Saturday night in Sacramento will be Minnesota's second meeting with the Kings this season, with another two matchups to follow (3/16 & 4/13).
The first meeting this season was in Minnesota where the Kings pulled out a narrow 108-111 victory, in what I (and many others) called the worst loss of the season.
Here's the recap of that one if you wish to torture yourself further: Recap.
The Wolves will be looking to avenge that loss and it sounds as though they may have some forgotten faces returning to the court. Nikola Pekovic (missed the last 13-straight) and Martin (7-straight) have participated in 5-on-5 scrimmages the past two days and every indication says they'll suit up on Saturday night.
The Wolves have gone 6-7 without Pekovic these past 13 games and it has most definitely been a tumultuous ride. Those 13 games have included both a four-game losing streak, subsequently followed by a three-game winning streak.
Without Pek & Martin, the Wolves are without two of their top three scorers. As such, Minnesota's leading scorer (Love) has been asked to do a lot more and he has most certainly delivered. Love continues to rattle off 25-30-point games like they're routine. In the month of February, Love averaged 34 points & 14 rebounds, which included eight 30-point games and two 40-point games!
The Timberwolves haven't been significantly better on the defensive end without Pek & Martin. The shot-blocking and rim protection have been a bit better, but that's expected when you replace 35 minutes of Nikola with 30 of Ronny Turiaf, 25 of Dante Cunningham and another 5-10 of Gorgui Dieng. The Wolves block totals will definitely take a hit, but so long as everyone remains committed to exerting at least a little energy on the defensive end, it shouldn't be a significant difference.
The Wolves offense has certainly been a little one-dimensional lately. They've relied on a lot of jumpers and hook shots from Love as well as the occasional transition bucket. With Martin & Pek back they'll be able to space the floor much better and re-establish that punishing inside presence that opens up so many other opportunities for everyone else on the floor.
It's important to remember that neither is likely in 'tip-top' shape and it will take some time for them to get their conditioning back to the level it was at mid-season. I'd assume that both will have some kind of minute restriction (maybe not so much Martin, but most certainly Pek).
With Martin returning, it will certainly be interesting to see how Adelman handles the rotations at the wings. It's clear that Alexey Shved has fallen completely out of the rotation. Hummel will return to the inactive list. Mbah a Moute will probably see more time at power forward than small forward with no Ronny Turiaf and Dante getting more reserve center minutes. That leaves Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger & Shabazz Muhammad. Brewer has started all but one game this season (he missed one for the birth of his son). I assume he'll remain the starting small forward. Chase Budinger and Shabazz Muhammad are now likely your backup shooting guards/small forwards. Shabazz has most definitely played himself into the rotation the past couple weeks and Budinger hasn't done a whole lot to force you to play him more than 20 minutes a night. I don't think Bazz will suddenly average 25 minutes a game for the remainder of the season, but if he's able to put up 10-15 points, grab 5-6 rebounds and at least make an effort defensively, there's no reason not to give him 20-25 minutes a night.
Saturday's game will mark the second time in his NBA career that Derrick Williams will face the Wolves. Minnesota traded D-Will to the Kings (in exchange for Mbah a Moute) in late November. Williams played 11 games for the Wolves this season averaging 4.9 points & 2.4 rebounds in 14.7 minutes a game. With the Kings, Williams is averaging 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 26.3 minutes a game in 43 games and 11 starts. After the Kings acquired Rudy Gay, that certainly affected Williams' playing time, but he's definitely getting a chance in Sacramento. Just like in his Minnesota days, he isn't do much with those opportunities.
In addition the D-Will & Rudy Gay deal, the Kings also made a trade at the deadline sending Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jason Terry & Reggie Evans. Terry is out for the season with a knee injury and won't play for Sacramento this season. The Kings also recently released former 10th overall pick Jimmer Fredette. Fredette never could carve out a role during his time in Sacramento. Ironically enough, the player they selected 60th overall that year (2011) has been their starting point guard the past few years (Isaiah Thomas). It sounds as though he'll likely sign with the Chicago Bulls once he clears waivers. With an open roster spot, the Kings signed former Pacer (waived after Indiana acquired Lavoy Allen & Evan Turner) Orlando Johnson to a 10-day contract. They're also reportedly considering signing Royce White to a 10-day contract.
