Merciful Road Trip Comes to an End as Wolves Lose to Mavs

LM Otero/Associated Press

The Lakers and Clippers have their Grammy trip. The Spurs have their rodeo trip. This year, the Wolves had their own version; the Garth Brooks road trip. Brooks played a staggering 11 shows at Target Center, and the Wolves were forced to play six consecutive games away from home, including a stop in Mexico City.

Simply put, It did not go well. The Wolves went 1-5, lost Ricky Rubio indefinitely to a sprained ankle, and were massacred in their final two games by a total of 64 points.

Tonight, the Mavs had 101 points through three quarters. They finished the game with 131, and 76 of those came inside the paint. That tied a Mavs record, and was just four shy of the most allowed by Minnesota in its history (80). Minnesota’s bigs played so poorly that Flip resorted to a lineup of Williams-Brewer-Budinger-Muhammed-Hummel for the final 2:13 of the third quarter.

The bigs were a major problem. With Thaddeus Young and Ronny Turiaf out, the Wolves had few options. Pekovic and Dieng were both consistently harassed by Tyson Chandler. To make matters worse, Pek didn’t play at all in the second half due to foot soreness. On the same foot that bothered him all last season.

It wasn’t just the big guys though. LaVine and Mo Williams were manhandled by Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Barea. The Wolves guards had trouble getting off screens all night. To say the Mavs had plenty of open looks would be understating things.

Over the final two games of the road trip, Minnesota gave up 270 points. The opponent shot chart is not ideal.

The two bright spots were Shabazz Muhammad, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Especially impressive was Shabazz, who in seven minutes scored 18 points on 6-7 shooting. Shabazz hit the glass twice as hard as every other big the Wolves threw out on the court, and should see an increase in minutes coming his way.

For the 2-7 Timberwolves, a beacon of hope will soon appear on the horizon. On Wednesday, the Wolves will be back at Target Center for the first time in 18 days. Oh yeah, and they play the 2-8 New York Knicks. It gets better. Hopefully.

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.

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

Minnesota Acts as Spoiler, Takes Down Grizzlies 102-88

After back-to-back losses to Brooklyn and the Clippers, the Timberwolves rolled to an easy home win over Memphis Wednesday night. The Wolves continued their season trend of hitting 100+ points, and Kevin Love notched his third triple-double of the year with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Martin added 21 to the board. The 102-88 final score brought Minnesota’s record to 37-37, and the Grizzlies are barely clinging to that No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis came in to the Target Center for the last of a five-game road trip, and the Wolves took advantage of this.

Minnesota shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the floor, and the team also grabbed five three-point buckets on the night. Fan favorite Ronny Turiaf made his return Wednesday, and the big guy added the energy and enthusiasm needed for the Wolves, who are out of the playoffs and just fighting for a strong end to the season. Turiaf was 100 percent from the field, tallying 11 points, seven points and three blocked shots. There’s no doubt about it, having Turiaf back immediately improved Minnesota’s defensive game.

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

Head coach Rick Adelman said the following after the game:

“Just a quality win against a quality team. It is nice to see us play a team that grinds it out and we were able to do the same thing back to them, defend them well and executed offensively. Thirty-one assists. And I thought Gorgui (Dieng) and Ronny were terrific at protecting the basket. And, of course, Kevin had a triple-double. It was a nice solid win.”

Rookie Shabazz Muhammad also had another solid performance.  The 21-year-old went 4-for-5 to tally eight points in just 14 minutes on the floor. Those numbers combine with his last four home games for a very impressive stat: 13/14 shots for 93 percent shooting. Since Muhammad has gotten more playing time in the last few weeks, he has certainly showed the potential for which he was drafted. Point guard Ricky Rubio also pulled his weight on scoring, grabbing 14 points and dishing out seven assists. Rubio tends to play inconsistently, but he found his groove–for the time being–against Memphis.

