LaVine Time: Weekly Preview #3

(Star Tribune)

Last week wasn’t too kind to our beloved pups. After pulling out a gutty win over Brooklyn on Wednesday, the Wolves were swept in their first set of road back-to-back games of the season. This was in large part due to the absence of Ricky Rubio, who sprained his ankle in the first half of Friday’s game against Orlando. Rubio is out indefinitely, and the Wolves and it’s no secret the Wolves will struggle without him.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive, however. The Wolves found themselves with the lead in the final minute in Orlando before losing in overtime, and nearly completed a 20 point comeback on Saturday before falling to Miami. Their record now stands at 2-4.

Unfortunately, this weeks schedule doesn’t look to be very forgiving. Starting Wednesday, the Wolves will embark on a three game gauntlet. A record this week of 1-2 sans Rubio might even be considered a minor victory.

Game 7: Wednesday, 11/12, 9:00pm – Houston Rockets @ Pups* (TV: ESPN) *In Mexico City

Game #7 sees the Wolves with a home game in Mexico City for the second time in as many years. With the game on ESPN, I’m sure the league would love to see this years’ game in the Mexican capital actually take place.

For the second straight year, Minnesota is scheduled to be the home team. Apparently, the fact that Texas borders Mexico and Minnesota borders Canada doesn’t matter much.

The Rockets have stood out as one of the top teams in the league so far, with a record of 6-1. Their roster isn’t much different from a year ago, save for the addition of Trevor Ariza and the subtractions of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

What to Watch for:

James Harden and Dwight Howard are averaging a combined 45.1 ppg, so slowing them down will be key if the Wolves want to hang with Houston.

As for the point guard matchup, if Zach LaVine starts, he will be matched up against defensive specialist Patrick Beverley.

As a team, Houston is averaging 39.6% shooting on 32.9 3-point attempts per game, compared to Minnesota’s 34.1% on 14.2 attempts. The contrasting styles should be evident on Wednesday night.

Game #8: Friday 11/14, 7:00pm – Pups @ New Orleans Pelicans (TV: FS North)

After leaving Mexico City, the Wolves head to the Big Easy in a matchup against New Orleans. Minnesota went 2-1 in against New Orleans last season.

New Orleans has started the season 3-2 after an injury plagued 2013-2014 campaign fell short of expectations. Their main pickup was center Omer Asik, while they lost Al Farouq-Aminu to Dallas.

What to Watch for:

Anthony Davis and Omer Asik vs. Thad/Pek/Gorgui. Anthony Davis has started the 14-15 on an absolute tear, averaging 24/13/2 and 4 blocks. The addition of Asik makes New Orleans the most feared defensive front court in the league. For Flip, this might be the time to tryout the Pek/Gorgui lineup.

Game #9: Saturday 11/15, 7:30 – Pups @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

Minnesota ends their third back-to-back of the year with a contest against the high-powered Mavs. Dallas should be well rested, as their only game between Wednesday and Saturday is a Thursday matchup with the lowly Sixers. The Wolves were 3-1 against Dallas in 13-14, with the only loss due to “D’OH ED MALLOY.”

What to Watch for:

In his 17th season, Dirk Nowitzki probably shouldn’t be averaging 21 points on 54% shooting. But he is, and the Wolves will have to find a way counter his height and shooting ability.

The Chandler Parsons vs. Andrew Wiggins matchup at the SF is one to keep your eyes on. Parsons excellent movement off-the-ball will be a major test for Wiggins.

Wrap-Up

The Wolves will be lucky to win even one of their three games this week. Fans should worry less about wins and losses and try and watch the development of the young guys, specifically Zach Lavine. LaVine faces matchups with Beverley, Jrue Holiday, and veteran Jameer Nelson. LaVine isn’t just having to place his in the fire, he’s being forced to swim in it.

Try and smile. Ricky wants you to.

 

 

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!

Wolves lose to Magic as Rubio Sprains Ankle

Kim Clement/USA Today Sports

Kim Clement/USA Today Sports

Two nights prior, Rubio played the finest fourth quarter of his career in a win over the Nets. He was all smiles, save for his reaction to a Pekovic quote.

