Timberwolves Return Home, Defeat Knicks 115-99

After 18 days away, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally returned home to the Target Center Wednesday night to welcome the New York Knicks. Despite missing several valuable players, Minnesota outscored New York in all but the final quarter to power through to a 115-99 win. Kevin Martin led the Wolves with a career-high 37 points, followed by Shabazz Muhammad with 17. On the opposing side, old faithfuls Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire scored 20 and 19 points, respectively.

The Target Center crowd of just over 15,000 started out fairly quiet, but the energy quickly rose as the Wolves jumped ahead to an early lead. With Thad Young being away from the team following the passing of his mother and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic sidelined due to injury, the starting lineup looked a bit different Wednesday. In fact, despite both teams having low win totals, Minnesota was probably the underdog with such a thin roster. No one told the Wolves that, apparently.

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

(photo credit: Kare11.com)

Martin lit up immediately, notching 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-point baskets. Just a few hours prior, Martin had been listed as “questionable” due to illness.

According to Wolves writer Dane Mizutani, Martin sent head coach Flip Saunders a text around 3:30 saying he would probably miss shootaround because he had been throwing up all night. Regardless, the forward knew he would play in the game.

“There wasn’t even a thought,” Martin said. “I realized the situation and know that guys work so hard … so there was never a thought of not playing.”

The Wolves struggled with rebounding for the evening, only grabbing 12 boards. They made up for it, though, in shooting and creating turnovers. Minny shot 49.4 percent from the field, and they averaged an even more impressive 50 percent from behind the arc. At the end of the night, the team had 11 3-point buckets, seven of those from Martin.

Minnesota controlled the ball fairly well, holding itself to 14 turnovers. New York committed 23. The Wolves’ defense flourished all four quarters, with Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer combining for 11 steals. Brewer’s name floated around in trade rumors last week, as the Wolves apparently have been looking into a deal with Cleveland for the forward. Brewer says the rumors don’t bother him, though. He likes playing for Minnesota, and he will just continue focusing on basketball. Timberwolves fans did share their opinion on the matter–at one point during Wednesday’s game, a cheer began in the TWolves Army fan section: “Let’s Keep Corey Brewer.”

Andrew Wiggins and Mo Williams delivered strong performances as well. Wiggins continues to play well in his rookie season, as he tallied 12 points on the evening and joined with Anthony Bennett for a couple flashy plays. Williams plays more as a quiet threat, but the veteran stepped up to replace Rubio in the starting lineup and did not disappoint. Williams scored 14 points and dished out 13 assists en route to the win.

The victory was a much-needed lift for team spirits after Minnesota lost five of its six road games. Bennett said the following after the game:

“I just don’t want to get used to feeling this feeling, you know, losing basketball games, games that we should be winning. Just letting it slip out of our hands, regardless if it’s early in the season or not.”

The Wolves will enjoy a bit of time at home now, as they prepare to face Tim Duncan and the Spurs Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 4

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine look to bring the Target Center to their feet this week (Credit: NBA YouTube)

 

Setting the stage:

After competitive games through the first two weeks of the season, the loss of Ricky Rubio has proven to be a catastrophic loss for our Timberpups.  The Wolves have lost five in a row, having last seen victory on Wednesday, 11/5 in Brooklyn.  This past week was particularly rough for the Wolves, losing in Mexico City to the Rockets, getting shellacked in New Orleans, and falling in Dallas to close out the week.

The Pups are getting virtually nothing from their veterans right now.  Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are struggling on both ends of the floor.  Mo Williams remains an important cog off the bench but is not stepping up when replacing Zach LaVine on the floor.  Flip Saunders is/was relying on these veterans to not only perform on the court but to keep things in order in the clubhouse.  This season is going to be a learning process and keeping the locker room together is going to be a challenge for Flip and his staff.

On the docket for this week are three home games (among a four game homestand).  For some reason the schedule calls for another break in the action as the Wolves won’t start this week until Wednesday.  Here is a brief preview for each game this week:

Game 10: Wednesday, 11/19, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Knicks are, once again, an abomination of a team and franchise.  At least they are on the hook for the rest of Carmelo Anthony’s prime, right?  I’m not sure if that is a good thing either.  If it weren’t for the 76ers, the Knicks would be the worst team in the NBA.  As an added bonus, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas you could say there is for the rebuilding 76ers and our own Pups.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Anthony leads the team in scoring (of course) and in assists (what?!).  ‘Melo resigned with New York for the league maximum and remains unsuccessful in making anyone around him better – despite those 3.7 assists per game.

Game 11: Friday, 11/21, 7pm – San Antonio Spurs @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The NBA champs have come out of the gate somewhat slowly and are playing in the league’s strongest division.  Cause for concern?  Of course not.  Popovich is monitoring minutes among his veteran squad and knows exactly what he is doing.  I learned about five years ago, stop discounting and giving up on the Spurs … they will always prevail.

