Timberwolves Embarrass Themselves, Lose to 76ers 103-94

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Ahead of the emotional return of Mike Miller and Kevin Love to the Target Center Saturday night, the Timberwolves took the show on the road to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers.  Along with the Knicks, the Wolves and Sixers are aiming for the most ping pong balls come lottery time and Flip Saunders’ Timberwolves took a commanding lead for the pole position.

Friday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center was downright embarrassing as the Wolves have lost both match-ups against a terrible basketball team this season.  This one came with Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup.  Just about every preconception I had on this year’s team came to fruition in last night’s game.  I typically reserve some of my thoughts until seeing it with my own eyes … and that is exactly what happened last night.

The first 22 minutes of the game were pretty entertaining basketball if you like offense.  If you like defense, you might have wanted to look away.  The Wolves got big performances from Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, while the Sixers were led by Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) and ex-Pup LRMAM.

With about two minutes to go in the first half, the Wolves started to fall apart and the body language of the vast majority of the squad became disturbing.  After multiple turnovers, the Wolves gave the ball back to Philadelphia with 3.8 seconds on the clock.  MCW received the inbounds pass and drove all the way to the hope for a buzzer beating layup.  The lack of energy, effort, frankly anything from the Wolves on that play set the tone for the second half.

Already missing Mo Williams due to injury for Friday’s contest, Zach LaVine went down for a while with an ankle injury.  After heading to the locker room for a bit, LaVine later returned to the court to play in the 4th quarter.  I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, outside of the fact that the injury itself doesn’t seem to be significant.  LaVine is very clearly not ready to play Point Guard in the NBA on either side of the court.  MCW crushed him throughout the night.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, LaVine’s backup is not an NBA caliber player.  Lorenzo Brown’s return to the team that drafted him should be over upon the return of Ricky Rubio.  The Brown signing is the type of laziness that exudes from the Wolves front office – “We drafted this guy a few years ago, so there was something there. He’s available and we need a PG.  Sign him!”

The second half was the worst half of basketball I have ever seen with my own eyes.  The Wolves put up 18 points in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Sixers 18-17.  Not to be outdone, Minnesota put up 17 points in the 4th quarter to allow the Sixers to put them away for good.  The loss moves the Wolves to 8-38 on the season, while the Sixers go to 10-37.  Minnesota now has a clear track to the most ping pong balls with two losses to Philadelphia.  Joy.

The final score: 76ers 103, Timberwolves 94

Game Notes:

  1. I want to touch on the body language again as there were a few particular examples worth calling out:
    • Kevin Martin and the returning to Philly Thad Young could not have looked more disinterested.  Martin was a chucker (5-18 FG’s) and Young didn’t seem to have much emotion returning to Philadelphia.
    • The one guy that visibly cared the most, was wearing a suit and still recovering from his ankle injury.  Ricky Rubio jumped out of his seat when the Wolves failed to execute in the fast break.  The Wolves are lucky Rubio was willing to resign earlier this season.
    • When LaVine twisted his ankle it was quite telling that not a single teammate stayed by or even really went to his side before heading to the locker room.  This season and all of the losing is likely leading to a lot of this, but in the back of my mind is the fact that this is a Flip Saunders run team and he has never been known to enforce or instill camaraderie with his club.  This isn’t going to end well.
  2. It was not a packed house last night …

Kevin Martin Returns to Lineup, Wolves Pick up Home Win Over Celtics

KevinMartin

The active roster looked a little different than it has over the past several weeks, and the changes worked in Minnesota’s favor. Guard Lorenzo Brown, originally drafted by the Timberwolves, signed a 10-day contract with the team and grabbed 11 points in Wednesday’s contest despite not yet having a full practice with the team. Kevin Martin returned to the floor after missing 34 games with a fractured wrist, and he looked better than ever in the 110-98 win over Boston. Martin led the team in scoring with 21 points, and Gorgui Dieng added a double-double to the stat sheet with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Martin had been listed as questionable before the game, as he had experienced swelling in his wrist earlier that week. However, he played 24 minutes and said his wrist felt great.

