Recap – Timberwolves 124, Cavs 95

 

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back! (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back!
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

For the second and last time this season, the Timberwolves played the Cavs Wednesday night at the Target Center.  The Cavs edged the Wolves on their home court a week and a half ago.  To make Wednesday night’s game a little bit tougher, Kevin Martin came down with the flu and was a late scratch for the Pups.  With that announcement, the starting lineup looked like this: Rubio, Hummel, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  For the Cavs, no real surprises: Irving, Waiters, Gee, Thompson, and Varejao.

Game Summary

I’m taking a page out of Zach’s playbook for the overall Game Summary, as this wasn’t very close just a few minutes after the opening tipoff …

 

First Half 

Once again, the Timberwolves opened up strong.  Corey Brewer scored the first 9 points of the game for the Pups and they were off and running.  Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving seemed to go back and forth with one another on dribble drives … with Rubio creating for his teammates and Irving trying to shoulder the scoring load.  Note the word “trying” here, as the Wolves continued to put points on the board and pressure on the Cavs.

With a little under 5 minutes to go in the first quarter, Kyrie took what appeared to be an elbow to the cheek from Brewer, who was sweeping in for an attempted layup.  Kyrie went down and checked out of the game.  This led to a significant run from the Wolves, including a second three point field goal from Robbie Hummel.  At the end of the first quarter, the Wolves held a 38-24 lead.

The Wolves kept the pressure on throughout the second quarter.  This time, it was Kevin Love who was doing a lot of the damage.  Love put in 11 of his 19 first half points in the second quarter, continuing to get the charity stripe.  While Irving returned to the floor, it felt like the damage was already done.  At half-time, the Wolves held a commanding 70-47 lead.

Half-time notes:

  • During the 2nd quarter, Benz and Peterson talked about a little bit of news in that there is a bit of a hope that Chase Budinger could return by the time Christmas rolls around.  (Fingers crossed)
  • Every Wolves player that entered the game in the first half had a double digit + in the +/- box score at halftime.
  • Bored with a big lead?  Yes!  So bored in fact, I wound up putting together a mini-post in the Forum for Derrick Williams trade ideas, including running the Trade Machine for an updated deal for Evan Turner.

Second Half

I’m not going to lie, the 3rd quarter was amazing for the Timberwolves, but also wound up leading to a lot of looking around and fishing for some bit of news.  The Wolves completely dominated the Cavs again in the quarter, outscoring the Cavs 38-29 and building their lead to 108-76 … at the end of only THREE quarters.  What more do you really want me to say?  If you happened to miss last night’s performance, go watch a replay.  If the Wolves have an off night over the course of the next week or two, revert back to this game.  Zach sums things up pretty nicely here:

As one would expect, Rick Adelman sent in the reserves to play the 4th quarter, with AJ Price, Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams, and Gorgui Dieng in it for the long haul (or those 12 minutes).  Naturally, this puts Williams at the PF position, thereby proving (again) that we aren’t even going to try with the SF experiment … because it isn’t going to work.  You know what, I’m just going to end that here as it isn’t the right night.

The reserves did not play well, but largely maintained the advantage that the regular rotation had built in the first three quarters.  The Cavs outscored the Wolves 19-16 in the quarter.  Williams and Dieng looked relatively good down low, but the guard/wing play wasn’t very strong.  Shved hit on the Wolves final shot of the game and hopefully that is something to build off of.  ?

Mercifully, this one ended with the Wolves moving to 6-3 on the season and a final score of 124-95.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Beyond opening up the game with the team’s first nine points, Brewer was awesome!  27 points on 10-17 shooting, which includes a 5-5 from beyond the arc.  Perfect time to step up, given Kevin Martin’s absence.
  2. Ricky Rubio – It is Ricky Rubio’s world and we are just living in it.  16 points, 16 assists, and 6 rebounds.  I’m not even going to try to describe how amazing he was with the ball in his hands Wednesday night.
  3. Kevin Love – His double-double streak ended, but I am going to assume that isn’t going to be the headline from the game.  Love finished with a cool 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

 Key Takeaways

  • This Wolves team is really exciting to watch.  However, there are still major concerns about the bench play beyond the 7 man rotation (which would contain Cunningham and Barea)
  • The Cavs are a mess and I don’t see how people view them as an up and coming team.  They have one really good player and that’s about all.
  • Good teams have players step up when adversity hits.  A golf clap goes towards Corey Brewer for his offensive game today in Martin’s absence.

