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.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 10

Shabazz Muhammad and the Timberwolves will take on the Jazz twice this week, a great effort to stop the bleeding on their current losing streak. (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

Shabazz Muhammad and the Timberwolves will take on the Jazz twice this week, a great effort to stop the bleeding on their current losing streak. (Credit: NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the week with a 5-24 record and have lost eight straight.  The week ahead gives the Pups two games against a very beatable Utah Jazz team, with the Sacramento Kings sandwiched in between.  There may be a light ahead, as reports have surfaced that the Wolves expect Ricky Rubio to return to the court in mid-January.  Rubio has been stretching his legs during warm-ups with assistants and will be more than a welcomed sight on the floor for Flip Saunders and his crew.  While it looks like Rubio is almost ready to return to the court, there is no news out there right now for Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic.

As the season continues to slog along, it will be interesting to see if GM Flip is able to convince Head Coach Flip to make a move and clear more of the deck to make the franchise rebuild that much more official.  Here is a brief preview for each game of the coming week:

Game 30: Tuesday, 12/30, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Jazz open up the week with a 10-20 record and will be in Los Angeles on Monday to take on the Clippers.  The Wolves catch the benefit of the schedule gods, as the Jazz will have to travel home after Monday night’s game to play the next night.  With the Wolves’ injuries continuing to wreck the season, any benefit the team sees is well received.

Opponent to watch:

Gordon Hayward – Hayward is putting up strong numbers so far this season (18.9ppg, 5.3rpg, and 4apg).  He isn’t “worth” what the Jazz resigned him for, but I don’t understand the current NBA salary structure anymore than the next person.  Hayward does pose another tough night for Andrew Wiggins on both ends of the floor … yet again.

Game 31: Thursday, 1/1, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Timberwolves open up the 2015 calendar year against the team they have faced 1,000 times to open up past NBA seasons.  The Kings open up the week with a 13-17 record and will also face the Timberwolves off of a game the night before.  Sacramento will be in Boston for a game against the Celtics on Wednesday night and will travel to Minnesota afterward for Thursday’s game.  The Kings are 10th in the league averaging 102.6ppg but are giving up 103.9ppg – “good” for 26th in the league.

Opponent to watch:

Darren Collison – Collison is going to be a very tough matchup for Zach LaVine and Mo Williams.  Collison has picked up starting PG duties for the Kings admirably, averaging 16.3ppg, 6apg, and 1.3spg.

Game 31: Saturday, 1/3, 7pm – Utah Jazz @ Timberpups (TV: FSN  Plus)

The Jazz and Wolves will face off for the second time in less than a week.  For the third time in a row, the Pups’ opponent will be coming off of a game the night before, as the Jazz will be in Atlanta on Friday night.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors seems to have found his groove in the NBA, putting up 15.7ppg and 8.3rpg.  He will be a tough matchup for Thad Young.  I would prefer Flip goes to Anthony Bennett early and often at PF, particularly against the Jazz.

Wrap-up:

Scheduling quirks are a reason to be optimistic this week for the Pups to finally break the losing streak.  If the streak happens to get to ten, expect the Wolves to beat the Jazz on Saturday, as that will be Utah’s fourth game of the week.

Cavaliers Big Three Drive Past Timberwolves, 125-104

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

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

The 5-21 Minnesota Timberwolves strolled into Cleveland to take on the NBA’s latest edition of a “Big Three” to take on the Cavaliers.  That of course meant it was the Wolves’ first meeting with ex-Pup Kevin Love.  The Cavs have been somewhat disappointing so far this season with a 16-10 record and playing a methodical pace of basketball under new head coach, David Blatt.

The Pups opened up with Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  Cleveland countered with Kyrie Irving, another ex-Pup Mike Miller, LeBron James, Love, and Anderson Varejao.

Cleveland won the opening tip and quickly went down to the post to Love, who subsequently blew a layup (instead of dunking the ball …).  The Wolves went to Wiggins early and he responded with an early bucket and helped draw two of the three quick fouls called against Mike Miller.  Heading into the game’s first timeout, the Cavs held a 14-9 advantage.

At the end of the first quarter, the Cavs held a 27-26 advantage in a back and forth quarter that saw six lead changes.  The Wolves were led by Wiggins (11 points) and Dieng (6 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals) in the opening frame.  Love finished the first quarter with 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.

If there is an intriguing storyline or subplot to keep an eye on over the next few weeks/months, it is what becomes of Chase Budinger.  Chase has shown signs of life over the past two weeks and may be rounding into form.  He opened up the second quarter by hitting his first two buckets for five points.  (Note: He also entered towards the end of the third quarter and that is, where you will find, the unraveling of the game for the Pups.)

With a little less than six minutes left in the half, the Cavs went on a mini-run and opened up a 9 point lead, 46-37.  Cleveland’s ‘Big Three’ led the charge, assisting and/or scoring on just about every bucket the Cavs scored up to that point in the quarter.  However, Wiggins and the Wolves came right back, going on an 11-4 run to cut the Cavs lead to two points (50-48) and forcing David Blatt to call a timeout.  Cleveland answered the call and went on a 7-2 run to open up another five point lead.  At the half, the Cavs held a 64-56 lead.

The third quarter wasn’t a banner quarter for the Cavs as Love and Varejao both went down with injuries and to the locker room.  Love would return to the floor just minutes later.  At the same time, Andrew Wiggins was heating up, scoring or assisting on five of the club’s first seven baskets in the quarter.  After cutting the Cavs lead to one point, James and Irving hit back to back three points to open up the lead once again.

Unfortunately, the close (and good) game seemed to end towards the end of the third quarter.  Cleveland went on a 16-1 run and held a 96-79 advantage heading into the final frame.

The fourth quarter was unfortunately more of the same from the final few minutes of the third.  The Cavs essentially imposed their will on the Wolves and were able to maintain their double digit lead throughout.  The final score: Cleveland 125, Minnesota 104.

Game Notes:

  • Anderson Varejao was reported to have a left ankle injury and didn’t return to the court on Tuesday night.  According to the Cavs broadcast, he will be reevaluated on Wednesday.
  • Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season.
  • Andrew Wiggins finished the game with a team high 27 points on 9-16 shooting from the floor.
  • Anthony Bennett probably had the worst game of his career and certainly his worst performance in a Wolves uniform.  He finished the game with 0 points on 0-4 shooting, poor defense, and was -27 in the +/- column.
  • You likely have already seen this, but Flip Saunders told Jon Krawczynski the following ahead of Tuesday night’s game regarding Kevin Love:

    “Minnesota people are pretty loyal. You turn on Minnesota, they don’t forgive you,” Saunders said after practice on Monday. “So I think people probably appreciated him while he was here. But you leave under the terms that he did, just the way Minnesota people are, they’re not pretty forgiving along those lines.”