Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 4

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

 

Setting the stage:

After competitive games through the first two weeks of the season, the loss of Ricky Rubio has proven to be a catastrophic loss for our Timberpups.  The Wolves have lost five in a row, having last seen victory on Wednesday, 11/5 in Brooklyn.  This past week was particularly rough for the Wolves, losing in Mexico City to the Rockets, getting shellacked in New Orleans, and falling in Dallas to close out the week.

The Pups are getting virtually nothing from their veterans right now.  Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are struggling on both ends of the floor.  Mo Williams remains an important cog off the bench but is not stepping up when replacing Zach LaVine on the floor.  Flip Saunders is/was relying on these veterans to not only perform on the court but to keep things in order in the clubhouse.  This season is going to be a learning process and keeping the locker room together is going to be a challenge for Flip and his staff.

On the docket for this week are three home games (among a four game homestand).  For some reason the schedule calls for another break in the action as the Wolves won’t start this week until Wednesday.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 10: Wednesday, 11/19, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Knicks are, once again, an abomination of a team and franchise.  At least they are on the hook for the rest of Carmelo Anthony’s prime, right?  I’m not sure if that is a good thing either.  If it weren’t for the 76ers, the Knicks would be the worst team in the NBA.  As an added bonus, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas you could say there is for the rebuilding 76ers and our own Pups.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony leads the team in scoring (of course) and in assists (what?!).  ‘Melo resigned with New York for the league maximum and remains unsuccessful in making anyone around him better – despite those 3.7 assists per game.

Game 11: Friday, 11/21, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The NBA champs have come out of the gate somewhat slowly and are playing in the league’s strongest division.  Cause for concern?  Of course not.  Popovich is monitoring minutes among his veteran squad and knows exactly what he is doing.  I learned about five years ago, stop discounting and giving up on the Spurs … they will always prevail.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – After watching LaVine get torched by J’rue Holiday on Friday night, this is going to be another tough matchup for the Pups rookie.  Parker leads the Spurs in scoring and assists and will use his wily veteran skills to teach a few lessons to the rookie.

Game 12: Saturday, 11/22, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Perhaps the surprise team of the first month of the NBA season, the Kings are 6-4 and getting an A+ effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  He is also putting up 22.1ppg, second behind …

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – No one can question Gay’s ability to score throughout his career.  This will be a tough matchup for Andrew Wiggins and a nice barometer for how his defensive ability has adjusted to the NBA over the first month of his career.

Wrap-up:

The Pups need to return home and grab the “W” over the Knicks to start off this homestand and give the Target Center a reason to cheer.  From there, this week looks challenging.  Hopefully, Thad Young is able to return to the club after his mother’s passing and will give the club a boost.

Let’s go Wolves!

Wolves Defeat Kings, 108-97

Before we get into things I’m going to display a few photos. One of these pictures you might be familiar with, as i’ve used it in recent recaps, but the other is something new.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

Remember this? I determined that 7 of the 10 games following the all-star break were ‘winnable’ games by Wolves standards. Halfway through the stretch, Minnesota is 4-1 with victories over the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings became the latest victim of the Wolves recent success. (I’ll get to that other picture in a little while)

First Half

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup after each played missed notable amounts of time due to injury.

Pekovic left the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 27th and the Wolves went 7-7 during his absence. A short time after Pekovic was sidelined, on the 7th of February, Martin played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans but fractured a finger at some point during the game. The Wolves played 8 games missing both Martin and Pekovic, but emerged victorious in all but three of those outings.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Corey Brewer trotted out with Pekovic and Martin and matched up against Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Some could argue that the Kings victory over the Wolves in January, at the Target Center, was the worst loss for Minnesota this season.

So, call it the revenge game if you must. Martin got things going without any further ado, shooting six of seven from the field and scoring 14 first quarter points. Pekovic, playing on a minute limit, was replaced by Dante Cunningham after six minutes of playing time. Despite the outburst by Martin the Wolves trailed the Kings at the end of the opening quarter, 30-31, as Gay nearly matched “K-Mart (K-Target)” basket for basket — Gay scored 12 points in the 1st quarter on five of six shooting from the field. Pekovic found his rhythm in the 2nd quarter, but Gay didn’t skip a beat and the Wolves were outscored by the Kings and trailed at the half; 53-56. Here are some quick notes from the games’ first two quarters.