The front office and coaching staff went through a major overhaul this past offseason for the Kings, but it seems as though they continue to make the kinds of deals that got them where they are in the first place.
The game tips at 9pmCST from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, enjoy!
The Timberwolves were without Martin & Pekovic once again and thanks to Kevin Love and some unlikely contributors, the Wolves handed the current 8th seed Suns a 110-101 loss.
The Wolves play on without two of their top three scorers and and such they've had to search from offense from other places. Love has been consistently amazing and tonight was no different as he finished just one assist shy of his second career triple-double and second triple-double in his last three games. It was also Love's 6th-straight 30+ point game and his 12th-straight 25+ point game.
The Wolves have had a number of players step up in Martin & Pek's absences. J.J. Barea put together a nice stretch of games a week ago. Dante Cunningham has been in and out of the starting lineup with all the injuries and he's consistently delivered. Ricky Rubio has been more confident & aggressive and wings Budinger & Brewer have had their nights.
Tonight it was Shabazz Muhammad. With all these injuries and the Wolves in dire need of offense, Adelman has (perhaps reluctantly) turned to his rookie swingman and these past few outings he's lived up to the billing of 'instant offense' off the bench. The rookie came off the bench for a career-high 24 minutes and delivered with highs in points (20), field goals made (8) & attempted (13), also getting to the line for a career-high 6 attempts & 4 makes and rounding out those numbers with 1 assist & 2 steals.
Bazz was incredibly aggressive all night long and it has become pretty clear these past few weeks that he's earned a spot in the rotation. He pulled down a couple of rebounds late that helped seal the deal and he said following the game that the rebounding was his favorite part of his career-night.
He also said after tonight's win that he's been working his tail off before, in and after practices. That work is certainly paying off and he's been rewarded with more playing time. If we continue to see these kinds of performances, he could/should continue to see more minutes.
The Wolves pounced on the opposition early (as per usual) and they took a six-point lead after the first quarter. That was thanks (mostly) to Kevin Love who scored 14 of his 33 points in that first quarter, Cunningham also added 8 of his 12 as all five starters played the entire first quarter.
The second unit came in, in the second quarter and that's where Muhammad began to take over, scoring half of his final point total. Unfortunately, Muhammad was one of the only reserves able to score any points. As such, the Suns outscored the Wolves 21-29 to take a two-point lead at halftime.
While Minnesota couldn't get much from anyone not named Shabazz, the Suns bench led by the Morris twins was rather impressive.
The Wolves played fairly well in the first half, but as we saw vs. the Blazers this weekend, it's all about how you finish these games. Unfortunately the third quarter was prototypical Minnesota Timberwolves as they continued to let the Suns get out on the break for easy uncontested layups. As such, the Suns , led by 8 third quarter points from former Wolf Gerald Green took a 6-point lead after three quarters.
I honestly wasn't so sure that the Wolves were going to be able to pull this game out. We've seen far too many games follow this pattern and end in a disappointing and humiliating loss.
Thankfully, Kevin Love got some help tonight. Love scored another 10 points in the fourth quarter, while Muhammad added the other half of his 20 and Brewer chipped in 7 of his 18.
Goran Dragic played just 25 minutes in this Suns loss as he dealt with an ankle sprain and foul trouble all night long. He eventually fouled out with just over three minutes to play (and the game still up for grabs). Ultimately, that along with some key late stops and big rebounds by Muhammad, the Wolves were able to defeat a team ahead of them in the standings.
The Suns are the 8th seed in the Western Conference as of Tuesday night, but the Memphis Grizzlies are nipping at their heels (just 1.5 games back) and our Wolves are ultimately 5.5 games out of that final seed.
In all honesty, I don't think the Suns will make the playoffs, unless Eric Bledsoe can return and help them make a late push in the final month and a half. I don't have the heart to completely rule out the Wolves, yet. These Suns have been the talk of the NBA. This was a team that everyone assumed was in competition with the Sixers for that #1 pick and instead they're jostling for position with the fringe playoff teams for a seat in the postseason. If they do make the playoffs, they could have that Golden State Warriors-upset kind of first round, but I doubt they'd make it out of the first round. It's incredible that they've been able to take a starting lineup of Dragic, Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee and parlay that into a 33-win season with 26 games to go.
