Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

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

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

Setting the stage:

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

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

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

Here is a preview for each game this week:

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

Wrap-up:

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

Unlucky 13 as Wolves Drop 14th in a Row to Bucks, 98-84

Look who isn't attacking the ball on the defensive end Friday night.   (Photo credit: 2015 NBAE - Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Look who isn’t attacking the ball on the defensive end Friday night.
(Photo credit: 2015 NBAE – Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

A thirteen game losing streak was on the line as the 5-29 Minnesota Timberwolves took the short road trip to Milwaukee to take on the 19-18 Bucks Friday night.  What was originally scheduled to showcase the two top rookies in the NBA, Friday’s game fell a little flat on high expectations given the season ending injury that Jabari Parker suffered earlier in the season.  However, Andrew Wiggins has been nothing but impressive of late, averaging about 40 minutes of action a night and putting in 22.6ppg over the past five games.

The Pups opened up with Zach LaVine, Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  Milwaukee opened up with with Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokoounmpo, Khris Middleton, Johnny O’Bryant, and Zaza Pachulia.

Zach LaVine got off to a nice start for the Wolves, filling up the stat sheet with rebounds, assists, and a steal in the early minutes.  It could have been even better if the Wolves hit a jump shot or two off of a LaVine pass.  The game had a slow feel to it as the Milwaukee crowd was pretty quiet in the early going.  The first timeout of the game wasn’t taken until 5:13 remained in the opening quarter, with the Timberwolves holding a 13-10 advantage.

At the end of the first quarter the Wolves held a 22-19 lead.  Two major takeaways that need to be discussed – 1. What does Flip Saunders believe he has in Thad Young? and 2. Will the real Chase Budinger please stand up?  Young is an incredibly frustrating player to watch.  The lack in consistency is probably the most pertinent issue.  As for Budinger, he entered the game in the first quarter and responded with 5 points on 2-2 shooting in three minutes.

OJ Mayo answered the call in the second quarter, opening up with two quick three pointers to give the Bucks a 27-24 lead and forcing a Timberwolves timeout.  It didn’t stop there for Milwaukee as they went on a 22-8 run to start the second quarter and opened up a ten point advantage, 41-31.  Unfortunately, the Wolves looked lost throughout the second quarter.  It seems like this has happened every night and the Wolves shoot themselves in the foot at some point each and every time.  The Bucks built a 15 point advantage heading into the locker room, 53-38.  Here’s how bad the second quarter looked:

The defensive effort and intensity was missing to start the third quarter and Flip wound up burning a quick timeout to presumably try to light a fire under the Wolves’ collective asses.  The strategy worked for a few minutes as the Wolves cut the Bucks’ lead to single digits.  However, the Bucks fought back and rebuilt the double digit lead with a few minutes left in  the quarter.  Jerryd Bayless hit a jumper to close out the quarter as the Bucks reclaimed a 14 point advantage heading into the final 12 minutes, 72-58.

The Bucks signed Kenyon Martin to a 10 day contract and he made his first appearance as the 4th quarter got started.  Martin and Bucks Head Coach Jason Kidd were of course teammates when the New Jersey Nets went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.

The familiar story of the losing streak continued Friday night.  Too many turnovers, porous defense, and poor shooting percentages were all on display for the Pups.

The final score: Milwaukee 98, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Every Bucks player that got on the court scored at least four points in tonight’s game
  • Thad Young had a season high 5 steals
  • Glenn Robinson III entered late in the 4th quarter and added a bit of nostalgia, as his dad was the #1 pick for the Bucks back in 1994

Suns Sneak by Wolves, Losing Streak Reaches 13

(Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune)

(Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune)

Not even a career night from Andrew Wiggins could end Minnesota’s current futile streak. The rookie phenom put on a show for the ESPN cameras, scoring 25 points on 10-16 shooting. He nearly became a hero, too, as his 3 point attempt at the buzzer was just long, giving Phoenix the 113-111 victory.

Wiggins was aggressive all game long, looking for the ball and taking advantage whenever he was being mismatched on defense. He flew in for rebounds, made smart, precise passes, and held his own defensively. You can’t ask much more from a rookie.

The strong play of Wiggins, along with Mo Williams, Anthony Bennett, and Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng, produced positive results, and the Wolves actually led by seven entering the fourth.

The Suns started the fourth quarter blazing hot, particularly Gerald Green. In span of 5 minutes and 6 seconds, the former Wolf scored 15 points, shooting 5-6 from the field and giving Phoenix the 90-88 lead.

Green quickly returned to earth, and eventually to the bench, but the Suns didn’t. Their hot shooting, combined with several costly errors down the stretch for Minnesota, was too much to overcome, and the Suns held on to win.

