Corey Brewer Owns the Night – Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

It's your world Corey Brewer, we're just living in it!  (Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It’s your world Corey Brewer, we’re just living in it!
(Photo: Timberwolves.com)

It feels like every Friday night the Timberwolves are back to .500 ball, entering tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets at 39-39.  The Rockets entered the game at 52-26 and in the 4th seed of the Western Conference, battling to maintain home court advantage in the first round with the Portland Blazers.

The Wolves announced that Kevin Love would not be in the lineup tonight with a hyper extended elbow.  Add in the injuries to Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and Chase Budinger and you have quite the recipe for “let’s end this season without any further injuries please”.  With all of those names out, the starting lineup consisted of Rubio, Brewer, Hummel, Cunningham, and Dieng.  Call me old fashioned, but it still doesn’t sit well with me that Dante Cunningham is in the lineup at all, let alone starting for the team at this point.  The Rockets opened up the game with Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, and Omer Asik.

First Half

If you were looking for someone to get off to a hot start for the Timberwolves, I hope you had your eyes (and money?) on Corey Brewer.  Brewer finished the 1st quarter with 16 points, leading the Wolves to a 39-32 advantage at the end of the first twelve minutes.  The Wolves actually held a 15 point lead with just about 90 seconds to go in the opening frame, but the Rockets closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, including a Jeremy Lin three pointer at the buzzer.

As goes the story of this season for our Pups, the end of the 1st quarter was a nice foreshadow of things to come in the 2nd quarter.  The Rockets stormed all the way back to take the lead about halfway through the quarter.  Going into a timeout around this same time, we saw Ricky Rubio holding his hand in pain and checked out of the game.  That pretty much sums up this season perfectly.  Thankfully, Rubio returned minutes later to close out the half.  (Phew)

At the half of this offensive juggernaut of a game, the Rockets held a 63-59 lead.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Brewer … Wow!  26 points, which included a ~50 footer at the buzzer to cut into the Rockets lead!
  • Remember when David Kahn had Chandler Parsons on the Wolves?  Apparently, he does too.  18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
  • LRMAM and JJ Barea were -16 and -13 respectively in the first half.  Add in Ronny Turiaf’s -10 and you can sum this up with “bench play …”

Second Half

Normally, I would prefer to give a “how it happened” type of recap throughout the final 24 minutes of the game.  However, tonight was one of those nights and I’m not talking about this being my last recap of the season.  Tonight was special.  Why?

Corey Brewer went off.  Way off.  Off to the tune of 51 points and absolutely erupting the Target Center crowd.  Corey has been maligned since he was drafted by the Wolves many years ago and a number of fans hated when Flip resigned him to come back to Minnesota.  Tonight felt like a little bit of redemption and it is exactly why you should still attend NBA games even if your team is out of the playoff race.  Corey was 19-30 from the field, 11-15 from the FT line and added in 6 steals for good measure.

The final score of tonight’s events: Timberwolves 112, Rockets 110

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Obviously
  2. Gorgui Dieng – Somewhat unheralded given what was going on tonight, Dieng hit the final shot of the game to give the Wolves
    the win and finished with 12 points and 20 rebounds.
  3. Chandler Parsons – Huge game for Chandler who finished with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals 

Key Takeaways

  • The only reason this game was still in doubt was the Timberwolves poor shooting from the FT line (27-40) and from 3PT range (3-12)
  • Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham each had double-doubles on the evening and they were both needed, as the Wolves got close to nothing from their bench tonight.
  • Congratulations to Corey Brewer once again for his 50+ point performance, a night he will never forget!

You want more …

Corey Brewer now averages 10.0 PPG, 5th-lowest career scoring average among players with 50 points in a game in NBA history. (@EliasSports)

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 12, 2014

Adelman on Brewer: "Theydidn't know what to do with him. And we didn't, either." #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 12, 2014

The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng

The cynic in me would normally start with how we got here, but that isn’t going to happen on this occasion.  What you need to know is that Gorgui Dieng has seemingly arrived for the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Dieng was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March.  That just begins to tell the story of how much progress the 7 footer has made over the course of his first NBA season.

