Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 19

 

(photo credit: StarTribune.com)

Good times are coming for the Wolves?!  (Photo credit: StarTribune.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The past week was pretty kind to the Timberwolves, who took out Phoenix and Sacramento on their way to returning to .500 ball on the season (29-29).  The next two weeks includes a number of very winnable games and this is where the team just needs to get hot and stay hot, if they aren’t already in that area.  The Wolves have one more road game to finish up this road trip and then return to Target Center for a four game stand.

While I have written the playoffs off for this season, that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest a hot streak to bring them a little bit closer to that 8 seed.  The Wolves remain 5 games behind Phoenix, but would also need to leapfrog Memphis, who has a 4 game advantage on our team.  It is certainly going to be an uphill battle, all I ask is that they make it interesting.

Game 60: Monday, 3/3, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: FSN Plus)

Monday night in Denver will wrap up the five game road trip for the Pups and will give them an opportunity to go over .500.  The team is 4-1 since the all-star break and will have Sunday off in order to rest up a bit for the Denver air.  The Nuggets’ season is a lost cause as they have lost 10 of their last 11 games.  Hopefully that means the Wolves are catching them at the right time.

Opponent to watch:

Randy Foye – With Ty Lawson injured, I might be reaching here a bit.  However, Foye is averaging 19.6ppg in his last five outings and is coming on for the Nuggets.  As Wolves’ fans have experienced, this may not necessarily be a good sign, but hey, it is what it is.

Predictions:

I would normally suggest the Wolves take one on the chin here, closing out a five game road trip in Denver.  However, they had that huge break between games this past week and the Nuggets are looking abysmal of late.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Nuggets 102

Game 61: Wednesday, 3/5, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves took care of the Knicks at MSG very early on this season and I expect more of the same in this match-up.  Going into Sunday’s match-up with the Bulls, the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 13 games and the team is on the back page of the NY tabloids newspapers for all the wrong reasons.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Melo is second in the league in scoring at 28.2ppg.  His team is 17 games under .500 and I still believe there’s a strong correlation here.  Fair or unfair, I’ve never been a fan of Melo and feel like he has underachieved in his career.  Despite outstanding statistical performances, he has yet to win much of anything.

Predictions:

While Corey Brewer will have his hands full, I expect the home team to have no problem here in their return to the Target Center.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Knicks 97

Game 62: Friday, 3/7, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Pistons will host the Knicks and Bulls prior to Friday night’s match-up in Minnesota, so they will be equally rested for this game.  Heading into this week they are also on quite a losing streak, having dropped 7 of their last 8 games.  Despite how awful the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks, the Pistons find themselves in the lottery right now, with a 23-36 record heading into the week.

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Jennings – Remember when Jennings made fun of Ricky Rubio several years ago before he was drafted?  Yeah, I barely do too, as that feels about 12 years ago.  Well, Jennings leads the Pistons with 16.8ppg and 7.9apg and you can see where that has gotten the team in the standings.

Predictions:

Why does Joe Dumars still have a job?  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Pistons 95

Game 63: Sunday, 3/9, 6pm – Toronto Raptors @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

Maybe the most surprising team in the NBA this season (sans Portland?) the Raptors head into this week with a 32-26 record, which leads the Atlantic Division and puts the team in the 3 seed in the conference.  Read that entire sentence again.  Good grief.  I have no idea how this team is doing it but it does make me a bit frustrated to think that Dwane Casey could have been the Wolves long-term coach.

Opponent to watch:

DeMar DeRozan – There were times when Wolves fans believed they could steal DeRozan from Toronto for twelve cents on the dollar.  Those days are long gone as the SG is having a banner year with the team, averaging 22.7ppg, while also throwing in 4.5rpg and 3.9apg.

Predictions:

The Raptors took care of the Wolves back in January and this might be a tough one again.  Toronto has a game later today but are then off until Friday against Sacramento, before heading to the Target Center.  In other words, this team should be fresh.  Final score: Raptors 99, Timberwolves 95

Wrap-up:

Taking three out of four this week will go a long way to making the rest of the season a little more interesting.  The first three games this coming week should be W’s for the team.  If they drop any of them, the Pups will need to “steal” Sunday’s game against the Raptors.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 110

Ricky Rubio in the new Timberwolves Lights-Out Sleeve Jersey (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

Ricky Rubio in the new Timberwolves Lights-Out Sleeve Jersey
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook)

 

Our Pups returned to the Target Center to take on the Nuggets Wednesday night, kicking off the Thanksgiving weekend!  As an added bonus, the Timberwolves showcased their new “sleeve jersey” for the first time.  They will wear these jerseys in 10 games over the course of the season, per the FSN broadcast.

