Timberwolves Battle Back, Suffer Heartbreaking Loss to Bulls

(photo credit: yahoo)

(photo credit: yahoo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 1 of 2014/15

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

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

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back and fans have their #EyesOnTheRise!  Welcome to the start of the 2014/15 NBA season and our weekly preview here at Timberpups.com.  While this is very likely to be a year of transition, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine joining the club and being paired with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng.  With other pieces remaining in the mix from last season, the Wolves have a decent balance of youth and veteran experience.  Who remains with the club throughout the season, past the trade deadline and into the next few years is a bit of question mark.  However, there is excitement in the air and that should be carried over to the crowds filling into the Target Center in the days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief preview of each game on the schedule, along with who to watch for and a prediction on the outcome.  The quest for an 82-0 season begins soon and we’ll see how long the team can stay at that pace.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/29, 7pm – Pups @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

Look at this – the Wolves don’t open another season against the Sacramento Kings!  The Grizzlies are coming off of its second 50+ wins season.  The Grizz took the OKC Thunder to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs but failed to advance.

Memphis has added several interesting pieces to their roster this season, including Vince Carter and Earl Clark.  While the Wolves turned the corner and gave up on the failed and flawed ‘playoffs or bust’ philosophy, the Grizzlies continue to look for ways to advance in the postseason.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley is entering his eighth season in the NBA and with the Grizzlies.  Conley really beat up Rubio and the Wolves’ backup Point Guards last season, averaging 17.5ppg and 6.3rpg.

Predictions:

This is a tough start for the Wolves, playing on the road and against a veteran club that looks to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.  Final score: Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 84

Game 2: Thursday, 10/30, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Pups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home opener is against a team that has struggled to build an identity over the past handful of seasons and has thrown free agency money around with no sense of direction.  Enter Stan Van Gundy as the new coach and a new philosophy.

While there are players that can fill up the box score in the Pistons lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with the club.  Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are all interesting players for your NBA fantasy team, but they aren’t leading to many victories for the Pistons.

Monroe had an interesting offseason in which he was charged with a DUI and suspended two games, so he won’t be in uniform against the Wolves.  He also turned down a contract extension from the club and is playing on the one year, qualifying offer.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Drummond – Drummond enters his third season in the NBA and has shown signs of continued improvement in the preseason.  Andre averaged 13.5ppg and 13.2rpg last season, starting all 81 of the games he played in.  It will be a nice litmus test for both Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to see how they match up with the Pistons big man.

Predictions:

With the absence of Monroe and a fired up Target Center, the Wolves have a good chance to pull off the victory.  The Pistons will also be flying into Minnesota off of a Wednesday night game, having to face the Nuggets in Denver less than 24 hours prior to tip-off of Thursday’s action.  Final score: Timberwolves 95, Pistons 91

Game 3: Saturday, 11/1, 7pm – Chicago Bulls @ Pups (TV: NBA TV & FSN Plus)

Assuming they can stay healthy – and that is a big assumption to make – the Chicago Bulls are one of a handful of legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship this season.  The team will be looking to fix what looked to be broken at the end of last year, after losing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs (without Derrick Rose).

Opponent to watch:

Pau Gasol – One of, if not the most underappreciated players in today’s game, Gasol left the Lakers to join the Bulls for a chance at another run at a ring.  Gasol will team with DPOY Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to make for one of the more dominant frontline rotations in the NBA.

Predictions:

The Wolves will have a hard time keeping pace with the Bulls.  Final score: Bulls 113, Timberwolves 96

Wrap-up:

The Wolves face two very tough teams to open the season in the Grizzlies and Bulls.  I am hoping they are able to showcase their young talent in the home opener and get the fanbase excited early.  A win against the Pistons club would mean “a lot”.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups 2014-15 Season Preview

How will Minnesota fare following their offseason makeover?

How will Minnesota fare following their offseason makeover?

