Timberwolves Losing Steam, Fall to Grizzlies on the Road

Memphis is hot. Minnesota is not.

Last night’s road game proved brutal for the Timberwolves as they found themselves unable to keep up with Mike Conley and his crew. Although the Wolves are ranked No. 4 in the league for scoring and are averaging 106.5 points per game, Memphis held them to just 92 points while taking the win with 109. Kevin Love led the team with lower-than-usual numbers of 16 points and seven rebounds. Rookie Gorgui Dieng delivered another strong performance with 11 points and 17 boards.

According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies are 8-0 since Dec. 25 when playing against teams who played the previous day. ”We caught a good team on the second night of a back-to-back,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

After playing several games in which they scored over 30 points in the first quarter, the Timberwolves tallied just 15 against Memphis. Both teams struggled a bit out of the gatesMemphis made just four of its first 15 shotsbut the Grizzlies soon found their groove. The first basket didn’t come until the 9:55 mark, but it came at the hands of the Grizzlies, and they never looked back. Conley had 23 points and six assists, and Marc Gasol added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“We didn’t want to give them too much leeway,” Conley said. “We’ve been in the same shoes. You’re coming in off a tough game, and you kind of walk through the first part of the game.  We just wanted to jump out there as early as we could, set the tempo and try to get ahead of them.”

Minnesota seemed disoriented across the board, no one player having a fantastic game. Love shot just 6-of-18 from the field, and the team as a whole shot 38 percent. The Grizzlies had complete control of the game, driving the pace and offense. At halftime, they led the Wolves 57-39.

The Timberwolves found a bit of a spark in the third, going on a 15-4 run to close the quarter and lessen the deficit. They just couldn’t keep up with their shooting, though, and Memphis drove the win home.

“They played physical,” Love said. “When you play a team like that on a back-to-back, especially this late in the season, especially without Pek and Ronny and some depth, it’s tough.”

Forwards Corey Brewer and Dante Cunningham had the best luck on the floor percentage-wise, adding 15 and nine points, respectively. It wasn’t enough, though.

Monday night’s loss pushes the Wolves seven games behind Dallas and Phoenix. At this point, it seems safe to say that finding the postseason is like a needle in a haystack for the Wolves… it’s not mathematically impossible, but losing these last two games seemed to seal Minnesota’s fate. Finishing the regular season strong is now the team’s main focus. ”We just have to be competitive. That’s the biggest key right now — get through the end of the season and play each game competitively,” forward Chase Budinger said. “That’s how you have to look at it.”

Up next for the Wolves is a home game Wednesday, when they welcome Atlanta.  The Hawks are clinging to a No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the contest promises to be a close one. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Lose 22-Point Lead, Fall to Phoenix 120-127

In an afternoon home stand, Minnesota seemed to have a win sealed up on Sunday. At one point, the Wolves held a 22-point advantage over Phoenix. Minny knows the feeling all too well, though, of watching a victory slip through its fingers. In the end, it was the Suns’ reserves that gutted it out and came out on top of the 127-120 final score. Kevin Love led the Wolves with 36 points and 14 rebounds, followed by Kevin Martin with 25 points. At the other end, Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 25 points.

Love_Suns

Keeping up with their recent trend, the Timberwolves played an above-average first quarter and tallied 41 points. Love, Martin and Corey Brewer led the way with 10 points and nine a piece, respectively.  The Wolves were unstoppable on offense, and they appeared the overall stronger team. At halftime, Minnesota had a stable 11-point lead.

Defensively, however, Minnesota could not capitalize. Despite the double-digit lead at the half, the Wolves had also allowed the Morris twins to score a combined 24 points–shooting 9-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the 3-point line. In the third quarter, the Wolves shot just 20 percent to open the half.  The Suns gained their footing and brought the deficit to five points at the 4:43 mark, but Minnesota pulled away once again to lead by 10 going into the fourth. Target Center fans breathed a momentary sigh of relief.

