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.

Suns Defeat Timberwolves 110-99

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer?  How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

Will Thad Young be in a Timberwolves uniform much longer? How much does he care to be? (Brace Hemmelgarn, USA Today Sports)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves returned to action on Friday night after breaking their 15 game losing streak this past Tuesday in Indianapolis against the Pacers.  The story of the night was of course Mo Williams52 point effort.  Could the Pups ride the ‘wave of momentum’ into Friday’s action in Phoenix?  The Suns opened up the night with a 23-18 record, which would slot them into the 8 seed in the Western Conference if the NBA Playoffs started today.  With the Wolves giving up a league worst 108ppg and the Suns scoring 107ppg (4th in the NBA), you would expect a run and gun type of game.  Here is how the action went down this evening … as the teams celebrated Halloween a little late, with both teams in short-sleeved jerseys, the Pups in black and the Suns in orange.

The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  (News of course has broken that the Wolves are open to dealing Thad before the deadline, which makes all the sense in the world given that he can opt out of his contract.  Quite frankly, he hasn’t panned out and he isn’t the answer for the Wolves at PF for the next five seasons.)  The Suns opened up Friday’s game with the following starting five: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.

Both teams got off to a hot start, with the Wolves taking a 13-12 lead into the first timeout with about 7.:43 left in the opening quarter.  Minnesota opened up 6-6 from the field for their 13 points and each member of the starting five had a basket.  That’s how you open the game on the offensive end of the floor!  Dragic and Len each had six points heading into the timeout for Phoenix.  After the timeout Dragic continued to pick apart the Wolves, scoring the Suns seven of the next nine points, leading to a 21-17 advantage for the Suns and forcing Flip Saunders to call a timeout.

At the end of the first quarter, the Suns held a 32-27 advantage.  The teams played at the expected, fast pace and neither team seemed interested in taking a charge or knocking someone down in the paint.

The second quarter reminded me of the legendary 1990’s video game NBA Jam.  It felt like every Wolves’ bucket was a three pointer or dunk/layup in the paint.

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person - dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

Christian Laettner and Chuck Person – dominating NBA Jam for over two decades

The Wolves were able to cut the Suns lead to three points, 59-56, at the half.  Wiggins, Dieng, and Williams were all in double figures in the scoring department.  Meanwhile, the only player that got on the floor for the Suns and not score in the first half was PJ Tucker.

In the third quarter I got my first look at Miroslav Radjujica and it wasn’t too pretty.  In five minutes he was 0-1 from the field with a turnover and two personal fouls.  His missed FG was a “below-the-rim” layup attempt and all I could do was shake my head.

The remainder of the Wolves’ roster seemed to follow suit in the 3rd quarter, as the team seemed to hit a bit of a wall.  The Suns built a double digit lead, while the Wolves’ shooting percentages dropped and they started turning the ball over more frequently.  At the end of the third quarter the Suns held an 86-75 advantage.

The Wolves weren’t able to do much in the 4th in terms of going on an extended run and cutting into the Suns lead.  Wiggins left the game in the 4th quarter and didn’t return.  The Wolves announced that he had a sickness.  Keep your eyes on that news as the Wolves play again Saturday night in Denver.

The final score: Phoenix 110, Minnesota 99.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

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

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

Setting the stage:

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

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

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

Here is a preview for each game this week:

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

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

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

Opponent to watch:

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

Wrap-up:

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

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.