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...]

Recap: Wolves Mash Mavericks (Again); 112-106

The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Saturday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks hoping to put the stop to a recent six-game-road-skid, which they did; 112-106.

Vince Carter, unlike the team’s matchup earlier this month in Minnesota, was in-uniform for the Mavs, however, he would need to compensate for an inactive Jose Calderon — who was sidelined with a bruised right ankle. Calderon scored 21 points when these teams met back on November 8th.

First Half

At the end of the first quarter the Wolves led 29-24 behind the starting five’s balanced scoring effort. Nikola Pekovic led the way with 10 points, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Kevin Love all scored five and Ricky Rubio scored two to go along with two assists. Things were rolling again, early, offensively. Also, trade acquisition Luc Mbah a Moute began capturing the hearts of fans almost immediatly after he entered the game. Mbah a Moute (who I may begin calling ‘MooTay’ [[MOO-tay]]) showed grit, determination and toughness throughout the evening.

The Mavs were able to sustain the Wolves, energetic, -up-and-down- pace of basketball throughout the second quarter. Gal Mekel started at point guard for the Mavs due to Calderon’s absence, but Monta Ellis was trying to “have it all” offensively. Mekel ended the half with two points and two assists while Ellis, who was doing most of the ball-handling, lukewarmly scored 11 points on four-of-seven shooting from the field. Dirk Nowitzki, while potent, remained relatively at bay throughout most of the first half — “Dirk” was held to nine points and also had four assists. At halftime the Wolves led the Mavs; 54-47.

Second Half

The balanced scoring attack continued but so did the efforts of Ellis and the third quarter was a wash, both teams scored 30 points. Love scored eight, Rubio scored six and Pek continued to pound against a -sturdy- Samuel Dalembert by tallying six more to his 13 points first-half points. Ellis, who is the Mavericks’ leader in assists this season, scored 11 and had three-dimes and the game entered the final quarter.

Both sides tightened the defense and it became a battle, possession by possession, trying to claw-ahead or keep-a-lead. Nowitzki couldn’t be contained any longer, he scored 10 on five of six shooting but it was the Mavs’ bench that contributed 15 of the home team’s 29 fourth-quarter points. At one point Dallas cut the lead to 90-92 but the Wolves went on a run of their own behind 9 of Martin’s 27 points. With four-minutes remaining in the game Martin hit a jumper that put the Wolves up 100-92. Somebody named Kevin scored the Wolves final 12 points and Rubio remained in-the-game down-the-stretch; the Wolves executed and finished strong — it was a good, road, win.

Three Stars

  1. Kevin Martin – Scored 27 points and hit 10 of 11 foul-shots and has proven to be the Wolves only player capable of inserting the ‘dagger’ late in games.
  2. Nikola Pekovic  - Pek is a monster, he had 21 points on 10 of 13 field-goal shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, he’s been huge so far this season. The only issue is he’s playing a lot of minutes — until Gorgui Dieng proves he’s ready, Pek misses Ronny Turiaf; a lot.
  3. Kevin Love — Because, why not? Love had 21 points and 11 boards and it’s almost a formality to make him one of the game’s three-stars.

Takeaways

  • Well, the Wolves play another back-to-back game tonight in Oklahoma City — winning in Dallas was a big one.
  • Rubio executed late in the game, in huge moments, and continues to prove that leaving him open for a three-pointer is always a good idea.
  • Pek is huge and the production is nice, but, how much of a beating will his body take and will this much playing affect his health later in the season and beyond.

 

 

 

Recap – Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 110

Ricky Rubio in the new Timberwolves Lights-Out Sleeve Jersey (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

Ricky Rubio in the new Timberwolves Lights-Out Sleeve Jersey
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

 

Our Pups returned to the Target Center to take on the Nuggets Wednesday night, kicking off the Thanksgiving weekend!  As an added bonus, the Timberwolves showcased their new “sleeve jersey” for the first time.  They will wear these jerseys in 10 games over the course of the season, per the FSN broadcast.