In the final period, though, things fell apart for the Wolves. Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker hit a jump shot to start the fourth, and the basket started a 14-3 run by the Suns to turn the game around. Minnesota stood by and watched as the lead dwindled and then disappeared.

“What was the biggest difference (between the third and fourth quarter)? We didn’t score,” head coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s probably the biggest difference.”

For each team, Sunday’s game meant a chance at the postseason. It seems to have ultimately come down to the squad who could finish the game, and Phoenix refused to let go.

“It’s unreal,” said Phoenix forward Tucker. “I don’t know what it is, but we got really slow starts. (It”s like) we have to get down first to be able to play hard and start talking and communicating and executing our game plan.”

“They are ahead of us (for the playoffs). Obviously we looked at that,” Love said post game. “That was our playoffs right there and we lost. This one hurts a lot more than all the others.”

The Timberwolves will look to finish up their season strong in the coming week. Next for the squad is a road game against Memphis Monday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. While the playoffs are no longer on the table for Minnesota, the team can certainly be a spoiler. A win over Memphis could seriously jeopardize the Grizzlies’ playoff spot.

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 21

Setting the stage: 

Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.

The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof.  Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.

Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?

It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.

Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…

 

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest.  However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins.  Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.

Predictions:

Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.

Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96

rudy gay

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week.  The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker. 

Opponent to watch:

Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night.  Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.

Predictions:

This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks  100

 

Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.

Predictions:

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here.  Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111

james harden

Wrap-up:

It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.

 

*records current as of 3/14/2014

2014 All Star Weekend Wrap-Up: Kevin Love Spotlight

This past weekend, Kevin Love represented the Minnesota Timberwolves in New Orleans for the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend. On Saturday, Love competed in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest in an attempt to take home a second title. The following evening, Love scored 13 points in his first All-Star game as a starter.  Despite Love’s and his team’s effort, the West came up on the losing side of the 163-155 final score.

 

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest (Saturday, Feb 15)

Although the league’s top three-point shooters tend to be guards, the 6’10″ Love breaks the trend as a long-ball-shooting power forward. In 2012, Love won the Footlocker Three-Point Contest after an intense shootout with Kevin Durant. Following that contest two years ago, NBA’s Shaun Powell wrote the following:

“Love is the strangest of power forwards–someone who can change a game either in the paint or beyond the arc. Someone who rebounds with abandon but also has the touch of a diamond-cutter from deep.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

This year, Love hoped to take back the title. Prior to the contest, No. 42 told Timberwolves web editor Mark Remme that the one thing he didn’t want was to shoot first. “I jinxed myself,” said Love when he found himself called on to lead off the event. Love scored 16 points in the contest, but it proved insufficient to move past the first round.

Remme explains how this year’s competition looked different in a few ways. The East and West were grouped individually, and the first-round leader from each conference  advanced to the championship. Another adjustment was how the ball racks and money balls were arranged. Four racks had four regular balls with one money ball, while one rack—placed in any of the five spots around the arc that the shooter wants—had five money balls. All money balls were worth two points, while regular balls were worth one.

Unfortunately for Love, he couldn’t wrack up those bonus points.

After the first round, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli advanced over Love with 19 points, and Washington’s Bradley Beal moved on with 21. Each player scored 19 apiece in the finals, spurring a tie-breaker. In the end, Belinelli walked away with 24 points and the 2014 title.

“My first time, it was a lot of fun,” Love said. “Second time, just as fun. Well, I shouldn’t say just as fun—I didn’t walk away with the trophy or a win. But I still got in there and enjoyed myself, that’s what it’s all about.”

 

2014 NBA All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star game was, as always, a battle of the offenses. Flawless passes, full-court lobs, and high point totals highlighted Smoothie King Center on Sunday evening. This year’s starting lineups were as follows:

 

West

East

F Kevin Durant  (OKC) Paul George  (IND)
F Blake Griffin  (LAC) Carmelo Anthony  (NYK)
C Kevin Love  (MIN) LeBron James  (MIA)
G James Harden  (HOU) Dwayne Wade  (MIA)
G Stephen Curry  (GS) Kyrie Irving  (WAS)

Irving led the East with 31 points, while Durant and Griffin each added 38 points for the West. Love tallied 13 points (including two three-point buckets) and nine rebounds in 32 minutes on the floor.