“I’m just a scorer at the end of the day,” Martin said. “It felt good early on to see a couple go in. I went through a little [rough] stretch there and just had to knock some of the rust off and got back at it in the fourth. It’s just fun to get a win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Both teams shot well at the Target Center, but Minnesota was able to grab the upper hand, no doubt feeling momentum as the lineup slowly gets healthy. An impressive 14 players scored in double digits, seven from each team. The Wolves shot 49.4 percent from the field, more accurate that fans have witnessed in awhile. One nice change was their 3-point game, as Martin and Brown added two buckets apiece from downtown. The Celtics shot 46.2 percent on the evening.

The game proved an exciting one for four quarters, as neither team could run away with it. Boston and Minny exchanged the lead five times throughout. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Wolves really stepped up and sealed the deal. The home team tallied 29 points in the final quarter, and Martin scored 12 of his 21 points within that time frame. The guard arguably had the key move in the game, when he converted a 3-point play during the fourth quarter that helped the Wolves extend their lead.

Zach LaVine was recently listed as a participant in the NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest, and he is favored to win. Whether due to that excitement or simply feeling re-energized, the rookie came out Wednesday with all cylinders firing. LaVine had a strong performance, adding 17 points and six assists to help the Wolves win their first game at the Target Center since Dec. 10. Nikola Pekovic, also recently returned, added 14 points, and Thaddeus Young grabbed 12 points and nine rebounds for the Wolves.

On the opponents’ side, Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“If you want to make it to where we’re trying to make it, these games cannot happen,” said Sullinger. “These types of games cannot happen.”

The win extended Minnesota’s record to 8-34. Up next, the Wolves will travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Friday.

“We’ve got another three weeks of Training Camp,” head coach Flip Saunders joked after the victory. “These guys coming back, it’s going to take them about three weeks to get their sea legs back. […] We’re going to find out how our pieces all fit together.”

 

Timberwolves Fall Short to Oklahoma City Thunder

(photo credit: SI.com)

(photo credit: SI.com)

OKC’s Kevin Durant missed Monday night’s game with a sprained toe, but even several close points of the game, Minnesota couldn’t pull out a win. The 92-84 loss dropped the Timberwolves’ record to 1-12 in Oklahoma City over the past few seasons. Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with 23 points, followed by Thaddeus Young with 22. Center Gorgui Dieng had a big night beneath the basket, grabbing 18 boards.

Oklahoma City felt the absence of Durant, who has never missed a game against Minnesota and typically averages 28 points per game when playing the Wolves. Minnesota’s defense proved above average in keeping Russell Westbrook‘s point total down (18 compared to the 25 PPG he has been averaging).

It seems the Wolves can never get everything to work together, however. On a night of decent Minnesota defense, it was a battle of poor shooting from both teams. The Wolves shot just 34.1 percent from the field, while the Thunder made 41.9 percent of their attempts.

Young had another solid performance, giving Minnesota an early 4-2 lead. Monday marked the second consecutive game that head coach Flip Saunders has started Young at the small forward position. Young said he’s enjoyed playing there, as the position helps him see the floor and move the ball more effectively.

Minny held the Thunder to just 2-of-11 to start the game, and Westbrook was a non-factor throughout most of the first quarter. However, OKC fought back and held a decent lead for most of the first half, going on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

At one point, the Wolves fell to a 15-point deficit as Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins both added a spark off the Thunder bench.

Minnesota battled back to within three, trailing 54-57 at the 5:29 mark of the third quarter, but the excitement for Wolves fans was short lived as Oklahoma City continued to make buckets that its opponents could not answer to.

The game got a bit chippy on more than one instance, and Saunders received a technical foul at one point over a controversial penalty called on Wiggins. The energy was certainly high on the Wolves’ bench, and the team did give a valiant effort to regain a lead in the fourth quarter, scoring 28 points in the final period. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

The biggest area in which Minnesota struggled was 3-point shooting. The Timberwolves shot less than 16 percent from behind the arc, Mo Williams making only one of six attempts from downtown.

