Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 6

Flip's the man in charge!  (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Flip’s the man in charge! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

 

Setting the stage:

The 4-10 Timberwolves (pending Sunday night’s result in Portland) head into a busy week of action in week 6 – wrapping up a trip to the West Coast in Los Angeles before returning home for two games and heading back on the road to close out the week.  After defeating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night, the team traveled to Portland for a game on Sunday, only to have to return to Los Angeles for Monday’s game against the Clippers.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 16: Monday, 12/1, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Los Angeles Clippers (TV: FS North)

A back-to-back traveling up and down the coastline with another opponent that is playing really well to start the season.  The Clippers remain a tremendously talented, regular season team that must do more in the playoffs to earn respect around the league.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin continue to put up big numbers on a nightly basis.

Opponent to watch:

DeAndre Jordan – Assuming Nikola Pekovic doesn’t return for this game, Jordan will likely be a headache for the Wolves.  While Gorgui Dieng provides respectable defense, a lot of his strength is in help defense and not so much in a one-to-one set – yet, at least.  That should come as Dieng continues to become more familiar with the pro game.

Game 17: Wednesday, 12/3, 7pm – Philadelphia 76ers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North Plus)

The Sixers open the week at 0-16 and will likely be 0-17 when they come to Minneapolis, given that they face the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.  The Wolves need to win games like this one for morale and to keep the home fanbase at bay.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Wroten – Wroten leads the Sixers in points, assists and steals per game.  Paging Andrew Wiggins.  Wiggins continues to guard the strongest wing opponent night in and night out and it shouldn’t change when Philly comes to town.

Game 18: Friday, 12/5, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Take a second to go look at divisional standings and how far ahead the Southwest division is vs. all others.  Friday’s game against the Rockets starts a five game stretch of very hard match-ups for the Wolves.  Kevin McHale’s Rockets enter the forthcoming week at 13-4 and have a huge match-up against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Selfishly, please allow me to use this space as another plea to leverage a game against Kevin McHale to break out the original blue uniforms from the Timberwolves early years.

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota (This is Kevin Love's jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Wolves original blue uniforms picked up at the Target Center during my trip to Minnesota
(This is Kevin Love’s jersey, not Sam Mitchell, not Donyell Marshall)

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Paging Mr. Wiggins again!  Harden is having another phenomenal season with a PER just under 24.

Game 19: Saturday, 12/6, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ San Antonio Spurs (TV: FS North)

The second of a back-to-back against the defending champs.  Why not just have this game in Mexico City?  The Spurs blew out the Wolves in Minnesota earlier this season (121-92), largely due to …

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – Parker led the Spurs in Minnesota with 28 points on 12-18 shooting.  Mo Williams struggled to contain the Spurs PG as he ran as an efficient of an offense as you will find in the NBA.

Wrap-up:

Week 6 is a very tough week for the Timberwolves, who need to protect the Target Center floor against the Sixers.  The Pups can’t be the first team the Sixers defeat this season.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberwolves Sink Lakers, 120-119

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

Zach LaVine had his breakout game Friday night, returning to the Los Angeles area. (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

The 3-10 Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road to take on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team that is off to the worst in franchise history at 3-12.  Despite the return of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference with our Pups.  The Lakers lottery pick, Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opener and things have gone from bad to worse for Los Angeles.  As you might expect, the Lakers would receive zero pity points from the Wolves, who continue to take the court with a ton of missing pieces.

The Wolves opened up with a returning Mo Williams at PG, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Lakers came out with Jeremy Lin, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill.

Mo Williams started off the game with the shooter’s touch, scoring 8 of the Pups’ first 13 points.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, Kobe was in the zone to begin the game as well.  Bryant was all over the court, putting up 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in the 1st quarter.  In the final 4-5 minutes of the opening quarter, the Wolves turned the ball over entirely too much (7 in the first quarter) and it led to the Lakes taking a seven point advantage into the second quarter, 30-23.

After falling behind by as many as eleven points, the Wolves went on a small run to cut the Lakers lead down to three, 52-50.  The Wolves were led by Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, who were the only two players doing much of anything on the offensive end of the court.  Heading into a timeout, LaVine had quickly become the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field.

At the half of a relatively exciting and certainly entertaining game, the Lakers held a 58-54 advantage.  While the Wolves were heavily relying on Mo Williams, LaVine, and Bennett, the Lakers were getting contributions across the board.  Six of the ten players that entered the game had scored at least six points for the home team.

The Timberwolves came out and scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 58.  From there, the two teams went toe to toe and bucket for bucket throughout an amazing show of offense in the third quarter.  Basketball purists may also suggest that NBA team defense regressed 25 years as well.  When Wes Johnson is going off, you know there are issues on the defensive end of the court.  The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 39-38 in the third quarter but trailed 96-93 after three quarters.