“It was great to be part of it,” Love said. “It was a lot of fun—my first time starting in the game and also my first time finishing.”

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Although the Western Conference teams hold overall better records and seem to consistently be the better of the two conferences, it was the East that delivered a stronger performance in the All-Star game. It can be expected that most players don’t take the All-Star game too seriously — after all, no one wants to suffer an injury in such a contest. However, there was definitely an edge of competition Sunday evening.  ”We wanted this win,” James said post game. “They beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights, so to be able to come through being down 18 was huge.”

“We took this [game] personal a bit,” Irving added.

Irving shot an incredible 82.4 percent en route to his final numbers of 31 points, five rebounds and 14 assists. Not surprisingly, the Washington guard took home the 2014 All-Star MVP honors.

True to tradition, the game exchanged leads a few times throughout the first three quarters.  The score even remained close during most of the fourth quarter. In the end, however, the East proved the stronger shooters. Overall, the East shot 60.9 percent from the field (to the West’s 51 percent), 31.8 percent from behind the three-point line, and 100 percent from the charity stripe. Only 17 free throws were attempted cumulatively, as the All-Star defense was true to form: barely present.

(photo credit: kare11.com)

(photo credit: kare11.com)

Love noticeably enjoyed his court time with fellow All-Starsboth teammates and opponents. At one point, Love and Irving shared a playful elbow bump on the court; the moment reflected a friendship the two have undoubtedly formed after starring together off the court in Pepsi MAX’s Uncle Drew series last season.

“Kyrie played awesome tonight,” Love said post game. “It was a well-deserving MVP, and there are a lot of guys that put on a show tonight. I think the fans got their money’s worth.”

This year’s All-Star performance was flashy in more ways than just the slam dunks and full-court passes. True to New Orleans’ fashion, all the players donned colorful socks and tennis shoes that reflected a Mardi Gras atmosphere. The Western team wore red and purple socks, the Eastern team wore blue and green socks, and all the jerseys featured the city’s well-recognized fleur-de-lis.

The evening had no shortage of music, either.  The rosters and starting lineups were introduced through a concert by Pharrell Williams. The show also featured artists Nelly, Busta Rhymes, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Love.  ”Hopefully I’ll be back in New York next year and enjoying the festivities again.”

 

In-Arena Moment:

Following the first quarter, former NBA All-Star Magic Johnson encouraged the other All-Star players to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who turned 80 on Sunday.

 

 

 

Without Martin, Pekovic, Timberwolves Fall to Houston Rockets

Monday night’s homestead was a game of runs. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they came up on the wrong side in the fourth quarter, and they watched Houston pull away with the 107-89 win.  Wolves starters Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Martin (finger) viewed the loss from the sidelines–Minnesota felt their absence in a very big way. Head coach Rick Adelman also missed the game due to personal reasons, and assistant coach Terry Porter stood in at the helm.  Kevin Love played through an upper thigh contusion and tried to carry the team with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Chase Budinger followed with 15 points and seven rebounds.

The first few minutes looked a bit rough as the Rockets went on a 19-8 run. However, the Wolves found their groove and fought back, going on a 6-0 run of their own that was highlighted with a nice JJ Barea layup. The two teams battled back and forth for most of the game, but a “W” just wasn’t in the cards against the 35-17 Rockets.

Houston is a challenging opponent on any night, plain and simple. For Minnesota, facing the team with a less-than-complete roster made the task even more difficult. The Rockets have now won six games in row, led primarily by James Harden and Dwight Howard–the duo is averaging 23.6 and 18.8 PPG, respectively. The Wolves stayed with them for the remainder of the game, though, holding on for the first three quarters. Minnesota struggled a bit to defend in the first half, allowing the Rockets to put 67 points on the board. Porter addressed the issue during halftime and the Timberwolves held Houston to 40 points in the second half. But although their defense improved, Minny just couldn’t get shots to drop.

