Timberwolves Battle, Fall to Washington on the Road

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

In the first of two road games for Minnesota, the Timberwolves gave a valiant effort against the Wizards. In a game that stayed close in score for a majority of the contest, it was foul shooting that most hurt Minnesota, and Washington pulled away with the 109-95 final score. Thaddeus Young led the team with a season-high 29 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad who added 21 off the bench. On the opposing side, Rasual Butler tallied 23 points, 18 of them occurring in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards shot off to an impressive start early on, going on a 14-2 run in the first four minutes of the opening quarter. The Wolves slowly worked to battle back. Rookie Zach LaVine added a spark with a nice three-point bucket by rookie at the 4:55 mark, but Washington continued to make its shots and keep a lead over the Wolves. Minnesota entered the locker room at halftime down by 10, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. The team controlled the ball well and committed only four turnovers in the first half.

Where most teams would make up that point deficit, at the free-throw line, the Wolves played terribly. Throughout the first two quarters, Minnesota went just 4-of-14 from the charity stripe. At the end of the game, less than 60 percent of the team’s free throws were successful.

On the opposing side, Washington 50 percent from the field and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line.

“They’re just too good for us right now,” coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “We just don’t have enough firepower.”

Seven Washington players scored in double-digit points, including fourth-year guard John Wall. Wall recorded a double-double on the evening when he scored 21 points and dished out 17 assists. Wall earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

“I think [John] still has the best ahead of him,” coach Randy Wittman said. “He deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, `That’s no big deal, you deserve it.’ There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it.”

The Wizards improved their record 18-6, demonstrating why they are currently ranked No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota fell to 5-19, losing nine of its last 10 games. The team continues to struggle with three of its starters (Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin) being sidelined indefinitely.  Young players are learning on the fly, and the squad is scrappy at the very least. However, the Wolves know they need to start finding a way to win, and soon.

Next up is the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. (CST) at the TD Garden arena.

Bryant Breaks MJ’s Record, Timberwolves Fall to Lakers 100-94

(foxsports.com)

(foxsports.com)

Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant made history in Minnesota on Sunday night, when he passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bryant beat Jordan’s record with a pair of free throws in the second quarter; he tallied 26 points on the night to total 32,310 for his career.

The Timberwolves delivered a strong performance at home, and fans saw several glimpses of young players finding their groove on the court. In the end, though, it seemed fitting that Bryant knocked down a couple of clutch shots to slip away with the 100-94 win. Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to lead the Wolves with an impressive 28 points and nine rebounds, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 16 points.

The game was an entertaining one, to say the least. LA and Minnesota exchanged leads five times throughout the game, and it all came down to the wire when Wiggins tied it up 94-94 at the free-throw line with under two minutes remaining. The Target Center crowd was electric, hoping for the Wolves to come away with the “W,” but Bryant stepped back and drilled a long three-point shot to put the Lakers up 97-94. Minnesota was forced to follow in an effort to slow things down, and LA made three out of four shots from the charity stripe to seal the game.

Although not getting the win they hoped for, several Wolves players expressed nothing but respect for Bryant and his career accomplishment. For a few of the younger players on the roster, they were only toddlers when Bryant started in the NBA. Wiggins was just one year old.

“I witnessed greatness tonight,” Wiggins said postgame. “A living legend passed Michael Jordan, who everyone thinks is the best player of all-time. That’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

Following the game, Bryant gave kudos to Wiggins, comparing the No. 1 pick to himself in earlier years.

“It was a strange feeling because I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I remember playing against Michael [Jordan] my first year. And to be here tonight playing against [Wiggins], seeing the baby face and the little footwork or technique thing that he’s going to be much, much sharper at later on, was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago.”

The game stopped for a few brief moments when Bryant hit the milestone; the guard received congratulatory hugs and affirmations from both teammates and opponents, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor presented Bryant with the game ball before play resumed.

“It was different,” Bryant said. “I’m so used to being the villain all the time on the road it took a minute to kind of adjust. It felt good to be appreciated like that.”

Despite falling short of the win, head coach Flip Saunders called Sunday’s matchup a “learning experience” for the team. There were several glimpses of good things for the Wolves, as they shot 42.2 percent from the field and actually outscored the Lakers 54-38 in the paint.