Opponent to watch:

Tony Parker – After watching LaVine get torched by J’rue Holiday on Friday night, this is going to be another tough matchup for the Pups rookie.  Parker leads the Spurs in scoring and assists and will use his wily veteran skills to teach a few lessons to the rookie.

Game 12: Saturday, 11/22, 7pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Perhaps the surprise team of the first month of the NBA season, the Kings are 6-4 and getting an A+ effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks.  He is also putting up 22.1ppg, second behind …

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – No one can question Gay’s ability to score throughout his career.  This will be a tough matchup for Andrew Wiggins and a nice barometer for how his defensive ability has adjusted to the NBA over the first month of his career.

Wrap-up:

The Pups need to return home and grab the “W” over the Knicks to start off this homestand and give the Target Center a reason to cheer.  From there, this week looks challenging.  Hopefully, Thad Young is able to return to the club after his mother’s passing and will give the club a boost.

Let’s go Wolves!

Merciful Road Trip Comes to an End as Wolves Lose to Mavs

LM Otero/Associated Press

The Lakers and Clippers have their Grammy trip. The Spurs have their rodeo trip. This year, the Wolves had their own version; the Garth Brooks road trip. Brooks played a staggering 11 shows at Target Center, and the Wolves were forced to play six consecutive games away from home, including a stop in Mexico City.

Simply put, It did not go well. The Wolves went 1-5, lost Ricky Rubio indefinitely to a sprained ankle, and were massacred in their final two games by a total of 64 points.

Tonight, the Mavs had 101 points through three quarters. They finished the game with 131, and 76 of those came inside the paint. That tied a Mavs record, and was just four shy of the most allowed by Minnesota in its history (80). Minnesota’s bigs played so poorly that Flip resorted to a lineup of Williams-Brewer-Budinger-Muhammed-Hummel for the final 2:13 of the third quarter.

The bigs were a major problem. With Thaddeus Young and Ronny Turiaf out, the Wolves had few options. Pekovic and Dieng were both consistently harassed by Tyson Chandler. To make matters worse, Pek didn’t play at all in the second half due to foot soreness. On the same foot that bothered him all last season.

It wasn’t just the big guys though. LaVine and Mo Williams were manhandled by Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Barea. The Wolves guards had trouble getting off screens all night. To say the Mavs had plenty of open looks would be understating things.

Over the final two games of the road trip, Minnesota gave up 270 points. The opponent shot chart is not ideal.

The two bright spots were Shabazz Muhammad, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Especially impressive was Shabazz, who in seven minutes scored 18 points on 6-7 shooting. Shabazz hit the glass twice as hard as every other big the Wolves threw out on the court, and should see an increase in minutes coming his way.

For the 2-7 Timberwolves, a beacon of hope will soon appear on the horizon. On Wednesday, the Wolves will be back at Target Center for the first time in 18 days. Oh yeah, and they play the 2-8 New York Knicks. It gets better. Hopefully.

Timberwolves Crushed in the Bayou 139-91

pelicansmascot

Timberwolves and Pelicans Game Recap – 11/14/14

 

After dropping Wednesday night’s game in Mexico City, the 2-5 Timberwolves returned to action on Friday night to take on the 4-3 New Orleans Pelicans in the Bayou.  Already with Ricky Rubio, the Wolves announced earlier on Friday that Thad Young would miss at least the next two games due to the death of his mother.  (From all of us at Timberpups, we pass along our condolences to Thaddeus and his family.)

With Young missing tonight’s game the Timberwolves opened up with a Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Nikola Pekovic starting lineup.  Selfishly, I love the thought on the starting lineup, as Dieng has nothing but earn the extra minutes.  However, even with the Twin Towers approach, the Wolves got off to a real slow start falling behind 7-0 and then 20-6 in the 1st quarter.  It didn’t get much better from there over the first twelve minutes as the Pelicans closed the quarter just as they began and held a 43-19 advantage.  The Wolves shot a collective 6-19 in the 1st quarter, doing themselves no favors in trying to keep up with the home team.

Corey Brewer continued his solid play coming off of his perfect performance (7-7) on Wednesday night.  Corey tried to cut into the Pelicans lead to start the second quarter but the Pelicans came storming back quickly to retake a 25 point lead.  With about five minutes left in the half, the Pelicans were more than doubling the Wolves up on both the scoreboard (67-31) and in shooting percentage (75%-36%).

At the half the Pelicans held an 80-44 advantage and it was time to rest Pekovic and Martin to get them ready for Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Wolves and Flip Saunders, the second half consisted of more of the same.  Flip seemed to commit to the growing pains of the evening by leaving the young Pups in there to gain “game experience”.  The only Wolves that seemed to show up were Wiggins and Brewer.  At the end of the 3rd quarter the Pelicans held a 118-72 advantage.