“I thought our guys had great effort tonight,” said Porter post game. “… Unfortunately for us, we just couldn’t make shots.”

budinger_houston

 

The Wolves lessened the deficit to just four points to end the third, trailing 82-78.  Unfortunately for Minnesota, everything fell apart in the final period. No starters were on the floor to start the fourth quarter, and Houston went on an 11-0 run  as Wolves players missed shots left and right.  Alexey Shved had 11 points off the bench and made a significant impact earlier in the game, but the guard made several poor passes in the fourth and committed three turnovers. Howard proved a nagging force against Minnesota, blocking three shots and grabbing 11 defensive rebounds.  Ronny Turiaf started in Pek’s absence, and he just wasn’t an even matchup against Howard. Turiaf tallied 10 rebounds on the night, but he scored only two points in 30 minutes of play. Gorgui Dieng played 11 minutes to give Turiaf a break, and he failed to make a single bucket.

Porter called a timeout and adjusted the lineup at the 8:55 mark, but Minnesota couldn’t regain its footing. Timberwolves fans watched Houston pull away with the win. In the end, the Wolves scored just 11 points in Q4, dropping their shooting percentage of the night to 35.6 (24 percent from the three-point line).

Monday night’s loss brought the Timberwolves record to 24-28, and the team falls to No. 11 in the Western Conference standings. They will have to pull things together in a hurry if they hope to making the playoffs. Minnesota will remain at home to play Denver Wednesday night before enjoying a week off for the All-Star break.  Following the break, the Wolves’ next game will be Feb. 19 against the No. 1 Indiana Pacers.

“We’ve just got to keep pushing,” Turiaf said. “Regardless of if we feel it or not, we got to keep pushing. And that’s what basketball is about. You have tough stretches like that, you give in or you just keep your head above water… WE know at the end of the day, things need to turn around eventually.”

Rubio_Houston

Timberwolves Play of the Game: 

With 6:19 remaining in the second quarter, Alexey Shved drove down the lane and came up with a monster dunk over Terrence Jones.

You can view the play here.

 

 

Short-Handed Timberwolves Fall 106-97 to Thunder

The Timberwolves faced the 40-11 OKC without the help of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer. Despite playing without some of their top scorers, the Wolves gave a valiant effort. Minnesota actually held the lead a few times during the first half, and the teams battled back and forth. It was the Thunder that held the upper hand, though, and came away with the 106-97 win. Ricky Rubio led the team with 19 points, while Dante Cunningham filled in as a starting forward and added 18.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “They busted their tails the whole game.”

TWolvesTweet

OKC’s Kevin Durant scored 26 points on the evening, but he surprisingly didn’t become the deciding factor in the fourth.  The star forward scored only two points for the Thunder in the final period, but his teammates still managed to pull away from Minnesota for the win.  Reggie Jackson added 20 points (seven in the fourth quarter) and dished out nine assists.  Wednesday marked the Thunder’s 12th win in 13 games, and they are the first team in the league to hit 40 wins this season.

Minnesota scored 54 points in the first half but only 43 in the second, shooting an overall 47 percent from the field.  Rubio and Cunningham really stepped up offensively in the absence of Love and Brewer, and JJ Barea delivered another strong performance with 11 points and four assists off the bench.  Where Minnesota felt a loss the most was in rebounding. With both Love and Pek sidelined, the Wolves only grabbed 39 boards to OKC’s 49.

“I knew they’d play scrappy with three starters out,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.  ”A wounded team generally steps up. But I thought we played good defense for only about four minutes in the first quarter and then in the fourth quarter. Other than that we didn’t play the kind of defense we usually do.”