Oklahoma extended their home win streak to six, while the Wolves lost their 19 out of 21 games and fell to 7-37 overall.

Up next, Minnesota will return home to host the Celtics Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 14

The Timberwolves took a trip to Cleveland to take on the new “big three” including ex-Pup Kevin Love. (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

Guess who is coming to Minneapolis this week? (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

 

Setting the stage:

At 7-36 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially on pace and watch to finish with the worst record in the NBA and in franchise history.  Truth be told, this wouldn’t be that annoying if Flip Saunders would stop talking about how injuries have derailed the season and would have accepted blowing up the roster by trading Kevin Martin for ten cents on the dollar before the season started.  Saunders must find a way to get out of his contract, as well as finding out if/where there is a market for Nikola Pekovic.  While I want to see more of a Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng frontcourt, the sooner Saunders realizes that a full reset is the best way to go, the sooner this team will become relevant again outside of Minnesota (and one household in New Jersey).

The Pups have a heavy workload this week with four games, including tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder.Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 44: Monday, 1/26, 7pm – Timberpups @ Oklahoma City Thunder (TV: FS North)

With the Thunder floating around .500 ball with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back on the court, it is beginning to look like a lost season for OKC.  Even if they squeak into the playoffs, they are likely on the road to start each series.  While he it mentions it an annoying frequency, I agree with Bill Simmons on the fact that OKC’s ownership blew it by getting rid of James Harden and refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Opponent to watch:

Dion Waiters – OKC’s new Shooting Guard is playing relatively well for the Thunder, averaging over 11ppg.  He’s not Harden, but it was an interesting move to acquire the maligned Waiters.  How he fits in with Durant and Westbrook over the coming months is an interesting storyline worth watching.

Game 45: Wednesday, 1/28, 7pm – Boston Celtics @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wednesday night’s game will be the last of a six game road trip for the Celtics, who will have played in Utah on Monday night.  This is a good opportunity for the Pups to take advantage of a team that is probably looking ahead to getting back home.  The Wolves lost big in Boston back in December, with the final score 114-98.

Opponent to watch:

Kelly Olynyk – Olynyk put on a show back on 12/19 against the Pups.  In only 25 minutes, he had 21 points (8-13 FG’s) and 8 rebounds.

Game 46: Friday, 1/30, 6pm – Timberpups @ Philadelphia 76ers (TV: FS North)

Last week’s preview was “We’re going streaking!” and had it not been for Saturday’s game, this week’s preview was going to be “We’re going tanking!” thanks to Friday’s game against the Sixers.  These two teams, along with the Knicks, are in a bloody brawl for the league’s worst record.  Who will come out of this in a better place?  Only a frozen envelope away from that answer …

Opponent to watch:

Nerlens Noel – Noel isn’t lighting up the box score but is seemingly making progress averaging over 8ppg and 7rpg.  It should be a fun matchup between he and Dieng.

Game 47: Saturday, 1/31, 7pm – Cleveland Cavaliers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Well, here we go Wolves fans!  Here is your chance to boo the holy heaven out of Kevin Love … or you can go the other way and cheer him on for bringing some level of competency to the franchise for several years.  There were more than a handful of nights where Love simply dominated the opponent while wearing the Wolves’ uniforms.  Unfortunately, my favorite memory of Love will always be his “What are we doing” tweet after David Kahn drafted seventeen PG’s in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – Too easy to pick Love here.  James is the best player on the planet, so in between your cheers and jeers for Kevin, sit back and enjoy LeBron’s game.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods are doing the Wolves no favors, consistently flipping back and forth between home and road games throughout the week.  While it would be nice to see a win vs. Cleveland on Saturday night, I don’t have high expectations there.  The Pups do have a legitimate chance of at least splitting W’s and L’s this week though.  Let’s go Wolves!

Happy Birthday Crunch – Wolves Lose to Pelicans 92-84

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter - @WolvesCrunch)

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter – @WolvesCrunch)

 

The 7-34 Minnesota Timberwolves completed their brief homestand on Friday night against the 21-21 New Orleans Pelicans.  Both teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions but one is clearly still playing for something this season while the other continues to receive more bad news.  Reports have surfaced that Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury is worse than originally thought.  That quickly took all of the steam out of Nikola Pekovic’s return to action on Wednesday night.  The Pelicans have been struggling with their own injury news of late with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missing time recently.