Muhammad had arguably his best game of the season. The forward’s 28 points came in just over 27 minutes on the floor, and he continued to create shot after shot.

“When [Shabazz] goes in the game I think everyone knows … that when he gets it he’s probably going to look to score,” Saunders said. “They’re really trying to guard him now … and he still finds ways to create opportunities for himself. That’s a positive.”

Corey Brewer and Zach LaVine added that spark of energy for their team, adding 10 points apiece for the evening. Brewer also dished out nine assists and grabbed two steals.

Sunday’s loss dropped Minnesota’s record to 5-18, currently last in the Western Conference.

The Wolves will leave for a two-game road trip to face the Wizards on Tuesday (6 p.m. CST) and then the Celtics on Friday (6:30 p.m. CST).

 

Timberwolves Hand Sixers First Win of the Season

MINvsPHI

Philadelphia entered the Target Center Wednesday night desperately hoping to find its first win. After starting the season 0-17, the Sixers were set to tie with New Jersey for the NBA record of longest loss streak to start a season. Luckily for Philly, the Timberwolves could not get anything going. At the end of the night, Minnesota scored just 77 points to its opponents’ 85, and the Sixers walked away with their first victory. Thad Young led the Wolves with 16 points against his former team, and Gorgui Dieng grabbed a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Michael Carter-Williams tallied 20 points and nine rebounds for Philadelphia.

Perhaps foreshadowing of the poor play ahead, the game got off to a weird start when both teams lined up incorrectly at tip-off. The confusion led to Philly heading the wrong direction upon possession, and in a very rare instance, the game was restarted. From that point on, both teams struggled immensely.

Neither squad could seem to find the basket, and ball handling proved sloppy on both sides. In the first quarter alone, 12 turnovers occurred. Minnesota shot just 27 percent from the field for a total of 13 points in the first period.

Young made the biggest difference in the second quarter, finally finding his groove and grabbing six points to help the Wolves back into the contest. The game was one of several runs, and the teams exchanged the lead a few times. Despite coming back from behind and playing more consistently after the first quarter, however, the Wolves looked completely lost on offense.

Head coach Flip Saunders said following the game that Philadelphia switched up its defense several times, and that generated confusion for the Wolves offensively. While providing this semblance of an explanation, though, Saunders emphasized it was no excuse.

“When they [switch up defense] on you, you have to just play basketball.”

Despite Dieng and Young stepping up, a flashy slam dunk from rookie Zach LaVine, and improved shooting in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late. Minnesota shot just 35.7 percent and turned the ball over 19 times in the Wolves’ 11th loss in 13 games.

Tension clogged the air of the Wolves locker room following the game. Perhaps the loss would have been easier to take had the Sixers simply played good basketball all. They didn’t. At the end of the game, Philadelphia finished with 39 percent from the field and only 64 percent from the free-throw line.

“That’s what makes it bad,” forward Corey Brewer said. “They play that bad and we still lose? We have to look at ourselves, man. It’s tough. We can’t lose that game, period.”

Saunders echoed Brewer’s sentiments in a very quiet post-game presser: “We’re not a very good team right now. We’ve all got to get better. We’ve got to work with our guys more to get them to do what we need to do.”

The upcoming schedule for Minnesota can only get more difficult from this point, and rookie Andrew Wiggins (4-for-12 on the night) said he hopes that this game will serve as an eye opener for the team.

The Wolves will remain home to face Houston Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff before flying to San Antonio for a Saturday night game.

Timberwolves Return Home, Defeat Knicks 115-99

After 18 days away, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally returned home to the Target Center Wednesday night to welcome the New York Knicks. Despite missing several valuable players, Minnesota outscored New York in all but the final quarter to power through to a 115-99 win. Kevin Martin led the Wolves with a career-high 37 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad with 17. On the opposing side, old faithfuls Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire scored 20 and 19 points, respectively.

The Target Center crowd of just over 15,000 started out fairly quiet, but the energy quickly rose as the Wolves jumped ahead to an early lead. With Thad Young being away from the team following the passing of his mother and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic sidelined due to injury, the starting lineup looked a bit different Wednesday. In fact, despite both teams having low win totals, Minnesota was probably the underdog with such a thin roster. No one told the Wolves that, apparently.

