Happy Birthday Crunch – Wolves Lose to Pelicans 92-84

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter - @WolvesCrunch)

Happy Birthday Crunch! (Photo credit: Twitter – @WolvesCrunch)


The 7-34 Minnesota Timberwolves completed their brief homestand on Friday night against the 21-21 New Orleans Pelicans.  Both teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions but one is clearly still playing for something this season while the other continues to receive more bad news.  Reports have surfaced that Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury is worse than originally thought.  That quickly took all of the steam out of Nikola Pekovic’s return to action on Wednesday night.  The Pelicans have been struggling with their own injury news of late with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missing time recently.

The two teams met early on this season in New Orleans, with the Pelicans undressing the Wolves to the tune of 139-91 – the worst loss in Wolves’ franchise history.

Looking for a reason to celebrate Wolves’ fans?  The Wolves celebrated Crunch’s birthday Friday night at the Target Center.  So at least there’s that for those in attendance.

Let’s take a look at how Friday night’s action went down at the Target Center.  The Wolves opened up with a starting lineup of Mo Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Thad Young, and Gorgui Dieng.  The Pelicans countered with the following starting five: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, ex-Pup Dante Cunningham, the aforementioned Davis, and Omer Asik.

The one Pup that I have consistently laid into this season (Thad) started off a house of fire, accounting for 7 of the Wolves first 11 points, which led to NOLA Coach Monty Williams to call a very quick timeout with his team down 11-1.  While the Wolves continued to hustle and play relatively well coming out of the timeout, the shooting percentage came back to earth and the Pelicans were able to tie the game at 18, forcing Flip Saunders to burn the Wolves first timeout with just over three minutes left to play in the 1st Quarter.

With Wiggins and Pekovic a combined 1-8 in the opening quarter for the Wolves, the Pelicans took a 24-20 lead into the break.  As time expired in the 1st, Chase Budinger drew a foul on a three pointer, only to see the referees swallow their whistles.  It has been a rough enough season for Chase, he doesn’t need any help from the zebras.

After taking a 32-29 lead in the 2nd Quarter on a beautiful post move from Gorgui Dieng, the Wolves turned the ball over on consecutive series and quickly gave up their lead.  Concentrating on the positive for a moment, Dieng’s offensive game continues to grow stronger as the weeks continue to pass by.  If for no other reason, and I can’t think of another one, Pekovic’s injury has had at least one benefit for the Wolves and that is the improvement in Dieng’s all around game (and likely his confidence).

At the half, the Wolves trailed 45-44.  Halftime notes/stats:

  • Thad Young with a team high 11 points on 5-8 shooting … but 0 rebounds
  • Conversely, Dieng finished the half with 8 points and 7 rebounds
  • The Wolves shot 44% from the floor in the 1st half, while the Pelicans shot 59%
  • Pups only got to the free throw line six times in the half – as did the Pelicans – but only made two of their attempts

The 3rd Quarter seemed to slog along with some ugly basketball being played.  Through the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wolves had one made basket and two free throws.  After Dante Cunningham made two long range jump shots, Flip Saunders called a timeout to try to straighten the ship.

The Pelicans opened up a double digit lead but the Wolves were able to cut it back down to four.  Nate Wolters scored as the clock was running down in the quarter, giving the Pelicans a 69-63 lead heading into the final frame.

There were several mini-runs for each team to start the 4th Quarter, with the Wolves trimming the Pelicans lead thanks to some strong offensive play from Chase Budinger, who scored all but two of his ten total points in the 4th.  However, the Wolves could never get over the hump and fell to the Pelicans.

With about :40 seconds to go in the game, the Pelicans were inbounding the ball up by six.  With a foul to give before going into the penalty, the Wolves scrambled to try to trap an opponent defensively.  It didn’t work but with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the Wolves then commit the foul.  That resets the shot clock to 14 seconds and the Wolves then have to commit another foul before forcing the Pelicans to the line.  In no way, shape or form was this a defensive strategy worth repeating.  Ever.  Either foul early and stretch the game as much as possible or play and hope they miss the shot.

The final score: New Orleans 92, Minnesota 84.