It looked like the Wolves were in trouble when Nick Young started to get hot and brought the crowd alive in the 4th quarter.  However, Mo Williams answered the call with eight straight points for the Wolves and tied the game at 117.  The play/sequence of the game followed Williams’ last bucket as Kobe got Andrew Wiggins to bite on a few up-fakes and drew a foul.  However, Bryant missed both free throw attempts allowing the Wolves to take a two point lead on a Thad Young bucket.  Kobe tied the game at 119 with another basket but the Wolves had five seconds on the clock to get a shot off.  Flip Saunders drew up a play for Thad and he drew a foul on Nick Young to go to the free throw line.  After missing the first, Young made the second to give the Wolves a 120-119 lead with two seconds left in the game.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Kobe Bryant missed a relatively open three pointer as time expired, giving the Pups the victory, 120-119.  After losing 22 straight to the Lakers, the Timberwolves have now won four of the last five.

Game Notes:

  • The Lakers wore an alternative black t-shirt jersey this evening, which led to the Timberwolves wearing their home white jerseys.  The NBA is confusing.
  • While Wiggins probably had his worst game of the season Friday night, fellow rookie Zach LaVine finished with a career high 28 points on 11-14 shooting.  LaVine of course was returning to the Los Angeles area after his one season at UCLA.
  • If it weren’t for LaVine, Mo Williams would easily be considered the player of the game, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists.

Timberwolves Pick, Spurs Roll 121-92

Yes Kevin Martin, you are injured too!  The Pups season is falling apart before Thanksgiving. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Yes Kevin Martin, you are injured too! The Pups season is falling apart before Thanksgiving. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

The Timberwolves returned home to the Target Center on Wednesday to defeat a struggling New York Knicks team.  However, the good news and vibes didn’t last long as the Pups announced that Kevin Martin will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist.  Martin continued playing in Wednesday’s game after the 1st quarter injury and dropped in 37 points against the Knicks.  The injury left the Wolves without Martin, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic for Friday night’s game against the Spurs because of injury, while Thad Young remains away from the team due to his family’s loss.

The Timberwolves PR Twitter feed summed things up pretty nicely …

Breaking news at the Target Center early on in the game, as Tony Parker was announced as “good at basketball”.  Parker helped the Spurs build a 20-13 lead and accounted for 11 points and 1 assist in the first seven minutes of the opening quarter.  Mo Williams did his part to keep the Wolves close though, cutting the lead to 22-18 and forcing the Spurs into a timeout.  In a highly entertaining and competitive quarter, the Spurs took a 29-26 advantage into the 2nd quarter.

The Wolves continued to play well into the 2nd quarter but Danny Green 47-37 hit two three pointers in row and took the Spurs lead from 41-37 up to a ten point lead.  Despite a few offensive highlights from Mo Williams and Gorgui Dieng, the Spurs maintained their double digit lead through much of the rest of the quarter, trailing at one point by 17 points. At the half the Spurs held a 59-48 advantage, highlighted by the Point Guard match-up.  Parker led the Spurs with 23 points on 10-15 shooting, while Williams led the Pups with 15 points and 3 assists.

The proverbial “it got ugly” would be one way to describe the third quarter for the Timberwolves.  They gave up multiple offensive rebounds and second chance points to the Spurs while showing virtually nothing in terms of offensive flow on the other side of the court.  The Spurs opened up a 20 point lead within four minutes of the second half and the game had a certain feel to it.  With the Timberwolves down a number of players and the second of a back-to-back to consider, it was time to keep an eye on the scoreboard and game clock.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Spurs built their lead to a commanding 91-62 advantage by outscoring the Wolves 32-14 in the quarter.

With the game out of reach, Flip Saunders turned his attention to getting more minutes from the bench.  That meant heavier minutes for Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine, Chase Budinger, and Robbie Hummel.  While it could be viewed as meaningless, the Wolves did put up 30 points in the final quarter … noting that the club also gave up 30 points in the final frame as well.  The final score from the Target Center, Spurs 121, Timberwolves 92.

Game Notes:

  • Kevin Martin averaged 35.5ppg in his last two performances before the injury and his offense will be sorely missed.  Martin’s 20.4ppg are going to have to be made up by someone or some platoon of players on the roster.
  • Several numbers point to the one-sided outcome of tonight’s game.  The Spurs held a 53-34 rebounding advantage and shot 55% from the field, including 62% on 21 attempted three pointers.
  • Anthony Bennett led the Timberwolves with a season high 20 points on 9-14 shooting.
  • Congratulations to Glenn Robinson III for scoring his first career basket late in the 4th quarter
  • Interesting fact from this evenings 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.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 4

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

 

Setting the stage:

After competitive games through the first two weeks of the season, the loss of Ricky Rubio has proven to be a catastrophic loss for our Timberpups.  The Wolves have lost five in a row, having last seen victory on Wednesday, 11/5 in Brooklyn.  This past week was particularly rough for the Wolves, losing in Mexico City to the Rockets, getting shellacked in New Orleans, and falling in Dallas to close out the week.

