Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 18

 

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix (Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix
(Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The NBA trade deadline came and went without any roster movement for the Timberwolves, so it is up to the roster that started the season for the Pups to week through the bumps and bruises the rest of the way and try to sneak into the playoffs.  I say “sneak in” because there is still a lot of work to do and when the Suns are beating down the Spurs like they did this past week, making the playoffs is going to be no easy task.  In fact, that brings us right to this week’s first game.

Game 58: Tuesday, 2/25, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

Both teams will be coming off of games on Sunday night.  The Wolves find themselves 6.5 games behind the Suns (and Mavs) for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.  I still believe Phoenix is the one team that could slip up the rest of the way.  You have to think that Minnesota absolutely needs to win this game if you have any hope or belief that the team will make the playoffs.  With one loss to the Suns already on this season’s belt, the Wolves can’t drop this one.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic very easily could have been an all-star in New Orleans last week.  He is putting up monster numbers for the Suns, averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game to go along with a PER over 22.  Can Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea (insert snide comment about the trade deadline here) contain Dragic and give the Wolves a chance in this one?

Predictions:

This will be the third road game in four nights for the Wolves.  The Suns have been playing every other night at home for the past week going into this game.  The Wolves postseason hopes may depend on this game … but I’ve already declared those hopes to be DOA.  Final score: Suns 107, Timberwolves 104

Game 59: Saturday, 3/1, 9pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FS North)

In somewhat of a scheduling quirk, the Wolves will have off three days before Saturday’s game in Sacramento.  It will be interesting to see if the team flies back to Minnesota or stays on west coast time for the break in action.  The Kings will come into this game off of a Friday night meeting with the Lakers in LA.  Back in January, the Rudy Gay led Kings upset the Wolves at the Target Center – one of less than a handful of games that we can look back at and say “that shouldn’t have been a loss”.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – Cousins is having a terrific season from a stats perspective, leading the Kings in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals.  (Steals?!)  Cousins had a solid game against the Wolves earlier in this season with 20 & 11 but also found himself in foul trouble going against Nikola Pekovic – who should be rounding himself back into form.

Predictions:

It is time to return the favor from January’s home loss.  With several days off, the Wolves should have no problem in this one.  The concern might be coming off of a deflating loss in Phoenix and seeing woeful body language and demeanor on the court.  Final score: Timberwolves 112, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

Well, you know my thoughts on the Wolves’ season and the rest of the way.  Tuesday’s game in Phoenix will either give the positivity police an opportunity to tell me to “go screw” or will have several more fans jumping off the bandwagon.  You may want to avoid Twitter on Tuesday night …

Let’s go Wolves!

Without Martin, Pekovic, Timberwolves Fall to Houston Rockets

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

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

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

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

budinger_houston

 

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

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

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

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

Rubio_Houston

Timberwolves Play of the Game: 

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

You can view the play here.

 

 

Recap – Pelicans 98, Timberwolves 91

pelicansmascot

The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s game at 24-25 and are looking at the next four games before the all-star break as an opportunity to get a few games above the Mason-Dixon Line.  That sounds like a good plan, no?  The team traveled to New Orleans for Friday’s encounter with the 21-27 Pelicans.  While under .500 for the season overall, the Pelicans were 12-12 going into the action Friday night.

The Wolves got back a few starters after they missed Wednesday’s game, opening up with: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Turiaf.  Nikola Pekovic remains out with his injury.  The Pelicans are dealing with a slew of injuries of their own, but their starting lineup Friday night was: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Alexis Ajinca.  Added bonus for future trivia: tonight was the first game in the “Smoothie King Center”. Let’s just move on …

First Half 

Game got off to a slow start in the scoring department. As an added “bonus” for Wolves fans, Kevin Love seemed to tweak something early and looked slow and banged up. Going into the first timeout with just over 5 minutes left in the opening frame, the Pelicans held a 14-12 lead, led by the Unibrow, who got it going early with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. (Congrats to the ‘Brow on being named to the Western Conference All-Star team – more than deserved!)

Kevin Love picked up a quick second foul and that led to Dante Cunningham’s early arrival in the game. For the record, Love probably should have taken a seat when he couldn’t get past half court to play defense, but you know … Adelman. (I’m quickly turning to the dark side.) Before I get in trouble, the Wolves held a 26-25 lead over the Pelicans at the end of the quarter. Corey Brewer led the Pups with 9 points and creating chaos, including one of the ugliest fast-breaks you will ever see in NBA history; however, it ended with a Kevin Martin three pointer, so no complaints here.

The early minutes of the second quarter can be summarized with this:

It isn’t like we signed this guy to a new contract this past summer or anything, right? (Crickets) Beyond this little tidbit, the Wolves played a Pelicans-inspired slowed down pace, outscoring the home team 21-17 in the quarter and taking a 47-42 into the locker room.

Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • Despite not scoring in 14 minutes of action, Dante Cunningham had a nice half of basketball with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal
  • Kevin Love had 10 & 8 at the half and was solid offensively, but Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 17 points at the same time – interesting match-up!
  • Ronny Turiaf – defensive presence!  (3 blocks by halftime!)