I can't help but be bitter that the Wolves can't figure things out. On paper they're undoubtedly the far superior team talent-wise and yet they just can't win. Stepping away from the fact that I'm a huge Wolves fan, as an NBA fan, what the Suns have done this season is incredible. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would be my second-favorite team. Unfortunately they're in the West and in direct competition with the Timberwolves for a low West seed. If the Wolves end up on the outside looking in at the Phoenix Suns, I'll still be bitter, but at least I'll have a team to follow closely in the postseason.
Let's take a look at tonight's box score...
The Wolves left 11 points at the free throw line, shooting just 66%. They were out-rebounded by a +12 and they turned the ball over 15 times for 15 Suns points. They also allowed the Suns to score 28 fast break buckets and 60 in the paint.
So...how did the Wolves win?! Well, they shot 14 more free throws and ultimately made 7 more. They also held the NBA's best three-point shooting team (by makes a game @9.5) to just 3 threes on 15 attempts. Beyond looking at the box score, I think the Wolves simply had a go-to guy. With Dragic fouled out and Bledsoe still rehabbing the knee, that's something the Suns don't have.
My only other problem with declaring these Suns this year's Warrior team is their offensive diversity. They don't have any player that's a big threat to take you down on the block and play a back-to-the-basket game for easy buckets. They rely on a lot of three-point and mid-range shooting in addition to their transition game. It goes without saying that teams like OKC (Scott Brooks) & SAS (Gregg Popovich) are going to be able to take those areas away and force them to do things they just don't seem to have the personnel to do. Regardless (assuming the make the playoffs), I'm excited to see how they match up in a 7-game series with a team like the Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers or Blazers (amazingly, the current #1 seed [OKC--43 wins] is separated by the current #5 seed [POR--39 wins] by 4 wins).
FINAL THOUGHT: All I could think in the second half was: "If this game ends on another Gerald Green game-winner, I may just upload an image of a turd sandwich to the recap and call it a night." The Wolves closed it out so thankfully, no turd sandwich :)
UP NEXT: Minnesota has the next three days off before charging the gates of Sleep Train Arena to behead the Kings of Sacramento. That game is Saturday night and will tip at 9pmCST, enjoy!
The Timberwolves went from up 18 to down 16 in a span of 27 minutes. Is there much more that needs to be said?
The Wolves came in riding a season-high tying three-game winning streak and had a chance to push it to 4 against a Portland team without their All-Star big man: LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Wolves pounced on them early behind their own All-Star big man. Love scored 13 of his 31 points in the first quarter as the Wolves. The Blazers threw a number of defenders at Love (Victor Claver, Dorrell Wright, Robin Lopez and then Thomas Robinson). Robinson definitely had the most success, but that didn't come until later in the second half.
The Wolves continued their stellar play early in the second quarter behind the play of J.J. Barea. J.J. scored 12 of his season-high tying 21 points in that second quarter. He hit a number of tough shots and aided the Wolves to a big lead. The Blazers came roaring back late in the second quarter and ended the half on an 8-0 run to keep it at an 8-point game at halftime.
As we've seen so many times the past few seasons, it was the second half where the Wolves fell to shambles. The Wolves went from up double-digits to down double-digits.
The Wolves looked somewhat gassed, but the also looked just disinterested as the Blazers rallied to ultimately win this game.
Unfortunately I had to listen to the Blazers broadcast and it was incredibly dreadful. Every call against the Blazers was a crime and every call for the Wolves was...a crime. Every time I'm forced to listen to an opposing broadcast, it makes me appreciate Dave & Jim even more.
The Blazers held the Wolves to just 11 points through the first 9 minutes of the final quarter, until Adelman 'called off the dogs' and inserted the deep rotational players in which Price scored 5 and Dieng added a free throw.
It was slightly surprising that Adelman didn't keep the starters out there a bit longer. He put the deep bench players in with 3:36 to play and the Wolves down 14. I don't think the Wolves would've made a run...so it really doesn't matter.
As good as J.J. Barea was in the first half, he was equally as bad in the second. Unfortunately, he was kept in the game through the fourth quarter instead of Ricky Rubio (which is something I ALWAYS think is a mistake). Rubio ended up playing just 23 minutes and finished with 5 points & 11 assists.
Tonight's box score...
The Wolves shot just 39.4% from the field. It's definitely tough when you're relying on Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer to be your second, third, fourth, etc options. Hopefully Pekovic & Martin are close to returning.