Game Notes:

  • Happy birthday Crunch!  You don’t look a day over 26 …
  • If the Wolves have any interest in winning games the rest of the way, a Pekovic-Dieng frontcourt is going to need to be used
  • Mo Williams had a quiet double-double on Friday night, tallying 12 points and 10 assists
  • In fact, the Wolves assisted on 27 of their 35 made baskets (77%)

Putting Timberwolves thru the NBA Trade Machine

Putting Timberwolves thru the Trade Machine & this is one of the more appealing deals to be had ... I think

Putting Timberwolves thru the Trade Machine & this is one of the more appealing deals to be had … I think

The Timberwolves came into the 2013/14 season with high expectations, or at the very least, expectations of being a playoff team in a loaded Western Conference.  After a hot start, the team has cooled down some and is floating around what I like to call the Mason-Dixon Line, i.e. playing around .500 ball.  The schedule has done the team no favors, but that is completely out of the team’s control.  What we do know from the first third of the season is that the team is lacking in the depth department.  Coach Adelman is relying too heavily on his starters and a seven/eight man rotation is going to pay unkind dividends come March and April.

With that train of thought in mind, I took a look around the league and played with the NBA Trade Machine to find a few potential deals that might make sense for the Wolves and its trade partner.  I am considering the following players untouchable: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic.  While I don’t think Corey Brewer is a chip that would be dangled out there, I also wouldn’t consider him untouchable.  These trades are largely built with the thought of improving our depth and are not blockbuster deals. [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 98, Sacramento Kings 101

demarcus_vs_pekGame Summary:

Here we go again. Following a last-ditch pass from Ricky Rubio to Dante Cunningham for a missed desperation three-point attempt, the Wolves found themselves on the wrong side of a matchup against a vastly inferior opponent in the Sacramento Kings. Led by young guards Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans, the Kings defeated Minnesota by a score of 101-98.

Inching closer to full strength, the Wolves once again started the lineup of Rubio-Ridnour-Kirilenko-Williams-Pekovic but saw marginal production from their primary scorers. AK-47 provided just 6 points on 3-9 shooting while Luke Ridnour shot just 1-7 from the field notching only 4 points.

Some good news for Timberwolves fans from Thursday night was the return of Chase Budinger, who after suffering a torn meniscus back on November 10th was able to log 18 minutes against the Kings. It is too late for Chase to help Minnesota push to the playoffs, but he is sure to provide improved perimeter shooting for the last month of the season. Budinger finished with 9 points (3-7 FG) and 4 rebounds.

Who would have thought that 66 games into the season, Minnesota would have a worse record than the 25-44 Sacramento Kings. This is a tremendous failure for a team that came into the season with legitimate playoff aspirations. Regardless of the myriad of injuries this team has faced, the Kings should in no way be outperforming the Love-less Pups.

Derrick Williams had a tough night shooting as he scored 12 points on 6-16 shooting. Following a strong past month of play, D-Will has been unable to gain consistency in his scoring on a nightly basis and it is tough to know which Derrick is going to show up. I will be the first to admit that I have been very impressed by the 21-year-olds growth this season as he has come a long way since the final two months of the previous season, but I really want to see Derrick use the last several weeks to start to produce on a much more consistent basis.

Nikola Pekovic led the Timberwolves in scoring with 18 points to go along with 12 boards, but shot only 6-12 from the field. Minnesota really needs Pek to step up in a big way if they are to finish the season on a strong note.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three-point shooting – It is very difficult to win a game when you shoot 1-19 from three. Well, that is precisely what the Timberwolves did as they lost by a mere 3 points. Finding and signing three-point shooters must be a priority of the Timberwolves brass this coming summer as they have struggled mightily from beyond the arc this season.
  • Shot-blocking – The Wolves blocked just two shots compared to 6 by the Kings. Minnesota has not done a great job of protecting the rim this season as they lack athleticism and length in their frontcourt.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Tyreke Evans – Evans managed to score 19 of his 21 points in the second half to go along with 5 points and 5 rebounds in 39 minutes. Despite a quiet first half in which Tyreke seemed to disappear, the third-year guard stayed patient and was ultimately the key to Sacramento’s victory. Evans shot 8-11 from the floor and put on full display the top end talent and abilities that made him the rookie of the year just a few years ago.
  2. Isaiah Thomas – Taken with the 60th – and final – selection of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has turned into a valuable piece of the Kings young rotation. After Aaron Brooks flopped as the starting point guard for Sacramento, Thomas has continued to provide crafty scoring and good passing as the starter. Standing at only 5-foot-9, Thomas matched up well against JJ Barea but had a more difficult time on the defensive end opposite of the taller and longer Ricky Rubio. In 35 minutes, Thomas finished with 24 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3PT), 6 assists and 3 rebounds.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Another near triple-double for Ricky, who committed only 1 turnover in 32 minutes while recording 12 points (4-13 FG), 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. It was another frustrating night shooting the ball for the Spaniard, and it is clear that shooting must be the focus of his offseason training for this coming summer. Although he has established himself as an above-average free throw shooter, Ricky has a lot of trouble knocking down shots off the dribble in the speed of the NBA game.