Once again, no surprises or changes in the Wolves’ starting five – Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Nuggets opened the game with Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and JJ Hickson.

Game Summary

Wednesday night at Target Center was full of exciting plays and mounting comebacks, only to see the Wolves fall short in their efforts.  The loss drops the team to 8-9 on the season and you can find the negativity all over Twitter.  While a few numbers are below to prove it, the Pups desperately need to get more out of their bench.  (You already know this)  [Read more...]

Recap – Timberwolves 124, Cavs 95

 

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back! (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back!
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

For the second and last time this season, the Timberwolves played the Cavs Wednesday night at the Target Center.  The Cavs edged the Wolves on their home court a week and a half ago.  To make Wednesday night’s game a little bit tougher, Kevin Martin came down with the flu and was a late scratch for the Pups.  With that announcement, the starting lineup looked like this: Rubio, Hummel, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  For the Cavs, no real surprises: Irving, Waiters, Gee, Thompson, and Varejao.

Game Summary

I’m taking a page out of Zach’s playbook for the overall Game Summary, as this wasn’t very close just a few minutes after the opening tipoff …

 

First Half 

Once again, the Timberwolves opened up strong.  Corey Brewer scored the first 9 points of the game for the Pups and they were off and running.  Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving seemed to go back and forth with one another on dribble drives … with Rubio creating for his teammates and Irving trying to shoulder the scoring load.  Note the word “trying” here, as the Wolves continued to put points on the board and pressure on the Cavs.

With a little under 5 minutes to go in the first quarter, Kyrie took what appeared to be an elbow to the cheek from Brewer, who was sweeping in for an attempted layup.  Kyrie went down and checked out of the game.  This led to a significant run from the Wolves, including a second three point field goal from Robbie Hummel.  At the end of the first quarter, the Wolves held a 38-24 lead.

The Wolves kept the pressure on throughout the second quarter.  This time, it was Kevin Love who was doing a lot of the damage.  Love put in 11 of his 19 first half points in the second quarter, continuing to get the charity stripe.  While Irving returned to the floor, it felt like the damage was already done.  At half-time, the Wolves held a commanding 70-47 lead.

Half-time notes:

  • During the 2nd quarter, Benz and Peterson talked about a little bit of news in that there is a bit of a hope that Chase Budinger could return by the time Christmas rolls around.  (Fingers crossed)
  • Every Wolves player that entered the game in the first half had a double digit + in the +/- box score at halftime.
  • Bored with a big lead?  Yes!  So bored in fact, I wound up putting together a mini-post in the Forum for Derrick Williams trade ideas, including running the Trade Machine for an updated deal for Evan Turner.

Second Half

I’m not going to lie, the 3rd quarter was amazing for the Timberwolves, but also wound up leading to a lot of looking around and fishing for some bit of news.  The Wolves completely dominated the Cavs again in the quarter, outscoring the Cavs 38-29 and building their lead to 108-76 … at the end of only THREE quarters.  What more do you really want me to say?  If you happened to miss last night’s performance, go watch a replay.  If the Wolves have an off night over the course of the next week or two, revert back to this game.  Zach sums things up pretty nicely here:

As one would expect, Rick Adelman sent in the reserves to play the 4th quarter, with AJ Price, Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams, and Gorgui Dieng in it for the long haul (or those 12 minutes).  Naturally, this puts Williams at the PF position, thereby proving (again) that we aren’t even going to try with the SF experiment … because it isn’t going to work.  You know what, I’m just going to end that here as it isn’t the right night.

The reserves did not play well, but largely maintained the advantage that the regular rotation had built in the first three quarters.  The Cavs outscored the Wolves 19-16 in the quarter.  Williams and Dieng looked relatively good down low, but the guard/wing play wasn’t very strong.  Shved hit on the Wolves final shot of the game and hopefully that is something to build off of.  ?

