Minnesota Timberwolves 94, Los Angeles Lakers 116

Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Game Summary:

In the second of their three-game road trip, the Timberwolves squared off against the steadily-improving Los Angeles Lakers on a court that they had previously lost the past twelve games on. Without starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, matters were made worse as the Wolves lost yet another important member of their squad due to injury. Behind a terrific night from reigning Western Conference Player of the Week Kobe Bryant, the Lakers blew out the Wolves 116-94 as they continue to claw their way back from a terrible start to the season.

To be fair, Minnesota kept it close… for one quarter. One of the key matchups of the game was that of Dwight Howard vs. Nikola Pekovic, two of the biggest and strongest players in the league. Early on, Pek did a good job of establishing inside position while Ricky Rubio did a brilliant job of finding him for easy looks on multiple occasions. However, the after playing only 9 minutes, Pekovic was forced to head to the locker room late in the first quarter with what turned out to be an abdominal strain. His prognosis came out in the second period as we learned that Pek would miss the remainder of the game and would be out indefinitely. The big fella finished with 8 points (4-6 FG) and 3 rebounds.

With injuries completely obliterating Minnesota’s depth, the Wolves looked to young Derrick Williams to do his best against, ugh, Kobe Bryant. While D-Will did not do a terrible job guarding Kobe, he had very little help from his teammates as the Timberwolves were very slow rotating and closing gaps on defense.

The Lakers came out of the gate with some hot shooting which foreshadowed what was to happen for the rest of the contest. To Minnesota’s credit, they were severely under-manned and the Lakers had several blatant mismatches to exploit. Minnesota hung around in the first period as they did a good job of spacing the floor while Ricky dazzled the LA fans with some incredible passing.

The Timberwolves trailed Los Angeles 28-22 heading into the second quarter. With no Pekovic in the lane, the Lakers were able to effectively stretch the floor on offense leading to many open three-point opportunities, which they knocked down at a high rate. Offensively, the Timberwolves had a very difficult time creating offense with Rubio getting a breather. Alexey Shved had a difficult time against the physical LA perimeter defense, and he did not do the Wolves a favor by continually settling for long two-point  shots. Defensively, the Wolves were awful on their rotations as noone pushed out to contest shots on the perimeter. Getting the start for AK-47, Dante Cunningham was ice-cold and could not hit his 18-footer that he loves so much.

At the half, Los Angeles led the Pups 57-47. My observations of the first two periods are as follows:

  • Luke Ridnour had the hot hand for Minnesota, knocking down two corner threes and hitting just about everything he took.
  • Dwight’s duties were made incredibly easy without Pekovic in the lane, and the self-proclaimed “Chocolate Shoulders” did a phenomenal job of protecting the rim against the team that finishes at the rim worse than any other NBA team.
  • The Wolves could be seen with three point guards on the court at times, and if that doesn’t make you wince, you need help.
  • Can’t say enough about Rubio, he was the only thing keeping this game from exploding into nightmare in the first half.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody watching, the Lakers controlled the game in the second half with the game getting ugly in the final quarter. Despite three strong overall performances by Ridnour, JJ Barea, and Rubio, the size differential between the two teams completely inhibited the Pups’ ability to compete on both ends of the floor. I could continue to elaborate on the second half, but I will save you the misery.

Notable Performances:

  • Jodie Meeks made 4 of his 9 three-point attempts after missing his first 3 tries from deep, and reminded LA fans why they went out and got him last offseason.
  • Steve Blake had a highly productive 25 minutes finishing the night with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench.
  •  Luke Ridnour did just about everything he could have done for Minnesota and his great performance will most likely be overlooked by the end result of the game. Ridnour scored 19 points (7-10 FG, 2-4 3PT) and added 3 steals in an efficient offensive performance.
  • Derrick Williams played 39 minutes and was a game-worst -26 on the floor. I do not want to rag on him too much because he was asked to play out of position guarding Kobe. Williams contributed 15 points (6-14 FG), 8 rebounds and 3 turnovers in a long night for the second-year player.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three-point shooting – I cannot emphasize enough the importance that perimeter shooting played in this one. The Lakers used the simple formula of feeding the ball into the post drawing Minnesota defenders into the interior, while Howard and other Lakers bigs found their open teammates waiting contently on the outside for wide-open three-pointers. LA converted a ridiculous 16 of their 32 attempts from deep as Minnesota shot a reasonable 7-21 themselves.
  • Rebounding – LA 49, MN 35. No Pek + no AK + no Love = no rebounding. It’s a pretty simple formula.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Kobe Bryant – Oh boy, was the Black Mamba hot tonight. Kobe finished with 33 points (13-22 FG, 4-8 3PT), 5 assists and 5 rebounds in 32 minutes tonight. He showed off his range with a couple of very deep three-pointers and posterized Pekovic before the big man ultimately left with injury.
  2. Dwight Howard – Loved what I saw from the Dwightmare, who completely set the tone for LA defensively. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent is beginning to come into his own as a Laker and in 33 minutes finished with 11 points (5-6 FG), 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Rubio came very close to recording his first career triple-double but fell 2 rebounds short, as he finished the night with 13 points (5-11 FG), 13 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 33 minutes. I am sure many Laker fans left the Staples Center satisfied of what they saw from the young Spaniard.

Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Los Angeles Lakers 111

Road To LegendGame Summary

The opening of a weekend back-to-back started Friday night at the Target Center with the old habitants of the Minneapolis area in for a visit.  The Timberwolves opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Lakers countered with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, and Pau Gasol.

As a quick aside, I have to say that the Wolves’ home crowd has been pretty impressive in recent weeks, particularly when considering the struggles the team have been going through.  Let’s give kudos to @TwolvesArmy and others!  That said, a lot of Lakers fans were in the crowd Friday night.  This can be best summed up by Ryan Tanke – Timberwolves SVP of Ticket Sales and Premium Seating.

 

The Lakers got off to a red hot start, opening up a quick 13-4 lead and forcing Adelman to use an early timeout.  Let’s move on, you are more likely aware of the reasons for these struggles and they have been common themes over the past few weeks.  Minutes later, Steve Nash blocked a jumper attempt by Ridnour and the tone had been set for the evening.

Going into the second timeout, the Lakers held a 27-12 lead.  The reason is simple – the team was “en fuego” from the field.  Asking Ridnour to match up with Kobe Bryant is quite unfair.  After the second timeout, Adelman finally made the switch and brought in Alexey Shved.  Despite Shved’s shooting efforts to end the quarter, it wasn’t enough to slow down the Lakers, who shot a scorching 68% in the first quarter.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers held a 37-24 lead.  This would have been a great quarter of basketball if the Wolves were ahead.

The 2nd quarter was a lot of the same – very entertaining basketball but much more enjoyable if you are/were rooting for the Lakers.  Late in the quarter, the Pups went on a nice run to make the game a heck of a lot more interesting going into halftime.  This included a beautiful fast-break that had Rubio ahead of the pack and throwing a behind the back pass for a DWill slam.  At the half, the Lakers held a 68-53 lead.  As always, here are my HT thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • This team does a tremendous job of putting itself in holes and finding a way of keeping your interest piqued
  • Rubio looks light years ahead of where he was just a few weeks ago
  • Please trade JJ Barea

At the start of the 3rd quarter, the Pups were able to cut the lead down to ten points with several jump shots falling for AK47, DWill, and Ridnour.  It could have been even closer if DWill had any ability to finish at the rim these days – he missed a few in the paint, including a dunk.  This was followed by a 7-0 run by the Lakers to increase the lead back up to 15.

While it got a little ugly in the last few minutes, the Twolves were able to claw their way back to a single digit deficit.  Alexey Shved hit a three pointer from about 26 feet to cut the lead to nine points going into the final frame, with the Lakers holding an 85-76 lead.

The 4th quarter was incredibly frustrating, as the Twolves had a number of chances to cut the lead down further and further and were inches away from making it a one possession game.  Then everything fell apart for the team.  The Lakers made enough plays to extend their lead and wound up holding off the Wolves to win 111-100.  (I do not feel like complaining about JJ Barea or the fact that we still have to limit Rubio’s minutes any further.)

