Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 17

 

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend (Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend
(Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

 

Setting the stage:

While we wait with baited breath for tonight’s All-Star Game (…), let’s take a look at the week ahead for the Timberwolves as they will have to come out of the break swinging.  With the win against the Nuggets before the break, the Wolves moved to 25-28 on the season and jumped percentage point(s) ahead of Denver, good for 10th place in the Western Conference.  The team is a full six games behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for the 8 seed.

If you haven’t given up on the Wolves yet, you definitely want to keep an eye on the Suns, as they are seemingly more likely to come back to earth after the break.  The Suns did however win at the Target Center back on 1/8, so the Wolves are in that much more of a hole to dig out of.  The teams will face off two more times this year: 2/25 in Phoenix and 3/23 at Target Center.

Let’s get to this week’s games …

Game 55: Wednesday, 2/19, 7pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & ESPN)

Tough way to begin your post all-star break for the Wolves, who will host the Eastern Conference leading, 40-12 Indiana Pacers this coming Wednesday.  The most complete team in the NBA in my opinion and proving it night in and night out.

Opponent to watch:

Paul George – Do I need to go there again?  You know what, I won’t.  George’s coming out season, after last year’s playoff run, has been a joy to watch.  22ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.4apg, and 1.79spg.  Imagine if this guy was on the Wolves?  Wait, he could have been?  (KAHNNNNN?!?!?!)

Predictions:

Even though the Pacers have a game on Tuesday night against Atlanta, they are too deep and too talented.  If the Wolves get back Nikola Pekovic and/or Kevin Martin, I still don’t think it is enough.  Final score: Pacers 96, Timberwolves 89

Game 56: Saturday, 2/22, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Wolves won a home-and-home against the Jazz in late January and there isn’t much to suggest this game should be any different.  The Jazz will be in Portland Friday night for a road game and will then have to fly back to Utah to take on our Pups … who should be well rested for this game.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors is pretty quietly having a decent year now that the logjam in the Jazz frontcourt has worked itself out – maybe too much though.  Favors is averaging 12.9ppg, 9.0rpg and over 1 block per game.  Favors injured his hip this past Wednesday night and we’ll see how quickly he can get back to 100%.

Predictions:

All games moving forward for the Wolves are “must-win” – they cannot afford to lose one like this whatsoever.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Jazz 92

Game 57: Sunday, 2/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Portland Trailblazers (TV: FS North)

The Blazers are a ridiculous 19 games over .500 (36-17) at the all-star break and that is only good for the 5th seed in the Western Conference.  As a team, they are first in scoring and rebounds per game in the NBA, and fourth in assists per game.  Their defense is a liability and I still don’t see how this team is this good.  I must have a mental block on the Blazers, but I just don’t see them doing anything in the playoffs.

Opponent to watch:

LaMarcus Aldridge – Get ready for your now weekly, “who is the best power forward in the NBA?” rhetoric.  It seems like whoever has the ESPN game that night is anointed the best for 24-48 hours.  I like Aldridge as a player … if Love is going to be traded, I would highly prefer that LMA comes back to the team vs. Blake Griffin.  But neither is as good as Kevin Love.  Period.  Period!

Predictions:

Blazers will have Saturday night off to prepare for the Wolves and rest.  Final score: Blazers 114, Timberwolves 110

Wrap-up:

My predictions above aren’t exactly how you want to come out of the break and make your run towards the playoffs.  However, I just don’t see the Wolves making ground this week with two very tough opponents sandwiching what should be a victory in Utah.  Doh!

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 13

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

First, let me clarify a technicality.  Due to the cancellation of the game in Mexico City against the San Antonio Spurs, the number of each game is off by one game, relative to adding up the wins and losses for the Wolves to this point in the season.  When we get to the Spurs game on April 8th, we will be calling that “Game 20”.  Please just agree that this is “fair”.  Why?  Because I want to leverage this week’s preview as a place to rant about how the Wolves are looking “halfway through the season”.  Let’s pretend that we aren’t 49% of the way there and are at 50%.  Sound good?  Thanks!

