Season’s Over – Thunder Rock Timberwolves 138-113

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

 

The end of the 2014/15 NBA regular season is now official for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finish the year with a (largely pathetic) 16-66 record.  As you likely know, the Oklahoma City Thunder entered the game with a chance to make the playoffs as the 8th seed with a victory and a little help down in New Orleans.

There wasn’t much doubt going into the evening with the plethora of injuries the Timberwolves have amounted over the past few weeks and months, along with a strong desire to have the most ping pong balls in the NBA lottery.  The 16 wins on the season equates to the third worst record in the team’s history.  You’ll find a bullet point list of things to consider for the Wolves’ offseason below.

The Thunder … well, they have Russell Westbrook.  Without Kevin Durant, the Thunder have struggled to hold onto a playoff spot and will retool in the offseason.  The Pelicans took care of the Spurs Wednesday night and will take the 8 seed in the Western Conference.

The Pups starting lineup consisted of Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Arinze Onuaku.  Interesting stat/number from this season – Wiggins is only one of ten players to start all 82 games this season.  That number is extraordinarily low and concerning.  “Hello reduced NBA game schedule!”

OKC opened up with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams.

The Thunder got off to an 8-0 start and the game was essentially decided at that point, despite several attempts by the Wolves to make it a closer contest.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder held a 47-29 advantage.  You read that correctly.  Westbrook had 23 points at the end of the first 12 minutes.  Did I mention this game was over when the score was 8-0?

Let’s just run through the score at the end of each quarter:

  • Halftime: Thunder 76 – Wolves 54
  • End of 3rd: Thunder 106 – Wolves 85
  • End of game: Thunder 138 – Wolves 113

Rather than say anything else about the season ending loss, here are a number of thoughts on this franchise as it heads into another playoff-less offseason.  We’ll look to cover some of this in a lot more detail at the appropriate time.

  • I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I truly believe that Andrew Wiggins isn’t getting enough credit for his rookie season.  His month to month averages improved as the season progressed, he played in all 82 games, and he never hit the rookie wall.  That’s un-freaking-believable!
  • Flip Saunders must get off of the sideline as Head Coach.  Sorry Flip, but you have to get out of the way of your own self.
  • I hope to see Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett on the court, fully healthy, next season for this team.  I don’t expect early 2000’s KG by any stretch, but their combined passion for basketball would be glorious.
  • Speaking of Rubio, we are on the border of hitting the dreaded “injury plagued” rumor with him.  If he can’t stay healthy next season, this franchise is in a lot of trouble.  A lot.
  • While Karl-Anthony Towns (or Jahlil Okafor) is heavily preferred, even without either player on next year’s roster, the Wolves need to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic.  That isn’t going to be easy.
  • The Wolves would also be better served to find a new home for Kevin Martin.

That’s it for this season’s game recaps folks.  What are your thoughts on the forthcoming offseason?  Where are, or should, the focus be put on the court, on the sideline, and/or in the front office?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

Timberwolves Fall Short to Oklahoma City Thunder

(photo credit: SI.com)

(photo credit: SI.com)

OKC’s Kevin Durant missed Monday night’s game with a sprained toe, but even several close points of the game, Minnesota couldn’t pull out a win. The 92-84 loss dropped the Timberwolves’ record to 1-12 in Oklahoma City over the past few seasons. Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with 23 points, followed by Thaddeus Young with 22. Center Gorgui Dieng had a big night beneath the basket, grabbing 18 boards.

Oklahoma City felt the absence of Durant, who has never missed a game against Minnesota and typically averages 28 points per game when playing the Wolves. Minnesota’s defense proved above average in keeping Russell Westbrook‘s point total down (18 compared to the 25 PPG he has been averaging).

It seems the Wolves can never get everything to work together, however. On a night of decent Minnesota defense, it was a battle of poor shooting from both teams. The Wolves shot just 34.1 percent from the field, while the Thunder made 41.9 percent of their attempts.

Young had another solid performance, giving Minnesota an early 4-2 lead. Monday marked the second consecutive game that head coach Flip Saunders has started Young at the small forward position. Young said he’s enjoyed playing there, as the position helps him see the floor and move the ball more effectively.

Minny held the Thunder to just 2-of-11 to start the game, and Westbrook was a non-factor throughout most of the first quarter. However, OKC fought back and held a decent lead for most of the first half, going on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

At one point, the Wolves fell to a 15-point deficit as Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins both added a spark off the Thunder bench.

Minnesota battled back to within three, trailing 54-57 at the 5:29 mark of the third quarter, but the excitement for Wolves fans was short lived as Oklahoma City continued to make buckets that its opponents could not answer to.

The game got a bit chippy on more than one instance, and Saunders received a technical foul at one point over a controversial penalty called on Wiggins. The energy was certainly high on the Wolves’ bench, and the team did give a valiant effort to regain a lead in the fourth quarter, scoring 28 points in the final period. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

The biggest area in which Minnesota struggled was 3-point shooting. The Timberwolves shot less than 16 percent from behind the arc, Mo Williams making only one of six attempts from downtown.