Mercifully, this one ended with the Wolves moving to 6-3 on the season and a final score of 124-95.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Beyond opening up the game with the team’s first nine points, Brewer was awesome!  27 points on 10-17 shooting, which includes a 5-5 from beyond the arc.  Perfect time to step up, given Kevin Martin’s absence.
  2. Ricky Rubio – It is Ricky Rubio’s world and we are just living in it.  16 points, 16 assists, and 6 rebounds.  I’m not even going to try to describe how amazing he was with the ball in his hands Wednesday night.
  3. Kevin Love – His double-double streak ended, but I am going to assume that isn’t going to be the headline from the game.  Love finished with a cool 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

 Key Takeaways

  • This Wolves team is really exciting to watch.  However, there are still major concerns about the bench play beyond the 7 man rotation (which would contain Cunningham and Barea)
  • The Cavs are a mess and I don’t see how people view them as an up and coming team.  They have one really good player and that’s about all.
  • Good teams have players step up when adversity hits.  A golf clap goes towards Corey Brewer for his offensive game today in Martin’s absence.

Game Notes:

Shabazz Muhammad went 0-4 from the field for 0 points and 4 rebounds on his birthday.  (There is a rookie hazing comment here somewhere, right?)

Attendance for the game tonight was reported at 14,978.  Let’s see if that can go over 15,000 for a Saturday night game and coming off of this impressive victory.  (That was a challenge fans)

 

Wolves Clipped by Clippers, 107-109

For the second time this season the Minnesota Timberwolves watched a shot fall-short that would have won, or tied, the game at the buzzer. The loss, though tough to swallow, doesn’t prevent Earth from continuing to spin. In yesterday’s recap I used the term fatalism; the belief that what will happen has already been decided and cannot be changed, and unfortunately, it’s what we may have seen in Staples Center last night. However, there’s still plenty season remaining and the Wolves have made it clear they’ve arrived as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. The game was the second straight sellout, in back-to-back nights, in Los Angeles. Not bad for a small market franchise from the midwest.

BREWERDUDLEY

Brewer drives by Jared Dudley, both wearing the NBA issued headbands worn over the weekend and Monday night in honor of Veteran’s Day

First Half

Compared to Sunday’s meeting with the Lakers Monday’s opening quarter was frustrating although the Wolves led the Clippers at the end of the first; 26-23. Blake Griffin led all scorers with 11 points and it was apparent he was going to be allowed to shoot the 15 foot jumpers facing the basket, he was defended by Nikola Pekovic and not Kevin Love — the Wolves sacrificed strength for speed guarding the Clippers’ high-flying forward. Love and Kevin Martin, Team Kevin, scored seven point each, Ricky Rubio scored two points and had as many assist to go along with three points from Corey Brewer and five from Pek. It was a balanced effort showing Rick Adelman’s Princeton offense is starting to operate on all cylinders.

The starting unit this season has been remarkable and entered last night’s game scoring 80 percent of the team’s points, they needed to bail out the bench -again- Monday. Love, who played just over seven minutes in the first, played eight-and-half during the second quarter and scored nine points. Pek lumbered his big body around for over 10 minutes in the first, but did his heavy lifting over second minutes in the second — scoring 12 points on 5 of 5 from the field and 2 of 3 from the free-throw line. However the Clippers balanced scoring came to life, by halftime, every player that stepped on the floor before halftime had scored; the home team led at the half, 59-58.

First Half Notes

  • The Clippers bench outscored the Wolves 21-10
  • Rubio had only two points, but had five assists
  • Love, Martin and Pek scored 43 of the team’s 58

Second Half

The Clippers expanded their halftime lead in the third by outscoring the Wolves, 26-22. Griffin added 10 to his total and Paul showcased his midrange game after fancy crossovers that, although Rubio defended well, were just too much for the 23 year old to handle. At the end of the third quarter the deficit had grown to five, the resilience of the starting unit was keeping it close — the bench failed to score in the opening period of the second half.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Love   are two players that make Clippers-Wolves one of the NBA's most exciting new rivalries.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are two players that make Clippers-Wolves one of the NBA’s most exciting new rivalries.