With the defeat, Minnesota’s losing streak has reached 13, tied for the sixth longest losing streak in franchise history. Try and look at the list of Wolves losing streaks below without shedding a tear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 2.57.45 PM

The Wolves next chance to end the skid comes Friday night in Milwaukee, and it doesn’t get any easier from their. After traveling to Milwaukee, the Wolves play the Spurs at Target Center on Saturday before embarking on a 4 game road trip. If the Wolves go winless over that stretch, a new franchise record would be set with 19 consecutive losses. Here’s to hoping the Pups can pull one out soon.

Notes:

  • The race for 8th in the West could get interesting if Phoenix can keep up their current pace. The Suns sit in 8th at 22-16, 3.5 and 4 games up on New Orleans (17-18) and OKC (17-19), respectively. If Durant and Westbrook can’t find their rhythm soon, they may find themselves at home come playoff time.
  • ESPN announcer Jon Barry was guilty of at least two faux pas during the broadcast. Not only did he call Wiggins “Anthony,” he also blamed a slippery court on there being a Wild game the day before. There is no ice rink under Target Center court, and the Wild don’t even play in the same city as the Timberwolves.
  • A day after waiving Jeff Adrien, Minnesota has announced the signing of 7’1″ center Miroslav Raduljica. The 27 year old Serbian played 48 games with Milwaukee last season, averaging 3.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. Raduljica last played for the Shandong Lions in China, where he was bought out of his contract in anticipation of an NBA deal.
RubioHelp

“Help us Ricky Rubio, you’re our only hope.”

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 11

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

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

 

Setting the stage:

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

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

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

Wrap-up:

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

Timberwolves Continue to Struggle in Home Loss to Utah

(photo credit: nba.com)

(photo credit: nba.com)

The Timberwolves extended their loss streak to 11 in one of the more embarrassing performances of the season for a short-handed Minnesota squad. The Wolves did make a strong effort in the fourth quarter, but they came up short in the 101-89 final score. Mo Williams and Andrew Wiggins led the team with 20 apiece, but a lackluster defense proved inadequate against Trey Burke and the rest of the Jazz lineup.

Minnesota fans undoubtedly felt the irony of Burke’s 28-point performance at the Target Center Saturday night. In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves drafted Burke at No. 9 before immediately trading the pick to Utah in a deal that brought Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng to Minny. Although Dieng and Muhammad have both proved to be nice returns for the Wolves, it was especially painful as the young squad saw Burke score 28 points on the evening.

Head coach Flip Saunders expressed a seemingly new level of frustration following the game. He emphasized disappointment in the starting five’s performance, stating that a lineup adjustment is needed. Saunders said the following:

“That’s probably about as bad of a loss as we’ve had in a long time, from the perspective that we’ve lost a bunch of games in a row […] to come out the way we did is uncalled for. We talked to our team afterwards just about what it is to be professional. […] It was just really disappointing.”

The Wolves cannot seem to get away from slow starts to games; it wasn’t until the 4:27 mark of the first quarter that they reached double-digit points to tie the game at 11.

Utah struggled a bit early on as well, and neither team could get their shots to drop. Following halftime, however, the Jazz found the spark they were looking for, and the Timberwolves clambered to find any sort of groove. Despite a nice effort from Wiggins and a trio of three-point buckets from Williams, nothing clicked.

The Jazz shot 50.7 percent, including 55 percent from behind the arc. They also out-rebounded Minnesota 47-37.

The worst part of Saturday’s loss was how avoidable it should have been. Utah is just as injury-plagued as its opponent, and the team had only 11 wins entering the game.

“We’re playing in the NBA,” Muhammad said. “We have to turn it around because the energy just isn’t there. It’s embarrassing.”

At this point, fans can only hope that starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, all sidelined with injuries, will return to the court sooner rather than later. Until then, it will be interesting to see if—and how—Saunders follows through with his promise to shake things up within the roster.

The Wolves will remain in town to host the Denver Nuggets Monday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Wolves Drop a Close Game, Fall 110-107 to Sacramento

(photo credit: fansided.com)

(photo credit: fansided.com)

Close, but no cigar.

This was the story once again for the Minnesota Timberwolves when they fell just short to the Kings Thursday night. The New Years Day game was a big one for rookie Andrew Wiggins, who led the team with 27 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad each added 15 points in the effort. On the other end, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison scored 21 points apiece for the Kings.

Minnesota delivered an impressive first quarter, shooting 57 percent from the field and grabbing 29 points. Unfortunately for the Wolves, though, Sacramento came out even stronger. Gay led the way with 10 points as the Kings landed 77.8 percent of their shots and entered the second quarter with 37 points.

Despite falling behind early on, the Wolves worked their way back with a lot of help from Wiggins. The youngster tallied 15 points in the second quarter alone, including one bucket from behind the three-point line.

“[Wiggins has] been playing really well,” Saunders said.

Just after halftime, Minnesota tied the score at 66-66. It seemed that the Wolves might be gaining momentum, but the excitement was short lived as the Kings went on an 11-0 run.