The NBA season is upon us Wolves’ fans!  With that in mind, we have put together an internal roundtable discussion on several hot topics with the 2014-15 Timberwolves.  As we look towards the season ahead, which Wolves’ players will make the leap, how will the rookies do, what are we looking forward to the most, and similar topics are all covered below by the Timberpups staff for the coming season!

With our #EyesOnTheRise, here are a number of questions that we passed along to one another to collect opinions and thoughts.

Question 1: What Wolves player are you most excited about as we enter the season?

John: I’m most excited, maybe intrigued, by what Zach LaVine can bring to the table.  Will he be able to effectively play both guard positions?  Will he continue to progress throughout the season?  How mentally tough is he as the season wears on and the losses likely start to pile up? He has all of the athletic talent in the world, as we have already seen.  I want to see him run both guard positions, getting different looks alongside Rubio, Martin, and Brewer.

Lindsey: I’m most excited by Andrew Wiggins. I’ll admit that along with excitement also comes some anxiety. Having the No. 1 draft pick is awesome, as there is so much anticipation and enthusiasm surrounding him. However, it also means that we haven’t seen him prove himself in the big leagues yet. How will he do in the transition from college to the NBA? How will he mesh with Flip and his offensive schemes? My gut feeling is that he will be more-than-ready for pro action and will immediately improve our scoring and speed on the court.

Josh: As a whole, I’m excited about seeing the youth of the team grow. If I had to pick one that I’m most excited about, though, it would be Wiggins. Through two preseason games, he already seems to be NBA ready, especially on the defensive end. He seems to be a great listener and is willing to take advice from teammates and coaches. Watching his develop should be enough to keep Wolves fans entertained even if they do end up well outside the playoff picture. [Read more…]

Timberwolves Training Camp Roster

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced their 2014 training camp roster this week with little to no surprises.  The team has eighteen players on the camp roster and will need to cut that down to fifteen for opening night, 10/7 in Indianapolis to take on the Pacers.

Here is a look at the roster by position and probable depth chart heading into training camp:

  • PG: Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, JJ Barea
  • SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Corey Brewer, Brady Heslip
  • SF: Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III
  • PF: Thaddeus Young, Anthony Bennett, Robbie Hummel
  • C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf, Kyrylo Fesenko

Several players on the roster can and will spend time at multiple positions.  The five players at the end of each position are also the most likely to not make the roster and you can make an argument for and against each one.

First and foremost, the team still needs to find a new home for JJ Barea.  If the team can’t find a team willing to part with him for a second round draft pick and/or another expiring contract, it would behoove Glen Taylor to eat the money and simply buy out Barea.  There is absolutely no reason for him to be in the locker room for the 2014/15 season.  With Mo Williams as the veteran, backup PG and some minutes likely going to Zach LaVine as well, Barea simply doesn’t need to spread the cancer around the club, particularly with so many young, impressionable players on the roster.

Brady Heslip is the next most likely candidate to miss the opening night roster.  He and Kyrylo Fesenko are the only two without guaranteed contracts.  Barring injuries to players ahead of them, in particular Heslip, it is very unlikely either make the cut.  In Fesenko’s case, there is still a longshot chance that the Wolves are looking to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic to make the rebuild 100% official.  However unlikely this is, there is still a chance.

The other player that Flip Saunders could be looking to move is Kevin Martin, who had a disastrous first season in Minnesota last year.  After a strong first two months, Martin’s game fell off a cliff.  Again, in the spirit of a true rebuild, Martin (and his contract) should expect to have a new home at some point heading into this year’s trade deadline.

Who do you think misses the opening night roster for the forthcoming season?  Remember, training camp is from Tuesday, September 30th through Sunday, October 5th – highlighted by the midnight “Dunks After Dark” event on Monday, 9/29.

Wolves Announce A Few Signings

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

This past week the Wolves announced that they have come to terms with a few players that may or may not have a large role with the club this coming season.

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract with the club this week, likely cementing his spot on the opening day roster.  Whether or not that is in street clothes or a uniform is likely to be determined during his performance in the preseason.  The biggest question on Robinson might be what jersey number he is going to where as he was introduced with the #22 jersey.  That has since been claimed by some Andrew Wiggins guy on the club.  I’m not sure if you have heard much about him.