In the end, the Timberwolves gave up a franchise record 139 points and lost by 38 in New Orleans.  There weren’t many positives to take away from tonight’s game as the defense was non-existent and the offense simply came when the game was already decided.

Notes:

  • Interested in a little bit of good news?  Kevin Garnett told Yahoo Sports that he would like to own the Timberwolves when his playing days are over.  Glen Taylor has put the team on the market before, but it would certainly be entertaining to have KG come back to ‘Sota as the owner of the franchise.  Yes/No?
  • Assuming there are going to be at least a handful more games like this over the course of the season, GM Flip Saunders has several important decisions to make before the trading deadline, namely, what to do with any player not named Rubio that you can classify as an “NBA veteran”.

Timberwolves Visit Mexico City, Lose Third Straight Game

With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely, the Timberwolves lost their third straight game Wednesday night. The final score was 113-101.

The contest was technically listed as a home game for Minnesota but was played in Mexico City. The Wolves held their own against the Rockets during the first half, but in the end the young squad could not matchup against Dwight Howard and James Harden who led Houston with 22 and 23 points, respectively. Corey Brewer came off the bench to lead Minnesota with 18 points, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 15.

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The teams’ stat lines actually line up fairly evenly. The Rockets scored a little higher from the floor, 48 percent to the Wolves’ 44 percent, but the number of rebounds, assists and turnovers were almost identical. The area where Minnesota was entirely outdone, however, was the three-point line. Houston landed an impressive 13 shots from downtown, while the Timberwolves made only six. Rockets reserves Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou were 100 percent with their three-point shots, and Papanikolaou scored a career-high 14 points.

Houston and Minnesota battled back and forth for two quarters, matching most shots and pacing each other well. At halftime, the Wolves fell short just slightly in the 53-49 score. So far this season, the third quarter has proved the most electric for the Wolves. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned as Houston pulled away after halftime. The Rockets outscored Minny 31-21, and their entire lineup seemed to be scoring. Howard, who had been sick earlier in the season, gave the Mexico City fans exactly what they had been looking for. Howard said the following after the game:

“It’s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort. I’ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end … I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.”

Head coach Flip Saunders implemented a large lineup in the fourth quarter—Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Robbie Hummel, and Ronny Turiaf all seeing some minutes—in an attempt to stave off their opponent. The plan was short-sightedly successful, as the Wolves scored 31 points in the final quarter, but ultimately it was not enough to grab the win.

Despite the tough loss, there were several positive takeaways from the game.

Brewer, who notched his 51-point game against the Rockets in April, came out strong again. The 28-year-old went 7-for-7, grabbing his 18 points in only 24 minutes on the floor and adding four rebounds and a steal. Wiggins continues to grow more and more comfortable on an NBA court, and excitement surrounding the 19-year-old will only continue to grow.

Since losing Rubio to a severely sprained ankle on Friday, rookie Zach LaVine has been called up. LaVine entered this season with the most skepticism from critics, as he appears to be the most raw of the young players. It stands to be reasoned that he would not have seen much playing time had Rubio not been injured, but he has taken the responsibility well. In two games starting at point guard, LaVine has tallied 13 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.

“I got [the confidence] from my dad,” LaVine told CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “My dad was a professional athlete so he instilled that in me. All the greats are really, not to say cocky, but confident. I want to be great, so I guess I have that mindset.”

Saunders commented on LaVine’s preparedness after Rubio suffered the sprain:

“Zach is part of what our future is. There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”

LaVine and the rest of the squad will have to continue learning, and fans hope they can break in a few more wins soon. Minnesota has two more stops on its three-week road trip: New Orleans on Friday (7:00 tipoff) and Dallas on Saturday (7:30 tipoff). The Wolves will then enjoy some time off before returning to the Target Center to welcome the Knicks on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Ricky Rubio Out Indefinitely

Ricky Rubio will be on the mend for quite some time, leaving the Wolves in a bind at the PG position (Kim Klement, USA Today Sports)

Ricky Rubio will be on the mend for quite some time, leaving the Wolves in a bind at the PG position (Kim Klement, USA Today Sports)

When Ricky Rubio went down early in Friday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, it looked bad.  The early MRI said that Rubio’s left ankle wasn’t broken but that he would need to be reevaluated on Saturday.  That is typically never good news from the doctors.  Wolves Nation learned yesterday ahead of the game against the Miami Heat that Ricky will be out indefinitely with a severely sprained ankle.

