Two Games, One Season, Many Outlooks

Spreak Break in Florida? 

Only fitting, the Minnesota Timberwolves ventured across the state of Florida — from South Beach to Orlando — shortly following last Friday’s thrilling, uplifting victory over the defending champion Miami Heat.

Yes, the Wolves had won a game against arguably basketballs greatest team. However, they were going to need another breakout performance from role players, such as Chase Budinger’s 24 point output in Miami, if they were going to take care of business against one of the league’s worst the following evening. Well, after Budinger went down in the first minute against the Magic, things went awry quickly and never went the way they were supposed to.

Just when it seemed the Wolves had attained some hope, rhythm, and excitement nearing the end of another disappointing season, the proverbial sky was getting darker and the light that shined on the team, via local media outlets, was glooming dark overhead, again. Timberpups did not report on the Daunt Cunningham arrests over the weekend because the legal process has a right to run it’s course, NBA players are apart of the union, and the Wolves did not suspend Cunningham after either arrest. Flip Saunders, in particular, receives the most heat for this decision. He could very easily de-activate Cunningham, but it would be a paid-leave as the team cannot take disciplinary action until he is convicted in a court of law.

He met the team in Orlando, but because the Wolves were without Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, Shabazz Muhammad, and Budinger, for all-but one minute of the game, the efforts of Cunningham and the active Wolves were performed in futility. The Magic avenged a loss from earlier this season, the Wolves opener — 100-92.

Tuesday, back at Target Center

The headlines focused on Cunningham up until Rick Adelman’s pregame presser, when it was announced that Cunningham would be dressed and available to play in Tuesday’s make-up game against the San Antonio Spurs. However, after tip-off, all of the negative light shed on the situation diminished, the Minnesota Wild were competing for their postseason lives across town, and a basketball game — that was never supposed to be played — started with very little looking-on from the seats at Target Center.

Nickola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Shabazz Muhammad were all out, albeit Martin was dressed to play whereas the others sported classy suits. Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Gorgui Dieng welcomed Robbie Hummel to the starting lineup for the first time since the season’s early goings. The Wolves, who had underachieved in the game following an inspirational victory of the prolific Heat (…), faced another one of the league’s best in the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker was sidelined, leaving Corey Joseph to start at point guard — he was accompanied by Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. The Spurs machine usually just plugs-and-plays it’s components as necessary and rarely misses a beat, but Gregg Popovich may have elected to cut the power once they arrived in Minneapolis.

First Half

The Wolves took the lead and never looked back. Rubio led the way in scoring throughout the opening quarter with nine points, he also had two assists but those were negated by two-turnovers. Love, who, dare I say has struggled by his standards as of late, continued to clank the iron and shot only one for seven from the field during the opening frame. Despite the struggle to score, Love’s refined his passing throughout the year as a point of Adelman’s emphasis, and he tallied three assists passing out of the high post and Wolves led the Spurs, 27-19, after the first.

It was Rubio and Brewer that carried the offense throughout the first half, as they combined for 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the field. Brewer added three steals that contributed to easy buckets in transition. The Wolves had captured a 20 point lead on a virtually non-existent Spurs club that showed no interest in trying to win the game. Minnesota allowed just 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season (Utah, 23 in 1st half on Jan. 18). On the night, the Spurs shot only 4-of-17 from three-point range, and they were 0-for-6 in the first half alone. This is a testament to the Wolves effort to contest shots, making everything as difficult as possible for the already lackadaisical visiting opponent.

Second Half 

The Wolves were outscored by the Spurs during the second half, but the margin was a single point and if you’re doing the math at home you’d know that it wasn’t enough to make a difference. San Antonio was flat, and the Wolves played with the same intensity that the State of Hockey’s team was doing across the way in St. Paul. The Pups weren’t performing in front of a very large audience, and the effort they played with on the court was reflective of a team that wanted to win in order to sustain their own moral moving forward.

Love and Rubio combined for 20 in the third, but dissipated bench failed to score. The Spurs, behind eight points in the frame provided by the short-statured Patty Mills, matched and surpassed the Wolves scoring output during the frame. Yet, the game looked emotionless as both teams were content just going through the motions. This inexplicably, and inspirationally, changed during the fourth as the bench could be season screaming, cheering, and applauding the effort of their brethren who were looking to put the hammer down on San Antonio before the game was over.

Ronnie Turiaf hammered home two, alley-oop dunks within the final five minutes, a heavy-hearted Cunningham seeked to score unruly baskets within the final minute, and Othyus Jeffers even entered the game on the same day as he was signed to, yet another, 10-day contract.

The Wolves defeated the Spurs by 19, and what was most impressive about the victory is that they did it for themselves. There was no sold-out stadium, no role of spoiler to fulfil, and no playoff hopes to sustain going forward. With nothing left to play for, the Wolves did everything they could to win — and with the uncertainty that is this team’s future — that’s the most illuminating thing to take away from the weekend, and into Wednesday.

Three Stars

  • Ricky Rubio — 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He’s progressed, and more importantly, stayed healthy, throughout the year and seems to be improving in certain areas, offensively. I don’t currently have the stats to back it up, but expect a post on it soon.
  • Luc Mbah a Moute — 11 points, 5 of 7 shooting from the field — nice to see him getting playing time against solid opponents like we saw against Miami and last night.
  • Ronnie Turiaf — LOVE his energy, but it’s been missing on-the-court for most of the season. If there’s anyone that can keep this locker room glued going forward, it’s this guy. Seeing him score 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including his emphatic reactions to slams during the final quarter.

