Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 22

Setting the stage: 

My wins-losses prediction for last week was correct.

Unfortunately for me—and Wolves fans everywhere—that means that Minny fell to Houston Thursday night, and the playoffs are really looking to be just beyond reach.

Saying good-bye to the postseason is always painful, and it seems particularly difficult this year when things started out well and it seemed—for a short while—that we had compiled the right puzzle pieces.

That being said, however, the Wolves are working for a strong end to the season.  Several positive things happened this past week:

  • Ricky Rubio had the game of his career against Dallas Wednesday evening, notching his third career triple-double with 22 pts (67%), 15 assts and 10 rebs. On top of that, he added four steals and a block.  To view highlights of the game, click here.
  • Kevin Love stepped up his defensive performance in the last few games. Specifically against Dallas, Love put some solid coverage on Dirk Nowitzki.
  • Rookie Gorgei Dieng started in Nikola Pekovic’s absence, and the rookie surprised everyone. Over two games, Dieng tallied 32 points 32 rebounds.

Can the Wolves keep up a strong finish?  Minnesota has four games this week, two of which are at home. Let’s take a look…

 

Game 69: Sunday, 3/23, 2:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberwolves (TV: untelevised)

Phoenix is one place above Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, and lately the Suns have been making it easier for the Wolves to catch up. The Suns have a busy week as well, playing five games in the next week. They will face Detroit on Friday before travelling to Minnesota. Phoenix is only two games out of slot No. 8, and the Wolves can expect a tough opponent for Sunday afternoon’s game.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic is averaging 20.4 points and six assists per game, and he will be a challenging matchup for Rubio. In his previous two matchups with Minnesota, Dragic scored 26 and 16 points, respectively.

Predictions:

Phoenix and Minnesota prove pretty equal opponents, and it may just come down to the team more hungry for a win. The Wolves do have home-court advantage, though, and they’ve been playing stronger as a team. I’ll take Minny for the win.

Final Score: Wolves 105, Suns 95

(photo credit: wtop.com)

(photo credit: wtop.com)

 

Game 70: Monday, 3/24, 7:00pm – Timberwolves @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

The Wolves are 1-1 with Memphis so far this season, and they will play them twice more before the close. The Grizzlies are currently slotted at No. 7 in the playoff race,* but they could use a few more “W’s” to bolster their confidence.  They have had a solid month so far, losing only two of their last 10 games.

Opponent to watch:

Marc Gasol – Gasol is only averaging 13.8 points a game, but right now he will probably be the Wolves biggest challenge as starting center Nikola Pekovic continues to be sidelined.  At 7’1″, Gasol definitely has a size advantage over Dieng, who has been filling in for Pek.  Fortunately for Minny, Dieng has done more than held his own over the past two games. Monday night’s contest could be a true test for the young rookie.

Predictions:

Plain and simple, Memphis is on a roll.  In all reality, the Grizzlies have more to gain from a win than Minnesota, and I think that will make the difference. It’s the end of the year, both teams are tired, and the Grizzlies hold the momentum card at this point in the game.  I expect a close game at the Target Center, but it seems likely that the Grizz will take this one.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Grizzlies  106

 

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/26, 7:00pm – Atlanta Hawks @ Timberwolves (TV: Fox Sports North Plus)

In my opinion, Wednesday’s game against Atlanta will prove the most exciting of the week. At 31-35, Atlanta is barely clinging to that No. 8 spot in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Hawks and the Wolves have shared a similar type of season, but their difference in location spells completely different stories. The teams are 1-1 against each other on the season.  Atlanta is ranked No. 5 in the NBA for three-point shooting, and Minnesota comes in way behind at No. 26.  Kevin Martin and JJ Barea will need to be more than present for the Wolves to keep up with the long-range game.

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Korver – Korver is the sole reason that Atlanta has the three-point game it does.  At 33 years old, the veteran averages 2.7 three-point buckets per game, landing him at No. 1 in the league overall.  On Feb. 1, Korver scored 24 points (half of those from behind the three-point line) against Minnesota.

Predictions:

Wednesday’s game should be a pretty even matchup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a bit chippy.  The big key to a Wolves win will be defense.  Minnesota has struggled on that end of the floor all year, but lately it has improved.  If Rubio and Barea can stick to Korver, and if Love can step it up and offer coverage beneath the basket, I think the Wolves ultimately have the stronger team here.