USA Today is reporting that Rubio may miss up to 7 or 8 weeks, which would put him out until after Christmas and potentially until we flip the calendar to 2015.  Flip Saunders clarified a bit saying …

“He can’t put any weight on it to get any kind of weight-bearing x-ray.  Two weeks, we’ll be able to look at it and then we’ll know.”

So what does this mean for the Timberwolves?  First, as we learned last night in Miami, Zach LaVine will be thrown into the fire and will either sink or swim.  LaVine was given the starting nod over Mo Williams by Flip Saunders.  This actually makes a lot of sense for two reasons:

  1. LaVine gets quality minutes, something that was severely lacking in the first handful of games this season.
  2. It keeps Williams’ role as a veteran leader, instant offense off the bench and on the second unit.

Rubio of course suffered a torn ACL several years back so he is no stranger to the recovery process.  It is a shame that this had to happen again to Ricky though as he was having a whale of a start to the season.  The Wolves starting PG was averaging 9.4ppg, 10apg (3rd in the NBA), 5.6rpg, and 1.2 spg.  More than all of that however, he looked like (and was) the leader on the floor for the club.

The Wolves have been competitive in each and every game thus far this season.  However, the club got off to a wretched start last night in Miami, falling behind 29-13 after the first quarter.  LaVine finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, but the entire team struggled mightily.  The team finished the game shooting 40% from the field but that was largely aided by a late run in the game to cut the Heat lead to four points.

Will the Wolves remain competitive over the next month or two without their leader?  How does this affect the growing chemistry Rubio was building with Andrew Wiggins and others on the floor?  These answers will come over the course of the next few weeks and the remainder of the season.

Here is to hoping Ricky is back sooner rather than later.  Go Wolves!

Timberwolves Battle Back, Suffer Heartbreaking Loss to Bulls

(photo credit: yahoo)

(photo credit: yahoo)

Saturday’s home stand against the Bulls proved an emotional roller coaster for the Timberwolves and 19,000+ fans in attendance. Kevin Martin delivered a huge performance, leading the team with 33 points.  Minnesota overcame a difficult first half and gave the Bulls a serious run for their money. In the end, though, the Wolves fell just short in a last-second 106-105 loss.

Both teams shot almost 50 percent on the evening, but it was the first half that initially buried the Wolves. Head coach Flip Saunders played Nikola Pekovic for a majority of the first two quarters, but he once again struggled beneath the basket. Pek tallied only eight points (of his final 17) during this time, and perhaps more surprising was the fact that he entered halftime with only three rebounds in over 15 minutes on the floor. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who played just eight minutes in the first half, grabbed five boards.

Minnesota as a team struggled to rebound. Despite finishing the game with a solid 42 rebounds, only 17 of those occurred over the first two quarters. In addition, the Wolves allowed Chicago to sink an incredibly 68 percent of its baskets. Rookie Andrew Wiggins had an incredibly quiet start, and Rubio struggled to make his shots. Thad Young scored eight points, but he left the game at the end of the second following a nasty collision with Jimmy Butler. At halftime, Minny trailed 49-63.

In the third quarter, however, things turned around. Wiggins continued his trend of coming to life in the third quarter, grabbing four points and two steals. Martin showed no signs of slowing down as he scored nine points in the third, and second-year Anthony Bennett added six.

The Wolves were behind for a majority of the game, but in the second half they continued to battle back and keep the point gap to single digits. The highlight of the game came when Martin nailed a three-pointer from the left side to put the Wolves up 105-104 with only 2.9 seconds left in the game.  The crowd exploded, feeling as if the Wolves had stolen a last-minute win.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Butler drew Wiggins in for a foul with .2 seconds remaining, and the guard easily made both free throws to seal a Chicago victory.

Following the game, Wiggins was clearly taking responsibility upon himself for the loss.

“I could’ve changed the outcome of the game,” Wiggins said. “It was a learning experience for me. It hurt, but the good thing about the NBA, I’ve got another game in a couple days.”

Martin, however, took the pressure off his teammate. The veteran forward explained that it was a team effort and a situation that the entire roster needs to learn from.

“I told [Andrew] that we lost that game in the first half,” Martin said. “It had nothing to do with that last play. We’ve got to come in here and have a better effort in the first half so we’re not trying to climb uphill.”

An arena focus on Saturday night was Rubio’s recently signed four-year extension. Announcements were made, and the score board highlighted the news a few times throughout the night. During the starting lineup, Rubio received–by far–the largest amount of support by a very excited crowd. Despite scoring only six points on the evening, Rubio dished out an incredible 17 assists. In addition, he played well on defense and committed only three turnovers, an area he has historically struggled in.

“It’s nice to see my teammates making shots and I’m going to look for them every night, but all I want to do is win,” said Rubio.

 

Up next: The Timberwolves leave for a 12-day, six-game roadtrip. The next home game will not be until Wednesday, Nov. 19.