Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

The Wolves landed in Portland just before midnight, Sunday, after departing from Utah shortly after their victory against the Jazz. After the Pups demolished the Denver Nuggets (Blazers burn, demolish Denver — these are horrible, but i grin none-the-less), we determined victories against other Western Conference foes competing for playoff contention are the wins that will prove to have the most value during the course of the remainder of the season. Minnesota had a chance to catch the Portland Trail Blazers, without LaMarcus Aldridge, reeling to sustain the success captured earlier in the season, and steal a victory at the Moda Center. Here’s this picture again.

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Of the first three games, two were deemed as ‘winnable’. Fortunately, the Wolves defeated the Indiana Pacers at home — this was not considered one of those winnable contests. However, because the Blazers were without their All-Star power forward I did consider last night’s matchup in Portland as one that could – and maybe should – have been a victory. Nikola Pekovic, who participated in some pregame warmups, remains out until further notice — although he is expected to play sometime on this roadtrip (per Kevin Love’s Instagram account) — he did not play last night against the Blazers. The Wolves rolled out the small-ball starting lineup, again, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Kevin Love. The Blazers countered with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez.

First Half

Only a minute and some change into the game, Love gave the Wolves a lead after hitting a jumper and things were moving along smoothly on the offensive end. Love scored 13 in the first, Budinger added 3 (1-3 from the field, 1-1 3pt), Cunningham and Brewer — together — accounted for 10 on 5 of 8 FG, while Rubio added 5 and the Wolves led after the opening quarter — 34-26. In addition to his scoring contributions, Rubio assisted on 7 of the Wolves 14 baskets. J.J. Barea started the following quarter with a three and the Wolves continued rolling through most of the second frame. Rick Adelman elected to keep Alexey Shved on the bench, which isn’t a decision I’m prepared to dispute, but this meant playing Robbie Hummel alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng.

Without having Kevin Martin, who remains sidelined due to injury, Barea has free reign of the second unit — this is not a good thing, in my opinion. Because Budinger was moved to the starting shooting guard slot, Hummel is the wing player Adelman has decided is best fit to stretch the defense when the second unit is on the floor. Hummel is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc this season, and is only averaging three points a game. Would playing Shved make more sense? I’ll leave that up to you.

‘Bazz,’ who has shown he has the ability to hit the outside shot — in the D-League and with the Wolves — and make plays posting-up smaller defenders, didn’t play very well during the seven minutes of action he saw in the second quarter. Muhammad was one-of-five from the field, and only scored two points.

A little over the 5:00 minute mark, Barea knocked down two free-throws and the Wolves were in business — on the road and ahead by 18 points. Although the starters had checked back in, the game began turning into a gothic horror story as things were winding down in the first half. Thomas Robinson, who replaced the struggling Wright, came off the Blazers’ bench and showed anyone watching what it means to be a hustler. In the final two minutes of the first half, Robinson scored four points and snatched four rebounds, he relentlessly earned the right to play the majority of minutes at forward, in Aldridge’s absence, throughout the remainder of the game. Portland ended the half on an 8-0 run, but the Wolves led at halftime — 60-52 — by a mere 8 points, despite, at one point, having created a significant deficit.

Second Half

After grabbing an offensive rebound, Rubio found an open Budinger and the Wolves opened up the scoring after halftime after Bud’s three-pointer fell through the net. After that, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run and the score remained close during the third quarter. However, Portland’s effort on the boards and in the paint was the difference throughout the remainder of the game. The Blazers attained 12 points in the paint, while the Wolves — lacking any presence at the center position — managed to score only four. Portland had out-rebounded Minnesota in the frame, 15-7.

Lillard and Batum, who together accounted for 27 of the Blazers 52 first-half points, began heating up after halftime and scored 10 apiece, shooting a combined 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from ‘downtown’. Batum managed to grab four rebounds and also had two assists, while Lillard showed his ability to pass also — ‘the Dame Monster’ had three assists of his own.

This following sequence essentially encapsulates the way things went after the Wolves found themselves up by 18 points during the second quarter. The Blazers simply worked, hustled, and made everything harder for the visiting team.

With just over two minutes to play until the final quarter, after six lead changes and having been tied four separate times thus far, Batum drained a three-pointer (assisted by the still-hustling Robinson) that gave the Blazers an edge, 82-80. Shortly after a Barea miss and – yet another – Robinson rebound, the ball found a streaking Batum and the frenchmen scored the final points of the third and Portland took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

  • Rubio and Cunningham sat on the bench.
  • Love was the only starter to score, he had three points.
  • Shabazz played all 12 minutes, didn’t score once, and was 0 for 3 from the field.
  • Budinger played 18 seconds. Yes, that is correct — 18 seconds.
  • Barea, although being a major reason the game was a contest for as long as it was, committed five fouls (FIVE) and made some of the usual boneheaded plays we’re used to seeing him make when things go awry. (He scored six points on 2 of 6 FG shooting)

No, the Wolves didn’t overcome the small, four-point deficit that they faced entering the quarter — nor was there a moment where it looked as if they were going to do so. It was worse than watching paint dry, and it took every ounce of fanship inside of me to refrain from turning the game off and flicking on the True Blood (which I didn’t watch live because of the game, and my commitment to covering this team).

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

  • Damian Lillard — 32 points, 11 of 17 FG, 5 of 8 3PT FG, 5 of 5 from the charity stripe. The guy, he’s good.
  • Kevin Love — The game was ugly, but not ugly enough for me to spite the Wolves by leaving them out of the ‘Three Stars’ portion of this recap. Love scored 31, albeit on only 11 of 21 shooting (with a less than stellar shot selection) and grabbed 10 rebounds
  • Thomas Robinson — 14 points in 32 minutes. 18 rebounds (11 defensive and 7 offensive) and a +/- rating of +19. Look at this way, Brewer’s +/- was -19. Because math is hard, I did it for you — that’s a difference of 38.

