Wounded Warriors Battle Wolves, Minnesota Falls Late…..Again…

Entering Monday night’s game against the Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves sat on the .500 hump with two games remaining in the season. Their final opponent, the Utah Jazz, will venture to Target Center and face the Wolves on fan appreciation night. Combine the sentimental night with the notion that the Jazz have no intention, nor ability to go about winning that game — if there was a moral victory to attain it would be in the Bay Area, Monday.

The Warriors were without Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, which meant Gorgui Dieng would be the only one protecting the rim as these two, uptempo, high-scoring offenses took the floor.

First Half.

The Wolves jumped all-over the Warriors in the early going. When in the process of doubling-up GSW by the 7:10 mark in the game — 24-12 — Kevin Love buried four three’s, accounting for 16 of the Wolves total-points at that time. Conversely; as well as things seemed to be going, Stephen Curry’s status as an alien proved critical during the first quarter as he matched Love for each three-pointer that Wolves’ all-everything forward connected on. For the sixth time this season the Wolves scored 40+ points during the first frame. They led by 14; 42-28, heading into the second, but the Golden Curry’s had nearly caught the Minnesota Love’s, and the double-digit lead dissipated into a measly two points — Curry tallied 23 while Love racked up 26 points — during the final minutes of the first half.

Second Half.

While it felt as if Curry was going to keep the Warriors in the game, the Wolves didn’t — and haven’t really done so at all this season — to assert themselves as the team that would ultimately win the game. As I watched the Warriors broadcast during the third quarter (no offense, Dave, Jim and Alan) the phrases, such as “there’s no desire to play any defense, this isn’t basketball,” used to describe the Wolves effort outside of scoring were quite entertaining. Usually, these type of things would irritate myself, or the common fan, but when there’s very little remaining to aspire to other than winning — sometimes teams will only look to outscore their opponents.

This was certainly the case, last night.

The bright side in the Wolves, 120-130, defeat at the hands of the Warriors — Kevin Love. Love surpassed Kevin Garnett on the all-time single season scoring list, adding his name to another to the top of another list of franchise records. However, most of the story within the game was just like a majority of other outings this season; bench woes, injuries, and questionable rotations kept the Wolves from jockeying for position to pull-ahead of Golden State before the game was over. No Wolves bench player tallied a double-digit point total, Love, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin played a majority of the third quarter (and the fourth; overuse) and the absence of a floor-stretching “Three and D[efence]” player all factored into, yet another, close loss.

Tomorrow, in Minneapolis, at Target Center the Wolves have a chance to end the season on a high-note against an abysmal opponent. There’s an uncertain future, with potentially cataclysmic possibilities in-terms of personnel restructure, but things will ultimately be O.K. The 40 win season is arguably the best the team’s had since the departure of Garnett, who was the only superstar to play for the franchise prior to the arrival of Kevin Love.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Love [man] — 40 points, 14 rebounds, and the new Timberwolves all-time single season record holder for points scored.
  • Gorgui Dieng – 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field, in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds. Jim Peterson mentioned during the broadcast this point — “If you were to redraft, last summer’s draft, at the end of the year — when does Dieng go off the board? The expectations will only grow during the offseason, higher than they already are, so it’s important to remember that he’s still a young, developing player — but man — we can enjoy what he’s brought us, thus far.
  • Stephen Curry – He’s an alien that scored 32 points and dished out 15 assist. Needless to mention, he’s the only player that I will look back upon and feel sorrow in remembrance of the Wolves failing to draft the guy. Not to bring up the negative of things, but this could ultimately be one of the game’s best scoring point-guards to ever play in the NBA.

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Final Week

 

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

Well, the end is near for our Timberpups.  The Wolves will not advance to the NBA Playoffs for the tenth straight season.  This is turning into quite the rebuild huh?  The Wolves have three games this week counting tonight’s match-up in Sacramento, tomorrow night’s game in the Bay Area and then one final game at Target Center against Utah Wednesday night.