“We’re gonna forget this win.”

If only injuries were as easy to forget. [Read more…]

Rubio shines as Wolves topple Nets

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

All three of the Wolves prior contests this season had come down to the final few minutes. In Brooklyn on Wednesday night, it was no different. Instead of folding in the clutch like a season ago, this years Wolves have excelled. Especially the newly re-signed Spanish Unicorn known as Ricky Rubio.

At the 2:38 mark, with the Wolves down four to the Nets, Rubio swished a contested 20 footer.

27 seconds later, Rubio rifled an overhead pass from the right wing. Rubio hits Kevin Martin perfectly in the chest in the opposite corner, who buried the triple to give the Wolves the lead.

After committing a reach in foul on the Wolves subsequent defensive possession, Rubio sends Joe Johnson to the line. As Johnson releases the second attempt, Rubio sneaks into the lane, grabbing the ball after it hits front iron. He hurries the ball up and passes it to Martin, who misses a contested three on the right wing.

After an iso Joe bucket against Wiggins on the resulting possession, 1:28 remains, with the Wolves down two. Rubio takes the ball up. Alone with Deron Williams on the strong side, Ricky switches his dribble to his left hand, torches Williams, and banks home a lay-up to tie the game.

On the Nets next possession, with 1:08 to play, Thad Young takes the ball away from Joe Johnson. Young hands it to Rubio. Young sets a screen on Williams, forcing Johnson to cover Rubio and Williams to cover Young. Rubio is able to easily throw it into Pekovic in the post, who due to the switch, only has Brook Lopez to worry about. Pek forces his way into a three point play with 48.6 remaining.

Brooklyn takes timeout, and on the ensuing inbounds, Rubio makes sure to run right into Lopez’ extended elbow. With a little bit of spanish flair, Rubio draws the illegal screen and the Wolves get the ball.

The very next possession, Thad and Ricky play catch for a while, before Thad, with 30.9 to play, receives a Rubio pass at the top of the key. Thad fakes his defender, drives into the lane and banks home the floater. With 27.2 seconds on the clock, the Wolves lead is now five.

To summarize, over a span of 2:01, Rubio tallied four points, three assists, a rebound and drew an offensive foul, while the Wolves went from trailing by four to leading by five.

So yes, Ricky Rubio is worth 4 years and $55 million. And no, these are not last years Wolves.

Other Notes:

  • Andrew Wiggins had his best game as a pro, scoring 17 points and only committing one turnover. His flashes of greatness are brilliant, but he suffers from many of the typical rookie mistakes. He was caught biting on the pump fake a few times again tonight, and took a few shots he probably should have holstered.
  • Early Coach of the Year candidate: Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy. His one-on-one work with Rubio seems to have helped tremendously.
  • Young, Pek and Rubio were made to play together. All are excellent passers for their positions, and the spacing is beautiful to witness.
  • Big Daddy Canada (AKA Anthony Bennett) two handed power-slams are my favorite kind of dunks (besides LaVine free-throw line windmills).
  • Increasingly after every game, I wonder what exactly Corey’s place on this team is. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with the pieces that are in place.

I leave you with these Andrew Wiggins highlights. Enjoy the win.

 

 

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.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 2

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Setting the stage:

The quest for an 82-0 season fell quickly in the season opener in Memphis this past week for the Timberwolves.  However, it feels like there are a good number of positives to build upon with the 1-2 club.  The Pups hit the road this week for a three game trip that will take them to Brooklyn and then through the state of Florida.

If nothing else, the Timberwolves have been very competitive in their first three games of the season.  They kept the game tight against the Grizzlies, pulled away from the Pistons for the home opener, and lost a heartbreaker against a Derrick Rose-less Bulls squad. The Wolves are averaging 101 points per game and are getting contributions from virtually everyone on the roster.

