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!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 12

Turiaf expresses my thoughts on how this season is going so far ... (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Turiaf expresses my thoughts on how this season is going so far …
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Setting the stage:

The Pups come into the forthcoming week with an 18-19 record, falling to the Spurs last night and failing to get above .500 for roughly the 98th time this season.  As I have stated a number of times in recent weeks, this team must go on a run and put together a string of victories and make up some ground on the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference.

The Wolves are currently in tenth place in the Conference, a game and a half behind the ninth seeded Denver Nuggets and three and a half games behind the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks for the seventh and eighth seeds.  They have beaten the Mavs in two of three games this season, but have lost two already to the Nuggets and just lost to the Suns this past week.  I’m no rocket scientist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night … but that isn’t good.

Coach Adelman’s crew continues to put up points and allows their opponent to do the same.  The team remains second in the league in scoring at 107ppg, but is giving up 102.4 points a night.  It is more than a little concerning that the team either blows opponents out or loses close games.  Some of this goes on the coaches, but the players have to find a way to execute and close out games.  The returns of Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger may help this a bit, but the Wolves’ starters are really the ones accountable. [Read more...]

2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

Minnesota Timberwolves 93 – Toronto Raptors 95

Rick Adelman - Minnesota Timberwolves head coach

1,000 career victories?!
(Photo credit: AP)


 
Game Summary

Friday night’s game at the Target Center was a chance for fans in the Twin Cities to see a small piece of history, as Rick Adelman was sitting on a coaching career win total of 999.  With the Raptors in town and the way the Wolves have been playing over the past two weeks, things looked promising to see Adelman get to 1K.

Minnesota’s starting lineup had no surprises in it; Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Raptors opened up the game with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Friday’s game provided Pups fans to see Dwane Casey’s return to the Target Center sidelines.  Casey didn’t get a fair shake as head coach here in Minnesota, but he also hasn’t necessarily proven anyone wrong with his track with the Raptors.  To be fair, between head coaching gigs in Minnesota and Toronto, Casey was an assistant on the Dallas Mavericks, including their championship team in 2011.

With that out of the way, here is a rundown of Friday night’s events.  After falling behind in the very early minutes of the 1st quarter, the Wolves quickly came alive and built a 21-13 lead.  With the exception of some poor moves from DWill around the paint, the Wolves’ starters looked strong, led by Kirilenko and Pekovic down low in the paint.  The Raptors tried to exploit DeMar DeRozan’s advantages over Ridnour at the SG position, but DeMar wound up missing 4 of his first 7 shots in the quarter.

Going into the 2nd quarter, the Wolves held a 24-18 lead.  Adelman sent out the reserves to start the quarter, going with Barea, Shved, Budinger, Cunningham, and Stiemsma.  While they looked lackluster on the offensive end, they were able to limit the damage on the defensive side of the floor.  Going into the first timeout of the quarter, the Wolves had only lost one point off of their lead, holding a 30-25 advantage.

Unfortunately, Adelman didn’t go back to any of his starters coming out of the timeout.  Alexey Shved looks beaten up.  Adding insult to injury, he is not getting any calls on the offensive end.  He and JJ Barea launched 4 three pointers over the course of the next few minutes and hit exactly 0 of them.  The worst part of this second unit is the lack of any ability in the second string big men to create their own shot in the post.  That leaves the guards doing the vast majority of the heavy lifting and leaves Shved and Barea hoisting up long jumpers time and time again.

At halftime, the Wolves held a 48-46 lead.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves were off from three point range in the first half (1-8) and hopefully that part of the game plan is removed for the second half.
  • 15 assists for the Wolves on 19 made baskets, 10 of which came from Rubio and Ridnour.

After the Raptors took a 50-48 lead in the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter, the light bulb seemed to go off for the Wolves starters.  They went on a 13-0 run to take a 61-50 lead and forced Casey to take a timeout (which was probably a series or two late).  However, the Raptors answered with their own 12-3 run to cut it back to a two point game.

Ricky Rubio seemed to will the team through the 3rd quarter, pushing the right buttons at the right time and setting up his teammates for easy baskets.  This included a bucket for Chase Budinger at the end of the quarter to untie the game.  With the last second basket, the Wolves took a 73-71 lead into the final quarter.  To be honest, the Wolves did not look good after the 13-0 run early in the quarter.  The Raptors shot 50% from the field in the 3rd quarter and had too many easy baskets.

The teams went back and forth in the 4th quarter with neither team capable of pulling away from the other.  DeMar DeRozan entered a little bit of a hot streak, with tremendous moves off the dribble for a few baskets.  Adelman noticed this as well and moved AK47 over to guard the hot hand and made an immediate impact on the defensive end, leading to a missed basket from DeMar.

The final minutes of the quarter were incredibly frustrating for the Wolves and fans alike.  The team missed a number of free throws, couldn’t grab the necessary defensive rebounds and lost a very winnable game at home against a poor Raptors team.  For those that yearn for draft positioning, this loss was for you.

In case you missed it, in the final seconds, the Wolves played solid defense on Rudy Gay, forcing a missed mid-range jumper.  From there, Rubio sped down the court to draw a foul.  Unfortunately, Ricky made the first but missed the second.  The Wolves were forced to foul but there was one-tenth of a second left in the game.  Amir Johnson made the first attempt and intentionally missed the second, allowing time to expire and the Raptor to pull out the 95-93 victory at Target Center.

Keys of the Game

  • Free throws – Amazing how I always cover games that come down to free throws.  This was going to be the #1 key to the game no matter who was the victor.  The Pups got to the line 40 times, while the Raptors only shot 16 FT’s all game.  However, the Wolves shot themselves in the foot by missing 10 of those attempts, including several in the final minutes.
  • Wing play – For the first time in a while, at least from my own perspective, the Wolves were dominated by the opposing team’s wings.  DeRozan and Gay both went off tonight and the Wolves didn’t (or couldn’t) do enough to contain them.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Rudy Gay – I know Big Al hates this one – 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.  Gay also shot just over 50% from the field.
  2. Nikola Pekovic – Another big game from Pek, who finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds; including 12-16 from the FT line.
  3. DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan matched Gay’s 12-23 from the field and put in 2 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.  He also led the charge in the 4th quarter.