  They are another year older (Dirk, Marion, and Wince Carter) and have a huge question mark in the paint – Sam Dalembert.  The addition of Monta Ellis adds a lot of intrigue, if only to see how long it takes for Rick Carlisle to become the first coach to ever attack a player on the floor with a chair from the first row.  The West is too strong/competitive for the Mavs to make the playoffs in my opinion.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. New Orleans Pelicans: New team name, new mascot, and a few new faces.  This is one of the few teams that are on my “must watch” list to see how these guys work together.  The Pelicans stole the draft by getting Jrue Holiday, but then went out and got Tyreke Evans.  If Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers can stay healthy (I know, I know), this team is going to be highly entertaining.  I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Davis yet, who had a strong rookie season and will only get better.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: So, I have to be honest.  The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded and I wound up seeding the playoff teams with two thoughts: 1. some semblance of how I legitimately thought things would wind up and 2. one eye on the playoffs and creating exciting first round match-ups.  We’ll get there, trust me.  The Wolves are already down one man (Budinger) after last season’s debacle and really can’t afford to lose anyone else, particularly on the wing.

Last season was supposed to be the year the team returned to the playoffs and broke the curse, thereby allowing this season to be “the next step”.  So we are behind a year on that roadmap, but I do believe this team is a lock for the playoffs if it can stay healthy.  How far it can go heavily depends on Love returning to his “Best PF in the NBA” tag and Rubio making a significant leap in rankings among PG’s.  If those two things happen, and they are big “if’s”, this team can do a lot of damage, as all of the complementary pieces are there – shooting, depth, veterans, young guns, and more.

One last thought: Derrick Williams or Shabazz Muhammad must wedge themselves into Adelman’s rotation to fill minutes at multiple positions.  If this happens, the team will be ready to roar come playoff time.

6. Golden State Warriors: This team is scary good on paper and there lies the problem.  Do I really want to rely on Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and not miss significant time over the course of a season?  Is Harrison Barnes going to breakout?  Is Andre Iguodala a nice stats, falters when it matters type of player?  Everything about this team says it could be a top four team in the conference, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it any higher than this spot.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: We know what Memphis did last season in the playoffs and quite honestly, that is the only reason I have them above GS.  I really like what the Grizzlies did in getting Ed Davis.  However, I thought Tayshaun Prince could have been shopped this offseason in order to find an upgrade on the wing.  Gasol and Randolph are going to bring it every night and Mike Conley has found himself as a PG in the NBA.  This is just a really good “team” on both ends of the floor and I’m not going to discount that.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Here is what I wrote last season for the Clippers:

I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul.  However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me.  Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle.  Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball.  The owner of this team is disgusting.  Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers? 

Nothing has changed.  In fact, I had them at #4 last season as well.  Chris Paul is running the entire franchise, but to his credit, players are coming to LA to play for the Clippers, the latest example being JJ Redick.  They have a solid starting five and three solid backups in Collison, Crawford, and Barnes.  Beyond that eight man rotation though, it is a little frightening if you are a Clippers fan (Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jamison?  Yikes!).

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Well, the James Harden trade certainly didn’t work out.  As I mentioned after the trade, I hate seeing teams sell when they have a very legitimate shot at a ring and that’s what Sam Presti did and now they have to figure out how to right the ship.  It always helps when you have Kevin Durant.  The injury to Russell Westbrook will cost the team at least a couple of wins in the early part of the season and that is going to cost them a top two seed in my opinion.  Are we sure Serge Ibaka is only 24 years old?  He was drafted by the Sonics and that team hasn’t been around in what feels like a decade.

2. Houston Rockets: You may notice what I’m doing here if you are a Wolves fan, but I slide the Rockets into the 2 seed of the conference.  You may have heard that Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this offseason.  James Harden took ‘the leap’ last year and became one of the top players in the league.  PG play is a concern, but the Rockets have good depth at the forward positions (while not spectacular) and a top three player at their respective positions in Howard and Harden.  This equates to a lot of regular season wins and the 2 seed in my book.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Why?!  Will this team please go away!  I say this half in jest because the Spurs play great basketball and showed the nation that they could hang with the Heat.  The NBA Finals were as good as professional basketball can look.  Naturally, the Spurs found diamonds in the rough in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and every other franchise just continues to shake their collective heads.  I can’t make a case for anyone else in the 1 seed, given the injury to Westbrook in OKC.

Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:

2014 Western Conference Playoff Predictions

As mentioned earlier, I tried to make the first round as entertaining as possible with the seeds.  Spurs roll over a ‘happy to be here’ Pelicans team, the Clippers again in the 1st round (YES!), the Thunder take care of a pesky Warriors team, and the Wolves upset the Rockets!