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

Martin lit up immediately, notching 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-point baskets. Just a few hours prior, Martin had been listed as “questionable” due to illness.

According to Wolves writer Dane Mizutani, Martin sent head coach Flip Saunders a text around 3:30 saying he would probably miss shootaround because he had been throwing up all night. Regardless, the forward knew he would play in the game.

“There wasn’t even a thought,” Martin said. “I realized the situation and know that guys work so hard … so there was never a thought of not playing.”

The Wolves struggled with rebounding for the evening, only grabbing 12 boards. They made up for it, though, in shooting and creating turnovers. Minny shot 49.4 percent from the field, and they averaged an even more impressive 50 percent from behind the arc. At the end of the night, the team had 11 3-point buckets, seven of those from Martin.

Minnesota controlled the ball fairly well, holding itself to 14 turnovers. New York committed 23. The Wolves’ defense flourished all four quarters, with Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer combining for 11 steals. Brewer’s name floated around in trade rumors last week, as the Wolves apparently have been looking into a deal with Cleveland for the forward. Brewer says the rumors don’t bother him, though. He likes playing for Minnesota, and he will just continue focusing on basketball. Timberwolves fans did share their opinion on the matter–at one point during Wednesday’s game, a cheer began in the TWolves Army fan section: “Let’s Keep Corey Brewer.”

Andrew Wiggins and Mo Williams delivered strong performances as well. Wiggins continues to play well in his rookie season, as he tallied 12 points on the evening and joined with Anthony Bennett for a couple flashy plays. Williams plays more as a quiet threat, but the veteran stepped up to replace Rubio in the starting lineup and did not disappoint. Williams scored 14 points and dished out 13 assists en route to the win.

The victory was a much-needed lift for team spirits after Minnesota lost five of its six road games. Bennett said the following after the game:

“I just don’t want to get used to feeling this feeling, you know, losing basketball games, games that we should be winning. Just letting it slip out of our hands, regardless if it’s early in the season or not.”

The Wolves will enjoy a bit of time at home now, as they prepare to face Tim Duncan and the Spurs Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Visit Mexico City, Lose Third Straight Game

With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely, the Timberwolves lost their third straight game Wednesday night. The final score was 113-101.

The contest was technically listed as a home game for Minnesota but was played in Mexico City. The Wolves held their own against the Rockets during the first half, but in the end the young squad could not matchup against Dwight Howard and James Harden who led Houston with 22 and 23 points, respectively. Corey Brewer came off the bench to lead Minnesota with 18 points, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 15.

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The teams’ stat lines actually line up fairly evenly. The Rockets scored a little higher from the floor, 48 percent to the Wolves’ 44 percent, but the number of rebounds, assists and turnovers were almost identical. The area where Minnesota was entirely outdone, however, was the three-point line. Houston landed an impressive 13 shots from downtown, while the Timberwolves made only six. Rockets reserves Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou were 100 percent with their three-point shots, and Papanikolaou scored a career-high 14 points.

Houston and Minnesota battled back and forth for two quarters, matching most shots and pacing each other well. At halftime, the Wolves fell short just slightly in the 53-49 score. So far this season, the third quarter has proved the most electric for the Wolves. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned as Houston pulled away after halftime. The Rockets outscored Minny 31-21, and their entire lineup seemed to be scoring. Howard, who had been sick earlier in the season, gave the Mexico City fans exactly what they had been looking for. Howard said the following after the game:

“It’s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort. I’ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end … I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.”

Head coach Flip Saunders implemented a large lineup in the fourth quarter—Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Robbie Hummel, and Ronny Turiaf all seeing some minutes—in an attempt to stave off their opponent. The plan was short-sightedly successful, as the Wolves scored 31 points in the final quarter, but ultimately it was not enough to grab the win.

Despite the tough loss, there were several positive takeaways from the game.

Brewer, who notched his 51-point game against the Rockets in April, came out strong again. The 28-year-old went 7-for-7, grabbing his 18 points in only 24 minutes on the floor and adding four rebounds and a steal. Wiggins continues to grow more and more comfortable on an NBA court, and excitement surrounding the 19-year-old will only continue to grow.