The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng (Photo credit: Jordan Johnson/Getty Images)

The Emergence of Gorgui Dieng
(Photo credit: Jordan Johnson/Getty Images)

Since starting for an injured Nikola Pekovic (which for the record, is how we got here) on March 16th, Dieng has averaged 11.7 points and rebounds a game (10 games), while shooting 65% from the field and 73% from the FT line!  This includes a 22 point, 21 rebound performance against the Rockets – who were without Dwight Howard’s services that evening, but while facing a formidable opponent in Omer Asik.  What has impressed me the most about Dieng’s offensive game is that he isn’t just a garbage point scorer; he has legitimate, NBA caliber moves in and around the post, as well as a short jump shot.  For example:

His offense isn’t what caught the scouts’ attention going into the NBA Draft, where Dieng “fell” to the 21st pick in the draft for the Jazz and traded immediately to the Wolves.  If the draft were to be held today, rest assured Gorgui would be a lottery pick based simply off of his production over the past month.  Gorgui is/was better recognized for his defensive prowess and that strength and determination is now being seen on a nightly basis for the Wolves.  While he isn’t picking up a ton of blocks in the box score (1.0 per game in the same 10 game span), if you are still watching the Wolves this season, you see his active body flying around rim on the defensive end of the court.

Simply put, that is exactly what the Wolves have been missing for years and exactly what I have been yearning for all season.  The Wolves have a legitimate third big that brings something unique to the table – an above the rim presence on both ends of the floor.  We haven’t seen this in ‘Sota since … you can use context clues to figure that one out or realize that this hasn’t existed since prior to the team trying to combine Al Jefferson and Kevin Love together.

What do you expect out of Gorgui for the rest of the season?  Should we expect to see a three-headed monster for the Wolves in 2014/15?

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets 3-15-13

Photo credit: Buzzfeed.com

Photo credit: Buzzfeed.com

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves will once again grace the national audience with theirpresence, as NBA TV will be airing tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets. The Timberwolves are coming off of a loss Wednesday night in Indiana, a day after upsetting the Spurs at Target Center.  The Rockets come into the game with a 35-30 record on the season and are currently in the 7 seed in the Western Conference.

The two teams have met twice before this season, both in Minnesota, with each team claiming a victory.  Back on 12/26, the Rockets caught the Pup

s with aChristmas hangover, making a ferocious comeback in the 4th quarter to steal the victory.  The Wolves returned the favor on 1/19, with a 92-79 drumming of the Rockets at TC.  The latter game was a coming out party for Chris Johnson who had recently joined the team at that time.

In terms of injury news, there is nothing new to report for the Wolves.  Love and Budinger will remain out and it doesn’t look promising for Kirilenko or Pekovic.  There is also a small chance James Harden misses Friday’s game with a sore foot.  He is listed as a game time decision.

Player to watch:

Chandler Parsons – Friday night’s game is another opportunity to say “what if…” from prior draft nights.  Parsons is an excellent shooter from the SF spot and is averaging a little over 15 ppg and 5 rpg.  In the two earlier match-ups this year, he had been held in check by the Wolves wings, so he might be due for a breakout game.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Jeremy Lin.  Rubio has been on fire over the past few weeks and likely helping a lot of fantasy teams these days.  After a rough start to the season, Jeremy Lin has found consistency in his game, particularly in March.  Lin has averaged 13.8 ppg and 5.2 apg, but is doing so in a much more efficient manner, shooting 49% from the field for the month.  I couldn’t speak about a strong month without mentioning Rubio’s numbers halfway through the month; 14.4 ppg, 8.7 apg, 6.9 rpg.

Predictions:

The Rockets are fighting to stay in the top 8 in the conference and they can’t afford a letdown game right now against one of the weaker teams in the NBA.

Final score prediction: Timberwolves 86, Rockets 94

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Omer Asik
  2. Chandler Parsons
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 1/19/13

MN HoopsSetting the stage:

For the second time this season, the Timberwolves host the Rockets at the Target Center.  Back on 12/26, the Rockets stunned the Wolves with a heavyweight performance from James Harden in the 4th quarter.  Harden scored 17 of his 30 points in the final frame and helped put his team over the hump.

Saturday’s match-up is going to look quite different for the Wolves, as injuries continue to ravage the lineup.  Add Nikola Pekovic to the list of injured Pups who will not be playing in Saturday’s game.  Pekovic went down with a strained quad on Thursday night and the team announced he is likely to miss the next 7-10 days.  Alexey Shved will likely be a game time decision with his sprained ankle, which also occurred in Thursday’s loss to the Clippers.  This would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.

