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.

Wolves Injury Update

Tonight, the Timberwolves are in Phoenix to take on the Suns for the third game on this a six game road trip. Still no sign of Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Martin, and Ronny Turiaf remains out indefinitely with a bruised right knee.

Before departing on this venture, Kevin Love’s Instagram account informed us that the Wolves resident Bruise Brother, Pekovic, would be returning sometime during this — pivotal — stretch of the season. Martin also remains sidelined with a broken left thumb, but saw a specialist in Los Angeles yesterday. After having things looked at Monday, as well as last Friday, @TWolves_PR has informed us that Martin is progressing well.

As for Pekovic, he participated in shootaround this morning in Phoenix. His status for tonight is labeled as questionable. Pekovic was active pregame in Utah before Saturday’s meeting with the Jazz, but did not play — which, admittedly, led me to believe that he would be active in Portland for the Wolves meeting with the Blazers the following evening.

This column by Mark Remme states that Pekovic isn’t feeling any more pain in his ankle, however, that does not mean the pain isn’t there. Pek is suffering from bursitis, an inflammation caused by repetitive, minor impact on the affected area, or from a sudden, more serious injury. Because of abuse the game of basketball places on an athletes knees (specifically the bursa, tendons and cartilage) it’s unlikely that Pekovic, or any athlete for that matter, that suffers from bursitis will ever completely heal. Age also plays a role. As tendons age they are able to tolerate stress less, are less elastic, and are easier to tear. He can play, but that doesn’t mean it will be a painless experience.

Pekovic had this to say to media shortly after shootaround. (Per Remme Practice Report)

“I would like, if I could play minutes today, but I still have to do some things today so we’ll see how it goes.” – Pekovic

The Wolves are 5-7 since Pek was removed from the Wolves meeting with the Chicago Bulls late in January. They are 3-3 since Martin joined him on the sideline.

Gorgui Dieng, still being used sparingly, is averaging 11 minutes per game over the previous five games. Dieng is still a very raw, young, and developing player but has at least been serviceable in the absence of Pek and Turiaf. He is averaging 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block per game during the recent stretch.

 

 

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Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

The Wolves landed in Portland just before midnight, Sunday, after departing from Utah shortly after their victory against the Jazz. After the Pups demolished the Denver Nuggets (Blazers burn, demolish Denver — these are horrible, but i grin none-the-less), we determined victories against other Western Conference foes competing for playoff contention are the wins that will prove to have the most value during the course of the remainder of the season. Minnesota had a chance to catch the Portland Trail Blazers, without LaMarcus Aldridge, reeling to sustain the success captured earlier in the season, and steal a victory at the Moda Center. Here’s this picture again.

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Of the first three games, two were deemed as ‘winnable’. Fortunately, the Wolves defeated the Indiana Pacers at home — this was not considered one of those winnable contests. However, because the Blazers were without their All-Star power forward I did consider last night’s matchup in Portland as one that could – and maybe should – have been a victory. Nikola Pekovic, who participated in some pregame warmups, remains out until further notice — although he is expected to play sometime on this roadtrip (per Kevin Love’s Instagram account) — he did not play last night against the Blazers. The Wolves rolled out the small-ball starting lineup, again, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Kevin Love. The Blazers countered with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez.

First Half

Only a minute and some change into the game, Love gave the Wolves a lead after hitting a jumper and things were moving along smoothly on the offensive end. Love scored 13 in the first, Budinger added 3 (1-3 from the field, 1-1 3pt), Cunningham and Brewer — together — accounted for 10 on 5 of 8 FG, while Rubio added 5 and the Wolves led after the opening quarter — 34-26. In addition to his scoring contributions, Rubio assisted on 7 of the Wolves 14 baskets. J.J. Barea started the following quarter with a three and the Wolves continued rolling through most of the second frame. Rick Adelman elected to keep Alexey Shved on the bench, which isn’t a decision I’m prepared to dispute, but this meant playing Robbie Hummel alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng.

Without having Kevin Martin, who remains sidelined due to injury, Barea has free reign of the second unit — this is not a good thing, in my opinion. Because Budinger was moved to the starting shooting guard slot, Hummel is the wing player Adelman has decided is best fit to stretch the defense when the second unit is on the floor. Hummel is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc this season, and is only averaging three points a game. Would playing Shved make more sense? I’ll leave that up to you.