The two teams met early on this season in New Orleans, with the Pelicans undressing the Wolves to the tune of 139-91 – the worst loss in Wolves’ franchise history.

Looking for a reason to celebrate Wolves’ fans?  The Wolves celebrated Crunch’s birthday Friday night at the Target Center.  So at least there’s that for those in attendance.

Let’s take a look at how Friday night’s action went down at the Target Center.  The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Pelicans countered with the following starting five: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, ex-Pup Dante Cunningham, the aforementioned Davis, and Omer Asik.

The one Pup that I have consistently laid into this season (Thad) started off a house of fire, accounting for 7 of the Wolves first 11 points, which led to NOLA Coach Monty Williams to call a very quick timeout with his team down 11-1.  While the Wolves continued to hustle and play relatively well coming out of the timeout, the shooting percentage came back to earth and the Pelicans were able to tie the game at 18, forcing Flip Saunders to burn the Wolves first timeout with just over three minutes left to play in the 1st Quarter.

With Wiggins and Pekovic a combined 1-8 in the opening quarter for the Wolves, the Pelicans took a 24-20 lead into the break.  As time expired in the 1st, Chase Budinger drew a foul on a three pointer, only to see the referees swallow their whistles.  It has been a rough enough season for Chase, he doesn’t need any help from the zebras.

After taking a 32-29 lead in the 2nd Quarter on a beautiful post move from Gorgui Dieng, the Wolves turned the ball over on consecutive series and quickly gave up their lead.  Concentrating on the positive for a moment, Dieng’s offensive game continues to grow stronger as the weeks continue to pass by.  If for no other reason, and I can’t think of another one, Pekovic’s injury has had at least one benefit for the Wolves and that is the improvement in Dieng’s all around game (and likely his confidence).

At the half, the Wolves trailed 45-44.  Halftime notes/stats:

  • Thad Young with a team high 11 points on 5-8 shooting … but 0 rebounds
  • Conversely, Dieng finished the half with 8 points and 7 rebounds
  • The Wolves shot 44% from the floor in the 1st half, while the Pelicans shot 59%
  • Pups only got to the free throw line six times in the half – as did the Pelicans – but only made two of their attempts

The 3rd Quarter seemed to slog along with some ugly basketball being played.  Through the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wolves had one made basket and two free throws.  After Dante Cunningham made two long range jump shots, Flip Saunders called a timeout to try to straighten the ship.

The Pelicans opened up a double digit lead but the Wolves were able to cut it back down to four.  Nate Wolters scored as the clock was running down in the quarter, giving the Pelicans a 69-63 lead heading into the final frame.

There were several mini-runs for each team to start the 4th Quarter, with the Wolves trimming the Pelicans lead thanks to some strong offensive play from Chase Budinger, who scored all but two of his ten total points in the 4th.  However, the Wolves could never get over the hump and fell to the Pelicans.

With about :40 seconds to go in the game, the Pelicans were inbounding the ball up by six.  With a foul to give before going into the penalty, the Wolves scrambled to try to trap an opponent defensively.  It didn’t work but with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the Wolves then commit the foul.  That resets the shot clock to 14 seconds and the Wolves then have to commit another foul before forcing the Pelicans to the line.  In no way, shape or form was this a defensive strategy worth repeating.  Ever.  Either foul early and stretch the game as much as possible or play and hope they miss the shot.

The final score: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Happy birthday Crunch!  You don’t look a day over 26 …
  • If the Wolves have any interest in winning games the rest of the way, a Pekovic-Dieng frontcourt is going to need to be used
  • Mo Williams had a quiet double-double on Friday night, tallying 12 points and 10 assists
  • In fact, the Wolves assisted on 27 of their 35 made baskets (77%)

Timberwolves Drop Brutal Game to Dallas, Fall to 7-34

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

The Timberwolves started out strong against Dallas, but gradually the well-oiled Mavericks pulled away and took control of the game. Despite having a healthy Nikola Pekovic back in the huddle, the Wolves came up on the short end of the 98-75 final score. Andrew Wiggins had yet another double-digit game, leading Minnesota with 18 points. On the other side of the floor, Chandler Parsons tallied 22 points for the Mavs.