Fans, this is likely your last opportunity to see Rick Adelman on the sidelines for the Wolves.  Who will be the next coach?  Will Flip Saunders be on the sidelines next season or will he be able to grab someone from the college ranks like Fred Hoiberg or Tom Izzo.  I would be ecstatic with either of those choices from college and mortified if Flip takes over as head coach.  Do you have any off-the-radar guesses or suggestions?

Onwards to the last three games of the 2013/14 season for the Timberwolves.  Can the team win at least one of the final three to lock in a .500 record?  Can they win two of three to finish over .500?

Game 80: Sunday, 4/13, 8pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FSN Plus)

The Kings come into Sunday’s game with a 27-53 record, having lost to the Clippers in LA on Saturday night.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – While I ripped the Kings at the beginning of the season to the contract they gave Cousins, he has produced this season, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks (22.6, 11.7, 1.5, and 1.3 respectively).  It hasn’t led to many wins though …

Predictions:

The Wolves take advantage of the Kings playing on back to back nights and guarantee themselves a .500 record for the season.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Kings 101

Game 81: Monday, 4/14, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Golden State Warriors (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

The Warriors are moving on to the playoffs it is just a matter of where they will be seeded with a 49-30 record going into Sunday night’s game in Portland.

Opponent to watch:

Stephen Curry – One last opportunity this season (until the playoffs start) for Wolves’ fans to curse David Kahn and his selection of Jonny Flynn over Curry.  Steph hasn’t missed a game this season and leads the Warriors in points, assists, and steals.  I would go into more detail but don’t feel like lighting myself on fire right now.

Predictions:

The Warriors will want to go into the playoffs playing good basketball and this game should be entertaining to watch.  I predict a barn burner – Final score: Warriors 124, Timberwolves 115

Game 82: Wednesday, 4/16, 7pm – Utah Jazz @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Nothing like closing the season with a win at home, right?  Right?!  The worst team in the Western Conference (although the Lakers are trying) visits the Target Center as we say “goodbye” to the Timberwolves’ season, and potentially “so long” to Rick Adelman.

Opponent to watch:

Not Applicable – For the final game of the season, let’s focus on the Wolves and not the opponent.  We’re talking about a bland Jazz team anyway.

Let’s give thanks to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic for putting up all-star caliber numbers.  As an added bonus, Gorgui Dieng looks like a very strong third wheel for the Wolves moving forward, specifically as a defensive replacement when one is needed.

Here is to hoping that Ricky Rubio makes the much needed leap in the offseason and that we have a new backup PG behind him next season.  Finally, let’s hope that Flip can find a wing or two in order to upgrade the roster beyond Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, and/or Shabazz Muhammad.

Predictions:

Minnesota sends Wolves Nation home with a positive memory.  If they lose in Sacramento and Golden State, there will be some heavy motivation for the team to finish at .500.  If they win at least one of those games on the road, there is still motivation to finish on a positive note at home.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Jazz 89

Wrap-up:

After recapping these final games for our Pups, we’ll be putting together thoughts on how the players looked this past season and what the team needs to do in order to finally get back into the playoffs.  For now, let’s go Wolves!

 

 

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

"VICTORY!" for the Pups in a close game!

“VICTORY!” for the Pups in a close game!

The Timberwolves traveled further west for two weekend games, starting with Friday night’s game in the Bay Area to take on the 26-17 Warriors.  The Warriors took care of the Wolves earlier this season at Target Center and it was time for the team to redeem themselves.  Friday night was also another opportunity for the Wolves to reach the .500 mark with a win.

After lacerating his finger earlier this week, Kevin Martin was a little bit of a question mark.  However, no surprises as it got closer to tip-off in the Pups starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  Similarly, there were a few question marks going into tonight on the Warriors lineup given a few minor injuries.  However, no surprises there either, as the team sent out the following lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. [Read more…]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 2

 

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season! (Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Early smiles for the Timberwolves this season!
(Photo credit: Kentucky.com)

Setting the stage:

I have never been as excited for the second week of the NBA season as I am for this coming week!  Why?  For the first time, I will be frequenting the Target Center for some Timberwolves action!  Yes!!  I will be in town for the Wednesday and Friday games this week, so if anyone is interested in grabbing a Teddy Bruschi or Charles Brewkowski before or after either game, please do shoot me a note here or on Twitter.