Final score: Timberwolves 101, Hawks 98

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

 

Game 72: Friday, 3/28 7pm – LA Lakers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are a far cry from the team they once were.  In fact, only four teams in the NBA currently hold worse records than the Lakers.  When is the last time that happened? The Wolves are 2-1 against the Lakers this season, and Friday night should add one more win in Minny’s favor.  The Lakers have no more to play for this season … except maybe a higher draft pick …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – As much as it pains me to say this, I’m naming Wes Johnson as the player to watch in Friday’s game.  After leaving Minnesota, the 2010 No. 4 draft pick has actually done quite well on the West Coast. Johnson is currently averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.  While not staggering stats, it’s common for players to feel the “something to prove” attitude when playing their old team.  I expect Johnson to have a big game in return to his former stomping grounds.

Predictions:

If Minnesota can keep things rolling the way it has, Friday’s home stand should be a win over LA.  I’m going out on a limb and calling it a big win.

Final score: Timberwolves 111, Lakers 89

 

Wrap-up:

Playoff hopes aside, Wolves fans hope to see Minnesota play its remaining games with gusto.  This past week provided a lot of momentum for the Wolves, and I expect it to continue in the four-game week.

 

 

 

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 21

Setting the stage: 

Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.

The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof.  Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.

Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?

It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.

Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…

 

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest.  However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins.  Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.

Predictions:

Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.

Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96

rudy gay

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week.  The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker. 

Opponent to watch:

Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night.  Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.

Predictions:

This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks  100

 

Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.

Predictions:

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here.  Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111

james harden

Wrap-up:

It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.

 

*records current as of 3/14/2014

Timberwolves Devour Bucks in Second Half, 112-101 Final Score

The Timberwolves appeared sluggish throughout the first half of Tuesday night’s home stand against Milwaukee.  Fortunately for Minnesota, the Wolves rebounded after halftime and played a second half much stronger than their opponents. Coming out on top of the 112-101 final score, the Timberwolves bagged their 32nd win of the season.  Kevin Love led with 27 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Kevin Martin with 26 points. Dante Cunningham and JJ Barea came off the bench for a total of 28 points.

Incredibly, the Bucks didn’t miss a single shot until the 4:35 mark of the first quarter, making all 12 of their first attempts. Not surprisingly after those numbers, the Wolves trailed by five going into Q2.

“I thought [the Bucks] were going to set some sort of record,” said Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman after the game.

Minnesota shot 46 percent in the second quarter, but the Bucks continued to drop almost 60 percent of their shots. Defensively, the Wolves just weren’t on target. Barea came off the bench and added the spark and aggressiveness that his team needed. Barea’s tenacity and better-than-average shooting, combined with Martin’s offense, kept Minny in the game during the first half.

“I love it. I miss it,” Barea said. “I miss playing off the ball a little bit, especially with Ricky. When I’m making shots, it’s great for our team.”

Barea_Milwaukee_edit

According to Adelman, the locker room speech at halftime revolved around defense. “[In the first half] we shared the wealth,” Adelman said. “Every starter [for Milwaukee] had a basket in the first six minutes of the game. We were too soft. They made shots, but we let them go wherever they wanted to go.”

Love scored only nine points in the first half, but the All-Star came alive in the third quarter, hitting two three-point buckets and a jump shot and grabbing a couple rebounds. Love added another three-point shot and 11 total points in the fourth.

Ricky Rubio also delivered a strong performance for Minnesota, grabbing 11 points, 10 assists and three steals.  Rubio has played well the last few games, and his confidence in shooting the ball seems to finally be increasing. The starting PG shared his minutes a bit with Barea, but Adelman played the two in the same lineup several times, as well.

“J.J.’s a great scorer and sometimes he needs to play the (shooting guard),” Rubio said. [...] I like playing with him. He made shots today and he played a lot.”

Rubio_Milwaukee_edit

Milwaukee PG Brandon Knight led his team with 21 points, but in the end it wasn’t enough to regain the lead against Minnesota. The Bucks struggled to keep up after halftime, and their shots didn’t fall the way they did in the first. On the evening, the Wolves shot 48 percent to the Bucks’ 52. While the 13-win team certainly gave a valiant effort during 75 percent of the contest, the fourth quarter proved Minnesota the better team.

Up Next:

Tuesday’s victory marked the first time Minnesota has won 32 games in a single season since 2006-2007, when the squad notched the same number.  The squad will attempt Win #33 when it faces Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Bobcats on the road Friday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.. Fans can view the game on Fox Sports North.

Wolves Can’t Keep Up for Four Quarters, Fall to Raptors at Home

And here we are.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been playing predominantly well since the All-Star break, but faced a tough Toronto Raptors team on Sunday night. The Raptors entered the game as winners of eight of their previous 10 games, allowing only 96 points per game during those contests. Had it not been for a triple-overtime game against the Washington Wizards, in which Toronto allowed 136 points, that 96 opponents points per game would have been closer to 90 — they’re playing pretty good basketball.