Adding insult to injury, the Pups come into Saturday’s game on a five game losing streak.  The bandwagon has seen a mass exodus over the past few weeks.  While there is no official news on Mickael Gelabale (as of writing this on Friday night) it is expected that he will take the place of Lazar Hayward on the roster.  If he is in the United States, I hope he is ready to suit up tomorrow night and put in a few minutes on the court.  Beyond Gelabale, you can start throwing names against the wall and see what sticks.  Here are a few worth mentioning: Jonny Flynn, Ryan Gomes, Troy Hudson, Kenyon Martin, and Michael Redd.  Any and all of these guys need to be, at the very least, considered right now.

Would you like a bit of good news?  The Rockets are actually on a slightly longer losing streak right now than the Wolves are.  So there’s that.  As seen the night after Christmas, the Rockets are clearly led by James Harden and everyone else has a role to fill.  Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik bring it on most nights, but beyond these two, there are a lot of question marks throughout the roster.  The Rockets are currently right there for that 8th slot in the Western Conference and will be looking to put more distance between themselves and the Wolves Saturday.

Player to watch:

James Harden – Not knowing who is playing for the Wolves night in and night out is going to mean that these previews will largely focus on an opponent for some time.  As mentioned above, Harden is clearly the catalyst for this Rockets team.  With Shved either not playing, or at the very least, hampered by his sprained ankle, it will be interesting to see what the Wolves do on the defensive end of the floor.  Paging Andrei Kirilenko, please move over to the SG position for an evening.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Jeremy Lin.  Linsanity vs. Rubio-oops.  Neither has necessarily set the house on fire this season but it is the most intriguing matchup among the expected starting fives.  Rubio provided a few quotes after Thursday’s loss and you can sense his frustration with losing and not performing to what he is accustomed to.  I don’t see Rubio as someone who will press himself and play worse (like Barea).  I see this actually being a good thing / turning point.  (Because my Pups predictions have been fairing so well these past few weeks…)

Predictions:

Despite the Rockets playing on Friday night in Atlanta, I just have to see the Wolves win a game before I believe it, given the latest injury news.

Final score prediction: Twolves 82, Rockets 94

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. James Harden
  2. Ricky Rubio
  3. Omer Asik

Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 84 – Houston Rockets 87

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

So much for welcome returns. Greeted by a Target Center crowd of 20,340, Kevin Love returned to the starting lineup only to have arguably his worst performance of the season as the Minnesota Timberwolves blew a late fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Houston Rockets by a score of 87-84.

Game Summary

After missing Sunday’s matchup against the New York Knicks due to a scratched eye, K-Love struggled mightily on both ends of the floor and shot a miserable 3-14 FG including 0-7 from beyond the arc. Throw in 5 turnovers and poor pick-and-roll defense and you’ve got yourself a James Harden-led comeback, stunning a Target Center crowd and snapping the Timberwolves’ 5-game home win streak.

While I could ramble on and on about how poorly Love played tonight, I would simply like to highlight a few disturbing themes that were evident in his play. Although he shot very poorly from the field, I am not in any way angry about his shot selection because the shots he was missing are shots that we have grown accustomed to seeing K-Love bury time and time again. It very well may be the case that his wrist is causing discomfort in his shot, and in that case it is very understandable for his relatively poor shooting percentages this season. However, one thing that is independent of any external factors that may be currently influencing Love’s game is his effort and intensity on defense, which he has very inconsistently displayed this season. On multiple occasions following a missed shot, instead of sprinting back on defense, Love jogged and attempted to slow down the opposing ball handler, creating easy 3 on 2 transition opportunities for the Rockets (who happen to be one of the best in the NBA in transition). Too often we have witnessed Love choosing to whine and chirp at the officials, allowing the player he is matched up against to run seams down the court for easy lay ups. When has challenging an official after a no-call contributed to favorable officiating in the future?

I will point out that in the first quarter, Love did a very good job of directing the offense and finding teammates on backdoor cuts – something I wish he would do much more often. But after Love continued to misfire on shot attempts, his lack of confidence on offense became extremely evident to all those watching the game; by the fourth quarter he was blatantly passive, almost unwilling to shoot. I was very happy to see him attempt a step-back three late in the fourth quarter, despite once again missing. I never want to see the day where Love is not confident enough to take charge late in games, but the fact that he got burned weak side on two consecutive pick-and-rolls – securing the win for Houston – makes me wonder about Love’s overall intensity on the defensive end.