If the action on the floor wasn’t enough, the Wolves’ front office gave the fanbase another reason to celebrate, announcing that the club came to terms with Ricky Rubio on a four year contract extension worth $55 million.  Rubio is now locked up through the 2018/19 season and allows the team to start focusing on how it builds around Andrew Wiggins and the Spanish Point Guard.  Rubio celebrated his new contract with a 17 assist game on Saturday night against the Bulls.

Game 4: Wednesday, 11/5, 6:30pm – Pups @ Brooklyn Nets (TV: FS North)

The Nets open this week with a 1-1 record and will have their home opener on Monday night against a depleted OKC Thunder squad.  With three full days off, the Wolves should be fresh for Wednesday’s action.

Wolves fans will likely get to see ex-Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko on the court, but there is “probably” someone a little more interesting to keep an eye on …

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Garnett – I probably wrote the same thing last year, but this is one of two chances to see KG suit up against his former club.  There is no acceptable reason to miss this game as a Wolves fan.

Game 5: Friday, 11/7, 6pm – Pups @ Orlando Magic (TV: FS North)

The Magic were dealt an early season blow when they announced that Victor Oladipo would miss the start of the season with a facial fracture.  The team is 0-3 entering the week ahead and is struggling to put points on the board.

Opponent to watch:

Nikola Vucevic – One player that isn’t struggling for the Magic is Vucevic, averaging 17.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by an opening night 23 rebounds in New Orleans.

Game 6: Saturday, 11/8, 6:30pm – Pups @ Miami Heat (TV: FS North)

The Wolves will finish up their three game road trip in Miami.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they will be heading into this game as the second of a back-to-back, while the Heat will have been off since a Wednesday night game in Charlotte.  The Heat are 2-0 heading into a Sunday night game against the Raptors.

Opponent to watch:

Chris Bosh – Through two games, Bosh is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds per game.  Perhaps exiting a little bit of a shadow, the Heat will be relying on Bosh to bring this type of production to the floor every night.

Predictions:

Wrap-up:

If the Pups can continue the competitive spirit they brought to the court in the first week of the season, the club will continue to slowly but surely gain attention around the league.  “Solid but not spectacular” might be the best way to describe the action thus far.

Items that I like thus far:

  1. Gorgui Dieng has been incredibly productive in a limited role
  2. Despite an even more limited role than Dieng, Anthony Bennett has played very well

Things that I don’t like right now:

  1. Zach LaVine’s minutes or lack thereof
  2. Chase Budinger is really struggling in his (very) limited role
  3. Seeing Thaddeus Young go down in Saturday’s game after several productive performances to start the season

Let’s go Wolves!  Who or what has caught your attention in the first week of the season?

Ricky Rubio agrees to four year, $55 million dollar extension

(Photo credit - Fox Sports)

(Photo credit – Fox Sports)

Last night, after much speculation, it was finally announced that Ricky Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves came to terms on a contract that will keep the point guard in Minnesota for at least four more years. It was reported that Rubio will be getting $55 million dollars guaranteed in the contract, with another $1 million be possible via incentives. All together, that means Rubio could potentially be getting $56 million when it’s all said and done. Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press was the first to announce that an agreement had been reached.

Some point to this contract being an overpay, mainly because Ricky has struggled with his shot throughout his time in the NBA. The Timberwolves are doing everything in their power to help him improve in that area though. The biggest step was when they hired Mike Penberthy to be Ricky’s personal shooting coach. Penberthy has had nothing but positive words for the point guard, and stated so during an interview for the Star Tribune “Penberthy calls Rubio’s work ethic “incredible” and terms him “one of the more coachable guys” with whom he has worked.” Outside of his shot, Rubio is already one of the best at dishing assists, consistently being in at least the top ten since he’s been in the league. As his career progresses, there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be in the top five year after year. He’s also one of the best in the game when it comes to steals. The past two seasons he was in the top two, and again there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be going forward.

Ricky has said numerous times that he wants to remain a member of this team going forward, and giving him this deal shows that the team also wants him here longterm. He’s turning into the type of leader that this young team needs, while also doing everything he can to improve his game. If everything clicks, Ricky should be one of the better point guards in the game sooner rather than later.