Timberwolves Grab Win Over Miami in Nail-Biter Finish

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

(photo credit: foxsportsnorth.com)

It seems that things are finally starting to come together for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as three starters who have missed weeks due to injuries are finally back in the lineup. With Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and [finally] Ricky Rubio all healthy, games have suddenly become a lot more competitive. Wednesday’s home game proved to be a real nail-biter down to the final seconds, but Minnesota came up with the 102-101 victory over Miami. Martin led the Wolves in scoring with an impressive 30 points, and Thaddeus Young added 16 points to the effort.

Martin proved the biggest highlight of the game, shooting 47.8 percent from the field and knocking down the game-winning shot off an assist from Young.

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said. “He’s been doing that for 10-12 years. We all know he’s going to step up when we need it.”

Rubio also had a strong performance in his second game back. The point guard tallied eight points on the evening and also dished out nine assists. Prior to the game, head coach Flip Saunders emphasized that he would keep Rubio in the 21-22 minute range as he transitions back. In such a close game, however, Saunders bent his own rules a bit. He left Rubio in during the end of the game, and Rubio helped control the pace of the game.

“We’re just a different team with him,” Saunders said post-game. “I was just excited to come and watch Ricky play with our guys to see what he can do with some of these guys. We haven’t had a chance to see that a lot this year.”

Mo Williams also returned after missing a few games, and he came off the bench to contribute 10 points and 10 assists.

The Wolves held a lead for much for the first half, but in the third quarter things started to unravel in an all-too-familiar fashion. Miami controlled the ball for much of that quarter, outscoring Minnesota 32-23 and capitalizing off turnovers. Just when it seemed that the game may end up like so many other games this season, Timberwolves fans saw the momentum switch heading into the fourth.

During the final quarter, Minny scored 26 points. Even more significant, though, the Wolves held Miami to just 18 points—including just a single bucket during the deciding seven-minute stretch.

Despite being out-rebounded 47-32 by the Heat, Minnesota made 51 percent of its shots and gutted out the night for a much-needed win. Although the Wolves season is arguably “over” at this point, as far as the postseason is concerned, each victory improves team morale and offers a glimpse into the future of the team if anyone remains healthy.

And if nothing else, the Wolves certainly acted as spoilers Wednesday. The loss dropped Miami’s record to 21-28, and the Heat are in a must-win situation. Forward Chris Bosh, who added 14 points for Miami, said the following after the game:

“Hell yeah, it’s a missed opportunity. We’re not going to get it back. That’s one thing about this league: If you’re in a situation where you can’t really afford to lose any games, things are slipping away from us […] We’re about to be out of the playoff race. I mean, not the race, but as far as the seeding we’re about to be out. And we’re not concentrating. I don’t understand that.”

The Timberwolves improved to 9-40 on the season, and they will remain home to host Memphis Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Timberwolves Embarrass Themselves, Lose to 76ers 103-94

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

Who is having a more enjoyable rookie year between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid? (2015 NBAE, Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Ahead of the emotional return of Mike Miller and Kevin Love to the Target Center Saturday night, the Timberwolves took the show on the road to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers.  Along with the Knicks, the Wolves and Sixers are aiming for the most ping pong balls come lottery time and Flip Saunders’ Timberwolves took a commanding lead for the pole position.

Friday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center was downright embarrassing as the Wolves have lost both match-ups against a terrible basketball team this season.  This one came with Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup.  Just about every preconception I had on this year’s team came to fruition in last night’s game.  I typically reserve some of my thoughts until seeing it with my own eyes … and that is exactly what happened last night.

The first 22 minutes of the game were pretty entertaining basketball if you like offense.  If you like defense, you might have wanted to look away.  The Wolves got big performances from Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, while the Sixers were led by Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) and ex-Pup LRMAM.

With about two minutes to go in the first half, the Wolves started to fall apart and the body language of the vast majority of the squad became disturbing.  After multiple turnovers, the Wolves gave the ball back to Philadelphia with 3.8 seconds on the clock.  MCW received the inbounds pass and drove all the way to the hope for a buzzer beating layup.  The lack of energy, effort, frankly anything from the Wolves on that play set the tone for the second half.

Already missing Mo Williams due to injury for Friday’s contest, Zach LaVine went down for a while with an ankle injury.  After heading to the locker room for a bit, LaVine later returned to the court to play in the 4th quarter.  I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, outside of the fact that the injury itself doesn’t seem to be significant.  LaVine is very clearly not ready to play Point Guard in the NBA on either side of the court.  MCW crushed him throughout the night.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, LaVine’s backup is not an NBA caliber player.  Lorenzo Brown’s return to the team that drafted him should be over upon the return of Ricky Rubio.  The Brown signing is the type of laziness that exudes from the Wolves front office – “We drafted this guy a few years ago, so there was something there. He’s available and we need a PG.  Sign him!”