Game Notes:

Shabazz Muhammad went 0-4 from the field for 0 points and 4 rebounds on his birthday.  (There is a rookie hazing comment here somewhere, right?)

Attendance for the game tonight was reported at 14,978.  Let’s see if that can go over 15,000 for a Saturday night game and coming off of this impressive victory.  (That was a challenge fans)

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview: Part One, Week Three

Last week John previewed the week ahead for the Wolves because, here at Timberpups, we do week previews — not game previews. Well, sometimes we do game previews but we try to feature guests on those to gain some outside perspective; Trisity Miller (@Trisity_) will join us tomorrow previewing the Wolves matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. Ms. Miller is a Staff Writer as well as Editor of FullyClips.com, THE Clippers Blog of Sports Illustrated’s Fansided Network. Like Zach Oliver and Brandon Rushie before her, we’re happy to have some perspective, on and from outside, of Wolves Nation.
If you’re a writer who covers an upcoming Wolves opponent and would like to participate in our previews, shoot me an email or DM — Zwbd333@gmail.com or @ZacharyBD. Also, we’re not opposed to fan posts — if you’re a regular reader here at the PupsBlog, we’d love to hear your opinions pertaining to our favorite team.

Tonight the Wolves play the first of back-to-back games at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Here’s John’s take on tonight’s matchup from his Week Two preview.

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.

I’m not sure why he’s previewing tonight’s game, it’s Sunday today which means that a new week has started but John will be John.Since we’re not afraid of self-promotion here, here’s a tweet of mine from earlier today.

 

It’s been since March 6th of 2007, four days removed from my 17th birthday, since the Wolves last win over the Los Angeles Lakers (I’m 23, for those too lazy to do the math). The last time the team won in Staples Center, against the Lakers (Clippers play there, too), was December 5th, 2005. Yea, that’s when I was 15-years of age! Today is November 10th, 2013 and it’s time for the Pups snap these -undesirable- losing streaks.

Projected Laker Starters:

  • Nick Young
  • Chris Kahman
  • Pau Gasol
  • Steve Blake
  • Steve Nash

It’s not a laughable bunch that will start the game for the ‘Lake Show’, however, L.A’s bench unit is deserving of some praise. Against tomorrow night’s opponent tomorrow night, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson (a former Timberpup) and Jodie Meeks scored 66 points in a shocking upset of the Clippers in the season opener. This Laker-five played the entire fourth quarter, scoring 41 points en route to defeating the stadium-sharing rival, 116-103.

Against the Dallas Mavericks we saw Rick Adelman try some different things to make up for his bench unit’s dismal scoring, keeping Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin on the floor for a bit longer than Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer. Adelman’s played Alexey Shved, until the Shvedder shows he’s struggling or does something that warrants him off the floor — I expect him to stick to a similar strategy tonight.

Shved's struggling this season: Averaging only two and a half points per game and failing to shoot 30 percent from, both, inside and outside the three-point line.

Shved’s struggling this season: Averaging only two and a half points per game and failing to shoot 30 percent from, both, inside and outside the three-point line.

 

Monday, the Wolves face the Clippers — we’ll bring you more in depth information tomorrow with Trisity but here’s a few bullets on the ‘Clips.

  • Doc Rivers is now head coach, he’s called for the removal of Laker banners in the Staples Center during Clipper home games.

“This is our arena when we play,” when asked about the banners. “So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them (Lakers). But when we play, it’s the Clippers’ arena as far as I know.”

  • The Clippers offense ranks first in the league in points per game — they’re piling 110 on opponents
  • Oh, if you weren’t aware — Chris Paul is really, really good.