In contrast to Minnesota’s offensive effort, the Grizzlies appeared disjointed and sluggish. The team didn’t play well together, and the players collectively made petty errors that kept them out of the game.

“A lot of time zones. A lot of traveling. A lot of battles,” said Memphis’ Mike Conley. Conley, who is currently averaging 17.1 PPG and is historically one of the biggest threats against Minny, shot only 20 percent and finished the contest with seven points.

kevin love_memphis

Overall, Wednesday was a win the Wolves needed to keep team morale high. Despite being out of the playoffs themselves, the team can now act as a spoiler. If nothing else, the fact that the Grizzlies were one of the Wolves main competitors for the postseason gave them an extra drive for the “W.”

“We wanted to find some sense of motivation and that’s what we found tonight,” Love said. “We just wanted to knock off a team that is fighting right now.”

Adelman echoed the idea, saying, “”Everybody else has something on the line […] So we want to go out and play as well as we can and spoil it for them and see if we can’t be a factor in it.”

The Grizzlies will return home to face Denver Friday night, while Minnesota will head south to take on LeBron James and the Heat Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.

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.

Timberwolves Take Down LA Lakers, 109-99

Minnesota welcomed an injury-riddled Lakers squad Tuesday night, and the Wolves rolled over LA in a 109-99 final score. Minny had a huge first half and then struggled a bit to land its shots in the third quarter. The team hung on, though, and pulled out the win in the end. The Wolves have now won six of their last nine games, and last night’s “W” brings the team back to .500 and two spots out of the current playoff race. Kevin Martin led the evening with 32 points, followed closely by Kevin Love with 31.

Martin and Love proved unstoppable from the beginning, scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the first period. Everyone hit their shots, and the team kept up a fast pace that kept LA from finding its groove.

Ronny Turiaf filled in for the injured Nikola Pekovic. Although Turiaf isn’t a top scorer in the game, the big man created a spark on defense that Minnesota needed. Turiaf added five rebounds and two blocked shots on the evening, and his single bucket came off a powerful slam dunk at the 6:18 mark of the first quarter.

The Timberwolves scored 38 points in the first quarter, and the second quarter went just as smoothly. The Lakers were completely disorganized in the first half, suffering from an injury bug the Wolves have experienced themselves. LA took the floor without Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Jordan Farmer, and Jodie Meeks went down early in the game with an ankle injury. The Lakers did, however, welcome back veteran point guard Steve Nash, who has played only six games this season with a back injury.

“I feel a bit selfish in that we lost, but it felt great just to play in the NBA again,” Nash said post-game. “Obviously the game didn’t go as we hoped, but for me personally that’s pretty cool to be back out there.” Nash finished the game with seven points and nine assists.

(photo credit: espn.com)

(photo credit: espn.com)

After going into halftime with a 68-52 lead, the Wolves found themselves floundering in the third quarter. A couple missed shots gave the Lakers a chance to come back, and LA quickly cut the deficit to eight. Despite missing so many players, LA’s reserves proved an athletic bunch that worked to tire the Wolves starting lineup. Minnesota refused to give up the lead, however, and never allowed its opponents to get closer than six points behind.

“It seems like the game is never going to be as easy as you like it, so you just have to persevere,” head coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s a scrappy team. I’ve looked at their games recently […]. They don’t go away.”

The “Kevins” weren’t the only ones scoring, as a few role players made a significant impact in the win.  Corey Brewer had a strong with 11 points and three steals.  JJ Barea also came up big, driving for a couple key layups in the third quarter and tallying 11 points on the evening.

Overall, Minnesota shot 44.6 percent from the field to LA’s 41.8 percent. Perhaps the team’s most impressive stat, the Wolves went 47 percent from downtown, knocking down eight three-point shots. Martin claimed four of the long balls, and Love had two.