The second half was the worst half of basketball I have ever seen with my own eyes.  The Wolves put up 18 points in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Sixers 18-17.  Not to be outdone, Minnesota put up 17 points in the 4th quarter to allow the Sixers to put them away for good.  The loss moves the Wolves to 8-38 on the season, while the Sixers go to 10-37.  Minnesota now has a clear track to the most ping pong balls with two losses to Philadelphia.  Joy.

The final score: 76ers 103, Timberwolves 94

Game Notes:

  1. I want to touch on the body language again as there were a few particular examples worth calling out:
    • Kevin Martin and the returning to Philly Thad Young could not have looked more disinterested.  Martin was a chucker (5-18 FG’s) and Young didn’t seem to have much emotion returning to Philadelphia.
    • The one guy that visibly cared the most, was wearing a suit and still recovering from his ankle injury.  Ricky Rubio jumped out of his seat when the Wolves failed to execute in the fast break.  The Wolves are lucky Rubio was willing to resign earlier this season.
    • When LaVine twisted his ankle it was quite telling that not a single teammate stayed by or even really went to his side before heading to the locker room.  This season and all of the losing is likely leading to a lot of this, but in the back of my mind is the fact that this is a Flip Saunders run team and he has never been known to enforce or instill camaraderie with his club.  This isn’t going to end well.
  2. It was not a packed house last night …

Happy Birthday Crunch – Wolves Lose to Pelicans 92-84

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter - @WolvesCrunch)

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter – @WolvesCrunch)

 

The 7-34 Minnesota Timberwolves completed their brief homestand on Friday night against the 21-21 New Orleans Pelicans.  Both teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions but one is clearly still playing for something this season while the other continues to receive more bad news.  Reports have surfaced that Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury is worse than originally thought.  That quickly took all of the steam out of Nikola Pekovic’s return to action on Wednesday night.  The Pelicans have been struggling with their own injury news of late with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missing time recently.

The two teams met early on this season in New Orleans, with the Pelicans undressing the Wolves to the tune of 139-91 – the worst loss in Wolves’ franchise history.

Looking for a reason to celebrate Wolves’ fans?  The Wolves celebrated Crunch’s birthday Friday night at the Target Center.  So at least there’s that for those in attendance.

Let’s take a look at how Friday night’s action went down at the Target Center.  The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Pelicans countered with the following starting five: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, ex-Pup Dante Cunningham, the aforementioned Davis, and Omer Asik.

The one Pup that I have consistently laid into this season (Thad) started off a house of fire, accounting for 7 of the Wolves first 11 points, which led to NOLA Coach Monty Williams to call a very quick timeout with his team down 11-1.  While the Wolves continued to hustle and play relatively well coming out of the timeout, the shooting percentage came back to earth and the Pelicans were able to tie the game at 18, forcing Flip Saunders to burn the Wolves first timeout with just over three minutes left to play in the 1st Quarter.

With Wiggins and Pekovic a combined 1-8 in the opening quarter for the Wolves, the Pelicans took a 24-20 lead into the break.  As time expired in the 1st, Chase Budinger drew a foul on a three pointer, only to see the referees swallow their whistles.  It has been a rough enough season for Chase, he doesn’t need any help from the zebras.

After taking a 32-29 lead in the 2nd Quarter on a beautiful post move from Gorgui Dieng, the Wolves turned the ball over on consecutive series and quickly gave up their lead.  Concentrating on the positive for a moment, Dieng’s offensive game continues to grow stronger as the weeks continue to pass by.  If for no other reason, and I can’t think of another one, Pekovic’s injury has had at least one benefit for the Wolves and that is the improvement in Dieng’s all around game (and likely his confidence).

At the half, the Wolves trailed 45-44.  Halftime notes/stats:

  • Thad Young with a team high 11 points on 5-8 shooting … but 0 rebounds
  • Conversely, Dieng finished the half with 8 points and 7 rebounds
  • The Wolves shot 44% from the floor in the 1st half, while the Pelicans shot 59%
  • Pups only got to the free throw line six times in the half – as did the Pelicans – but only made two of their attempts

The 3rd Quarter seemed to slog along with some ugly basketball being played.  Through the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wolves had one made basket and two free throws.  After Dante Cunningham made two long range jump shots, Flip Saunders called a timeout to try to straighten the ship.