Keys of the Game

  • FT Shooting – Again.  8-18 from the FT line and that is, for the lack of a better word (or cursing), pathetic.
  • Offensive Rebounds – The Lakers finished with 17 offensive rebounds and that is just offensive.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Pau Gasol – Finished with 22 & 12 and really set the tone for the Lakers in the first half.
  2. Kobe Bryant – He’s good.  17 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists.  I actually have to say that the few rebounds that stand out in the game were provided by Kobe.  He destroyed Luke Ridnour early on in the game.
  3. Alexey Shved – Shved had a very nice game despite the low shooting percentage (6-16).  He finished with 18 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds and hit a number of shots from the outside to give the team some life.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2/1/13

mplslakersThe Los Angeles Lakers visit the Target Center Friday night to face our Pups.  The Wolves enter the match-up on a five game losing streak despite the return of coach Adelman, Pekovic, and Shved on Wednesday night.  They need to fix their problems during the rest of this home stand and start making up ground on the 8 seed in the Western Conference if they have any hope of keeping it interesting going into the spring.

You may have heard about what is going on with the Lakers.  ESPN has started a reality show called “SportsCenter” to cover the trials and tribulations of the team.  Similar to the Pups, I have no idea what to expect from the Lakers night in and night out.  Their January performance reads: lose 6 in a row, win 2, lose 4 (including to Toronto), win 3 (including Oklahoma City), and then a loss on Wednesday night to the Suns, as former Pup Michael Beasley set the house on fire.

While you go ahead and try to predict this game, we’re going to continue our Q&A format for Friday night game previews.  For this Friday’s game we have worked with Alex Lambeth from the Laker Nation blog.

Here’s our Q&A …

Lakers Question #1 for Alex:

Let’s get right to the gorilla in the room; what is your take on Mike D’Antoni and will he be the coach for the Lakers next season?  I’ve always viewed him as the perfect assistant coach who can run the offensive side/end of a practice, similar to an offensive coordinator in the NFL that is terrible when they get a head coaching gig. Your thoughts?

Alex:

I agree with that assessment. Mike D’Antoni was certainly a mistake by the Lakers’ front office this season. Along with his inability to utilize the Lakers’ unique culmination of talent, D’Antoni has remained stubborn in forcing his up-tempo system upon a roster that simply doesn’t fit. D’Antoni’s controversial benching of players late in games, as well as his inability to manage superstars, have also hampered the Lakers’ team chemistry lately. The Lakers, more specifically the players, have since gone away from his failed system and are now finding success with better ball movement and spacing. Kobe Bryant’s facilitating and offensive leadership have spearheaded this newfound success.

The Lakers will not terminate D’Antoni’s three-year contract this season, due to the obvious financial ramifications, but it is certainly possible that D’Antoni is replaced in the off-season. If the Lakers really want to make pending free agent Dwight Howard the future face of the franchise, they may need to bring in a coach with a system more tailored to the Lakers’ premiere big man.

 

Pups Question #1 for John:

After a promising off-season, this regular season has gone in similar fashion as the Lakers’ season. Injuries have played a major factor in this season’s disappointment, but with Kevin Love out at least another five weeks and Brandon Roy still out indefinitely, is there still time to salvage this season? Or is it time to start looking towards next season?

John:

While I am probably not supposed to admit this, I am no longer expecting the Twolves to make the playoffs this season.  At the beginning of the season I went on record saying that they were a lock to make the tournament.  I think it was less than a week after that article went on our site when Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups.  The Wolves are going to need a good amount of help and a lot more luck on their side to sneak into the playoffs.

However, I have a hard time looking towards next season in January/February.  There are still a lot of intriguing storylines for the team; A. Can Rubio return to form, B. Does Love come back this season if the team falls way behind in the standings, and C. Is Derrick Williams on this team after the trade deadline?  I really do not want to think about ping pong balls when this season had so much promise!

 

Lakers Question #2 for Alex:

Will the Lakers’ roster look the same as it currently does after the trading deadline?  Who do you think, if anyone, is the most likely to get moved?  Similarly, what would you do with the roster if you had the reins?