Martin was relatively quiet in the first half and went to charity stripe only four times thus far. He matched that output in final quarter and made good on all four attempts, asserting himself offensively during the game’s final minutes. The lack of productivity from the bench was taking it’s toll on the starters, Rubio failed to record a rebound in the second half, scored zero points in the final quarter but -as only he can- found a way to distribute four assists down the stretch. Love despite dominating the boards, snagging eight rebounds, scored only two points in the final quarter. The Wolves, again, had a chance to run a play with a chance to win on the road. Here’s a breakdown.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 2.03.39 PM

 Martin throws the ball in to Love from the far sideline, Love sets a screen on Matt Barnes and hands it back to Martin who dribbles to his left toward the top of the key. Because it’s this late in the game, the Clippers will undoubtedly switch on the pick-n-roll — leaving DeAndre Jordan to defend the smaller, quicker Martin.

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Here, Martin can either pull up from behind the three-point line and go for the win if Jordan decides to sag and defend against dribble-penetration. Martin chooses to continue driving to his left, that’s the side of the court he’s most comfortable shooting the ball.

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The play is well defended, Jordan recovers well and Martin is forced to shoot an awkward jumper; however, Pek has bullied Griffin almost completely under the basket Love is crashing the boards with the smaller Barnes on his hip. This puts both players in position to obtain the offensive rebound.

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Pek gets the offensive board because of his positioning, has a look at a baby hook to win the game. Barnes instinctively jumps to defend the shot, Love slips behind him toward the rim in front of Paul.

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THIS, THIS IS HOW CLOSE THE WOLVES WERE TO SENDING THE GAME TO OVERTIME. Love’s putback sits on the rim for what felt like an eternity before falling off in the Clippers favor.

“When Kevin [Martin] had shot the ball, I knew we had 11 seconds left. Pek got the rebound, shot it up, so my natural instinct was to try and rush and put it up there. It sat on the rim and, like I said, 99 times out of 100 times, that goes in.” – Love said after the game.

He told fans the same thing he told his teammates just moments after the buzzer rang at Staples.

As he walked toward the bench, Love smiled. Despite the outcome, the game was fun — the Wolves have no reason to hang their head after this one, well, the starters don’t anyway.

 

Three Stars (Do we include Clippers players? I’m new at this)

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Pek scored 25, his highest output of the season, on 11 of 15 shooting and had 10 rebounds.
  2. Kevin Love – Mr. Double-Double scored 23 and grabbed 19 rebounds, he has a double-double through every game this season
  3. Blake Griffin – Silently matching Love’s scoring output with 25 points on 11 of 22 shooting in addition to 10 rebounds. He had zero turnovers.

The Wolves have today off but face the Cavs tomorrow at home. More on that one to come.

2013/2014 Western Conference Preview

Western Conference Logo

Well, we can now call this an annual tradition, so welcome back to another Timberpups.com’s preview of the NBA’s Western Conference.  I’m going to stick with a similar flow for the preview, ranking the conference from worst to first and taking a stab at how I see the playoffs unfolding.  As I was ranking the teams this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t a team in the conference that doesn’t have its flaws.  I also have no idea how things are going to pan out at the top of the conference given injuries, old age, and a few other wrinkles we’ll tackle when we get there.  Enough foreplay, here we go …

15. Phoenix Suns: I’m not even sure where to start.  If I were a Suns fan going to home games, my regular attire would start with a brown bag.  The owner is reprehensible, the front office is something a little less derogatory, and the roster is a mess.  Eric Bledsoe is going to be a fantasy basketball stud.  Marcin Gortat should put up nice numbers as well, given the Suns’ rookie is Alex Len and already listed as “Day-to-Day”.