If you’re a follower of my work personally, you may have seen my Pacific Division previews for SavingTheSkyhook.com. Saving the Skyhook, like FullyClips, is part of SI’s Fansided Blog network. I combined the preview for the Lakers and Clippers into one piece — read it here. (Sorry more self-promotion, it just fits for this week in Wolves basketball)

Pek shook his struggles off Friday against the Mavericks, he scored 15 points on 44 percent shooting and tallied six rebounds in addition to three-blocks.

Pek shook his struggles off Friday against the Mavericks, he scored 15 points on 44 percent shooting and tallied six rebounds in addition to three-blocks.

I’m hoping to the Wolves split or sweep these two games in L.A, they return home for a rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. The Cavs won a thriller against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, 127-125. They face the Chicago Bulls tomorrow and will have an off-day before having to play in Minnesota. Neither team will be on the tail end of a back-to-back, there shouldn’t be any excuse for the Wolves this time. Read what happened in last Sunday’s meeting between Cleveland and Minnesota — here.

Irving led the Cavs to a victory last week with 15 points and 6 assists, though he also had 8 turnovers -- the Wolves hope gain revenge Wednesday

Irving led the Cavs to a victory last week with 15 points and 6 assists, though he also had 8 turnovers — the Wolves hope gain revenge Wednesday

 

On Tuesday I’ll check back in and go over the Wolves trip to Los Angeles beyond our recaps that will follow the outcome of each game. That’s when we’ll take a closer look at the Cavs, Denver Nuggets- and Boston Celtics. The Wolves are in Denver on Friday and travel home to face the C’s on Saturday, after that they’ll have three days before their next game.

For now, #BeatLA.

Zach.

 

(Photos are from the Minnesota Timberwolves website and may be found in the photo gallery)

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers Conquer Invading Wolves: 93-92

The Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t stick around the Big Apple after the victory over the New York Knicks, the team arrived in Cleveland early Monday Morning. Yesterday, jumpers and free-throws fell short throughout the game and the Wolves were unable to overcome an early deficit, falling to the Cavaliers despite making a run late in the fourth quarter, 92-93.

Rick Adelman started Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love and the Cavs countered with Tristin Thompson, Earl Clark, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejeo and Kyrie Irving — both teams youthful and poised for a postseason run in their respective conferences.

Kevin Martin continued his three-point shooting streak carrying over from Friday and kept things close, but the Prince of Cleveland stole the show during the opening quarter. Uncle Drew wasn’t going to let his old friend Wes get the best of him on his home floor. Irving looked well on the way to a triple-double, scoring seven points, four assists and snatching three rebounds. Kevin Love failed to hit on two attempts from downtown and shot two of five from the field, scoring only four points in the first. Martin was three of four from distance and hit two FT’s on his way to 13 of the Wolves 23 points.

Irving finished with 15 points and 6 assists

Irving finished with 15 points and 6 assists

Cavs swingman C.J. Miles played as well as he did with the Utah Jazz when he scored 40 against the Wolves in a game during the second half of the 2010-2011 season. He came off the bench and scored 12 points on six shots despite never shooting a free throw during the second quarter.

The Wolves were flat and looking Adelman searched for solutions involved with the problem of losing backup center Ronnie Turiaf. Against the Knicks Minnesota went small with lineups of Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams at the power forward and Love at the five. After the game he insinuated Gorgui Dieng would see minutes in relief of Pek, who won’t be able to play for 40 minutes as he did in New York. The rookie was not up to his enormous task and committed three fouls in less than three minutes, Andrew Bynum imposed his will on Dieng. Varejeo took advantage by dropping in a few “bunnies” around the rim on his way to 10 first half points.

The Wolves trailed at halftime 38-55.

Both teams appeared cold coming out of the locker room at halftime and the Wolves managed to outscore the Cavs 23-21, trading baskets but failing to cut the deficit to a manageable number. Irving continued to show why he’s been called Cleveland’s savior and significantly out performed Rubio, the 23 year old from Spain had five assists but was zero for seven shooting and had only scored four points.