Alex:

The Lakers’ roster should look similar to the current roster after the deadline. Sure, the rumors of Josh Smith have been floating around as of late, but I expect the Lakers to only make a minor move at the deadline, if at all. With the recent return of Steve Blake, reserve point guard Chris Duhon is probably the most likely to be moved. Of the Lakers’ reserves, Duhon is the easiest to trade since his contract is only partially guaranteed for next season. The Lakers in return will most likely seek a backup SF or PF, after backup PF/C Jordan Hill was lost for the season this past month.

Also, just this past week, the Lakers were granted a disabled-player exception worth about $1.8 million for Hill. The exception is another asset the Lakers can possibly use to sign a free agent or to even help facilitate a trade. The Pau Gasol rumors, however, should continue to swirl as the deadline approaches, especially with the building feud between D’Antoni and Gasol regarding Gasol’s bench status. Despite this, there are really no viable trade options for the Spaniard, considering Gasol’s mammoth contract.

If I had the reigns, I would probably only make a minor move or two. Despite the recent emergence of Earl Clark, the Lakers could still use a little more frontcourt depth. I would probably trade Duhon, and/or little-used reserve SF Devin Ebanks, for a veteran big man, or even another three-point shooter to backup Metta World Peace (for example, Philadelphia’s Dorell Wright, who has received sporadic playing time this season). As for the rest of the roster, I am quite content with the current makeup of talent on this team. I would specifically not move Pau Gasol either, because his unique skill-set is vital to the Lakers’ success, and the Lakers would not receive equal value back in a trade of Gasol.

 

Pups Question #2 for John:

With the Timberwolves continuing to struggle and the trade deadline rapidly approaching, do you see the T-Wolves as being buyers or sellers? Former number one pick Derrick Williams has often been rumored in trade talks since he was drafted, could Minnesota finally decide to move him this time? Also, I will ask the same question back to you: If you were in charge of Minnesota’s front office, what deadline moves, or even non-moves, would you consider making?

John:

(I promise that my DWill comment was typed up before seeing this question.)

My opinion on this one changes every few weeks and is relative to how the team looks during respective stretches.  Given the team’s recent struggles and the length of time still to be missed for several players (Love, Budinger, Roy) I actually wouldn’t mind if they just stood pat and rode out this season as currently constructed.  If they happen to stay competitive and close to that 8th seed that could make for some interesting ball in the spring.  If they continue to falter, that may not be such a terrible thing either.

Derrick Williams will not be on the Wolves to start next season.  Whether or not he is on the team by the end of February is another story.  The team really needs him to produce given Love’s injury.  However, he isn’t doing so when he gets his opportunity.  Adelman has him on a short leash most nights and you can see why when you make it a point to watch what he’s doing on both ends of the court during a game.

Aside from Williams, the team will eventually need to part ways with JJ Barea or Luke Ridnour.  That said, and again because of the injuries, it may not be feasible to do so until after this season.  My preference here would be to part ways with JJ Barea.  He looks fantastic about once a week and then will drive you mad for the next few games.  His loose “style” doesn’t fit with Adelman’s system (or me).

I would love to see DWill + Barea moved for a formidable SG but that doesn’t seem feasible right now.  Earlier in the season I went searching for deals on ESPN’s trade machine and came up with a number of options.  Sadly, Williams’ play has very likely had a negative impact on whatever trade value was there and I can’t imagine many of these being an option for the team now.  If we could find an unhappy, but decent SG in their rookie contract to take off someone’s hands, I would happily send DWill out for him at this point.  Outside of this, I wouldn’t do much of anything if I were running the Wolves.

 

Lakers Question #3 for Alex:

Two parts around a general theme of – How long can Kobe keep up this pace?  He’s been phenomenal this season; do you see him slowing down as the season goes on?  Beyond this, how many more seasons do you see him playing at an elite level?

Alex:

It is no secret that Kobe Bryant is just simply wired differently. After 16 years in the league, Kobe has started off his 17th season with arguably the best regular season of his illustrious career. Recently, however, Kobe has dramatically changed his plan of attack. The “Mamba” has now taken over the Lakers’ offense as the ‘full-time facilitator’, a role that seems to have turned the Lakers’ season around. If Kobe continues playing in this manner, and his teammates continue their solid play around him, there’s no reason why he can’t keep up his phenomenal play for the rest of the season. Barring injury, Kobe’s reduced scoring load should enable him to lead the Lakers back into the playoff picture.