14. Sacramento Kings: Any time you have a coach-killing, I don’t give a crap, locker room cancer up for a new contract, you have to max them out, right?  Particularly after a lost season when your old ownership group dragged the entire city through the mud.  This will be a fun team to watch with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore in the backcourt, but I hate their frontcourt and I’m not moving this team up any further with Cousins the proud new owner of a max contract.

13. Portland Trailblazers: This is likely where I lose a lot of readers, but I foresee a lost year for the Blazers, who will be held hostage by LaMarcus Aldridge – reportedly not happy with the team and looking to move on.  The Blazers are another team that will look great playing small ball with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and McCollum, but I think they suffer from the distractions.  One final question: is Thomas Robinson going to figure out life in the NBA this season?

12. Utah Jazz: The Timberwolves’ trade partner from draft night!  Trey Burke and Alec Burks make for an intriguing backcourt (and an announcers nightmare).  This team still has 2 or 3 too many wings on the roster and a complete lack of balance.  They have no depth at PF/C, so expect a lot of run for Favors and Kanter, and then expect them to hit a wall after the all-star break.

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Who knows when Kobe will come back, but what I do know is that he isn’t human.  So when he does return, he’ll be at least 80% of Kobe and that’s better than 90% of the players in the NBA.  At the same time, I think this team can tread water thanks to Nash, Gasol, and to a much lesser extent, Kaman.  If they would have signed one decent wing this offseason, I think they would fight for the last playoff spot.  Sorry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson fans.

10. Denver Nuggets: This year’s winner of my “I literally have no idea what to expect from this team” award.  I think Brian Shaw is going to be a good coach, unless he tries to replicate Kurt Rambis’ performance in Minnesota.  I like Lawson and Faried, while Gallinari/Chandler are certainly serviceable (note that Gallinari is injured).  But then I look and see their SG rotation (Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, and Quincy Miller) and their starting Center (JaVale McGee) and think there is no way this team flirts with 40 wins.  Again, I have no idea where this goes.  (#Analysis)

9. Dallas Mavericks: This was my surprise team in last season’s preview.  That didn’t go too well, but the team was still competitive.  They are another year older (Dirk, Marion, and Wince Carter) and have a huge question mark in the paint – Sam Dalembert.  The addition of Monta Ellis adds a lot of intrigue, if only to see how long it takes for Rick Carlisle to become the first coach to ever attack a player on the floor with a chair from the first row.  The West is too strong/competitive for the Mavs to make the playoffs in my opinion.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. New Orleans Pelicans: New team name, new mascot, and a few new faces.  This is one of the few teams that are on my “must watch” list to see how these guys work together.  The Pelicans stole the draft by getting Jrue Holiday, but then went out and got Tyreke Evans.  If Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers can stay healthy (I know, I know), this team is going to be highly entertaining.  I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Davis yet, who had a strong rookie season and will only get better.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: So, I have to be honest.  The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded and I wound up seeding the playoff teams with two thoughts: 1. some semblance of how I legitimately thought things would wind up and 2. one eye on the playoffs and creating exciting first round match-ups.  We’ll get there, trust me.  The Wolves are already down one man (Budinger) after last season’s debacle and really can’t afford to lose anyone else, particularly on the wing.

Last season was supposed to be the year the team returned to the playoffs and broke the curse, thereby allowing this season to be “the next step”.  So we are behind a year on that roadmap, but I do believe this team is a lock for the playoffs if it can stay healthy.  How far it can go heavily depends on Love returning to his “Best PF in the NBA” tag and Rubio making a significant leap in rankings among PG’s.  If those two things happen, and they are big “if’s”, this team can do a lot of damage, as all of the complementary pieces are there – shooting, depth, veterans, young guns, and more.

One last thought: Derrick Williams or Shabazz Muhammad must wedge themselves into Adelman’s rotation to fill minutes at multiple positions.  If this happens, the team will be ready to roar come playoff time.