Entering the day the Wolves sat five games back of the final seed in the Western Conference. The Dallas Mavericks (37-26) and Phoenix Suns (36-25) are holding down the final two slots with the Memphis Grizzlies (36-26) only a half-game behind the Suns and Mavs, whilst also standing between the Wolves and their highly optimistic playoff aspirations. The Mavericks were hosting the Indiana Pacers and the Suns were in The Bay Area taking on the Golden State Warriors, Memphis had the night off. Each team, minus the Grizz, faced a tough opponent but the Wolves needed a victory before worrying about the outcome of things beyond their control.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross took the floor for the Raptors while Rick Adelman sent out the usual group of Wolves to start the game. If you’re not familiar by now, that means Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic were the starting five for the Wolves. The pesky, lengthy, athletic core of the Raptors posed problems for the Wolves during their last meeting in Toronto, a game the Wolves did not win.

First Half

The first quarter, well, it seemed sloppy. However, the Raptors made the box score look clean by hitting 13 of 19 shots (68%!!!!). Each Toronto starter scored, but they were led by Ross who scored 10 points and didn’t miss a shot during the opening frame. Love led the way with 12 for the Wolves and the game was all tied up, 33-33.

The second quarter was a game of runs for both sides, and a wave of emotions for fans at the Target Center. Toronto started the quarter off on a 10-0 run, which was really 18-0 dating back to the opening quarter — yikes. However, the Wolves countered with a 17-2 run of their own and before anyone knew anything the game was tied again. The Raptors took a 53-52 lead into halftime, but failed to sustain the momentum they accumulated during the opening quarter and early part of the second. Love lead the way with 13, Pek added 13, Martin scored 11 and the rest of the Wolves managed to score 14 to aid the core in keeping things close.

Second Half

The Raptors started the second half on a 9-2 run, but the Wolves continued to battle. After some nice ball movement around the perimeter, Love found himself open for a three-pointer and buried it; passing Rashad McCants on the list of three’s made by Wolves player. At the 7:00 mark, J.J. Barea missed an easy layup that would have cut the deficit to two. Lowry, thankfully, committed an offensive foul that accounted for Barea’s miss and the game went to a timeout. The Wolves then trailed, 62-64.

Note – Love also broke the franchise record for most three pointers made in a season during this stretch. 

 Through Three Quarters

  • 83-76 Raptors
  • Four Raptors players in double-figures (three Wolves)
  • Love — 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists
  • Rubio — 16:38 minutes. Six points, three assists, four fouls

And here we are.

The fourth quarter began and Alexey Shved, who we haven’t seen on the court in a meaningful moment of a game, was playing point guard, albeit he was quickly replaced as Adelman only was trying to get away with what he had done for a small amount of time. Rubio, eager to return, checked in at the 9:21 mark and played — nearly — the remainder of the game, and it made a difference. Although the Wolves weren’t able to keep pace with the Raptors throughout the entirety of the game, the lineups playing when the game is on the line seem to be the combination of players that people want to see. Or maybe that’s just me reading my timeline on the Twitter verse incorrectly.

The Wolves, although narrowing the lead down to as little as two points, were unable to rally and win a game that good teams should expect to win on their home floor.

Three Stars

  • Kyle Lowry — 20 points, 11 assists, 12 rebounds.
  • DeMar Derozan — 25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 of 3 from three-point range — he’s a good player. (Great analysis I know)
  • Corey Brewer — 17 points, 6 steals, 3 rebounds, 3 assists.

Wolves Defeat Kings, 108-97

Before we get into things I’m going to display a few photos. One of these pictures you might be familiar with, as i’ve used it in recent recaps, but the other is something new.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

Remember this? I determined that 7 of the 10 games following the all-star break were ‘winnable’ games by Wolves standards. Halfway through the stretch, Minnesota is 4-1 with victories over the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings became the latest victim of the Wolves recent success. (I’ll get to that other picture in a little while)

First Half

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup after each played missed notable amounts of time due to injury.

Pekovic left the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 27th and the Wolves went 7-7 during his absence. A short time after Pekovic was sidelined, on the 7th of February, Martin played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans but fractured a finger at some point during the game. The Wolves played 8 games missing both Martin and Pekovic, but emerged victorious in all but three of those outings.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Corey Brewer trotted out with Pekovic and Martin and matched up against Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Some could argue that the Kings victory over the Wolves in January, at the Target Center, was the worst loss for Minnesota this season.