The Wolves did an excellent job pushing the pace and getting easy buckets in their game last night in Utah. The complete opposite was true tonight. They fell into Portland's pace and never got anything going on the break, for those easy buckets that they've come to rely on without their bruising center as the secondary option.
The Wolves move two games below .500 once again, but now they'll have a day off before playing in Phoenix vs. the Suns on Tuesday night. That game will tip at 8pmCST.
Kevin Love was utterly unstoppable and a depleted Jazz frontcourt fell victim to his recent offensive onslaught.
Tonight's win in Utah is probably the best overall game for Love in his NBA career. For the first time in Love's six-year NBA career, he finished with a triple-double. He becomes just the tenth player in franchise history to hit that impressive mark. Ironically enough, Tyrone Corbin (current head coach of the Utah Jazz) was the first player in Timberwolves franchise history to register a triple-double.
Without Derrick Favors, the Jazz had to rely heavily on big man Enes Kanter, who answered the call with a career-high 25 points. While Kanter had a solid outing, getting a lot of easy in-close buckets, it was Kevin Love's game that was most impressive tonight.
Love finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds & 10 assists in just 33 minutes of action. He also hit 6 threes and added a steal for good measure.
Love was great, but he also had a bit more help tonight. Each Wolves starters scored in double figures, despite this being the first time the Wolves have had to use this starting lineup of Rubio, Budinger, Brewer, Cunningham and Love. This was Budinger's fifth-straight start in place of the injured Kevin Martin and he had a great outing that saw him tie a season-high with three made threes. Those three-point shots (with two of them coming early in the first half), helped Minnesota's offense kickstart. Brewer & Love connected for a number of transition buckets. Rubio may not have been the primary playmaker tonight, but he exuded confidence and aggressiveness early that helped Minnesota build the lead.
By building a lead and keeping the starters' minutes down, the Wolves had a perfect start to this 5-game road trip. No starter played more than 36 minutes and the majority of them saw an average of 30. With the Wolves being without two starters and their primary reserve center, they had to rely a bit more on some of their deep rotational players.
That meant more minutes for the rookies. Gorgui Dieng was certainly the most impressive of the rookie trio and with him being the only true (healthy) center on the roster, it comes as no surprise that he played a career-high 22 minutes. The surprising part could be how well he performed. He finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds & 3 blocks and was efficient offensively and provided some of that rim protection the Wolves have come to know with Turiaf taking up the middle the past month.
Muhammad also saw some playing time and it was actually some meaningful minutes in the second quarter, with the game still close. He played 11 minutes and did a solid job hustling on both ends and hitting the glass. One play in particular was most impressive. He stole the ball away and tipped it to J.J. and they quickly got downcourt, Barea threw the lob and Muhammad hammered it down. It was a beauty.
The Wolves seemed to have this one in control all night long. Despite some runs by the Jazz to get the game close, Kevin Love came up time after time with big buckets to push the lead and keep the Jazz at bay.
Tonight's box score...
This is a third-straight win over Utah this season for Minnesota and they'll meet once more at the Target Center in April. This is a third-straight win for the Wolves, which ties a season-high for the team.
The Wolves not only had plenty of scorers, but they also had a number of playmakers. There were three guys that finished with at least 7 assists. The Wolves finished with 31 assists on 43 made buckets. They shot high percentages from the field and three and shook off some shaky free throw shooting thanks in large part to Love's 9-of-10.
The Wolves are hoping to get Pekovic back for tomorrow's tilt against the Blazers and potentially Kevin Martin sometime on this road trip. Tomorrow's game in Portland tips at 8pmCST, enjoy the game!
An All-Star break will do you good.
The TWolves seemed like a team that took the much needed time off for the All-Star break to rest and recharge. Of course, Love, who carried the Wolves with his 42 points, spent the majority of that break in New Orleans representing the Wolves and the Western Conference.
Tonight was Love's fourth 40+ point outing of the season and amazingly, tonight was the first time the Wolves came out victorious.
This was also Love's second 40-point, 15-rebound & 5 three-pointer game and according to @ESPNStatsInfo, there has been one other such game EVER!
This great outing came amid reports that he could be moved prior to tomorrow afternoon's Deadline--something that won't happen, not this season! J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved & Dante Cunningham are all players that have heard their names come up in the rumor mill in potential trades, but (excluding Bud), they put that to the side for tonight and contributed to this huge win over the Eastern Conference's best team.