Second Half 

Despite Kevin Love looking like a broken body multiple times in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves played a solid final few minutes to increase their lead a bit.  Love was fouled (but not called) by Greg Stiemsma and looked like he was going to need to be scraped off the floor after a few attempts in the paint on the ensuing possession after not being able to get back on defense.  There is going to be a time when we are going to regret this.  However, it wasn’t through the third quarter, as the Wolves built a 71-61 lead going into the final frame.

All of the good from the 3rd quarter came to a screeching halt with the Pelicans going on a massive run to begin the 4th quarter, going up 78-77 – a 17-6 run before Adelman finally called a timeout.  The onslaught continued as the Pelicans poured it on in the 4th quarter, while the Wolves found ways to increase their deficit – bad defense, terrible shot selection, and overall bonehead play.  With about 2.5 minutes to go, the Pelicans held an 89-82 lead, outscoring the Pups 28-11 to this point in the quarter.  Let’s hit the fast forward button because nothing positive happened the rest of the way for our Pups.  They continued to fall flat on their face and wound up giving up 37 points in the 4th quarter, losing to the Pelicans, 98-91.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Anthony Davis – great game for the ‘Brow, 26 & 10 and looked like a leader on the floor
  2. Eric Gordon – huge second half for Gordon, who finished with 20 points and it felt like he threw two or three daggers at the Wolves
  3. Kevin Love – who I am somewhat expecting to hear “trade request” from this all-star break.  26 & 18 for the starting PF in the Western Conference … 

Key Takeaways

  • The Wolves continue to shoot three pointers for no apparent reason other than “it’s flashy” … 4-17 in tonight’s game, including a 0-6 from Love.
  • Huge advantage for Minnesota at the FT line, going 31-37 on the evening, compared to NOLA’s 12-16.  Somehow, someway, the Wolves still managed to lose this game.
  • Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer create havoc on both ends of the floor … however, their lack of fundamental defense (along with Kevin Martin’s lack of any defense) is killing this team.  This already feels like a very long second half of the season.

Short-Handed Timberwolves Fall 106-97 to Thunder

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

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

TWolvesTweet

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

(photo credit: washingtonpost.com)

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

 

Sideline and Injury Notes

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

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

 

Timberwolves Sail Over Pelicans, 88-77

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

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

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

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

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

Turiaf_Pelicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rubio_Pelicans

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

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

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

 

Sideline Moment: 

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

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

 

 

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

"VICTORY!" for the Pups in a close game!

“VICTORY!” for the Pups in a close game!

The Timberwolves traveled further west for two weekend games, starting with Friday night’s game in the Bay Area to take on the 26-17 Warriors.  The Warriors took care of the Wolves earlier this season at Target Center and it was time for the team to redeem themselves.  Friday night was also another opportunity for the Wolves to reach the .500 mark with a win.

After lacerating his finger earlier this week, Kevin Martin was a little bit of a question mark.  However, no surprises as it got closer to tip-off in the Pups starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  Similarly, there were a few question marks going into tonight on the Warriors lineup given a few minor injuries.  However, no surprises there either, as the team sent out the following lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. [Read more...]

Timberwolves Grab Big Road Win Over Utah

The Timberwolves started their first four-game road trip of the season on Tuesday, and they came out with all cylinders firing. All five starters scored in double digits, and the Wolves shot 45.6 percent from the field and an impressive 38 percent from the three-point line en route to a 112-97 win over Utah. Corey Brewer and Kevin Love led the team with 19 apiece; Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin each followed closely behind with 18.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Minnesota played excellent defense, holding three of Utah’s starters to only four points each and only allow the Jazz to score 16 points in the first quarter. The Wolves grabbed eight steals on the night, five of which were credited to Ricky Rubio. The point guard has struggled a bit over the past few weeks, but Tuesday proved a different story. In addition to the steals, Rubio dished out a notable 13 assists and added 11 points.

Utah’s Gordon Hayward tallied 27 in a valiant effort to keep his team in the game, but the Jazz simply couldn’t keep up with the Timberwolves’ inside game. Starting center Derrick Favors sat out with a hip injury, and his presence was sorely missed by Utah.

“We knew we had the advantage against them inside,” Coach Rick Adelman said.  “After [Saturday's] game, we wanted to keep doing that. We had a nice balance of looking at those two guys, plus getting other open looks.”

Overall, the Wolves played much stronger as a team than they have been. They ran crisp sets and were eager to make the extra pass to wide-open teammates, easily controlling the pace of the game.

twolves tweet

It’s no secret that some tension has existed this month between teammates, but everyone seems to be gelling as a squad and things are settling down. Love and JJ Barea played well together, and Barea played a significant role in the win. The 6’0″ point guard handed out three assists and added 15 points, including 3 baskets from downtown.

“Tonight was a pure team effort,” Pekovic said. “We are all good friends between us. On the good nights everything is fine, of course.”

The Timberwolves hope to find continued success on this road trip. They enjoy two days off following Utah before facing Golden State on Friday and then Portland on Saturday. Finally, they will travel to Chicago for a Monday night contest before returning to Minnesota.

 

Rubio’s Assist of the Game: 

During a timeout, Utah’s mascot brought a little girl out onto the court. He walked her around the floor before grabbing a ball from a ref and handing it to the tiny fan. Rubio noticed, and he started playing catch with the girl. The adorable interaction was caught on video here.