Minnesota cut the lead shorter and shorter throughout the fourth quarter. Spark plug J.J. Barea and Derrick Williams scored a combined 13 and narrowed what had been a 23 point lead all the way down to one, Adelman called a timeout with 11 seconds remaining to run a final play hoping escape Quicken Loans Arena with a victory despite never having the lead during the game.

Williams had 13 points in Monday's loss

Williams had 13 points in Monday’s loss

Barea caught the ball at the top of the key, nearly lost possession going around a screen to his left and passed the ball to Love — who stood in the same place where he hit a game tying three against the Orlando Magic that eventually forced overtime in the Wolves season opener. This time, he was not-so-clutch.

Coming away 2-1 against the Thunder, Knicks and Cavs isn’t something to team, or it’s fans, should hang their heads in shame for — through the first four games, the Wolves have played considerably well.

Tomorrow Target Center hosts the Golden State Warriors, the game should make for lots of scoring excitement but it’s another tough test early in the season.

The team has a well-deserved day off today, we’ll see if they can bounce back at home Wednesday night.

Zach.

 

 

 

(Photos from MinnesotaTimberwolves.com)

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 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Cleveland Cavs 92

Photo Credit: MN Timberwolves

Photo Credit: MN Timberwolves

Game Summary

Finishing up the second half of a back-to-back series in Cleveland, the Pups came into the game a team on the ropes taking a flurry of punches from the opponent.  The latest four game skid moved the team’s record to 18-30 on the season and aspirations for the playoffs are essentially dead.  While the Wolves stumble, the Cavs look to be heading in the opposite direction, winners of six of their last nine heading into Monday night’s match-up.  So naturally those two trends came to a crashing halt for an evening as the Wolves picked up an impressive win in Cleveland (just like I predicted in our preview … or not).  Here’s how things progressed over the evening.

No changes for the Wolves starting lineup Monday night – Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Cavs opened up with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller.  You weren’t going to see this game nationally broadcast to the masses, that’s for sure.

The Pups got off to a real slow start, as they were held scoreless for the first two and a half minutes of the game.  The lowlights included multiple turnovers on bad passes by the back court, Derrick Williams picking up two quick fouls, and Pekovic missing a number of FG attempts due to going up soft around the rim.

Thankfully, the Cavs looked almost as bad early on.  They did show an ability to get easy points on the fast break and in transition.  Going into the first timeout of the game, the Wolves held a 14-10 advantage.  The remainder of the quarter was filled with turnovers and missed shots on both ends.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Cavs held a 27-25 lead.

Midway through a poorly played 2nd quarter, the score was only 37-33.  Thinking about this in another way, the Cavs and Wolves combined for 18 points through six minutes of basketball.  With under four minutes to go in the half, the Wolves got a little hot going with a three guard set, led by Rubio and Shved.  After taking a 47-41 lead in the quarter, the Wolves let down their guard (again) as the final minute of the quarter ticked away.  I continue to be amazed at how poorly this team is at closing quarters.

At the half, the Wolves held a 49-46 lead.  Here are my HT thoughts through a Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves seemingly made the commitment of getting Pekovic the ball in the paint tonight and he didn’t reward the team with a lot of points.  Very active half for Pek, but he missed a lot of shots in the paint, including having a few blocked by the Cavs.
  • Same thought again tonight – why doesn’t Chris Johnson get any early burn?
  • I would like JJ Barea off this team.  Have I mentioned this before?

In the 3rd quarter, the Wolves were led by Derrick Williams offensively.  After picking up the two early fouls in the 1st, Williams made a few nice adjustments to stay on the court and helped lead the offense.  This felt like a nice response from the 2nd year pro.  (Naturally, Williams didn’t see the floor in the 4th quarter …)

Not to be outshined by the player selected immediately after him in the ’11 draft, Kyrie Irving did most of the damage for the Cavs in the 3rd quarter.  The Cavs scored 19 points in the quarter and Irving either scored or assisted on all but one basket for the team.  At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves held a 72-65 lead.