So, call it the revenge game if you must. Martin got things going without any further ado, shooting six of seven from the field and scoring 14 first quarter points. Pekovic, playing on a minute limit, was replaced by Dante Cunningham after six minutes of playing time. Despite the outburst by Martin the Wolves trailed the Kings at the end of the opening quarter, 30-31, as Gay nearly matched “K-Mart (K-Target)” basket for basket — Gay scored 12 points in the 1st quarter on five of six shooting from the field. Pekovic found his rhythm in the 2nd quarter, but Gay didn’t skip a beat and the Wolves were outscored by the Kings and trailed at the half; 53-56. Here are some quick notes from the games’ first two quarters.

  • Pekovic and Martin — 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting
  • Love couldn’t get much going but found ways to contribute. He was an abysmal one of six shooting but scored nine points after converting on six of eight free-throw attempts. Love also helped keep the game close with four assists.
  • Rest of team — 15 points
  • Rudy Gay — 22 points 8 of 11 FG, 4 of 6 3PT FG, 2 of 2 FT. This is something that shouldn’t happen.

Second Half

The 3rd quarter was a ‘whole different ball game,’ as the cliche goes. After the game was over, Love and Adelman both mentioned – on the Fox Sports North broadcast – that the team rallied in the locker room to play with a sense of urgency after halftime. Whatever happened in the visiting locker room at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night should be repeated over and over again for the remainder of the season. The starters trotted out in surefire form and outscored the Kings 31-14 during the third frame. Rubio, who only had three assists by halftime, tallied five ‘dimes’ distributed among the other five Wolves players that scored in the third. However, the offense wasn’t flashy as we’ve known it to be — the Wolves went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting on 9 attempts, and forced the Kings into six turnovers.

The Wolves scored six fast break, and five second-chance, points. The Kings were limited to zero fast break points and didn’t shoot one FT during the third, the home team was beat in almost every aspect of the game on each possession. Things got interesting, as they usually do, during the 4th quarter and after entering the final 12 minutes with a 14 point lead — the score narrowed and fans watching at home began to worry, and had every right to do so. Four minutes went by and the Kings outscored the Wolves 14-6 in the short span.

Albeit his performance since returning from knee surgery has oft been criticized, Chase Budinger performed well in these four — crucial — minutes of the game. Budinger had two key rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) and four pivotal points while the starters rested and waited to get back into the game. Martin, Brewer, and Love entered the game at the 8:34 mark by replacing Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, and Luc Mbah a Moute. J.J. Barea and Cunningham remained on the floor. The Wolves led by nine, 90-81, but the Kings push was imminent. It may have been close to a double-digit lead, but the game was not at all out of reach for Sacramento — the home crowd could sense it and tensions rose during the final minutes. — I’m not sure if Rick Adelman will continue going to Rubio to close out games, but he needs to start doing so — there’s been many, many calling for this to happen — because BareaBall isn’t always the answer. — The lead now down to eight, Rubio checked into the game for Barea with the score at 93-85.

After a string of hair-pulling events, the lead was narrowed down to two. The crowd was on their feet and a streaking Rudy Gay headed toward the basket for what seemed as if it would be a game-tying layup — he did everything but make the easy basket. Love grabbed the defensive rebound, Rubio brought the ball upcourt, dished it back to Love who missed a three-point attempt. Pekovic grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by Cousins. Pek made both free-throws and the lead was extended to four.

After a steal by Rubio, and some ball movement along the perimeter, Ricky fired a three from the right wing, with the shot clock winding down, that fell through the bottom of the net and the Wolves were in business. The dagger put the lead at eight with less than a minute remaining. The Wolves prevailed over the Kings, 108-97.

Here’s that other picture. 1620760_10202709983145019_561495350_n   Currently, Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas are the teams rounding off the Western Conference Playoff spots. The Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6, are five-and-a-half games out of the 8th seed in the West. The Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, and Grizzlies are all 2-2 in their previous four games. For the Wolves, albeit the door is slamming shut, have a chance to slide a proverbial foot over the threshold and into the postseason picture. Tonight, Minnesota is in Denver to face the depleted Nuggets, they’ll be 5-1 in games after All-Star Weekend with a victory.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Martin — 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Although only going 1 for 5 from three-point land, he converted seven of eight from the charity stripe. The free points were, and are always, important.
  • Nikola Pekovic — 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Pek recorded nearly 27 minutes of action and Adelman can be quoted, saying after the game, that he used the 295 pound center returning from injury — and still playing through pain — more than he would have liked.
  • Kevin Love — why not? 22 points on a horrible shooting night (4 of 12) but 12 of 14 from the FT line, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

zb

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.

 

 

zb

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 2.44.13 PM

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.