Timberwolves Battle, Fall to Washington on the Road

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

(photo credit: foxsports.com)

In the first of two road games for Minnesota, the Timberwolves gave a valiant effort against the Wizards. In a game that stayed close in score for a majority of the contest, it was foul shooting that most hurt Minnesota, and Washington pulled away with the 109-95 final score. Thaddeus Young led the team with a season-high 29 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad who added 21 off the bench. On the opposing side, Rasual Butler tallied 23 points, 18 of them occurring in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards shot off to an impressive start early on, going on a 14-2 run in the first four minutes of the opening quarter. The Wolves slowly worked to battle back. Rookie Zach LaVine added a spark with a nice three-point bucket by rookie at the 4:55 mark, but Washington continued to make its shots and keep a lead over the Wolves. Minnesota entered the locker room at halftime down by 10, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. The team controlled the ball well and committed only four turnovers in the first half.

Where most teams would make up that point deficit, at the free-throw line, the Wolves played terribly. Throughout the first two quarters, Minnesota went just 4-of-14 from the charity stripe. At the end of the game, less than 60 percent of the team’s free throws were successful.

On the opposing side, Washington 50 percent from the field and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line.

“They’re just too good for us right now,” coach Flip Saunders said postgame. “We just don’t have enough firepower.”

Seven Washington players scored in double-digit points, including fourth-year guard John Wall. Wall recorded a double-double on the evening when he scored 21 points and dished out 17 assists. Wall earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

“I think [John] still has the best ahead of him,” coach Randy Wittman said. “He deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, `That’s no big deal, you deserve it.’ There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it.”

The Wizards improved their record 18-6, demonstrating why they are currently ranked No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota fell to 5-19, losing nine of its last 10 games. The team continues to struggle with three of its starters (Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin) being sidelined indefinitely.  Young players are learning on the fly, and the squad is scrappy at the very least. However, the Wolves know they need to start finding a way to win, and soon.

Next up is the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. (CST) at the TD Garden arena.

Bryant Breaks MJ’s Record, Timberwolves Fall to Lakers 100-94

(foxsports.com)

(foxsports.com)

Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant made history in Minnesota on Sunday night, when he passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bryant beat Jordan’s record with a pair of free throws in the second quarter; he tallied 26 points on the night to total 32,310 for his career.

The Timberwolves delivered a strong performance at home, and fans saw several glimpses of young players finding their groove on the court. In the end, though, it seemed fitting that Bryant knocked down a couple of clutch shots to slip away with the 100-94 win. Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to lead the Wolves with an impressive 28 points and nine rebounds, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 16 points.

The game was an entertaining one, to say the least. LA and Minnesota exchanged leads five times throughout the game, and it all came down to the wire when Wiggins tied it up 94-94 at the free-throw line with under two minutes remaining. The Target Center crowd was electric, hoping for the Wolves to come away with the “W,” but Bryant stepped back and drilled a long three-point shot to put the Lakers up 97-94. Minnesota was forced to follow in an effort to slow things down, and LA made three out of four shots from the charity stripe to seal the game.

Although not getting the win they hoped for, several Wolves players expressed nothing but respect for Bryant and his career accomplishment. For a few of the younger players on the roster, they were only toddlers when Bryant started in the NBA. Wiggins was just one year old.

“I witnessed greatness tonight,” Wiggins said postgame. “A living legend passed Michael Jordan, who everyone thinks is the best player of all-time. That’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

Following the game, Bryant gave kudos to Wiggins, comparing the No. 1 pick to himself in earlier years.

“It was a strange feeling because I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I remember playing against Michael [Jordan] my first year. And to be here tonight playing against [Wiggins], seeing the baby face and the little footwork or technique thing that he’s going to be much, much sharper at later on, was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago.”

The game stopped for a few brief moments when Bryant hit the milestone; the guard received congratulatory hugs and affirmations from both teammates and opponents, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor presented Bryant with the game ball before play resumed.

“It was different,” Bryant said. “I’m so used to being the villain all the time on the road it took a minute to kind of adjust. It felt good to be appreciated like that.”

Despite falling short of the win, head coach Flip Saunders called Sunday’s matchup a “learning experience” for the team. There were several glimpses of good things for the Wolves, as they shot 42.2 percent from the field and actually outscored the Lakers 54-38 in the paint.

Muhammad had arguably his best game of the season. The forward’s 28 points came in just over 27 minutes on the floor, and he continued to create shot after shot.

“When [Shabazz] goes in the game I think everyone knows … that when he gets it he’s probably going to look to score,” Saunders said. “They’re really trying to guard him now … and he still finds ways to create opportunities for himself. That’s a positive.”

Corey Brewer and Zach LaVine added that spark of energy for their team, adding 10 points apiece for the evening. Brewer also dished out nine assists and grabbed two steals.

Sunday’s loss dropped Minnesota’s record to 5-18, currently last in the Western Conference.

The Wolves will leave for a two-game road trip to face the Wizards on Tuesday (6 p.m. CST) and then the Celtics on Friday (6:30 p.m. CST).