The 4th quarter couldn’t have been much more different than the first three quarters.  Both teams executed on the offensive end of the floor and were hitting their shots, leading to an entertaining final twelve minutes.  The Wolves were able to build a 9 point lead with four minutes left in the quarter.  In their quest to make every game interesting, the Pups let the Cavs cut the lead down to 3 points with just a few minutes left in the game.

Losing streaks be gone, as the Wolves were able to close out Monday’s game and win on the road in Cleveland!  The team shot 12-16 from the field in the final frame and left Cleveland a 100-92 victor.

Keys of the Game

  • Shooting percentages – A standard key to the game for the Pups this year, but this time the team comes out on the winning end!  Over 50% from the field and from 3PT range on Monday night and 14-17 from the FT line to boot!
  • Muscle in the paint – Without Varejao, the Cavs had no answer in the paint for Pekovic, but also gave up a lot of rebounds to Williams and Gelabale.
  • Byron Scott – I’m not sure who gets the credit here, but Dion Waiters was 6-6 from the field in only 21 minutes of time on the floor and was matched up against a terribly undersized group of guards on the Wolves.  This should have been exploited a lot more.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Luke Ridnour – A very nice night from Luke shooting the ball (9-14 for the game) and particularly strong in the 4th quarter when the Wolves have collapsed many a time this season.
  2. Mickael Gelabale – The Cavs were clearly not ‘ready for this Gelly’ tonight!  The SF was 3-3 from long range and a game high +16 in +/-.  Mickael continues to impress as he picks up more minutes in Kirilenko’s absence.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic gets the nod over Rubio due to being a menace against the Cavs in the paint and logging a game high 40+ minutes.  Pek put in 16 & 10 and was active all night.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavs, 2/11/13

Photo Credit: Elite Daily

Photo Credit: Elite Daily

The Timberwolves will complete the latter portion of their back-to-back Monday night in Cleveland after Sunday’s loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis.  Earlier this season, the Wolves took care of the Cavs rather easily on the Target Center floor.  Kyrie Irving missed the first match-up so this will be the first opportunity for Wolves fans to see last season’s Rookie of the Year against their hometown favorite.  Kyrie is having a whale of a season since returning from his injury, averaging 24 points and 5.5 assists per game.

The Cavs come into Monday’s match-up with a 16-35 record, dropping their last game on Saturday night at home against the Nuggets.  Prior to Saturday’s loss the team had won three in a row, including a victory on 2/2 against the OKC Thunder.

As discussed ad nauseum at this point, the Wolves are in the midst of a long stretch of bad basketball going into the All Star weekend.  The team desperately needs the break to get here quickly in an effort to recharge the battery a bit.  Similar to the past few games, the team will be without Andrei Kirilenko against the Cavs.  After JJ Barea skipped Sunday’s game against the Grizzlies, it will be interesting to see if he tries to give it a go on Monday night.

Player to watch:

Dion Waiters – Similar to Irving, the rookie missed this season’s earlier match-up against the Wolves.  Waiters is out of Syracuse, which of course is the bane of current Wolves’ fans existence given the utter failure of their own, recent draft picks (Flynn and Johnson).  Naturally, Waiters is performing much better than those two and is having a solid rookie season, averaging 14 ppg.  The match-up against Ridnour and Shved should lead to big night from Waiters.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Kyrie Irving.  There wasn’t any doubt here, was there?  Monday night affords us another opportunity to watch two, young PG’s that are likely to be a main part of the NBA’s marketing plans for the next decade.  As mentioned earlier, Kyrie has been phenomenal this year for the Cavs.  At the same time, Rubio has turned the corner in the past week or two and is looking like him old self.  This should be a tremendous match-up to watch.

Predictions:

Without Kirilenko again and coming off of a game Sunday night, I expect the Wolves to look flat.

Final score prediction: Twolves 86, Cavs 94

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Kyrie Irving
  2. Ricky Rubio
  3. Dion Waiters

Let’s go Wolves!