Oklahoma extended their home win streak to six, while the Wolves lost their 19 out of 21 games and fell to 7-37 overall.

Up next, Minnesota will return home to host the Celtics Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 14

The Timberwolves took a trip to Cleveland to take on the new “big three” including ex-Pup Kevin Love. (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

Guess who is coming to Minneapolis this week? (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

 

Setting the stage:

At 7-36 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially on pace and watch to finish with the worst record in the NBA and in franchise history.  Truth be told, this wouldn’t be that annoying if Flip Saunders would stop talking about how injuries have derailed the season and would have accepted blowing up the roster by trading Kevin Martin for ten cents on the dollar before the season started.  Saunders must find a way to get out of his contract, as well as finding out if/where there is a market for Nikola Pekovic.  While I want to see more of a Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng frontcourt, the sooner Saunders realizes that a full reset is the best way to go, the sooner this team will become relevant again outside of Minnesota (and one household in New Jersey).

The Pups have a heavy workload this week with four games, including tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder.Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 44: Monday, 1/26, 7pm – Timberpups @ Oklahoma City Thunder (TV: FS North)

With the Thunder floating around .500 ball with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back on the court, it is beginning to look like a lost season for OKC.  Even if they squeak into the playoffs, they are likely on the road to start each series.  While he it mentions it an annoying frequency, I agree with Bill Simmons on the fact that OKC’s ownership blew it by getting rid of James Harden and refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Opponent to watch:

Dion Waiters – OKC’s new Shooting Guard is playing relatively well for the Thunder, averaging over 11ppg.  He’s not Harden, but it was an interesting move to acquire the maligned Waiters.  How he fits in with Durant and Westbrook over the coming months is an interesting storyline worth watching.

Game 45: Wednesday, 1/28, 7pm – Boston Celtics @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wednesday night’s game will be the last of a six game road trip for the Celtics, who will have played in Utah on Monday night.  This is a good opportunity for the Pups to take advantage of a team that is probably looking ahead to getting back home.  The Wolves lost big in Boston back in December, with the final score 114-98.

Opponent to watch:

Kelly Olynyk – Olynyk put on a show back on 12/19 against the Pups.  In only 25 minutes, he had 21 points (8-13 FG’s) and 8 rebounds.

Game 46: Friday, 1/30, 6pm – Timberpups @ Philadelphia 76ers (TV: FS North)

Last week’s preview was “We’re going streaking!” and had it not been for Saturday’s game, this week’s preview was going to be “We’re going tanking!” thanks to Friday’s game against the Sixers.  These two teams, along with the Knicks, are in a bloody brawl for the league’s worst record.  Who will come out of this in a better place?  Only a frozen envelope away from that answer …

Opponent to watch:

Nerlens Noel – Noel isn’t lighting up the box score but is seemingly making progress averaging over 8ppg and 7rpg.  It should be a fun matchup between he and Dieng.

Game 47: Saturday, 1/31, 7pm – Cleveland Cavaliers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Well, here we go Wolves fans!  Here is your chance to boo the holy heaven out of Kevin Love … or you can go the other way and cheer him on for bringing some level of competency to the franchise for several years.  There were more than a handful of nights where Love simply dominated the opponent while wearing the Wolves’ uniforms.  Unfortunately, my favorite memory of Love will always be his “What are we doing” tweet after David Kahn drafted seventeen PG’s in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – Too easy to pick Love here.  James is the best player on the planet, so in between your cheers and jeers for Kevin, sit back and enjoy LeBron’s game.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods are doing the Wolves no favors, consistently flipping back and forth between home and road games throughout the week.  While it would be nice to see a win vs. Cleveland on Saturday night, I don’t have high expectations there.  The Pups do have a legitimate chance of at least splitting W’s and L’s this week though.  Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 10

 

David Sherman/Getty Images

David Sherman/Getty Images

Setting the stage:

With the holidays upon us, should we be celebrating the fact that our Timberpups have reached the .500 mark?  I have mixed feelings on this roster as a whole and would like to see more minutes given to the rookies, particularly Gorgui Dieng.  Someone needs to work with Ricky Rubio all offseason on his shooting stroke because it is clearly still broken.  All of that said, the Wolves are 15-15 and hopefully ready to roll going into 2014.  Much of the positives have to be credited to Kevin Love and his incredible play thus far this season – 26.1ppg (3rd in the NBA) & 13.8rpg (1st), with a PER of 28.5 (2nd).  Can we tear up his contract and max him out for the next five or six years?

Since I previewed week 8 of the season, the team has improved to 2nd in the league in scoring at 106.4ppg, 3rd in rebounding (46.2rpg) and 6th in assists (23.4apg).  Nothing much has changed on the defensive end, with the team giving up 102.3ppg, “good” for 23rd in the NBA.