Once again, no surprises or changes in the Wolves’ starting five – Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Nuggets opened the game with Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and JJ Hickson.

Game Summary

Wednesday night at Target Center was full of exciting plays and mounting comebacks, only to see the Wolves fall short in their efforts.  The loss drops the team to 8-9 on the season and you can find the negativity all over Twitter.  While a few numbers are below to prove it, the Pups desperately need to get more out of their bench.  (You already know this)  [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 88, Denver Nuggets 111

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver NuggetsGame Recap:

I will keep this rather punctual, as there are only so many words you can say following a 23-point loss and a 21-38 record. Minnesota marched into their demise playing a Denver team that has one of the deepest rosters in the association. The Nuggets entered the game with a home win-loss total of 27-3, and outlasted the Timberwolves in the fourth-quarter as the Puppies fell 111-88.

The Timberwolves went with a starting lineup consisting of Rubio-Ridnour-Gelabale-Williams-Stiemsma against Lawson-Igoudala-Galinari-Faried-Koufos for Denver. Minnesota gave up legitimate size and athleticism to the playoff-bound Nuggets, and were far too undermanned against a tremendous team.

From the opening quarter, the Wolves obvious problems in transition defense were very evident, and they experienced a lot of trouble on their switches in transition D as Denver did a good job of pushing the ball down the court following a Timberwolves field goal. The George Karl-led group does a wonderful job of spacing the floor in the half-court offense, and move the ball laterally very effectively. One cannot comment enough on the deepness of this Denver team’s roster, and it is unfair to rag on the Wolves too much for their loss when considering how few healthy bodies they have. With so many injuries to core players, it is tough to be very demanding with this squad.

The Pups had their work cut out for them opposite of Ty Lawson. The former North Carolina star was having his way, gaining easy penetration and doing a nice job of finding open teammates on the perimeter. The fringe-All-Star was once drafted by the Timberwolves, but was later shipped off for a future first-round pick instead. It is interesting to imagine what might have happened had we held on to Lawson and avoided Jonny Flynn…

The Timberwolves actually kept it close in the second half and went into halftime trailing 50-49. Half time notes and musings:

  • Why does Greg Stiemsma shoot jump shots? Why doesn’t the coaching staff stop this? Even though he knocked down a couple, he is spending much less time right next to the hoop where he should be. He has taken on a much smaller role in defending the rim as of late.
  • Three of Denver’s core rotation players were once Timberwolves. When does accountability fall on Timberwolves front office and coaching staff for failing to develop or recognize ability? It is infuriating to casually watch so many ex-Timberwolves thriving in their new settings.
  • Derrick Williams is not looking to shoot open three-pointers. He is playing as if he aspires to be a common role player. One thing that caught my attention during the game was seeing the absolutely ripped Andre Igoudala next to Williams, who still has some baby fat to shed. It led to me thinking about how in order for Derrick to really be good with the skill set he has, he will need to be at a higher level of personal fitness and will need to log many hours in the weight room this summer.
  •  Andrei Kirilenko continues to be missing with injury, and it is no shock considering his elaborate history with a myriad of injuries. There is no point in AK-47 playing with nagging injuries as the team, to be brutally honest, is essentially playing for a high draft pick at this point in the season. Without their core players healthy, this team is going absolutely nowhere.

The Nuggets took advantage of their various mismatches in the third period and they continued to heat up from beyond the arc. JaVale McGee was straight ballin’ in the third quarter and entertained the viewers with a few very exciting alley-oops. JaVale, who is currently slated behind former Pup Kosta Koufos on the depth chart, greatly exemplifies just how much more talented and deep Denver is than Minnesota. You could even make the argument that Denver’s second unit of which contains Miller-Brewer-Chandler-JaVale contains more talent than the Wolves current starting five.

JJ Barea played well tonight and should get some attention for his good effort. Ricky Rubio, however, had a very tough time tonight. Rubio had a tough time making plays as his fellow shooters were very timid and were very hesitant on countless good setups from our Spanish point guard. Denver had a relatively easy time holding off the Pups, and they stretched their lead 83-70 heading into the final period.