As for beyond this season, Kobe has said that he will most likely retire once his current contract runs out (in two years). I do think that Kobe will continue to play at an elite level until that time. Could Kobe play after that? Sure, but it will all depend on how his body feels and the overall state of the Lakers. If it’s any indication of how hard he’s been on Dwight Howard this season, Kobe wants to make sure his beloved franchise is in good hands, long after he is gone from the game.

 

Pups Question #3 for John:

In the past, Kevin Love has had reservations about his future in Minnesota. Assuming Love makes a full recovery and stays healthy from then on, is he still considered the future of the franchise? The Timberwolves have made substantial roster moves in an attempt to satisfy Love’s reservations, but will he remain in Minnesota for the long haul? And if so, what might his legacy be?

John:

If you believe what Love says to anyone that will listen, as long as the Wolves start winning games and playoff series, he would like to remain with the franchise.  However, this team isn’t going to the playoffs and winning any series without having him and Rubio on the floor together and fully healthy.

In my heart of hearts, I don’t see him as a career Wolf unfortunately.  I think he will quietly be on the block when his opt-out clause starts to come into play – during/after the 14/15 season.  The team took DWill in 2011 because he was the best player available on most people’s boards.  However, he was also insurance in case Love didn’t sign an extension.

Love is already the second best player to ever wear a Wolves jersey.  Assuming he is with the team a few more years and through his current contract, I could see his number up for debate on whether or not they put it in the rafters when his career is completely over.  Fans enjoy getting rattled over what Love says and does in the media (self included) and I certainly critique his game more than others, but this should come with the territory of a max player and a desire to be seen as the face of a/the franchise.

We’ll see what happens though, there are a lot of variables that come into play or can come into play over the next two seasons.  I truly hope he stays because it certainly won’t be easy replacing the best PF in the game.  (Boom!)

 

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Lakers.  Again, you can read more from Alex at Laker Nation and/or follow him on Twitter.  You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter as well.

Brandon Roy Finally Becomes a Timberpup

I really can’t hide my emotions on this one – I absolutely love the signing of Brandon Roy.  Sure, it is six years and a few knee procedures later, but if he produces anything this coming season, I’ll finally be able to move on from the now infamous (and tragic) Roy for Foye trade from draft night 2006.

What do I mean by “produces anything”?  I don’t expect Roy to play 30 mpg whatsoever.  I’d like to see his time somewhere between 20-24 mpg, especially for the first half of the season.  Let’s see how he is feeling the day after a game, and more importantly, after back-to-back nights.  There’s no reason to wear him out early on in the season, even if Rubio is missing from the lineup (as he likely will be).  Even in his introductory press conference, Brandon seemed to be aligned to a similar plan; he mentioned he would like to play as much as possible, but needs to be smart about it.

There were two other important sound bytes from the introductory press conference that caught my attention:

    [Read more…]

Timberwolves: Implications of a Batum Signing

The Timberwolves began NBA free agency in frenzy as the clock struck midnight on July 1, commencing their quest for veteran additions to their current nucleus by scheduling meetings with SG-SF Nicolas Batum, C Greg Stiemsma, former Portland SG Brandon Roy, and PF-C Jordan Hill. The Timberpups also reached out to the likes of SG Jamal Crawford, SG OJ Mayo, while remaining extremely active in trade discussions with the Los Angeles Lakers in hopes of landing PF Pau Gasol.

It appears that the Pups are as dedicated as any team in the NBA to land multiple high-profile players NOW, greatly reflecting their urgency to “win now,” as Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman is 66 and is likely in the middle of his final contract of his life, while Pups owner Glen Taylor is 71 and wants to see how far his current core group of players can take him before he sells the team in a few years. Whatever the sole cause, it is very uncharacteristic of the Wolves to be so very active in free agency while placing such great importance on attracting marquee names to the land of 10,000 lakes, and the Minnesota front office and coaching staff deserves much credit for their persistent efforts thus far. [Read more…]