6. Golden State Warriors: This team is scary good on paper and there lies the problem.  Do I really want to rely on Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to stay healthy and not miss significant time over the course of a season?  Is Harrison Barnes going to breakout?  Is Andre Iguodala a nice stats, falters when it matters type of player?  Everything about this team says it could be a top four team in the conference, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it any higher than this spot.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: We know what Memphis did last season in the playoffs and quite honestly, that is the only reason I have them above GS.  I really like what the Grizzlies did in getting Ed Davis.  However, I thought Tayshaun Prince could have been shopped this offseason in order to find an upgrade on the wing.  Gasol and Randolph are going to bring it every night and Mike Conley has found himself as a PG in the NBA.  This is just a really good “team” on both ends of the floor and I’m not going to discount that.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Here is what I wrote last season for the Clippers:

I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul.  However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me.  Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle.  Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball.  The owner of this team is disgusting.  Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers? 

Nothing has changed.  In fact, I had them at #4 last season as well.  Chris Paul is running the entire franchise, but to his credit, players are coming to LA to play for the Clippers, the latest example being JJ Redick.  They have a solid starting five and three solid backups in Collison, Crawford, and Barnes.  Beyond that eight man rotation though, it is a little frightening if you are a Clippers fan (Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jamison?  Yikes!).

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Well, the James Harden trade certainly didn’t work out.  As I mentioned after the trade, I hate seeing teams sell when they have a very legitimate shot at a ring and that’s what Sam Presti did and now they have to figure out how to right the ship.  It always helps when you have Kevin Durant.  The injury to Russell Westbrook will cost the team at least a couple of wins in the early part of the season and that is going to cost them a top two seed in my opinion.  Are we sure Serge Ibaka is only 24 years old?  He was drafted by the Sonics and that team hasn’t been around in what feels like a decade.

2. Houston Rockets: You may notice what I’m doing here if you are a Wolves fan, but I slide the Rockets into the 2 seed of the conference.  You may have heard that Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this offseason.  James Harden took ‘the leap’ last year and became one of the top players in the league.  PG play is a concern, but the Rockets have good depth at the forward positions (while not spectacular) and a top three player at their respective positions in Howard and Harden.  This equates to a lot of regular season wins and the 2 seed in my book.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Why?!  Will this team please go away!  I say this half in jest because the Spurs play great basketball and showed the nation that they could hang with the Heat.  The NBA Finals were as good as professional basketball can look.  Naturally, the Spurs found diamonds in the rough in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and every other franchise just continues to shake their collective heads.  I can’t make a case for anyone else in the 1 seed, given the injury to Westbrook in OKC.

Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:

2014 Western Conference Playoff Predictions

As mentioned earlier, I tried to make the first round as entertaining as possible with the seeds.  Spurs roll over a ‘happy to be here’ Pelicans team, the Clippers again in the 1st round (YES!), the Thunder take care of a pesky Warriors team, and the Wolves upset the Rockets!

Come on, look at all those storylines: Adelman vs. McHale, Dwight choking in the playoffs, the Wolves getting stronger as the season progresses and culminating in the upset!  This would be fantastic.  Honestly, name a worse first round opponent for the Rockets, not named the Spurs and Thunder.  Pekovic and Love can frustrate the heck out of Howard, and the team can throw a number of players out there to man up on Harden … or at least provide their respective six fouls.  Make this series happen!

Beyond the first round, you see a pretty straightforward run by the Spurs and Thunder, setting up the rematch to represent the conference in the Finals.

Where am I off my rocker in the conference rankings?  Who do you see representing the conference in the Finals?  Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be on the lookout for an Eastern Conference Preview within the next week or two.

Developing Affiliations.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to play the Milwaukee Bucks October 11th at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It’s the team’s last preseason game.  Fans residing in Minnesota and Wisconsin hoping to catch their squad’s final tuneup before the season must put six-or-so-hours of mileage on their own vehicle, if departing from the Twin Cities. The drive, accordingly, is further from Wisconsin.