Since losing Rubio to a severely sprained ankle on Friday, rookie Zach LaVine has been called up. LaVine entered this season with the most skepticism from critics, as he appears to be the most raw of the young players. It stands to be reasoned that he would not have seen much playing time had Rubio not been injured, but he has taken the responsibility well. In two games starting at point guard, LaVine has tallied 13 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.

“I got [the confidence] from my dad,” LaVine told CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “My dad was a professional athlete so he instilled that in me. All the greats are really, not to say cocky, but confident. I want to be great, so I guess I have that mindset.”

Saunders commented on LaVine’s preparedness after Rubio suffered the sprain:

“Zach is part of what our future is. There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”

LaVine and the rest of the squad will have to continue learning, and fans hope they can break in a few more wins soon. Minnesota has two more stops on its three-week road trip: New Orleans on Friday (7:00 tipoff) and Dallas on Saturday (7:30 tipoff). The Wolves will then enjoy some time off before returning to the Target Center to welcome the Knicks on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Timberwolves Battle Back, Suffer Heartbreaking Loss to Bulls

(photo credit: yahoo)

(photo credit: yahoo)

Saturday’s home stand against the Bulls proved an emotional roller coaster for the Timberwolves and 19,000+ fans in attendance. Kevin Martin delivered a huge performance, leading the team with 33 points.  Minnesota overcame a difficult first half and gave the Bulls a serious run for their money. In the end, though, the Wolves fell just short in a last-second 106-105 loss.

Both teams shot almost 50 percent on the evening, but it was the first half that initially buried the Wolves. Head coach Flip Saunders played Nikola Pekovic for a majority of the first two quarters, but he once again struggled beneath the basket. Pek tallied only eight points (of his final 17) during this time, and perhaps more surprising was the fact that he entered halftime with only three rebounds in over 15 minutes on the floor. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who played just eight minutes in the first half, grabbed five boards.

Minnesota as a team struggled to rebound. Despite finishing the game with a solid 42 rebounds, only 17 of those occurred over the first two quarters. In addition, the Wolves allowed Chicago to sink an incredibly 68 percent of its baskets. Rookie Andrew Wiggins had an incredibly quiet start, and Rubio struggled to make his shots. Thad Young scored eight points, but he left the game at the end of the second following a nasty collision with Jimmy Butler. At halftime, Minny trailed 49-63.

In the third quarter, however, things turned around. Wiggins continued his trend of coming to life in the third quarter, grabbing four points and two steals. Martin showed no signs of slowing down as he scored nine points in the third, and second-year Anthony Bennett added six.

The Wolves were behind for a majority of the game, but in the second half they continued to battle back and keep the point gap to single digits. The highlight of the game came when Martin nailed a three-pointer from the left side to put the Wolves up 105-104 with only 2.9 seconds left in the game.  The crowd exploded, feeling as if the Wolves had stolen a last-minute win.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Butler drew Wiggins in for a foul with .2 seconds remaining, and the guard easily made both free throws to seal a Chicago victory.

Following the game, Wiggins was clearly taking responsibility upon himself for the loss.

“I could’ve changed the outcome of the game,” Wiggins said. “It was a learning experience for me. It hurt, but the good thing about the NBA, I’ve got another game in a couple days.”

Martin, however, took the pressure off his teammate. The veteran forward explained that it was a team effort and a situation that the entire roster needs to learn from.

“I told [Andrew] that we lost that game in the first half,” Martin said. “It had nothing to do with that last play. We’ve got to come in here and have a better effort in the first half so we’re not trying to climb uphill.”

An arena focus on Saturday night was Rubio’s recently signed four-year extension. Announcements were made, and the score board highlighted the news a few times throughout the night. During the starting lineup, Rubio received–by far–the largest amount of support by a very excited crowd. Despite scoring only six points on the evening, Rubio dished out an incredible 17 assists. In addition, he played well on defense and committed only three turnovers, an area he has historically struggled in.

“It’s nice to see my teammates making shots and I’m going to look for them every night, but all I want to do is win,” said Rubio.

 

Up next: The Timberwolves leave for a 12-day, six-game roadtrip. The next home game will not be until Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.

Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.

“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.

Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.

The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.

Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.

Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.

“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”

Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.

“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.

In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:

“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”

Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.

***

Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.