The Wolves also announced that they have signed Kyrylo Fesenko and Brady Heslip to non-guaranteed contracts.  Both players played on the Wolves’ Summer League club and had their moments.  After Summer League I thought that Fesenko did enough to warrant serious attention for a roster spot, particularly without knowing what the specifics were in a forthcoming Kevin Love deal.  Heslip had a brief moment or two in Summer League that warranted some consideration as well, but it would be a stretch to consider him a “lock” to make the opening night roster.

There is an added wrinkle that could be of benefit to Fesenko’s chances of making the Wolves opening night roster.  It is being reported that the Wolves are offering Eric Bledsoe a max contract.  There could be a sign and trade to be considered in which Bledsoe comes to Minnesota for Nikola Pekovic and filler.  Not to hijack the above signings, but there are a lot of different scenarios that could be considered here and we are better off talking about that later this weekend and in a separate write-up.

Do you think Robinson, Fesenko, and/or Heslip will be on the opening night roster?  Let’s go Wolves!

Rumors: Wolves to Acquire Thad Young for Anthony Bennett

Thad Young may be joining the Timberwolves in 2014 after all.  (Getty Images)

Thad Young may be joining the Timberwolves in 2014 after all. (Getty Images)

Wolves Nation didn’t get through 24 hours of the Kevin Love to Cleveland news before another wrinkle to the story broke.  Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the Wolves would then send Anthony Bennett and a 1st round pick to the Sixers in exchange for Thad Young.

Let’s just hope that this is posturing from the Sixers front office through the media.  First, there is no reason for the Wolves to include a 1st round pick in the deal.  The Wolves hold the advantage here and should not cave in.  Repeat, there is absolutely no reason for the Wolves to be including a draft pick in the deal.  Second, I sincerely hope that VPBO Flip Saunders and Coach Flip Saunders do not believe in the fact that Thad Young could be Kevin Love’s replacement.

Thaddeus just turned 26 years old and is coming off one of, if not his best seasons in the NBA where he averaged 17.9ppg and 6.0rpg.  One could be quick to point out that these stats could be called into question given how bad the Sixers were last season.  However, I choose to point out the misguided judgment of considering Young as Love’s replacement.

Young’s 6.0 rebounds per game average was tied for fourth on the team – behind Spencer Hawes, Henry Sims, and Michael Carter-Williams, while tied with Evan Turner (during his tenure with the club).  Kevin Love averaged 12.5 rebounds per game, i.e. more than double Young’s production, in only ~2 minutes more time on the floor per game.  Unequivocally, Thad Young is not replacing Kevin Love.

I do not believe Anthony Bennett is going to be Love’s replacement either, but I would rather wait and see what he becomes vs. flipping him over for two years of Thad Young.  The added benefit is that Bennett is just in the infancy stages of his rookie contract and under team control through the 2016/17 season.  The Wolves of course could simply not pick up his options or sign him to an extension prior to this, depending on how his career projects over the next two seasons.

As soon as the Wolves realize they are not competing in the Western Conference in 2014/15, the better.  The hamster wheel approach of “rebuilding, but not really blowing things up” is the worst approach that the franchise could possibly take right now.  The Western Conference is stacked.  Let’s take the long term approach and do this the right way.  With Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on board, there is new life and blood in this franchise and the excitement of the product on the floor is going to be (relatively?) high.  Build off of this with one or two more minor moves (JJ Barea & Kevin Martin specifically) and keep an eye on potential moves for Nikola Pekovic going into the trade deadline or next offseason.

Circling all the way back to the rumored trade with Philadelphia, there is reason to still believe that this deal won’t happen, per Jon Krawczynski:

Here is to hoping that Jon’s senses are correct and the Wolves do the right thing (to me at least) and hold onto Anthony Bennett.  Lord help me if this deal happens and a 1st round pick is sent to Philadelphia.

Let’s go Wolves!