The Pups are getting virtually nothing from their veterans right now.  Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are struggling on both ends of the floor.  Mo Williams remains an important cog off the bench but is not stepping up when replacing Zach LaVine on the floor.  Flip Saunders is/was relying on these veterans to not only perform on the court but to keep things in order in the clubhouse.  This season is going to be a learning process and keeping the locker room together is going to be a challenge for Flip and his staff.

On the docket for this week are three home games (among a four game homestand).  For some reason the schedule calls for another break in the action as the Wolves won’t start this week until Wednesday.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 10: Wednesday, 11/19, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Knicks are, once again, an abomination of a team and franchise.  At least they are on the hook for the rest of Carmelo Anthony’s prime, right?  I’m not sure if that is a good thing either.  If it weren’t for the 76ers, the Knicks would be the worst team in the NBA.  As an added bonus, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas you could say there is for the rebuilding 76ers and our own Pups.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony leads the team in scoring (of course) and in assists (what?!).  ‘Melo resigned with New York for the league maximum and remains unsuccessful in making anyone around him better – despite those 3.7 assists per game.

Game 11: Friday, 11/21, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The NBA champs have come out of the gate somewhat slowly and are playing in the league’s strongest division.  Cause for concern?  Of course not.  Popovich is monitoring minutes among his veteran squad and knows exactly what he is doing.  I learned about five years ago, stop discounting and giving up on the Spurs … they will always prevail.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – After watching LaVine get torched by J’rue Holiday on Friday night, this is going to be another tough matchup for the Pups rookie.  Parker leads the Spurs in scoring and assists and will use his wily veteran skills to teach a few lessons to the rookie.

Game 12: Saturday, 11/22, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Perhaps the surprise team of the first month of the NBA season, the Kings are 6-4 and getting an A+ effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  He is also putting up 22.1ppg, second behind …

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – No one can question Gay’s ability to score throughout his career.  This will be a tough matchup for Andrew Wiggins and a nice barometer for how his defensive ability has adjusted to the NBA over the first month of his career.

Wrap-up:

The Pups need to return home and grab the “W” over the Knicks to start off this homestand and give the Target Center a reason to cheer.  From there, this week looks challenging.  Hopefully, Thad Young is able to return to the club after his mother’s passing and will give the club a boost.

Let’s go Wolves!

Ricky Rubio Out Indefinitely

Ricky Rubio will be on the mend for quite some time, leaving the Wolves in a bind at the PG position (Kim Klement, USA Today Sports)

Ricky Rubio will be on the mend for quite some time, leaving the Wolves in a bind at the PG position (Kim Klement, USA Today Sports)

When Ricky Rubio went down early in Friday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, it looked bad.  The early MRI said that Rubio’s left ankle wasn’t broken but that he would need to be reevaluated on Saturday.  That is typically never good news from the doctors.  Wolves Nation learned yesterday ahead of the game against the Miami Heat that Ricky will be out indefinitely with a severely sprained ankle.

USA Today is reporting that Rubio may miss up to 7 or 8 weeks, which would put him out until after Christmas and potentially until we flip the calendar to 2015.  Flip Saunders clarified a bit saying …

“He can’t put any weight on it to get any kind of weight-bearing x-ray.  Two weeks, we’ll be able to look at it and then we’ll know.”

So what does this mean for the Timberwolves?  First, as we learned last night in Miami, Zach LaVine will be thrown into the fire and will either sink or swim.  LaVine was given the starting nod over Mo Williams by Flip Saunders.  This actually makes a lot of sense for two reasons:

  1. LaVine gets quality minutes, something that was severely lacking in the first handful of games this season.
  2. It keeps Williams’ role as a veteran leader, instant offense off the bench and on the second unit.

Rubio of course suffered a torn ACL several years back so he is no stranger to the recovery process.  It is a shame that this had to happen again to Ricky though as he was having a whale of a start to the season.  The Wolves starting PG was averaging 9.4ppg, 10apg (3rd in the NBA), 5.6rpg, and 1.2 spg.  More than all of that however, he looked like (and was) the leader on the floor for the club.

The Wolves have been competitive in each and every game thus far this season.  However, the club got off to a wretched start last night in Miami, falling behind 29-13 after the first quarter.  LaVine finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, but the entire team struggled mightily.  The team finished the game shooting 40% from the field but that was largely aided by a late run in the game to cut the Heat lead to four points.

Will the Wolves remain competitive over the next month or two without their leader?  How does this affect the growing chemistry Rubio was building with Andrew Wiggins and others on the floor?  These answers will come over the course of the next few weeks and the remainder of the season.

Here is to hoping Ricky is back sooner rather than later.  Go Wolves!

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.