Aside from that shameless promotion, the Timberwolves are coming into the week off of a promising week – going 3-0 with a dramatic home opener, a blowout against OKC, and a solid road win at MSG – despite giving up a big lead – on Sunday.  As it always seems to be with the Wolves, with the good comes a little bad, with the team announcing that Ronnie Turiaf has a fractured elbow and is out indefinitely.  That will put Gorgui Dieng in the spotlight early on in his rookie season and he’ll need to step up and contribute behind Nikola Pekovic.

The Wolves enter the week looking like an offensive juggernaut, averaging 110 points per game through the first three.  The team is also top 10 in the league in rebounds and assists per game, at 43 and 23 respectively.  Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are leading the way in the box score, but it has been solid contributions from the entire rotation that have helped the team to its 3-0 start.

Let’s see if this can continue into week two.  Here are a few thoughts for each game this week.

Game 4: Monday, 11/4, 6pm – Timberwolves @ Cleveland Cavs (TV: FS North)

The Wolves will travel to Cleveland off of Sunday night’s game at MSG, with the opponent having an off day to recover from Saturday’s game against the Pacers.  The Cavs are off to a slow start this season, entering the game 1-2 thus far.  They are near the bottom of the league in scoring at only 85.3 ppg.  Kyrie Irving is leading the team in scoring and assists but his shot is a bit off right now.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Cavs have gotten minutes from Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum, who may make things a little tough in the paint.

Opponent to watch:

Kyrie Irving – While there are a few intriguing storylines with the Cavs (Michael Bennett and Bynum particularly), I’m giving the nod to Irving for this go-round given the overall excitement he can create and the speed in which he can play at.  Hopefully Rubio can contain Irving and/or Kyrie’s shot remains off for one more night.

Predictions:

I’m not predicting a loss until the Wolves drop a game.  I wouldn’t be surprised though if the team falls here, given the back to back schedule.  How is that for hedging bets?  A big game from Kevin Love puts the Wolves over.  Final score: Timberwolves 98, Cavs 92

Game 5: Wednesday, 11/6, 7pm – Golden State Warriors @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

I visit the Twin Cities with the Warriors in tow from Philly.  Not really, they should already be in town.  Wednesday’s game at Target Center is the middle game for Golden State’s three game road swing.  This is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA and we can expect a high scoring affair.  Klay Thompson dropped a cool 38 points on opening night and the Wolves will need to find a way to contain him and Stephen Curry.  The Wolves frontcourt is also going to have to find a way to slow down David Lee, who put up gaudy stats in week one.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Iguodala – Many Wolves fans have clamored for AI2 for years (I’m not one of them) and Wednesday is another opportunity to see him play at the Target Center.  Through the team’s first three games, AI2 has not been scoring much, but that isn’t necessarily what GS needs from him.  He is however, filling out the box score, contributing in all aspects of the game – passing, rebounding, steals, and blocks.

Predictions:

The highest scoring regular season game in NBA history (without overtime) was on 11/2/90 between the Warriors and Nuggets.  The teams combined for 320 points.  The bar is set for this game, make it happen!  Final score: Timberwolves 130, Warriors 122

(I have never, ever predicted 130 points for an NBA team.  This will be a special night all-around.)

Game 6: Friday, 11/8, 7pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Mavericks will visit the Target Center on Friday night, coming off of a nationally televised game Wednesday night in OKC.  The team made several, significant moves in the offseason and to this point, it has paid off.  They finished the first week of the season 2-1, with wins at home against Atlanta and Memphis, and the loss coming on the road in Houston.  Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are off to hot starts, each averaging more than 20 ppg.

Opponent to watch:

Dirk Nowitzki – My eyes are going to be on Dirk, as I have never seen him play in person.  He may have lost a step, but I’m intrigued to see just how sweet his offense looks in person.

