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.

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.