The last shred of hope for the Pups came when they were able to cut the score 85-76 with 9:30 remaining in the game. However, not soon after the Nuggets quickly opened the game up in transition and from beyond the arc. Ty Lawson was feeling especially hot from long range, and scored a game-high 32 points. Once the game got out of hand, Denver came out smiling and won by a score of 111-88.

Keys of the Game:

Fast-break points —– Denver controlled the game in transition, and caught Timberwolves players napping on several occasions leading to fast-break slam dunks. Nuggets head coach Karl says that his current roster is the fastest roster he has ever had, and it was blatant all night long.

Steals —– Minnesota had 5 steals, while Denver grabbed an astonishing 13 steals. This allowed them to dominate in transition and put on a show for the sold out home arena.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Ty Lawson —– In 34 minutes, Lawson notched a ridiculous 32 points on 12-17 shooting. This included a perfect 4-4 from long distance, and he torched Luke Ridnour on many occassions.
  2. Corey Brewer —– Who else besides another Timberwolf? The Brew-Crew was great last night scoring 15 points on 7-13 shooting in 25 minutes off of the bench. Brewer has found a home and a team that trusts him in Denver, and it is very nice to see.
  3. Andre Igoudala —– Igouldala has looked much more comfortable in the Denver offense since his rocky start to the season, and is amazing in that he does a little bit of everything night-in and night-out. Iggy finished with the line of 10 points-5 rebounds-4 steals-3 assists-3 blocks in 32 minutes.

 

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets

Photo Credit: Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Setting the stage:
For the third time already this season, the Wolves face the Nuggets on Thursday night in Denver. This will be the second game of a back to back and the Wolves will once again be without Ricky Rubio. The thin air of Denver for a team that barely has enough healthy bodies to fill a rotation. Not to mention, the Wolves have had very few back to back experiences thus far in the season. This may not end well.

The Nuggets beat the Wolves at Target Center on 11/21, 101-94. The Wolves returned the favor on 12/12/12 (sorry, couldn’t resist), beating the Nuggets 108-105. Minnesota is coming off a bad loss Wednesday night in Utah where they looked lifeless, being blown out 106-84. Conversely, Denver is coming off of a win Tuesday night against the hottest team in the NBA, the Clippers.

The Nuggets are 18-15 on the year, good for second place in the Northwest division and seventh in the Western Conference. They remain one of the strongest offensive teams in the league, averaging 101.6 ppg (8th in the league) and 23.1 apg (5th). The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding at 46.3 per game, a slight advantage over the Lakers and Wolves.

As mentioned in Wednesday’s preview for the Jazz game, tonight is another important game for the Wolves against a division and conference opponent with similar playoff aspirations.

Player to watch:
Kevin Love – It is no secret that Love is struggling mightily from the field this season. Broken hand or not, he is letting these struggles negatively affect other elements of his game. His jump shot looks broken. As suggested during last night’s game in Utah, it might be worth creating a little bit of a wake-up call to Love and the rest of the locker room to challenge him to work more in the paint, particularly when Pekovic is out of the game. The Wolves need Love to get going … quickly.

Match-up to watch:
Andrei Kirilenko vs. Danilo Gallinari. Much like this Nuggets team in its totality, Danilo’s night in and night out performance continues to be a head scratcher for me. The volatility in how he performs from game to game is pretty amazing. In four games in five nights during Christmas week, Danilo put up 7, 19, 39, and 7 points respectively. You could understand the latter 7 point game as fatigue, but he has thrown up eight games in single digits thus far this season.

It will be interesting to see how Kirilenko responds to not only playing on back to back nights, but the 30+ minutes he put in on his emotional return to Utah. He has had his problems stopping Danilo in the two earlier meetings this season.

Predictions:
No Rubio, the end of a back to back, and the Denver air = Twolves loss.
Final score prediction: Twolves 102, Nuggets 108

Three stars of the game predictions:
1. Ty Lawson
2. Andre Iguodala
3. Nikola Pekovic

Hope the Pups can prove me wrong. Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 94 – Denver Nuggets 101

Photo Credits: Jim Mone – Associated Press

He’s back! In a surprise activation for Wednesday’s home contest against the Denver Nuggets, Kevin Love was cleared to play by Timberwolves training personnel and stunned the home crowd by starting a game weeks ahead of his return schedule. Wearing a protective black glove on his right shooting hand, K-Love gave the fans plenty of reasons to cheer as he posted a remarkable 34 points (12-25 FG) and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. However, Love’s heroics were not enough to put away a feisty Nuggets squad, and the Timberpups were unable to hold onto a 14-point halftime lead, ultimately falling by a score of 101-94.