Minnesota Timberwolves 97 – Sacramento Kings 89

Photo Credit: CSN Bay Area

Entering Tuesday’s matchup in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped to end a five-game skid on the second to last game of their West Coast road trip. With the help of Kevin Love and his 23 point, 24 rebound performance, the Timberpups did just that defeating the Kings by a score of 97-89.

Feeding off of Love’s energy and physicality in the paint, the rest of the Wolves starting frontcourt – Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic – helped to brutalize a less than dominant Sacramento frontcourt. Kirilenko enjoyed his best performance in some time after enduring a slight shooting slump over the past three games. AK-47 finished the night with 14 points (5-12 FG), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks in 41 minutes of action. Kirilenko played tremendous wing defense while creating scoring opportunities from his passing and lane penetration. To put it simply, AK was a perfect complement to both Love and Pek last night.

Pekovic was a game-high +10 on the floor and finished with 16 points (6-13 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block in 36 minutes. Pek ran the floor very well in transition and demonstrated his soft hands when catching and scoring quick passes into the post. The frontcourt defense brought by the Kings was very subject, and Pek was able to effectively maneuver past Demarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson fairly easily. Overall, nice game for Nikola.

A much improved game for the Timberwolves starting backcourt, as they too enjoyed softer defense than they had previously been experiencing this season. In 30 minutes of play, Luke Ridnour scored 18 points (8-13 FG) and tallied 5 assists while only turning the ball over twice. Ridnour was a veteran amongst boys when faced up against an immature Kings backcourt, and used his intelligence to effectively dissect the opposing defense while properly identifying when to score one-on-one. Alongside Ridnour in the starting backcourt was Malcolm Lee yet again, who nailed two of his three three-point attempts on his way to 10 points (4-6 FG) in 21 minutes.

Backing up Ridnour and Lee were JJ Barea and Alexey Shved, who were both very effective against an inferior Sacramento second unit. Shved converted 2 of his 5 three-point attempts while also grabbing 2 steals. Barea played a relatively brief 18 minutes but dished out 6 assists while grabbing 4 boards, turning the ball over once.

Derrick Williams received another DNP-CD, and the mystery regarding his future with the club continues to grow. Who could have predicted that the former number-two draft choice could have fallen so far out of favor with head coach Rick Adelman that he would virtually not be receiving any playing time this season. Surely, his trade value has taken a definite hit with the recent events.

As a team, the Pups outrebounded the Kings by a tally of 51-36 led by the frontcourt trio of Love-Pekovic-Kirilenko. Love was the key to the Timberwolves victory, as he was simply relentless in his pursuit of rebounds on the offensive and defensive ends. K-Love went without his protective black glove on his shooting hand, and his 23 points and 24 rebounds were the key to stopping a sensational performance by Tyreke Evans on the other end.

The Pups conclude their road trip in Los Angeles tonight as they face off against the Clippers at 9:30PM CT. Last but not least, here are my three stars of the game (of which I predicted perfectly in the preview):

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings

The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Sacramento Tuesday for the third game of their present road trip and take on a Kings squad fresh off a win against the Utah Jazz. Minnesota, who is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, has had a tough time acclimating to the return of All-Star Kevin Love, who has played well despite regaining strength in his right shooting hand. On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, Love threw his protective black glove to the sidelines in frustration and played the remainder of the game with no restrictions on his right hand, and it appears that he is officially done with the protective glove.