These exhibitions provide opportunity to get closer to witnessing professionals without thinning the wallet and sneaking closer to an open seat spotted from the nosebleeds. Aspiring journalists like myself, along with fans, lose the convenience of attending the game had the location been Minneapolis or Milwaukee.  I asked Eric Buenning, staff writer for SB Nation’s Brewhoop.com, a Milwaukee Bucks blog,  if he would consider attending the game had the location not been in the Falls. “Absolutely”. Buenning has no intentions of attending the game.

 

Moving beyond frustrations attributed from the location of the Wolves-Bucks matchup.

 

The Pentagon is used as the home floor of the Falls Skyforce, an NBA Development-League club owned by the Miami Heat.  The Heat made the Skyforce their own this off-season, leaving the Wolves in search of a home to develop players.  The Iowa Energy became the new D-League affiliation.

Would the Wolves would benefit by possessing a developmental squad of their own?  How’s this; The Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Thunder and Rockets don’t share prospects with anyone.  If prominent organizations are doing it, why wouldn’t the smaller clubs, like the Wolves, covet an infrastructure intended to benefit their largest product?

In an interview with the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda, Flip Saunders had this to say on the Wolves use of the D-League.

Zgoda: How probable is it that Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng spend time in the D-League?

Flip“I’m a proponent of minor leagues. I was there seven years and had 21 guys called up. It’s a good development league, it’s not a punishment league. Guys can get better and gain confidence. We’re going to try to utilize it. I don’t think we’ve used it very much here in the past. If we send somebody down, we’ll send somebody from our staff with them so they don’t feel we’ve forgotten about them. That’s the biggest thing: You don’t want anyone that goes there to feel they’ve been forgotten.”

“Now saying that, we might not have anyone go down there this year, but we are very open about it and we’re going to have a very good relationship with our Iowa team. I’ve talked with Glen. We’re going to entertain the opportunity a year or two down the road here of purchasing a hybrid NBDL team.” 

The minor league Flip himself spent time with is the Continental Basketball Association or CBA, which has since disbanded. His accolades go further than a number developed ‘call-ups’.  He tallied 253 coaching victories, third highest in the league’s history, and led the LaCrosse Catbirds to CBA Championships while earning Coach of the Year honors in the ‘90 and in ’92 seasons.  Prior to arriving in the CBA, Flip worked as an assistant with the University of Minnesota and the University of Tulsa.  With achievements to use as credentials he found a place on an NBA sideline in ’95 with the Wolves.

In addition to Shabazz and Dieng, Robbie Hummel and Lorenzo Brown will also participate in training camp activities. Hummel, who showed improvement in the Las Vegas Summer League, has worked to rid himself from an injury bug that’s affected parts of his career.  With no intentions of returning to Spain where he played 30 games for Blusens (Obradoiro) last season, Hummel’s game must flow through the log-jam of forwards (Derrick Williams, Shabazz, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer) in order to make the 15-man roster.

Brown, the Pups 2nd round selection, missed only two games during his third and final season at North Carolina State. He averaged just over seven assists in his junior campaign and played the primary facilitator in the Wolfpack’s offense. Playing 19.2 minutes per game in LVSL, Brown’s 50 percent from 3pt-range was impressive, but, he only managed 38% from the field. His 2.2 assists per game were negated by averaging 1.8 turnovers per game.  With the minutes available between Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved and Barea at point guard, I would be shocked if Brown claimed a spot running with this pack of Wolves.

It’s worth noting that each of the teams competing in the Finals going back to the 2006 season have included at least one former D-Leaguer on their roster.  Here’s a few recent developmental success stories.

  • J.J. Barea played eight games with the Fort Worth Flyers in the 2006-2007 season before being added to the Dallas Mavericks roster.  He averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists for the Mavs during the 2011 postseason and helped defeat the Miami Heat enroute to a championship.

  • Corey Joseph averaged 1.8ppg in a little over 7mpg in the finals this past season.  Though he didn’t contribute the most statistically, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trusted him enough to be the floor. Joseph started 26 games for the Austin Toros and shot over 45 percent from both the field and behind the arc, averaging just under 20ppg.