The first quarter started out well for Minnesota, with more aggressive defense than fans have seen in awhile. Gorgui Dieng had a couple of nice rebounds, and Robbie Hummel was able to battle for a put-back early on in the game.

The headline (and silver lining) for the evening was Pekovic. After missing 31 games this season, the big man returned to the Wolves lineup Wednesday night. Although he came off the bench, Pek had a decent 14-point game after sitting out for over two months.

When No. 14 checked in at the 3:18 mark of the first quarter, Target Center fans delivered a large ovation for the center. Pekovic immediately grabbed a bucket, tying the game at 21 and increasing the crowd noise.

Mavs veteran Dirk Nowitzki hit a long 3-point shot to close out the quarter 24-21, and from that point on the Wolves struggled to keep up. Slow second and third quarters are starting to become the unfortunate trend for Minny, and this game proved no different. Dallas went on a 25-9 run to finish up the half, and the Wolves entered the locker room trailing 59-38.

Thaddeus Young has been playing well lately, and he had another solid game against the Mavericks, despite grabbing all 14 points of his points in the first half. The forward seemed to be the only one able to find successful shots after the first quarter. The game dragged on, with Minnesota simply unable to match up well against its opponents.

Dallas entered the game shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line, and the team absolutely killed Minnesota from downtown. Parsons tallied 12 points from behind the arc, and the team made 11 of its 27 long-range attempts.

Prior to the half, the Associated Press‘ Jon Krawcynski reminded Wolves fans of the following:

Parsons wasn’t the only Maverick to play well, though. Dallas shot 51.3 percent from the field, in stark contrast to Minnesota’s 34.8 percent. The brutal loss dropped the Wolves’ record to 7-34 on the season, and it seems as if the second half of the season will be incredibly long for a very young, very tired squad.

After going off for an incredible 52 points against Indiana last Tuesday, Mo Williams never found his groove against the Mavs. The guard started out the game 0-10 from the field and did not find the basket until late in the third quarter. He finished the evening with just five points.

Although it was rumored that Kevin Martin might return, he remained sidelined with a wrist injury. Ricky Rubio also continues to sit out, and Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner shed a little more light on the subject.

According to head coach Flip Saunders, Gellner explained that Rubio suffered torn muscles and also a bone bruise in addition to the sprained ankle. The injury is more complex than maybe originally detailed, and Saunders said the team is taking every precaution to make sure Rubio is at 100 percent before returning to action.

Up next, the Wolves will face New Orleans at the Target Center Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Timberwolves Rookie Zach LaVine to Compete in 2015 NBA Dunk Contest

According to sources, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine is one anticipated contestant for the 2015 NBA Dunk Contest.

Several fans also hoped that fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins would also participate, but it appears that LaVine will be the only Wolves rep in the contest. Although the 19-year-old started the season with very few time off the bench, LaVine has experienced a lot more action in his debut season since starting point guard Ricky Rubio is sidelined with an ankle injury. LaVine is averaging 8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for Minnesota.

The guard was highly touted coming into the Draft, and although he has some room to grow in the area of technicalities, there is no denying his raw athleticism. Take a look at LaVine’s high-flying action here:

In case you are wondering, LaVine has a 44-inch vertical.

Fellow players that have committed to the Slam Dunk Contest include Brooklyn Nets center Mason Plumlee, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo. Plumlee high-jumped 6-8 in high school and was the runner-up in the McDonald’s High School All-American game dunk contest.

The dunk contest will take place on Feb. 14 as the final event of Saturday’s All-Star events, and it will be held at the Barclays Center in New York.

The dunk contest is set as the final event of All-Star Saturday night on Feb. 14 at the Barclays Center in New York.