Andrei Kirilenko was a main component of the Timberwolves unexpected 5-2 start, but has had a tough time getting in a rhythm since the return of K-Love. In the past three games, AK-47 has shot a tough 9-29 from the field after starting the season red-hot. Kirilenko sat out practice on Monday due to back spasms, but states that he is fine to start tonight against the Kings.

While many have begun to panic due to the Timberwolves continued losing despite the addition of Love, the notion that this team is better without Love in the lineup is absolutely unjustifiable. Yes, the team has seen poorer defensive efficiency numbers from their star in the middle and K-Love has had a tougher time shooting due to his strengthening wrist, but it is obviously going to take time before the offense and defense gains the appropriate chemistry they missed out on when Love sat out the preseason and start of the season.

An important thing to note is the success that the Timberpups had when playing without their main offensive focus, and how they used good ball movement and cutting to beat tougher opponents. With Love back in the mix, there has been less ball movement and more one-on-one basketball, and this has likewise caused players like AK-47 to play a much different kind of basketball than they were used to. This adjustment will unquestionably take time, and a few losses, in order to get back up to speed.

I have no problem with Love taking 20 shots a game, for he is certainly the best scorer on the team and gets to the free throw line at a very effective rate. However, within Adelman’s corner offense, I would really like to see more passing out of the superstar PF. Love is a more than capable passer and sees the floor as well as anyone on the team, and the success of the offense relies on passing and cutting from the high post, where Love is used to getting the ball. Just as Kobe has begun to adjust with the Lakers new offense, when the focus of the opposing defense is to shut Love down, there will be many more backdoor cutting opportunities for players like AK and Dante Cunningham which could create for an increase in high-percentage scoring chances.

Since I am a Timberwolves fan, I am ultimately going to constantly compare Kevin Love to our former superstar, KG, whether it is unfair or justified. The main difference I see in their games at this stage in their development is that Garnett started to become a world-class passer and was better at identifying when to score and when to find his teammates.  Love is averaging just 1.7 assists per contest, while Garnett averaged 4.3 in his fourth season in the league. In order to truly be a complete offensive force, K-Love must follow KG and evolve from a high-usage scorer to a true floor general. As we have seen from the effects of Ricky Rubio, a main key to the Timberwolves winning games lies in passing and ball movement, and the Wolves have certainly not done a good job of that since getting Love back in the lineup.

Tonight, the Pups face a vastly inferior opponent and should benefit from the opposition’s immaturity and lack of confidence. I want to see better rotations on defense and for Love to get AK more involved in the offense. Here is my prediction for the three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans

How Andrei Kirilenko Transforms the Timberwolves Into a Playoff Team

Yesterday, on a phone teleconference, Wolves GM David Kahn officially announced the signing of former Utah Jazz standout Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year, $20 million pact after previously missing out on top free agent target Nicolas Batum. Kirilenko, 31, played this most recent season for CKSA Moscow following a decade of play for Utah. During his sole season with the Russian club, Kirilenko earned Euroleague MVP and top defender honors, demonstrating that he has not lost a step and is clearly still an elite defender as well as a polished all around player. As a former three-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA defender, Kirilenko brings a little bit of everything to a Wolves frontcourt that has been previously plagued by the play of now former Wolves Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley.

In order to free up the necessary cap space to sign AK-47, the Timberwolves sent now official draft bust Wes Johnson and a future first-round draft pick to Phoenix in a three team trade that also involved the New Orleans Hornets. As a part of the trade, Minnesota received three future second-round draft choices but most importantly, the cap space to sign the Russian superstar. Wes Johnson had a tumultuous two year career with the Timberwolves and failed to even remotely live up to the hype of being selected 4th overall in the 2010 draft, while being selected in front of the likes of Demarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, and Paul George, among others. Johnson comes off as having very unstable confidence and his dribbling skills remain unacceptable for an NBA small forward, and as he is now 25-years-old he can no longer be looked at as simply a high upside prospect. The former Syracuse star now joins fellow former Timberwolf Micheal Beasley in Phoenix in what will most likely be a rebuilding year for the Steve Nash-less Suns.
[Read more…]