  • Pekovic and Martin — 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting
  • Love couldn’t get much going but found ways to contribute. He was an abysmal one of six shooting but scored nine points after converting on six of eight free-throw attempts. Love also helped keep the game close with four assists.
  • Rest of team — 15 points
  • Rudy Gay — 22 points 8 of 11 FG, 4 of 6 3PT FG, 2 of 2 FT. This is something that shouldn’t happen.

Second Half

The 3rd quarter was a ‘whole different ball game,’ as the cliche goes. After the game was over, Love and Adelman both mentioned – on the Fox Sports North broadcast – that the team rallied in the locker room to play with a sense of urgency after halftime. Whatever happened in the visiting locker room at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night should be repeated over and over again for the remainder of the season. The starters trotted out in surefire form and outscored the Kings 31-14 during the third frame. Rubio, who only had three assists by halftime, tallied five ‘dimes’ distributed among the other five Wolves players that scored in the third. However, the offense wasn’t flashy as we’ve known it to be — the Wolves went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting on 9 attempts, and forced the Kings into six turnovers.

The Wolves scored six fast break, and five second-chance, points. The Kings were limited to zero fast break points and didn’t shoot one FT during the third, the home team was beat in almost every aspect of the game on each possession. Things got interesting, as they usually do, during the 4th quarter and after entering the final 12 minutes with a 14 point lead — the score narrowed and fans watching at home began to worry, and had every right to do so. Four minutes went by and the Kings outscored the Wolves 14-6 in the short span.

Albeit his performance since returning from knee surgery has oft been criticized, Chase Budinger performed well in these four — crucial — minutes of the game. Budinger had two key rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) and four pivotal points while the starters rested and waited to get back into the game. Martin, Brewer, and Love entered the game at the 8:34 mark by replacing Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, and Luc Mbah a Moute. J.J. Barea and Cunningham remained on the floor. The Wolves led by nine, 90-81, but the Kings push was imminent. It may have been close to a double-digit lead, but the game was not at all out of reach for Sacramento — the home crowd could sense it and tensions rose during the final minutes. — I’m not sure if Rick Adelman will continue going to Rubio to close out games, but he needs to start doing so — there’s been many, many calling for this to happen — because BareaBall isn’t always the answer. — The lead now down to eight, Rubio checked into the game for Barea with the score at 93-85.

After a string of hair-pulling events, the lead was narrowed down to two. The crowd was on their feet and a streaking Rudy Gay headed toward the basket for what seemed as if it would be a game-tying layup — he did everything but make the easy basket. Love grabbed the defensive rebound, Rubio brought the ball upcourt, dished it back to Love who missed a three-point attempt. Pekovic grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by Cousins. Pek made both free-throws and the lead was extended to four.

After a steal by Rubio, and some ball movement along the perimeter, Ricky fired a three from the right wing, with the shot clock winding down, that fell through the bottom of the net and the Wolves were in business. The dagger put the lead at eight with less than a minute remaining. The Wolves prevailed over the Kings, 108-97.

Here’s that other picture. 1620760_10202709983145019_561495350_n   Currently, Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas are the teams rounding off the Western Conference Playoff spots. The Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6, are five-and-a-half games out of the 8th seed in the West. The Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, and Grizzlies are all 2-2 in their previous four games. For the Wolves, albeit the door is slamming shut, have a chance to slide a proverbial foot over the threshold and into the postseason picture. Tonight, Minnesota is in Denver to face the depleted Nuggets, they’ll be 5-1 in games after All-Star Weekend with a victory.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Martin — 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Although only going 1 for 5 from three-point land, he converted seven of eight from the charity stripe. The free points were, and are always, important.
  • Nikola Pekovic — 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Pek recorded nearly 27 minutes of action and Adelman can be quoted, saying after the game, that he used the 295 pound center returning from injury — and still playing through pain — more than he would have liked.
  • Kevin Love — why not? 22 points on a horrible shooting night (4 of 12) but 12 of 14 from the FT line, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

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