The Timberwolves inability to manage the game in the fourth quarter led to their late-game demise, and JJ Barea was a main culprit. Despite playing a very good game through the first three quarters, Barea fell into his detrimental zone of over-dribbling on offense and finding himself in traps in the opposing defense, resulting in turnovers. With the Timberwolves down 1 point with less than a minute remaining, Barea almost immediately coughed the ball up after taking the ball up the court, leading to a James Harden layup which secured the Rockets victory. Barea added 18 points (7-14 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers in 28 minutes.

The man Barea was backing up, Luke Ridnour, had a night to forget. In 19 minutes of play, Ridnour shot just 3-10 from the field, with most of his misses coming from wide-open, spotted-up attempts. Luke is now shooting below NBA league average from three-point range at 32.9%.

Andrei Kirilenko made his 500th career start tonight, a very impressive milestone that very few NBA players have accomplished. AK-47 had a quiet but efficient night, finishing with 8 points (2-6 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block and 2 turnovers in 29 minutes of action. His Russian teammate Alexey Shved was arguably the Timberwolves greatest asset on offense, as he was once again effective on the pick-and-roll. Shved continues to prove that he is one of the league’s top rookies, and finished the night with a line of 16 points (7-15 FG), 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 turnover in 30 minutes.

The Timberpups out-rebounded (50-47), out-stole (10-7) and out-blocked (4-2) the Rockets while committing 2 less turnovers and 7 less personal fouls. However, the Pups shot a miserable 38% from the field and were ice-cold tonight.

Ricky Rubio, as anticipated, was given an increased work load and played a season-high 21 minutes tonight. Despite being a game-low -9 on the floor, I thought that Rubio played well and looked slightly more explosive on his cuts than he had in his earlier performances this season. In the second half, Head Coach Rick Adelman had Rubio matched up on rising superstar James Harden, and Rubio did a very nice job on a tough cover. In limited action, Tricky Ricky finished with 8 points (2-5 FG), 2 assists, 1 steal and zero turnovers.

Nikola Pekovic left the game after the first half due to illness, and his first-half performance presumably spoke to how he was feeling. Faced against an excellent low-post defender in Omer Asik, Pek posted only 2 points on 1-7 shooting while pulling down 7 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. James Harden – Man, how far James Harden has come. Yeah, he may have been the 6-man of the year last season and was heavily recognized as one of the top young shooting guards in the league, but the level that Harden is reaching is true superstardom – and he even appears to be developing veteran maturity at the age of 23. Through the first three periods, Harden focused on directing traffic and setting up teammates for buckets, acting more as a facilitator than scorer, scoring only when presented with high-percentage opportunities to do so. And just as Chris Paul tends to save his scoring for the fourth quarter, Harden led a fourth-quarter charge and got to the rim so effectively that made it seem like he had been saving his energy for the final plays. No player was better when given an open spot-up opportunity, and Harden added to his sensational 2012-13 campaign with a line of 30 points (11-22 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 3 turnovers in 38 minutes played.
  2. Omer Asik - After being a part of one of the best second units in the NBA spending the past two seasons in Chicago, Asik has come into his own in Houston and has become one of the top centers in the Western Conference. Asik completely shut down Pekovic, while recording 9 points (4-6 FG), 17 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block and only 1 turnover in 35 minutes. Houston’s high-priced free agent addition has been a core component to the Rockets’ success and provides production to a frontcourt that was in desperate need for consistency spanning the past few seasons.
  3. Dante Cunningham – DC Hustle was at it again tonight, providing steals, blocks, rebounding and effective cutting. To put it simply, Cunningham was all over the court and was the only Pup that I can say played a tremendous game. The dividends that the trade for Cunningham continues to pay must be keeping Timberwolves management sufficiently satisfied, given the much different state of affairs surrounding Wayne Ellington in Memphis. Dante earned every single minute that he played tonight, and finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, 2 blocks and no turnovers in 37 minutes.

The Pups are set to host the Phoenix Suns on Saturday beginning at 7PM CT. Oh yeah, and Mike Beasley is coming back to town!