Predictions:

I’m confident that the Twolves will win this game.  That’s never a good thing.  It will likely be the polar opposite of Wednesday’s game against GS though.  Rubio shines in this one and I get to gloat about it all the way back to NJ.  Final score: Timberwolves 96, Mavericks 88

Game 7: Sunday, 11/10, 8:30pm – Timberwolves @ LA Lakers (TV: FS North)

The Wolves head west to take on the Lakers Sunday night to start a back to back against both LA teams.  The Lakers will come into the game off of a three game road trip that took them through two-thirds of Texas and New Orleans.

This will be Wolves’ fans first opportunity to see the almighty Wes Johnson in purple and gold.  Have I mentioned him in the past?  I think I have.  While we won’t see Kobe Bryant, I still think this team can tread water for a while.  This past Friday night, the team stayed with Duncan-less Spurs and almost pulled it out.

Opponent to watch:

Wes Johnson – Just kidding, unless you want to induce a coma.

Pau Gasol – This will be a tough match for Pekovic, given Pau has returned to the middle of the floor.  Pau is putting up solid numbers early on in the season.  With Kaman as the backup, we might see a little more of Kevin Love at the Center spot, as Pekovic and Dieng will have their hands full.

Predictions:

I expect a big night from Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer going against the Lakers’ wings.  Final score: Timberwolves 103, Lakers 94

Wrap-up:

A pretty busy week for the Wolves lies ahead, with four games in seven nights.  The countdown has already begun for my trip to the Twin Cities.  Looking forward to meeting as many of you as I can over anything but a Martina Navratibrewski (because you can’t have more than ‘ski’ at the end of the root word).

Here’s to hoping the Pups continue their winning ways!  Please don’t let me be there for the first loss.  Please!  Let’s go Wolves!

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.

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.

Minnesota Timberwolves 89, Golden State Warriors 105

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

Playing in Oakland on Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Golden State Warriors who were playing to clinch a playoff spot with a win on their home floor. A win for the Warriors would symbolize the organization reaching only their second playoff berth over the past 19 years.

The matchup featured a showdown between the top three-point shooting team in the league against the worst in that same category. Minnesota, now without team leader and top scorer Kevin Love for the remainder of the season as he gets some scar tissue cleaned up in his knee, had a very difficult time competing in the interior against the Golden State frontcourt of David Lee and a healthy Andrew Bogut.

The Warriors size advantage was impossible to ignore from the tip, as Warriors head coach Marc Jackson put 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson on Ricky Rubio, making penetration tough for the Spaniard off the bat.

The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, Nikola Pekovic entered the game averaging a dominant 22.7 points and 10.9 rebounds over his past seven games. The Warriors game planned well and Bogut did a very good job of denying Pek the ball on the low block. With Minnesota doing a poor job of finding ways to get the ball to their center in the paint, the Wolves were forced to focus the offense on scoring from the perimeter – something that they usually struggle mightily with.

It was Klay Thompson who provided the majority of Golden State’s points early on, as he was red-hot from beyond the arc. Shooting an impressive 40% from three in only his second NBA season, Thompson hit his first four shot attempts and he led the Warriors with 10 points with the Warriors leading 20-17 with 2:55 remaining in the first period of play. Minnesota looked for backside cuts for much of their offense and went into the second period tied 26-26.

Thompson continued to light it up from all over the floor in the second quarter as he stayed perfect hitting his first 8 field goal attempts with 5 of them being three-pointers nearly halfway through the second. Despite the superb performance Thompson was giving for Golden State, Minnesota held a 40-39 lead with nearly seven minutes remaining in the first half. Stephen Curry had a difficult time getting in a rhythm and was mostly passive throughout the first half and even had to be careful on the defensive end as he picked up his third personal foul with around 3 minutes left in the second quarter.

Having a hard time gaining separation from Thompson, Ricky vied for open jumpers dribbling off screens but his shot looked very flat and he shot 0-5 in the first half. With Rubio unable to create offense for himself and the Warriors baiting him to take longer jump shots, the Pups fell right into Golden State’s gameplan as the Wolves worst shooter continued to brick shots off of the rim while Nikola laid hungry on the low block.