 

The Wolves Lost to the Spurs | 110-117

Thinking short-term goals the Wolves are 2-1 this week.

Disclaimer: Venting a little. This one may not be pleasant. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves lost to the San Antonio Spurs Friday; 110-117.

First Half:

The Wolves led the Spurs, 30-27, at the end of the opening quarter.

Ricky Rubio, defended by Tony Parker, scored six-points on three mid-range jumpers in the final two-and-a-half minutes. Parker defended against penetration henceforth encouraging attempts from outside; Rubio recognized, elevated, and connected from three different areas for six points.

Two of his three buckets came on pull-ups in between the free-throw and the three-point line, dribbling to his right on both of the attempts. If you want to read the shameless self-promo portion of this segment, it will remind you that he’s comfortable shooting from that area — hopefully we see this continue throughout the season.

Reminder: 30-27, end of the first. 

Nikola Pekovic was the only starter to play more than half of the second quarter. Pek roamed the floor for 10 minutes, grabbed five boards, but only scored 4 points on 2 of 4 from the field. He didn’t take one free-throw. Kevin Love managed to hit two-three’s and had 16 going into the locker room to go along with 5 rebounds, he was just getting started.

However Parker, usually by buzzing past defenders into the lane for a layup, manufactured 15 first-half points and the Spurs led at halftime; 54-62. 

  • J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved shot a combined to score 10 points on 3 of 7 from the field in addition to hitting 3 of 4 FT’s. Those were the team’s only bench points
  • Boris Diaw had 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting
  • Spurs bench points — 29 of 62
  • Wolves bench points — 10 of 54

Do I sound bitter?

The bench doesn’t score. I’m somehow going to show you what i mean in the following sentences, or bullets, or whatever format I display statistics; but only as a formality.

  • J.J Barea is averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game over the last 12. Barea is 31 percent from the field and 25 percent from downtown. Well, this is fun. Not. He’s supposed to be instant and effortless offensive production and that’s certainly not happening
  • In the same stretch Dante Cunningham is averaging 19 minutes, but he’s even less productive on the scoreboard. Although it feels “DC Hustle” plays with unmistakable tenacity, he’s capable of greater numbers. He scored a timely eight points contributing to the Wolves comeback victory against the Philadelphia 76ers a few days back.
  • This team struggles to score making Luc Mbah a Moute a player that isn’t part of the solution, not right now.
  • Shved has been playing in the first, second and even the fourth-quarters of games recently, yet, the Russian seems non-existent and doesn’t do much.
  • Robbie Hummel excited the Target Center against the Sixers with clutch shooting, but, he missed his only attempt from downtown in the opening half.

Starters, as Pek did in the second quarter of this game (that I am recapping, by the way), are rotating turns playing with the second unit for added stretches during portions of the game. Look; Pek is two points and one rebound away from being a 20-10 center, he’s been phenomenal. Unfortunately, I’d feel pleasantly surprised if he sustained this health and production throughout the entire season. I just can’t say confidently he’s capable of doing that.

Barea or Cunningham are capable of playing better, I’ve seen them do it. Robbie Hummel is for supplementary purposes until Chase Budinger returns, but, that length of time continues to grow — he’s been gone for so long, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have him.

Second Half

I wanted to get the aforementioned opinion on the bench out of my system, pardon the negativity.

This video shows you all of the points Love scored last night, which -if you missed it- there were 42.

Note: 19 of 42 came in the third quarter.

Lov3 was seven of eight from the three point line before entering the fourth quarter. After being outscored 24-35 in the second the Wolves shook the Spurs for 35 points, limiting them to only 18.

Third Quarter Scoring

  • Wolves Starters: 35 of 35 points. That’s all the points.
  • Wolves Bench: Zero. The Wolves Starters scored all of the team’s points in the third quarter.
  • Somebody named Kevin: 24
  • Leonard: 11 of Spurs’ 18
  • Kevin Love: 19

Love hit another three that put the Wolves up, 98-91, with just over eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Thirty seconds later Parker responded with a three of his own and the Spurs proceeded to overcome the Wolves momentum and things slowly slipped out of hand.

Diaw put Love on lockdown and made things difficult down the stretch, Love seemed gassed and Rubio, Brewer and Pekovic missed makeable buckets that became the difference in the end.

Stars

  1. Kevin Love – Lots of points, very good accuracy shooting
  2. Tony Parker – Dribble penetration ended in layups or assists on baskets made around the rim. The Wolves don’t have a presence to discourage opposing guards, and forwards, from entering the lane.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – 18 points with 11 boards on 7 of 13 FG shooting and a perfect four of four on FT’s.

I can’t imagine Budinger or Turiaf will return in December, in fact there’s no way. Budinger by Christmas was -initially- hopeful speculation, but, although he’s been shooting and dunking in practice he’s not performing basketball at full speed, yet.

Turiaf’s return will be longer than expected, he’s still dealing with an elbow fracture.

The bench needs help.

 

 

zb.