One of the weakest spots for the Timberwolves proved to be the free-throw line. The team missed some crucial opportunities late in the game, landing only 16 of its 22 attempts from the charity stripe.

Saunders knew the team needed a spark in the second half, and he implemented newly acquired guard Troy Daniels. Daniels added 11 points over 12 minutes of play time, including three baskets from behind the arc. The former Houston Rocket seems to be finding his groove with a new team, and Wolves fans hope he will be another piece to the puzzle.

“I know my job is to shoot the ball,” Daniels said postgame. “If I’m open, just shoot it. I’m just trying to help the team any way I can.”

If the Wolves hope to increase their win totals, the team needs more consistency from its starting five. Thaddeus Young had a quieter night than usual with just nine points, and rookie Zach LaVine finished with a mere six points and three assists.

Sacramento did almost everything right on the evening; each one of its starters scored in double-digit points, and the squad shot 54.1 percent from the field.

“We’ve been so close,” head coach Flip Saunders said. “We just can’t seem to get over the hump.”

It seems that a lot of good things have been happening in games over the past few weeks—significant developments for Wiggins and Muhammad and the addition of Daniels—but so far the young team just can’t get the wins to show for it.

Thursday night’s loss dropped the Wolves to 5-26 on the season. They will remain at home for the week to face Utah Saturday night and Denver on Monday.

Wolves Lose Both Games in Back-to-Back, Fall to Nuggets, Warriors

Photo Credit: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Weekend Recap

In the second and third games of their current 4-game road trip, the Timberwolves extended their losing streak to eight games while dropping to 5-24 on the season. As things currently stand, only the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers have worse records than your Minnesota Timberwolves.

Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic. $23,552,979. Those are the three Wolves starters that are still out with injury, and that’s how much money they are combining to earn this season. After spraining his ankle on November 7, Rubio remains out and will likely need another 10 days before being considered to suit up. Pekovic, who looks like a fearless monster, apparently has the pain tolerance of a cuddly teddy bear. Pek has missed the last 20 games with a sprained wrist, and will likely be out until mid-January. Since signing his monster contract two offseasons ago, it is clear that re-upping on Pek was a major mistake for a team that already has enough trouble fielding a respectable group of healthy players year-in and year-out. Lastly, Martin has been slow to return from wrist surgery after breaking it on November 19, but is set to be reevaluated in two weeks.

After falling 125-104 in the highly anticipated first matchup against Kevin Love in his new home of Cleveland, the Timberwolves played a much more competitive game in Denver as they lost 106-102. However, they did not fair as well against the NBA-best Warriors who made mincemeat of the inexperienced and injury-riddled Pups, ultimately defeating them 110-97.

For Minnesotans looking for silver linings and consolation from the past two defeats, it may be best to look elsewhere. Although Andrew Wiggins gave fans plenty to get excited about in his 27-point outburst against the Cavaliers, which included 9-16 from the field and 3-3 from beyond the arc, his inefficiency on offense (8-18 FG) against Denver was a large reason for the Wolves’ struggles and defeat down the stretch.

When faced against premier wing defenders in Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala, Wiggins looked complacent and attempted a mere 6 field goals in 24 minutes on the floor. Questions concerning Wiggins’ motor certainly carry merit, as the 19-year-old rookie has not yet shown consistency in his aggressiveness and intensity mainly on the offensive end.

Now is also the appropriate time to call out Anthony Bennett for his many shortcomings this season. After a historically awful rookie season, Bennett looked to rejuvenate his career in Minnesota and impressed many by showing up to camp in significantly better shape and carried his new confidence into the 2014-15 NBA season by getting into a rhythm early. However, it is clear that the young sophomore has already hit a wall as his efficiency rating has fallen from above 20 to just 12.29 while shooting just 8 for his last 31 field goals while falling behind Robbie Hummel in the forwards rotation. If Flip Saunders has a doghouse, Big Daddy Canada is in it.

One Hot Minute

The Timberwolves need a coach. Not Flip Saunders, but a real coach. This is not a deliberate knock on Flip, as I believe he can continue to be apart of the Timberwolves’ long-term future, albeit in upper management and not at the end of the bench. The Wolves’ hired him as a personnel guy, and did everything last offseason to convince Dave Joerger to come and be their new head coach for many good reasons, one of them being so that Flip would not have to be in the same sticky situation that once before led to his firing.

Minnesota needs someone who is going to work these players tirelessly in order to help them squeeze out any and all potential from them, not someone who is there to be their buddy and to tell them it’s going to be alright during the tough times. This team has grown incredibly soft, and needs a dose of reality. If Flip is still the coach of the Wolves’ by the beginning of the next season, then I don’t like his odds of his second stint in Minnesota lasting as long as the first one.

I am done being the kind of fan that is going to wait for half of the season to be gone so I can then start to get excited for the NBA draft. There is no honor in playing for a top draft pick every season, and it is time for this fan base to start demanding more from this franchise.