This past week included two bad losses to the Kings and Raptors.  The Wolves salvaged the week with a blowout victory against the Jazz on Saturday, but remain below .500 for the season – 19-21, now sitting in the 11th position of the Western Conference.  The team is 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8 seed in the Conference, with the Grizzlies and Nuggets also ahead of them.  Let’s agree that this is an underperforming group right now, despite the few injuries that the team has endured. [Read more...]

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...]

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 98, Portland Trail Blazers 100

Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien

Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien

Game Summary

Too little, too late. Hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly overcame a 19-point fourth quarter deficit but ultimately fell by a score of 100-98 to their division rivals. After enduring a 3-12 month of January, the Pups are now 1-2 in the month of February despite having played all 3 games at the Target Center. To add to the misery, Andrei Kirilenko suffered a strained quadriceps in the second quarter on Monday night, and he is expected to miss at least a few games before returning.

The Pups got off to a very slow start and fell behind early, trailing 59-38 at the half. LaMarcus Aldridge really stood out in this game, and made mincemeat out of Minnesota’s interior defense. Matched up against Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham throughout much of the contest, Aldridge was able to use his length to drain baskets all night on the pair of undersized power forwards. I can imagine it must have been a lot of fun for LaMarcus.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves trailed 77-58. Despite facing a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Pups, led by Ricky Rubio, staged an impressive run but ultimately fell by a single basket. The Trail Blazers got lazy in the second half and fell into a turnover frenzy that the Pups were able to take advantage of. Fortunately for Portland, they had a closer in Aldridge and he came up big on the offensive and defensive ends on the last few possessions of the game.

As if the loss was not enough, yet again one of Minnesota’s floor leaders has fallen to injury. Andrei Kirilenko suffered a strain to his right quadriceps and will likely be out for as much as a week or more. The Timberwolves just can’t catch a break. The Wolves did see some chemistry forming between Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham, as Ricky tossed out 14 assists and Dante netted 23 points in 29 minutes.

Nikola was able to play 35 big minutes, and notched a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Pek was guarded by former Cav and King JJ Hickson, who has enjoyed a breakout season after being dumped by the lowly Sacramento Kings not too long ago. Now averaging 12.9 ppg and 10.7 rpg, Hickson is set to be a free agent after this season and could land a sizable contract this summer. Hickson ultimately got the better of the matchup, and finished with 8 points and 9 rebounds in 36 minutes played.

Once again, Chris Johnson received a DNP-CD and does not appear to be in Adelman’s rotation, despite his stellar play in all of his opportunities. Meanwhile, Mickael Gelabale logged 19 minutes and finished with 5 points.

JJ Barea had a very nice night for Minnesota and continues to be Mr. inconsistency as of late. In 27 minutes, Barea scored 17 points while turning the ball over once, meshing well with Rubio and running the floor very well. Minnesota’s comeback can largely be attributed to their decision to go with a smaller lineup in the fourth, and it was encouraging to see our favorite Spanish backcourt feeding off each other.