Come on, look at all those storylines: Adelman vs. McHale, Dwight choking in the playoffs, the Wolves getting stronger as the season progresses and culminating in the upset!  This would be fantastic.  Honestly, name a worse first round opponent for the Rockets, not named the Spurs and Thunder.  Pekovic and Love can frustrate the heck out of Howard, and the team can throw a number of players out there to man up on Harden … or at least provide their respective six fouls.  Make this series happen!

Beyond the first round, you see a pretty straightforward run by the Spurs and Thunder, setting up the rematch to represent the conference in the Finals.

Where am I off my rocker in the conference rankings?  Who do you see representing the conference in the Finals?  Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be on the lookout for an Eastern Conference Preview within the next week or two.

Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Los Angeles Lakers 120

08^740919 05WOLF032813.jpgGame Summary:

Before spoiling the big ending between the Timberwolves and Lakers on Wednesday night, let me set up the context to what would ultimately be one of the most controversial endings to this NBA season. With 5 and a half to play in the final period of play, the Wolves trailed LA 106-94 playing in the Target Center. The Pups were hanging by a thread as Dante Cunningham was playing hero due to his red-hot mid-ranger game and Ricky Rubio doing everything to find him for 15-18 footers. With just around 3 minutes left to play, the Timberwolves switched things up and took part in the infamous hack-a-Dwight strategy. Fouling Dwight on every LA offensive possession, the strategy worked brilliantly as the big man hit only 2 of his 8 free throws over the course of the next minute while Minnesota cut their deficit to only 7 points with right around 2 minutes to play. Dwight, who is shooting 49% from the charity stripe on the season, has been unable to significantly improve his free throw shooting since joining the NBA as a 19-year-old, nearly 8 years ago.

Here’s where things got insane. With 3.4 seconds left and Kobe shooting the second of his two foul shots, Minnesota was out of timeouts and was in need of some serious luck in order to extend the game into overtime. As Kobe released the free throw, the ball bounced graciously off of the front of the rim as Rubio found himself able to easily the ball falling right in front of his face. Racing down the court with no timeouts, Ricky dashed the length of the court in order to get up a last second three-pointer in hopes of tying the game and taking it into overtime in front of the screaming Target Center audience. Just as Ricky approached the three-point line in the midst of a race to beat the clock, Kobe’s arm extended from behind Ricky’s head and came down upon the Spaniards’ left arm just as he was releasing the ball. On the right side, Dwight Howard made significant contact with Ricky’s other side before the shot was released, and Minnesota fans paused for a split second before seeing their hopes for three free throws and a shot at overtime go straight down the drain. No foul was called, despite one official having a clear view of the contact right next to Ricky and Kobe quickly headed through to the lockerroom as the game was official, 120-117 in favor of Los Angeles.

I could go on and on about how the referees blew the game and that Minnesota got jipped, but what good would that do? The fact is that the Wolves waited until the very end of the game to stage a run and ultimately came up a hair short to a player and organization that is clearly favored by the National Basketball Association. It would be ignorant to say that the NBA does not want Los Angeles to grab the eighth seed in the playoffs, because if the Lakers are able to grab the final spot there will be a lot more money in this year’s postseason than there would be if, say, Utah jumped ahead of LA.

Regardless of the finish, I was happy to see Minnesota finish this game with some pride while also saving their best play for last. This 24 game losing streak to LA, however, needs to end soon.

Keys of the Game:

  • Shot-blocking – The Lakers out-blocked the Timberwolves 9 to 3 as D-12 did an excellent job of setting the tempo in the interior for Los Angeles. With Greg Stiemsma an inefficient bench option and Pekovic lacking vertical leap, the Timberwolves are essentially without a shot-blocker in their current rotation with Chris Johnson warming the bench for the foreseeable future.
  • Three-point shooting – After draining 14 threes the night before in Detroit, the Timberwolves were only able to knock down 5 of their 17 attempts while the Lakers nailed 10 of their 22 looks from beyond the arc. Kobe, Nash, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison all hit at least 2 threes for Los Angeles

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Kobe Bryant – What’s new? Kobe dominated the Timberwolves for the umpteenth time of his career in route to extending the Lakers current win streak over Minnesota to 24 games. While he definitely got away with a foul on Rubio which could have sent the game into overtime, it was Kobe who did just enough to keep LA from imploding after the hack-a-Dwight debacle cut the Wolves deficit late in the fourth quarter. Kobe finished the night with a line of 31 points (12-21 FG), 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 38 minutes.
  2. Dwight Howard – Yes, Dwight shot a horrendous 7-17 from the free throw line and was being laughed at by many Wolves fans in attendance, but he also completely dominated the paint in the fourth quarter and finished with 25 points (9-13 FG), 16 points, 5 steals and 5 blocks in 34 minutes.
  3. Dante Cunningham – Cunningham was Minnesota’s spark in the fourth quarter and his mid-range game was red-hot. Cunningham faced very soft close outs from LA defenders and responded by draining jumper after jumper in the faces of defenders. DC Hustle scored 18 points (9-15 FG) to pair with 4 rebounds in 19 minutes off of the bench.