Game 32: Monday, 12/30, 7pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North) [Read more…]

Recap – Thunder 113, Timberwolves 103

kevindurant_kevinlove_usabasketball-280x165

After Saturday night’s win in Dallas to bring the team back to .500, the Pups were right back at it on Sunday night to take on the Thunder.  Going into Sunday’s game the Thunder were an impressive 11-3 on the season and a perfect 8-0 at home.  No changes in the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  No surprises in the Thunder lineup either: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins.  Perhaps the only surprise is that Perkins is still in the starting lineup over Steven Adams.  I digress.

Game Summary

Another highly entertaining match-up against the Thunder for fans that unfortunately ended in disappointment.  The Wolves didn’t trail in this game until an OKC 8-0 run to start the 4th quarter put them on top for the first time and for good.  The Pups never recovered from that stomach punch to start the quarter and looked gassed towards the end of the game.  [Read more…]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 1

"Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!" (Photo credit: NFL.com)

“Playoffs? Playoffs?!?!”
(Photo credit: NFL.com)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back in action in meaningful, regular season games!  The world is a better place, right?  We know what this team did over the course of the offseason and we know what the final roster looks like now.  Finally, now you know what the Timberpups.com preview is going to look like.  We’re thinking about previewing the week ahead every Sunday/Monday vs. doing a preview for every single game.  While we will look to continue last season’s co-authoring of previews with blogs from the opposition from time to time, this is where we have netted out … for now at least.  (That’s quite a bit of waffling in case you couldn’t connect the dots.)

It looks like the final roster is set, now that the Wolves have cut Jeffers and Brown, and are apparently willing to eat the remaining money on Chris Johnson’s contract (thanks again Kahn!).  Congrats to the guys that were on the cusp and wound up making the team!

Let’s look ahead to this coming week!  Week 1 of the regular season has the Pups home for the first two games of the season before going on the road to the World’s Most Famous Arena.  In what may be the biggest surprise, the season opener is NOT against the Kings, who we seem to have opened up against for the past ten seasons.  Here is a quick rundown of the week ahead, along with some thoughts and predictions.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/30, 7pm – Orlando Magic @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Magic are not going to be very good this season, this much is known.  However, they do have an intriguing backcourt rotation that might give the Wolves a little bit of trouble.  Between Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo, and Arron Afflalo, the Wolves guards might need to get ready for a physical game.  However, there is nothing on the front line that compares to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.

Opponent to watch:

Victor Oladipo – No surprise here, we get to watch the player Flip was rumored to be enamored with going into the 2013 draft.  (I will not write any more about this … I will not write any more about this!)  We’ll see how much run Oladipo gets in his debut and it will be interesting to see how he can defend against someone like Kevin Martin, who I imagine will be running around in circles trying to lose and confuse the rookie.

Predictions:

This should be a relatively easy “W” for the Pups, with the home crowd amped for the season opener and an inferior opponent on paper.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Magic 88

Game 2: Friday, 11/1, 7pm – Oklahoma City Thunder @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Wolves catch a little bit of a break here with the OKC Thunder coming to town.  Why?  For one, Russell Westbrook’s injury will be keeping him out of the lineup for a while.  Second, the Thunder open up on Wednesday night in Utah, so Friday’s game in Minnesota will be the end of short road trip for the team before heading back to Oklahoma for their home opener on Sunday.  There is some potential here to jump on an opponent that is looking ahead (and likely coming off an opening night win against the Jazz).

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Durant – Does this even need to be said?  A top three talent in the league and he will likely be hoisting up 25 shots a night without Westbrook.  Let’s hope he isn’t ‘en fuego’ in Minnesota.  While you will all be rooting for the Wolves, take a second to enjoy Durant’s game.

Predictions:

For the reasons mentioned above, I’m going to give this one to the Wolves as well.  With or without the star players, the games against OKC always seem to be highly entertaining.  Get your popcorn ready!  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Thunder 102

Game 3: Sunday, 11/3, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ New York Knicks (TV: FSN Plus)

The Pups’ first road game of the season takes them to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks.  I decided to not buy tickets to this game and will enjoy it from the couch.  I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good … at all.  However, they will enter this game with two full days rest, having not played since Thursday night.

Opponent to watch:

Andreas Bargnani – I’m interested in seeing how Bargnani meshes with the Knicks.  The team’s big offseason deal made the team that much worse defensively and this might lead to a Mike Woodson meltdown at any point.  For the record, I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good.  Did I mention this already?

Predictions:

I am a big believer in teams coming off of rest, but the Wolves aren’t playing on back to back nights.  So even with the extra rest, I think Minnesota has a lot more talent than New York and will pull this one out.  Would I be shocked to see the Pups drop this one?  Not at all.  However, until they lose, I’m going to predict all W’s.  Final score: Timberwolves 105, Knicks 91

It is good to be back in the saddle of another Timberwolves’ season!  What are you most excited for as the season gets underway?  I really want to see Rubio make the leap this season and climb his way up the ranks of NBA point guards.  The team needs this to happen in order to become legitimate contenders somewhere down the line.

“Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!?”  Yes Jim, the Pups begin their quest to get back the playoffs and I see a sharp 3-0 start!

Let’s go Wolves!

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.