Keys of the Game

  • Shot-Blocking: POR 8, MN 2 – Highlighted by LaMarcus Aldridge’s block of Rubio on Minnesota’s second to last possession, Portland had a clear advantage due to their length and athleticism, especially following Andrei Kirilenko’s departure due to injury in the first half. 
  • Rebounding: POR 39, MN 29 – The loss of AK-47 greatly impacted Minnesota’s physicality in the paint, and Portland bigs Aldridge and JJ Hickson established themselves on the defensive glass, holding the Timberwolves to a relatively few 10 offensive rebounds.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. LaMarcus Aldridge – Playing against the Kevin Love-less Timberwolves must be a breath of fresh air for Portland’s All-Star power forward, and he took full advantage of his mismatch on the low block. Portland’s former number-2 overall pick scored 25 points (12-17 FG) and pulled down 13 rebounds, and his late jumper and block of Rubio with 7.9 seconds remaining helped Portland to close out what would have been a huge come-from-behind win for Minnesota. The 6-foot-11 Aldridge tallied 5 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 39 minutes of playing time.
  2. Wesley Matthews – Matthews embodies everything that the Wolves are currently missing from the shooting guard position: three-point shooting, size, strength and athleticism. Portland did a good job of attacking Minnesota’s weaknesses and using off-ball screens to free up space for Matthews, who alone converted 4 of the Blazers 7 three-point field goals. The former Madison (WI) Memorial HS star tallied 5 assists, but also committed 5 of the teams 28 turnovers. Nonetheless, he shot 7-11 from the field on his way to 22 points in 39 minutes for the Blazers.
  3. Ricky Rubio – If there is one thing for Timberwolves fans to take from this game, it was the superb play of Rubio, especially in the second half. Rubio recorded 10 of his career-high-tying 14 assists in the fourth quarter and fueled a vicious comeback in which the Timberwolves outscored the Blazers 40-23 in the final period of play. Although the comeback ultimately proved futile, Tricky Ricky deserves a lot of praise for his late-game heroics despite playing with a shorthanded roster. The Spaniard  recorded double digit scoring for just the second time this season, and scored 15 points on 4-9 shooting in 33 minutes of playing time.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 2/4/13

Rubio-BatumSetting the stage:

The Timberwolves continue their homestand Monday night against division rival Portland.  Minnesota is fresh off of their blowout victory against New Orleans on Saturday night and look to continue to roll through this stretch of home games.  The win moved the Wolves to 18-26 on the season but are still well behind in the race for the playoffs.

Portland also comes into Monday’s game off of a win on Saturday night, defeating the Jazz at home.  The Blazers actually had one of the rare back-to-back home and away games against the same team, losing to the Jazz on Friday night in Utah.  Portland is 24-23 on the season and one game behind Houston for the 8th seed in the conference

The Blazers have defeated the Wolves in both of the earlier match-ups this season, winning 103-95 in Portland on 11/23 and then again in Minnesota on 1/5 by a 102-97 score.  Rookie Damian Lillard has lit up the Wolves in both games averaging 24 points and 7 assists in the two games.  With Rubio looking more like his former self in the past week or two, it will be interesting to see if he and the rest of the Wolves backcourt can do a better job of containing Lillard.

Player to watch:

Nic Batum – The almost Timberpup is putting together a very nice season, averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game.  He’s become much more of a focal point in the Blazers’ offense and is successfully proving his doubters wrong.  While he didn’t score much in the first meeting against the Wolves this season (9 points), he did fill the box score and contributed in other aspects of the game.  In January’s meeting in Minnesota, Batum erupted for 26 points, putting his talents on display for the Minnesota faithful.  The match-up between he and Kirilenko will be a joy to watch.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Damian Lillard.  Ricky is the highlighted man in this preview again, as he has another tough test in front of him on Monday.  As previously mentioned, Lillard has had a lot of success in the two meetings with the Wolves this season.  Now that Ricky is seemingly getting back to normal, it will be interesting to see how he can contain the rookie.  Rubio is coming off a highlight reel filled performance on Saturday night, with 9 points and 7 assists in only 22 minutes of action – due to the scoreboard and not his leg injury.  In fact, over the weekend Adelman mentioned that he is no longer limiting Rubio’s minutes and that he will be playing 32 mpg or so, which is what he would normally be slotted for according to the coach.

Predictions:

This is a tough match-up for the Wolves but I’m going to say that the momentum from Saturday’s game against New Orleans carries over for one more evening.

Final score prediction: Twolves 102, Blazers 100

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. LaMarcus Aldridge

Let’s go Wolves!