  • Chris “Birdman” Andersen also didn’t do much filling of the stat-sheet but was pivotal to Miami’s success setting screens for LeBron James and doing the dirty work beneath the rim. Andersen was a member of the Fayetteville Patriots in 2001.

  • After a roster-rule exemption made by the league, Chris Johnson, previously signed to a 10-day contract, brought enthusiasm and cheers to the Target Center in the midst of a disappointing, injury plagued season.

Did the D-League help bring attention to these players while helping them sharpen the skills necessary to adequately contribute on the professional level? The D in NBA D-League, after-all, stands for development.

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Kevin Danna, broadcaster for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s unshared affiliate. He doesn’t hide his love for the D-League as it’s genuine. In our conversation I mentioned the upcoming Wolves-Bucks meeting at the Pentagon, leading my inquiry of his perspective on the S.F. Skyforce and it’s fanbase.

Kevin “I don’t know how many they usually get in South Dakota (attendance), but they are known for a strong fan base. Santa Cruz is also known for a very strong fan base; I’d argue the best in the D-League not just because I work for the Sea Dubs, but because I’ve been to 13 of the 16 (now 17) D-League gyms. Maine has passionate fans and they probably have more raw numbers because their gym is bigger, but no crowd gets loud like it does in Santa Cruz. From memory, I think Maine’s Portland Expo seats about 4,000, and they usually fill it up.”

Zach - If D-League teams have a fan base, why not have more teams?  Theoretically it’s good business.

Kevin - ” The reason the league gives for not having more D-League teams is that they want to expand slowly. The eventual goal is to have a 30-for-30 model where every D-League team has a single affiliation with an NBA team, but they don’t want to just open up 13 new franchises next year- that would be a nightmare and a half for the league to deal with.”

There are 16 teams shared between three Affiliates and 14 NBA clubs fraternize only with their own kind, making a total of 17 D-League teams.   The Energy are shared also with; the Bulls, Nuggets, Pelicans and Wizards.  This seems strange, but, D-League teams; The Bakersfield Jam and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are also a hub for multiple NBA teams.  The Hawks, Clippers, Suns, Raptors and Jazz players play in Bakersfield, California while Fort Wayne, Indiana hosts those from the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons, Pacers, Grizzlies and Magic.

 Danna would continue,

“It’s (D-League) entering its 13th season, and I think maybe its 8th completely under the NBA umbrella. It’s young. The league started out as 8 teams, all in the Southeast region of the United States and was completely a bus league, from what I’ve been told. It then shrunk to 6 before expanding and eventually leaving the Southeast altogether. So in the last nine seasons including this one, the D-League has gone from 6 to 17 teams; the league has indeed been expanding (albeit many of those teams were former CBA franchises and just jumped ship when the CBA imploded, but still) at a pretty good rate, and that’s with a few teams folding along the way (Arkansas RimRockers, Utah Flash (now the Delaware 87ers), and Florida Flame, for example). And the 30-for-30 model isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea; Orlando has come out and said they want a D-League team; I’ve heard the Nuggets are potentially interested; and there was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune not too far back about the Jazz wanting to put a D-League team in St. George.”

The schedule for the 13th D-League season was released today today. On opening night, the Energy will face the Tulsa 66′ers (Oklahoma City Thunder Affiliate) November 22nd at 7:00pm.  For more in-depth coverage, check out Ridiculous Upside. R.U., also part of SB Nation, contains the work of writers dedicated to providing accurate, current and up-to-date D-League, as well as NBA Draft, news and content.

After the Pups break camp in the fall, we’ll see which players join the Energy for the NBADL season.  This is essentially the genesis of Timberpups.com’s efforts intention to cover, not only potential Timberwolves and how they are performing in the D-League, but any and all steps forward by the organization towards obtaining it’s own Development-League affiliate.

Players, coaches, Buenning, Danna, myself, the T-Pups staff alongside fans everywhere; We are all developing as basketball continues to grow worldwide.

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