The Timberwolves held their own through three quarters of basketball. At the end of the third quarter, Derek Fisher hit a buzzer-beating three and led a 16-4 Thunder run, growing the deficit to 12. From that point on, Minny found itself unable to catch up.  Robbie Hummel came off the bench to hit a three at the 3:45 mark, and that brought the score to 95-89, but that was the closest the Wolves got to regaining their footing.

Rubio said the following after the game: “We came into the game aggressive and we fought all the way through, but in the last five minutes, I think we missed too many free throws and easy shots while they made shots at the end.”

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

The tough loss dipped Minnesota’s record below .500 once again. The Wolves currently sit at No. 11 in the Western Conference, falling to five games out of the No. 8 playoff spot. They will continue on to New Orleans to face the Pelicans Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline and Injury Notes

Brewer missed the game with Family Leave after the birth of his son on Tuesday.  Coach Adelman says he expects Brewer to rejoin the team for Friday’s game.

Pekovic remained sidelined with a nagging ankle injury, and Love was listed as a “sore neck” after taking a nasty fall against the Lakers Tuesday night.

 

Timberwolves Sail Over Pelicans, 88-77

It was not the most graceful of games, but a win is a win. The Timberwolves held New Orleans to a season-low 77 points at the Target Center while tallying 88 to take their fifth win in six games. Kevin Love led the Wolves with 30 points and 14 rebounds, and Kevin Martin added 18 points.

Both teams played without a major starter. Nikola Pekovic was listed inactive for Minnesota with the ankle injury, and the Pelicans missed forward Anthony Davis due to a dislocated finger.

Davis tends to hit the mid-range shots in addition to being a threat on the inside; New Orleans struggled in his absence, shooting just 35 percent from the field and an ugly nine percent from behind the arc.

Ronny Turiaf replaced Pekovic for most of the game, and his defensive game certainly cannot be criticized. With Turiaf being a lower-scoring player (he grabbed four points on the evening), though, Love absorbed some pressure to compromise offensively.

“With Pek out, we really have to find a way to relieve the pressure off [Love], move him around and stuff,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We know teams are going to come at him. … So we have to find ways to figure it out.”

Turiaf_Pelicans

Love proved unstoppable, playing more aggressively than has been seen of late. He covered all areas of the floor, even dishing out five assists when Ricky Rubio went to the bench with four fouls.

JJ Barea and Dante Cunningham came off the bench to score 10 and 12 points, respectively, which helped give some relief to Minnesota’s starting lineup.

Al-Farouq Aminu worked to keep his team afloat, grabbing 18 points and 12 boards, but it wasn’t enough. New Orleans’ Greg Steimsma, who played with the Wolves last season, scored just three points as the starting center, and point guard Brian Roberts added only nine.

In all honesty, both teams looked terrible in the second half. Turnovers were a regular occurrence on each side, and players looked lackluster across the board.

Minnesota kept the upper hand, though, capitalizing on second-attempt buckets and free throws to stay in the lead. Defensively, the Wolves played better than they have most of the season, and they held New Orleans to 15 points in the fourth quarter.

“This is when you have to step up, and we just didn’t do it tonight,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams. “That happens.”

Rubio_Pelicans

Wednesday’s win brought the Wolves to two games over .500 for the first time since November, and fans certainly hope the team has turned a corner on the season.

“We’ve been playing great over these past six games and we just want to continue doing whatever we’ve been doing,” Martin said post-game.

Minnesota will host the Memphis Grizzles Friday night at the Target Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline Moment: 

(from NBA.com): During a second quarter break, the Wolves played a video tribute to Love for being named an All-Star starter. The video also encouraged fans to put the pressure on the All-Star coaches to name Pekovic a reserve by tweeting to #pekgoestoo, claiming the bruising duo doesn’t like being separated. The two big men stood together and watched, sharing a laugh while Love pointed at Pekovic and gave his shoulders a shake.

“[Nikola's] one of my best friends in the world,” said Love, “and I want to make sure he goes too.”