Love’s performance marked his 25th game with 30+ points, which broke the record previously held by Kevin Garnett. It was fitting for Love to break KG’s record in this game, as it was an especially physical one for the power forward. Love took several bumps and bruises en route to this 31 points, including a play in the fourth quarter in which he took a frightening fall.  As Love drove to the basket and went up for a shot, Robert Sacre hit him hard, knocking his legs out from under him midair. The forward crashed to the floor, his head audibly connecting with the hardwood.  The All-Star stayed down for a few minutes but ultimately came back to finish leading his team to victory.

“I got real bad whiplash,” Love said after the game. “I haven’t seen the play, but it felt like my head snapped back pretty good and hit the floor […]. I’ve taken a few shots here and there, but I just wanted to stay in the game.”

“[Kevin] has incredible toughness,” said Martin. “That’s why we pay him the big bucks. That’s why he’s an All-Star starter.”

(photo credit: nba.com)

(photo credit: nba.com)

The Wolves schedule won’t let up much, as they head to OKC to take on the Thunder Wednesday evening and then on to New Orleans for a Friday night game.  Saturday, the Timberwolves will be back at the Target Center to welcome Portland for a 7 p.m. matchup.

 

In-Arena Moment

Target Center fans received an entertaining halftime show Tuesday night. Tag Team was in the house, and the hip-hop duo rolled out their classic hit, “Whoomp! (There it Is).”

Can the Wolves Survive Without Nikola Pekovic?

 

From the classic "Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic" video

From the classic “Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic” video

In case you missed it, Nikola Pekovic left Monday night’s game in Chicago and was originally listed as “Doubtful” to return later in the game.  We now have word that Pekovic is “Out” for the next 7 to 10 days and will be reevaluated at that time due to bursitis in his right ankle.  Here is the official announcement from the team on Twitter:

 

Well, that certainly doesn’t make you feel very well, does it?  Maybe the most concerning part, beyond him definitively missing the next 7-10 days, is the “He will be sidelined indefinitely”.  Pek has missed a number of games in season’s past, but had appeared in all 44 games thus far this season, averaging a career high 18.4ppg and 9.3rpg.  As you are also well aware, Pek is in the first year of his new 5 year, $60 million contract – and if all of this doesn’t make Wolves’ fans nervous, I’m not sure what will.  (Maybe numb?)

What does this mean for the team moving forward?  Well, in the next ten days, the Wolves play seven games, starting tonight at the Target Center against the Pelicans and finishing on Saturday, 2/8, home against the Blazers.  Excluding the game on 2/1 against the Hawks, the Wolves will face foes from the Western Conference – the Pelicans twice, Grizzlies, Lakers, Thunder, and finishing up with the Blazers.  To say this is an important stretch of games for the team is an understatement, given their current 11th place seeding in the conference.  They are a game and a half behind the Grizzlies in the W/L column, so that is a huge game.  They will need to find a way to beat the Pelicans and Lakers, or at least take two of those three.  The Thunder and Blazer games might be too much to handle, but if they can split those two, that would be a plus.

Beyond the games ahead, and the uncertainty of when a much-needed Nikola Pekovic will return to the lineup, there might be one silver lining in all of this.  There is playing time to be earned from this and two of the items I mentioned in our half-season review might be coming to fruition quickly.  First, this basically forces Adelman’s hand a bit in giving some playing time to Gorgui Dieng.  While Ronny Turiaf will certainly receive extended minutes, Dieng will likely be seeing the floor more over the next two weeks and showcase his talents.  Second, we might see a bit more of Kevin Love at the Center spot, playing alongside Dante Cunningham and LRMAM.  At least one of these two is going to have to step up and play to, at least, their potential, as both have struggled mightily this season for the Pups.

I don’t want to mince words, the loss of Pek is significant.  The team must take a ‘next man up’ attitude and battle through the next few weeks.  We can hope that Pek returns in that ~10 day diagnosis, but the league isn’t going to shuffle the schedule for us and the team needs to push through this.  A couple of questions for consideration:

  • Do you think this will knock the Pups out of the playoffs?
  • Who do you envision stepping up over the next two weeks?

Let’s go Wolves!