The Pelicans opened up a double digit lead but the Wolves were able to cut it back down to four.  Nate Wolters scored as the clock was running down in the quarter, giving the Pelicans a 69-63 lead heading into the final frame.

There were several mini-runs for each team to start the 4th Quarter, with the Wolves trimming the Pelicans lead thanks to some strong offensive play from Chase Budinger, who scored all but two of his ten total points in the 4th.  However, the Wolves could never get over the hump and fell to the Pelicans.

With about :40 seconds to go in the game, the Pelicans were inbounding the ball up by six.  With a foul to give before going into the penalty, the Wolves scrambled to try to trap an opponent defensively.  It didn’t work but with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the Wolves then commit the foul.  That resets the shot clock to 14 seconds and the Wolves then have to commit another foul before forcing the Pelicans to the line.  In no way, shape or form was this a defensive strategy worth repeating.  Ever.  Either foul early and stretch the game as much as possible or play and hope they miss the shot.

The final score: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Happy birthday Crunch!  You don’t look a day over 26 …
  • If the Wolves have any interest in winning games the rest of the way, a Pekovic-Dieng frontcourt is going to need to be used
  • Mo Williams had a quiet double-double on Friday night, tallying 12 points and 10 assists
  • In fact, the Wolves assisted on 27 of their 35 made baskets (77%)

Timberwolves Drop Brutal Game to Dallas, Fall to 7-34

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

(photo credit: cbs.local.com)

The Timberwolves started out strong against Dallas, but gradually the well-oiled Mavericks pulled away and took control of the game. Despite having a healthy Nikola Pekovic back in the huddle, the Wolves came up on the short end of the 98-75 final score. Andrew Wiggins had yet another double-digit game, leading Minnesota with 18 points. On the other side of the floor, Chandler Parsons tallied 22 points for the Mavs.

The first quarter started out well for Minnesota, with more aggressive defense than fans have seen in awhile. Gorgui Dieng had a couple of nice rebounds, and Robbie Hummel was able to battle for a put-back early on in the game.

The headline (and silver lining) for the evening was Pekovic. After missing 31 games this season, the big man returned to the Wolves lineup Wednesday night. Although he came off the bench, Pek had a decent 14-point game after sitting out for over two months.

When No. 14 checked in at the 3:18 mark of the first quarter, Target Center fans delivered a large ovation for the center. Pekovic immediately grabbed a bucket, tying the game at 21 and increasing the crowd noise.

Mavs veteran Dirk Nowitzki hit a long 3-point shot to close out the quarter 24-21, and from that point on the Wolves struggled to keep up. Slow second and third quarters are starting to become the unfortunate trend for Minny, and this game proved no different. Dallas went on a 25-9 run to finish up the half, and the Wolves entered the locker room trailing 59-38.

Thaddeus Young has been playing well lately, and he had another solid game against the Mavericks, despite grabbing all 14 points of his points in the first half. The forward seemed to be the only one able to find successful shots after the first quarter. The game dragged on, with Minnesota simply unable to match up well against its opponents.

Dallas entered the game shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line, and the team absolutely killed Minnesota from downtown. Parsons tallied 12 points from behind the arc, and the team made 11 of its 27 long-range attempts.

Prior to the half, the Associated Press‘ Jon Krawcynski reminded Wolves fans of the following:

Parsons wasn’t the only Maverick to play well, though. Dallas shot 51.3 percent from the field, in stark contrast to Minnesota’s 34.8 percent. The brutal loss dropped the Wolves’ record to 7-34 on the season, and it seems as if the second half of the season will be incredibly long for a very young, very tired squad.

After going off for an incredible 52 points against Indiana last Tuesday, Mo Williams never found his groove against the Mavs. The guard started out the game 0-10 from the field and did not find the basket until late in the third quarter. He finished the evening with just five points.

Although it was rumored that Kevin Martin might return, he remained sidelined with a wrist injury. Ricky Rubio also continues to sit out, and Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner shed a little more light on the subject.

According to head coach Flip Saunders, Gellner explained that Rubio suffered torn muscles and also a bone bruise in addition to the sprained ankle. The injury is more complex than maybe originally detailed, and Saunders said the team is taking every precaution to make sure Rubio is at 100 percent before returning to action.