A late run in the first half highlighted by a transition dunk by Harrison Barnes gave the Warriors a 55-54 lead entering halftime. The first half was essentially the Klay Thompson show, who put on an absolute clinic shooting the ball as he went 9-11 from the field on his way to 25 first half points. The Washington State product certainly played a critical role in keeping the Warriors afloat providing nearly half of the team’s points in the opening half of play.

In the second half, Golden State continued their initial game plan of denying Pekovic on the low block while baiting Ricky to shoot jump shots. After averaging such prolific numbers over the past seven games, Pek was unable to get into any sort of rhythm in the paint while facing very impressive interior defense.

With the game only separated by six points, Luke Ridnour and Thompson got into a small shoving match which ultimately resulted in a technical foul against Luke causing a shift in momentum in the opponents favor. From that point on the Wolves started their collapse as the Warriors fed off of each others energy in transition leading to a 19-4 run for Golden State. With Rubio ice cold and unable to score on anything besides free throws, the Warriors gained significant control of the game with just less than four minutes to play in the third period as they led the Pups 78-64.

Not only was Pek held in check scoring-wise, but he was also unable to contribute on the offensive glass as the Warriors did a fantastic job of getting multiple bodies on the 290-pound monster. This inhibited the Timberwolves from creating second chance opportunities and the Warriors held a large advantage in the rebounding battle. Stephen Curry began to heat up in the third period scoring 13 points in the quarter. Chase Budinger was able to provide a spark offensively off of the bench as he scored 10 points in first 12 minutes on the court. However, Golden State controlled the perimeter and interior battles and led 86-70 heading into final period of play.

The fourth quarter was much of the same as the Wolves continued to struggle shutting down any of the Warriors several weapons, and the countdown to the final buzzer was on for much of the fourth quarter. With the clock ticking down, Warriors fans received the 105-89 victory with chants and cheers as they witnessed their team secure a playoff spot for only the second time in 19 seasons. As hard it was to watch Golden State cap off their impressive season with a playoff berth while the Timberwolves are in the midst of finishing their tumultuous 2012-13 campaign, it was a good sight watching a small market club cheered on by a sellout Oakland crowd overcome significant adversity to ultimately grab a playoff spot in the upcoming NBA postseason. While Timbewolves’ fans know that it coulda been, shoula been us, we must continue to look to the future and have confidence that our bit of luck has yet to come.

 

Keys of the Game:

Rebouding - The Warriors out-rebounded the Timberwolves 60-44 while holding a 12-6 advantage on the offensive glass. Lee, Barnes and Bogut each recorded at least 10 rebounds while Greg Stiemsma led the Wolves with 9.

Interior Defense - The Warriors held Minnesota’s starting frontcourt duo of Williams and Pekovic to a collective 10 points on 4-16 FG and 7 rebounds. Bogut recorded 3 blocks and together he and Lee posted 17 points and 26 rebounds.

 

Three Stars of the Game: 

  1. Klay Thompson - Thompson was unconscious in the first half knocking down his first 5 three-point attempts and his first 8 field goals in total. The long shooting guard was two points off of his career high for scoring as he finished with 30 points (10-19 FG, 6-10 3Pt) to pair with 5 steals in 36 minutes on the floor.
  2. David Lee - Golden State’s workhorse in the paint continued his tremendous 2012-13 campaign and recorded another double-double of 15 points (6-12 FG), 12 rebounds and 5 assists in 33 minutes. Lee has been arguably the Warriors most important player this season and he will finally get an opportunity to compete in the playoffs after eight NBA seasons.
  3. Stephen Curry - After a subpar first half, Curry got hot in the third quarter and ultimately finished with 24 points (9-21 FG, 2-9 3Pt), 10 assists and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes. Curry has done a great job of staying on the court this season after several arthroscopic ankle surgeries over the past few seasons. It is no question that Golden State is a fundamentally different team with Curry in the lineup than when he is on the bench with injury.