‘Bazz,’ who has shown he has the ability to hit the outside shot — in the D-League and with the Wolves — and make plays posting-up smaller defenders, didn’t play very well during the seven minutes of action he saw in the second quarter. Muhammad was one-of-five from the field, and only scored two points.

A little over the 5:00 minute mark, Barea knocked down two free-throws and the Wolves were in business — on the road and ahead by 18 points. Although the starters had checked back in, the game began turning into a gothic horror story as things were winding down in the first half. Thomas Robinson, who replaced the struggling Wright, came off the Blazers’ bench and showed anyone watching what it means to be a hustler. In the final two minutes of the first half, Robinson scored four points and snatched four rebounds, he relentlessly earned the right to play the majority of minutes at forward, in Aldridge’s absence, throughout the remainder of the game. Portland ended the half on an 8-0 run, but the Wolves led at halftime — 60-52 — by a mere 8 points, despite, at one point, having created a significant deficit.

Second Half

After grabbing an offensive rebound, Rubio found an open Budinger and the Wolves opened up the scoring after halftime after Bud’s three-pointer fell through the net. After that, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run and the score remained close during the third quarter. However, Portland’s effort on the boards and in the paint was the difference throughout the remainder of the game. The Blazers attained 12 points in the paint, while the Wolves — lacking any presence at the center position — managed to score only four. Portland had out-rebounded Minnesota in the frame, 15-7.

Lillard and Batum, who together accounted for 27 of the Blazers 52 first-half points, began heating up after halftime and scored 10 apiece, shooting a combined 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from ‘downtown’. Batum managed to grab four rebounds and also had two assists, while Lillard showed his ability to pass also — ‘the Dame Monster’ had three assists of his own.

This following sequence essentially encapsulates the way things went after the Wolves found themselves up by 18 points during the second quarter. The Blazers simply worked, hustled, and made everything harder for the visiting team.

With just over two minutes to play until the final quarter, after six lead changes and having been tied four separate times thus far, Batum drained a three-pointer (assisted by the still-hustling Robinson) that gave the Blazers an edge, 82-80. Shortly after a Barea miss and – yet another – Robinson rebound, the ball found a streaking Batum and the frenchmen scored the final points of the third and Portland took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

  • Rubio and Cunningham sat on the bench.
  • Love was the only starter to score, he had three points.
  • Shabazz played all 12 minutes, didn’t score once, and was 0 for 3 from the field.
  • Budinger played 18 seconds. Yes, that is correct — 18 seconds.
  • Barea, although being a major reason the game was a contest for as long as it was, committed five fouls (FIVE) and made some of the usual boneheaded plays we’re used to seeing him make when things go awry. (He scored six points on 2 of 6 FG shooting)

No, the Wolves didn’t overcome the small, four-point deficit that they faced entering the quarter — nor was there a moment where it looked as if they were going to do so. It was worse than watching paint dry, and it took every ounce of fanship inside of me to refrain from turning the game off and flicking on the True Blood (which I didn’t watch live because of the game, and my commitment to covering this team).

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

  • Damian Lillard — 32 points, 11 of 17 FG, 5 of 8 3PT FG, 5 of 5 from the charity stripe. The guy, he’s good.
  • Kevin Love — The game was ugly, but not ugly enough for me to spite the Wolves by leaving them out of the ‘Three Stars’ portion of this recap. Love scored 31, albeit on only 11 of 21 shooting (with a less than stellar shot selection) and grabbed 10 rebounds
  • Thomas Robinson — 14 points in 32 minutes. 18 rebounds (11 defensive and 7 offensive) and a +/- rating of +19. Look at this way, Brewer’s +/- was -19. Because math is hard, I did it for you — that’s a difference of 38.

For the optimistic, Pekovic is expected to return at some point during this road trip — my guess is Martin will, too. Tomorrow night the Wolves play the Phoenix Suns, who were defeated last night by the Houston Rockets; this keeps hope for the 8th and final playoff slot in the superior Western Conference alive. If Pek and K-Mart (K-Target to some) don’t make their return tomorrow, in Phoenix, they’ll have three additional days to recover before the Wolves play the Kings – in Sacramento – on Saturday. Here’s a tweet from John letting you know how things stand.