 

Timberwolves Break Losing Streak, Top Trailblazers 90-82

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

(photo credit: blogs.columbian.com)

The Timberwolves snapped a six-game losing streak and came away with the “W” over Portland Wednesday night. Rookie Andrew Wiggins led the team with 23 points and 10 rebounds, notching his first career double-double. Corey Brewer followed with 19 points. On the opposing side, Damian Lillard tallied 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists in an effort to keep the Wolves at bay. In the end, though, the young Wolves squad pulled together for the 90-82 victory.

Minnesota came out looking familiarly weak in the very beginning, but the squad soon turned things around. Wiggins played well right out of the gate, and Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench in the first quarter to add six points in less than six minutes on the floor. The Wolves improved their shooting percentage to 41 percent in the second quarter—compared to just 35 in the first—and found their groove much quicker than their opponents.

Wiggins and Muhammad had already combined for 22 points going into halftime, and the Wolves held a nine-point lead. Fans may have felt that not-to-comfortable feeling with only a single-digit advantage, but the team came out charging to start the second half, and things only got better as Minnesota pulled away to extend the gap to 20.

Besides executing good ball movement and making their shots, the Wolves performed much better on defense than they have since Ricky Rubio was injured. Minny held LaMarcus Aldridge to only 10 points on the evening, an accomplishment for any team. Aldridge is averaging 21.7 points per game, and the Timberwolves shut him down. Wednesday marked Aldridge’s only scoreless first half since 2008. Overall, Minnesota blocked three shots and got away with an impressive 13 steals, five of those takeaways credited to Brewer.

“[The defense is] much improved recently,” said head coach Flip Saunders after the game. “In the last two games against two of the best offensive teams in the league we’ve come out and we’ve played hard and we’ve challenged.”

Portland did work to cut the deficit to four points near the end, but it wasn’t enough. Wiggins led the charge to hang onto a lead, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter alone.

“I feel comfortable and I know my team is always going to be there,” Wiggins said.* “We made plays together. It wasn’t just me. Without them executing the plays, helping me get open, I wouldn’t have found my shots.”

“Wiggins looked like the No. 1 pick tonight,” Saunders said post-game. “He got his shots, took things over, took big shots late, had 10 rebounds, got on the floor for a couple loose balls, had a couple steals […] He came and he delivered.”

Thaddeus Young added 13 points to the Wolves’ effort, and rookie Zach LaVine came off the bench to grab 10 points and dish out five assists. Newest addition Jeff Adrien also made an impact. The 28-year-old tallied eight points and 11 rebounds in just his fifth game with the team.

Brewer voiced the Wolves’ general feelings following the win, expressing that it was a much-needed win and will hopefully serve as a “stepping stone” moving forward.

As Saunders said, “the baby Wolves grew up a little bit.”

 

Up Next:

The Timberwolves will remain at home to host Oklahoma City on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

*Listen to Wiggins’ post-game interview here.

Timberwolves fall to Clippers, 127-101

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE

After losing to the Trailblazers in Portland, the Timberwolves arrived in Los Angeles with hopes of pulling out a victory. The Wolves started out strong, finishing the first quarter with a 34-31 lead. As the game headed into the second quarter things got ugly pretty quickly. Until Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic return this type of pattern will probably be fairly common.

During the first half, Andrew Wiggins was the leading scorer for the Wolves. He managed to score 14 points on 4-9 shooting, and made 6 of his 7 attempts at the line. Nobody else managed to reach double digits for the Wolves during the first half. Thaddeus Young’s struggles continued, as he only managed 4 points in the half, but only played 9 minutes because he was dealing with foul trouble early. On the Clippers side of the ball, J.J. Redick was easily the star. He finished the first half with 17 points, with 9 of those points coming beyond the arc. At one point in the half, the Clippers went on a 25-4 run, and during that run the Wolves missed eleven consecutive shots.

After a fine performance in the first half, Wiggins all but disappeared in the second half. He was held scoreless as he missed both of the shots that he attempted, and missed both of his free throw attempts. Shabazz Muhammad was impressive off the bench, to say the least. He scored 10 pts, and also grabbed 5 rebounds. He finished the game with 18 points, and 10 rebounds. Zach LaVine and Robbie Hummel also managed to score double digits during the second half, and overall had solid performances offensively. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin scored 12 points and picked up 4 rebounds in the second half, finishing the night with 23 points and 8 boards. DeAndre Jordan also did nice work on the glass, as he finished with 13 rebounds.

While this is good experience for the younger guys, it’ll be nice to see the veterans get healthy so that they can get back on the court. It’s hard enough with such a young squad, but they’ll get through this stretch in time. The Wolves next game is back at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, and hopefully they manage to pull off a win in front of the home crowd.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

The Dawn of a New Era: Notes from Preseason Game #1

Timberwolves basketball is back. Sort of. The Wolves first basketball game since April ended in a 103-90 loss to Indiana. Since only 14 players can dress for preseason games, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic sat out. Kevin Martin and Anthony Bennett were also inactive, due to minor injuries. Consequently, the majority of the Wolves minutes went to the young guys. The result was fans receiving an unobstructed view of what the future has in store.

(Charlie Nye/ Indy Star)

(Charlie Nye/Indy Star)

[Read more…]

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.