For the optimistic, Pekovic is expected to return at some point during this road trip — my guess is Martin will, too. Tomorrow night the Wolves play the Phoenix Suns, who were defeated last night by the Houston Rockets; this keeps hope for the 8th and final playoff slot in the superior Western Conference alive. If Pek and K-Mart (K-Target to some) don’t make their return tomorrow, in Phoenix, they’ll have three additional days to recover before the Wolves play the Kings – in Sacramento – on Saturday. Here’s a tweet from John letting you know how things stand.

The Wolves Lost to the Spurs | 110-117

Thinking short-term goals the Wolves are 2-1 this week.

Disclaimer: Venting a little. This one may not be pleasant. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves lost to the San Antonio Spurs Friday; 110-117.

First Half:

The Wolves led the Spurs, 30-27, at the end of the opening quarter.

Ricky Rubio, defended by Tony Parker, scored six-points on three mid-range jumpers in the final two-and-a-half minutes. Parker defended against penetration henceforth encouraging attempts from outside; Rubio recognized, elevated, and connected from three different areas for six points.

Two of his three buckets came on pull-ups in between the free-throw and the three-point line, dribbling to his right on both of the attempts. If you want to read the shameless self-promo portion of this segment, it will remind you that he’s comfortable shooting from that area — hopefully we see this continue throughout the season.

Reminder: 30-27, end of the first. 

Nikola Pekovic was the only starter to play more than half of the second quarter. Pek roamed the floor for 10 minutes, grabbed five boards, but only scored 4 points on 2 of 4 from the field. He didn’t take one free-throw. Kevin Love managed to hit two-three’s and had 16 going into the locker room to go along with 5 rebounds, he was just getting started.

However Parker, usually by buzzing past defenders into the lane for a layup, manufactured 15 first-half points and the Spurs led at halftime; 54-62. 

  • J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved shot a combined to score 10 points on 3 of 7 from the field in addition to hitting 3 of 4 FT’s. Those were the team’s only bench points
  • Boris Diaw had 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting
  • Spurs bench points — 29 of 62
  • Wolves bench points — 10 of 54

Do I sound bitter?

The bench doesn’t score. I’m somehow going to show you what i mean in the following sentences, or bullets, or whatever format I display statistics; but only as a formality.

  • J.J Barea is averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game over the last 12. Barea is 31 percent from the field and 25 percent from downtown. Well, this is fun. Not. He’s supposed to be instant and effortless offensive production and that’s certainly not happening
  • In the same stretch Dante Cunningham is averaging 19 minutes, but he’s even less productive on the scoreboard. Although it feels “DC Hustle” plays with unmistakable tenacity, he’s capable of greater numbers. He scored a timely eight points contributing to the Wolves comeback victory against the Philadelphia 76ers a few days back.
  • This team struggles to score making Luc Mbah a Moute a player that isn’t part of the solution, not right now.
  • Shved has been playing in the first, second and even the fourth-quarters of games recently, yet, the Russian seems non-existent and doesn’t do much.
  • Robbie Hummel excited the Target Center against the Sixers with clutch shooting, but, he missed his only attempt from downtown in the opening half.

Starters, as Pek did in the second quarter of this game (that I am recapping, by the way), are rotating turns playing with the second unit for added stretches during portions of the game. Look; Pek is two points and one rebound away from being a 20-10 center, he’s been phenomenal. Unfortunately, I’d feel pleasantly surprised if he sustained this health and production throughout the entire season. I just can’t say confidently he’s capable of doing that.

Barea or Cunningham are capable of playing better, I’ve seen them do it. Robbie Hummel is for supplementary purposes until Chase Budinger returns, but, that length of time continues to grow — he’s been gone for so long, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have him.

Second Half

I wanted to get the aforementioned opinion on the bench out of my system, pardon the negativity.

This video shows you all of the points Love scored last night, which -if you missed it- there were 42.

Note: 19 of 42 came in the third quarter.

Lov3 was seven of eight from the three point line before entering the fourth quarter. After being outscored 24-35 in the second the Wolves shook the Spurs for 35 points, limiting them to only 18.

Third Quarter Scoring

  • Wolves Starters: 35 of 35 points. That’s all the points.
  • Wolves Bench: Zero. The Wolves Starters scored all of the team’s points in the third quarter.
  • Somebody named Kevin: 24
  • Leonard: 11 of Spurs’ 18
  • Kevin Love: 19

Love hit another three that put the Wolves up, 98-91, with just over eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Thirty seconds later Parker responded with a three of his own and the Spurs proceeded to overcome the Wolves momentum and things slowly slipped out of hand.

Diaw put Love on lockdown and made things difficult down the stretch, Love seemed gassed and Rubio, Brewer and Pekovic missed makeable buckets that became the difference in the end.

Stars

  1. Kevin Love – Lots of points, very good accuracy shooting
  2. Tony Parker – Dribble penetration ended in layups or assists on baskets made around the rim. The Wolves don’t have a presence to discourage opposing guards, and forwards, from entering the lane.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – 18 points with 11 boards on 7 of 13 FG shooting and a perfect four of four on FT’s.

I can’t imagine Budinger or Turiaf will return in December, in fact there’s no way. Budinger by Christmas was -initially- hopeful speculation, but, although he’s been shooting and dunking in practice he’s not performing basketball at full speed, yet.

Turiaf’s return will be longer than expected, he’s still dealing with an elbow fracture.

The bench needs help.

 

 

zb.