Up next, the Wolves will face New Orleans at the Target Center Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Timberwolves Big Men Have Off Day in Loss to Hornets

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

The Timberwolves had two quarters in which they failed to reach 20 points, and that sort of offense is not enough to defeat the Charlotte Hornets—especially a Charlotte Hornets squad with Al Jefferson in back in the lineup.  The center returned from a groin injury and came off the bench to add eight points and five rebounds against his former team. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves in scoring with 18 points, followed by Andrew Wiggins with 12. In the end, Minnesota wrapped up its road trip with a 105-80 loss.

Wolves fans have seen a glimmer of hope over the past several games, with victories coming against Indiana and Denver—both on the road. Monday afternoon’s game proved a different story, however. While Charlotte’s big men Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson combined for 27 points (not to mention Jefferson as a reserve), Robbie Hummel and Gorgui Dieng combined for only nine. Since Corey Brewer was traded to Houston and Shabazz Muhammad is sidelined due to injury, Hummel has been implemented into the starting lineup. Unfortunately for Minny, “Always Ready Robbie” proved he isn’t always ready. The sophomore played just over 24 minutes and couldn’t find a single bucket.

Hummel was not the only one to struggle, though. Across the board, the Wolves squad had a hard time hitting their shots and contesting shots on the other end. Minnesota allowed Charlotte reserves P.J. Hairston and Gary Neal to contribute 22 points, including five 3-point buckets between the two of them.

“They mauled us, really,” head coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “They’re a very good defensive team. We did not react the right way to their physicality.”

The first half really set the tone of the game, and Minnesota struggled from the get-go. No matter what the team tried, the Wolves looked sluggish and disjointed compared to Charlotte. In the second quarter, they made just 28 percent of their shots and tallied only 13 points.

With so many injuries plaguing the Wolves this season, especially to their starters, the young players are facing many more minutes than would have been expected, and the level of fatigue is becoming evident. Overall, the team shot 36.2 percent from the field and struggled to control the ball. Minnesota committed 17 turnovers, an alarming five of those coming from the hands of Dieng.

The Hornets defense proved insurmountable by the Wolves. Charlotte extended its lead to 30 in the third quarter, and it was all the tired squad could do to claw the deficit to the 20s. Over two games, the Hornets have forced 37 turnovers and held their opponents to under 90 points.

At this point the in the season, fans can only hope that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin return to the floor sooner rather than later, and that Wiggins continues to be patient. The rookie has tallied double-digit points over the past 14 games, and one wonders how long his positive attitude will last with this sort of record.

Monday’s game dropped Minnesota to 7-33 on the season, while increasing Charlotte’s record to 17-25. The Wolves will return home to the Target Center to face Dallas Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Click here to listen to postgame audio from Monday’s game. 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

The Timberwolves season has turned into “Turn in to see what Andrew Wiggins does next” and not much more. (Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, The Associated Press)

Setting the stage:

With a 15 game losing streak (?!?!) in tow, the Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road this week for three games.  The losing streak has moved the Timberpups record to a dreadful 5-31 and puts them in competition with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.  In no way, shape or form is that a compliment.

The Wolves open up the coming week on Tuesday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers, a game that Minnesota really needs to find a way to pull out a “W”.  After Tuesday’s game, the remaining schedule for the week and beyond is awfully tough until a match-up against the Celtics on Wednesday, 1/28.  Let’s hope they don’t get to that Boston game with the losing streak still intact.

There has been nothing new reported on the potential returns of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and/or Kevin Martin.  The Timberwolves obviously miss these guys, but I’m not sure if it makes much sense to put any of them out there until they are 100%.  As mentioned before, it would be nice to move Pekovic or Martin before the trade deadline next month and make the rebuild that much more official.

Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 37: Tuesday, 1/13, 6pm – Timberpups @ Indiana Pacers (TV: FS North)

As referenced above, it would behoove the Pups to find a way to pull out the victory here and snap the losing streak.  The 15-24 Pacers are coming off of a loss against the Sixers on Saturday night, so they will be well rested.

Opponent to watch:

Roy Hibbert – Hibbert has become a bit of an enigma with the Pacers and is underachieving this season.  Without Paul George and others, Hibbert should be putting up monster numbers.  However, he’s averaging just 11.4ppg and 7rpg.  Tuesday will be another interesting matchup for Gorgui Dieng.

Game 38: Friday, 1/16, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Suns just played this past week in Minnesota, where the Pups gave up the lead late and fell 113-111.  Andrew Wiggins had a chance to hit a game winning three pointer, but missed it at the buzzer.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic lit up the Wolves on 1/7 to the tune of 25 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, along with a handful of highlight plays.  Zach LaVine and Mo Williams must do a better job of containing Dragic and the Suns’ other backcourt members.