The return of Love was enough to overshadow the fact that the Wolves blew a big first-half lead and lost a game at home that they definitely should have had. The glove on Love’s shooting hand appeared to slightly inhibit his ability to shoot, as displayed by his 2-9 3FG and his 8-14 from the free throw line. As his hand continues to gain strength, we should see the same K-Love we know from behind the arc and at the charity stripe, and it is truly a Thanksgiving blessing that an estimated mid-December return was transformed into a November 21st return.

Free throw shooting played a key part to the outcome of this game. Both teams were nearly deadlocked in all team statistical categories, except for free throws. Denver converted on 22 of their 26 opportunities, while Minnesota only saw 16 of their 25 attempts fall. In a game that was separated by only a few points until Minnesota’s last minute foul frenzy, free throws played a huge difference maker in deciding the winner of this one.

The other big storyline from Wednesday night involved Derrick Williams, who received his first did not play-coach’s decision of the season. Williams, who previously was the team’s starting PF until Love rejoined the team, amazingly did not see the court once and appears to have completely fallen out of favor with head coach Rick Adelman. What this means going forward is very unclear, as D-Will is still only a tender 21 years of age and has flashed moments of brilliance from time to time in his young career. Dissecting this situation from the perspective of Coach Adelman, it is clear that he has had enough of dealing with the game-immature Williams and is focusing on winning now, with little to no focus on long-term prospects of this team. The implications of this are both exciting and terrifying, given that a successful team should maintain a healthy balance of veterans and young, talented kids who can someday replace the veterans who have less than five years of NBA years left. The one thing that I will say about Derrick is that from everything that I know and have learned about him, he appears to have a very good head on his shoulders and has displayed great work ethic and devotion to the game. At the same time, he is an extremely gifted player and possesses talent that very few others have. Because of this, I believe that if he continues to work extremely hard and is not a risk to be an off-the-court distraction (aka Michael Beasley), he will ultimately find his way in the NBA and will be a very good player if given the appropriate time. How often does one witness a hyper-talented, good-hearted person devote themselves completely to something and fail? If one is to fail at something they are completely and utterly competent at doing, it generally lies in external factors, as we have seen with Beasley’s pot smoking.

Andrei Kirilenko, who has been the heart and soul of the Timberwolves thus far, had a relatively quiet night and saw a decreased role in the offense with the addition of Love. In 35 minutes, AK-47 scored just 7 points (2-7 FG) and had 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists and was a -1 on the floor. The Nuggets did a very good job of guarding AK, as they gave him an extra step on the perimeter to protect against his tremendous shot-fake which he had thus far used to perfection in order to blow past defenders.

The other member of the Wolves starting frontcourt, Nikola Pekovic, was also ultimately ineffective against a quicker a more dynamic Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets did an excellent job of making adjustments at halftime and went with quicker and more versatile defensive matchups against the big bruiser on the low block.

The Pups starting backcourt had a very inefficient night on the offensive end, as starters Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee combined to shoot a miserable 4-16 from the field. Backups Alexey Shved and JJ Barea did not fair much better, as they shot a combined 7-21 from the field. Barea, who also made his return from a nagging ankle injury on Wednesday night, made 4 three-pointers (which is the most for any individual Pup this season), but was out of control at times and did not do a proper job of running the offense. Caught in a chippy matchup with Ty Lawson, he and Barea went back and forth exchanging offensive fouls and at times it seemed as if the two players were so caught up in their individual matchup that they failed to see the other 9 players on the court. The bigger and stronger Lawson ultimately got the better of the matchup, and it is disappointing to see the veteran Barea allow his emotions to once again dictate the way he operates on the floor. Barea ended with 12 points (4-12 FG), 3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 turnovers while Shved finished with 8 points (3-9 FG), 3 assists, and 2 rebounds.

When it comes down to it, Denver won this game in the post as they caught Minnesota defenders failing to box out on the weak side and took full advantage of their second chance opportunities in the second half. The Nuggets as a team outshot the Pups by 6% FG and were able to steal a divisional matchup on the road. However, there is no need to fret about last night as Love is only going to get his hand stronger and improved conditioning, and hopefully in only a few weeks we will have our starting PG in Ricky Rubio back. Happy Thanksgiving Pups fans, and here are my three stars of the game:

  1. Ty Lawson
  2. Kevin Love
  3. Andre Igoudala