Game 39: Saturday, 1/17, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: None)

No local television for Saturday night’s game and I’m not sure how that is feasible in 2015.  The teams also just played one another on 1/5 with the Nuggets winning with relative ease.  While the final score was 110-101, it wasn’t really that close, as Denver outscored the Wolves 35-21 in the 1st quarter and had a 62-41 lead at halftime.

Opponent to watch:

Arron Afflalo – Afflalo led the way last week for the Nuggets, putting up 34 points at the Target Center.  Wiggins will likely be asked to check Afflalo in this one and will hopefully be able to contain him.

Wrap-up:

The Wolves need to pull out a victory this week to get out of their current funk.  They would tie the franchise record of 18 straight losses (2011) at the end of the week if they don’t pull one of these off.  Let’s avoid this please.  Go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 11

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

The coach needs to turn to Anthony Bennett sooner rather than later to see what he can be for this franchise moving forward. (Credit: Jordan Johnson, NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Setting the stage:

Our Minnesota Timberwolves come into the week with a 5-27 record and are coming off of a relatively terrible week that included two losses against the Jazz, pushing their losing streak to 11 games.  The Wolves start the week with a continuation of a four game homestand against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.  Aside from a trip quick to Milwaukee for Friday’s game, the Wolves will remain at home for the remaining three games this week.  Surprisingly, the Pups have a “home game” against the Spurs that takes place in Minneapolis this week.

As we get closer to the return of Ricky Rubio, Wolves fans are left wondering where this team is heading into the trade deadline (February 19th).  With Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin still on the shelf, would any team be willing to take on either contract?  Will Flip Saunders be able to get more than sixty cents on the dollar for either?  Only time will tell.

For now, let’s concentrate on the week ahead.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 33: Monday, 1/5, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Denver defeated the Wolves 106-102 the day after Christmas in their first matchup of the season between the Northwest division foes.  Denver remains under .500 and is struggling to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Opponent to watch:

Kenneth Faried – Someone is going to have to contain Faried this time around, as he dropped an overwhelming 26 & 25 on the Wolves in their last meeting.  Again, with Thad Young incapable of grabbing ~10 rebounds a game, Flip Saunders needs to provide more minutes to Anthony Bennett to see if he can be a solid contributor for this franchise moving forward.

Game 34: Wednesday, 1/7, 8:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberpups (TV: ESPN)

The Timberwolves make another appearance on national TV with ESPN in town to cover the game.  To be honest, I thought last year was a fluke for the Suns, who finished the season with a 48-34 record.  They are proving me wrong (again) as the team remains in heavy contention for the playoffs and are only a few games behind the Clippers for second place in the Pacific division.

Opponent to watch:

Eric Bledsoe – Bledsoe was tied to the Pups in the offseason rumorville but remained with the Suns despite the fact that the Suns’ roster is loaded with backcourt talent.  With or without Rubio, this would make for a tough matchup for the Wolves.  Godspeed Zach LaVine and Mo Williams.

Game 35: Friday, 1/9, 7:30pm – Timberpups @ Milwaukee Bucks (TV: FS North)

A close game through the first three quarters, the Bucks blew out the Wolves in Minneapolis in late November.  Milwaukee received a balanced performance from its roster, with seven players scoring in double figures in the first meeting.  Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor in his first official meeting against fellow rookie Jabari Parker.  Unfortunately, Parker has since been lost for the season due to injury and the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award is likely Wiggins’ to lose.

Opponent to watch:

Larry Sanders – Sanders had a nice game in Minneapolis putting in 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks.  The Sanders vs. Gorgui Dieng matchup is probably the most appealing among the starting five on the current, available rosters for both teams.

Game 36: Saturday, 1/10, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The champs hit a rough patch in December, losing nine games in a calendar month for the first time in the Tim Duncan era.  However, the Spurs have lit up the Wolves in the two prior meetings this season, scoring 121 and 123 points in each game, respectively.  While the Spurs remain over .500, they can’t afford to fall too far behind in the loaded Southwest division.

Opponent to watch:

Tim Duncan – Enjoy him while you can Wolves’ fans.  You never know when he may finally decide to call it a career.

Wrap-up:

Our Timberpups face a tall task this week, with three games against tough, Western Conference foes.  The ability to stay close to home may provide some stability for the club but this may be an ugly week in the W-L column and in the box scores.  Nevertheless, Go Wolves!