The Wolves were without two of their starters in Kevin Martin & Nikola Pekovic who continue to nurse injuries (though both are hopeful they'll be cleared to play this weekend), but the Pacers weren't able to capitalize on any of that.
Their superstar Paul George did superstar things, but he couldn't get any help from his fellow All-Star Roy Hibbert, former All-Star David West or All-Star 'snub' Lance Stephenson. George finished with 35 points on the night, with 18 of them coming in the third quarter alone, where George & Love battled back and forth (Love also scored 18 in the third quarter).
George went 11-for-22 from the field (50%), while the rest of the team went 24-of-65 (37%) and the rest of the starters shot 13-of-38 (34%).
The Pacers came into this game with just 12 losses on the season and fresh off a 108-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks. They've been very impressive this season, but they didn't look ready to play tonight. I was stunned that the two-headed monster of David West & Roy Hibbert didn't do more damage against a Wolves team without their starting center and an average interior defender in Love. Fortunately, Love torched West early and often and quickly got him in foul trouble. That forced West to sit early in this one and he never seemed able to get into any kind of rhythm on either end of the floor.
Ronny Turiaf did an excellent job matching up against All-Star Roy Hibbert. Roy is a player who is garnering serious consideration by most analysts as the prime candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Ronny rose up multiple times for easy dunks with little to no resistance from the likley DPOTY.
The Wolves forced the Pacers into a lot of turnovers and they turned those miscues into easy transition buckets all night long. Indiana is a team that averages just 15 turnovers per game, but they handed the ball back to the Wolves 21 times for 18 Minnesota points. The Pacers had 8 of those 21 turnovers in the first quarter alone, 5 in the second quarter and another 6 in the fourth. That third quarter when they played their best basketball, they turned it over just twice.
The Pacers did cut the lead to just 5 points at one point in the second half, which had me a little queasy that the Wolves would blow yet another lead (considering they led by 20 points; 40-20 in the second quarter of this one). It was 82-77 early in the fourth quarter, but the Wolves finished the game outscoring the Pacers 22-14 in the final ten minutes of action to walk away with the improbable 104-91 victory.
Tonight's box score...
In addition to Kevin Love's fantastic outing, Ricky Rubio joined him with a career-best 17 assists! Those 17 assists also tie a franchise record (most recently done by Chauncey Billups in 2002).
The Wolves shot just 58.1% from the line, missing 13 of their attempts, had the Pacers completed their comeback, those missed free throws would've been a real back-breaker.
The Wolves are now two games below .500 and they're now 5.5 games behind the Dallas Mavericks for that 8th and final seed in the Western Conference. The trade deadline is at 2pmCST time tomorrow and if you've tuned in to Twitter lately you know the Wolves have been active in trade talks, stay tuned to HOWL tomorrow for all the latest. Minnesota doesn't play again until Saturday in Utah vs. the Jazz.
The Wolves got off to a hot start against an injury-riddled Nuggets team, it didn't take long for this game to get out of hand and the only time the score was close was before it started!
The Wolves started the game on a 9-0 run and by about four and a half minutes in the lead had ballooned to 17-3. It was pretty clear after that first quarter that the way this Wolves squad was shooting the ball, they were more than likely going to end their four-game losing streak.
The Wolves led by 12 after the first quarter; 31-19. Rubio led all scorers with 8 of his 11 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting to go along with 5 assists--all of that despite only playing the first 8 minutes or so after taking a Randy Foye elbow in the chin that required stitches. Midway through the second quarter with his chin stitched up, he was back on the floor. After one, Love had 7 points & 5 rebounds.
With Rubio having to head to the locker room early than usual in this one, Barea thusly got into the game a bit sooner. Usually, having Barea on the court this season has led to disaster, but tonight was undoubtedly his best game of the season. J.J. had 9 of his 18 points in the second quarter en-route to a perfect shooting night from the field in 18 (unusually) efficient minutes. My initial thought after two quarters of great play from Barea, 'hopefully this helps his trade value for next week!' Probably wishful thinking.
The Wolves scored 31 & 30 in the first two quarters and another 28 apiece in the final two frames to finish with 117 on the night and a 27-point victory over a Nuggets team that had defeated them in their first two meetings earlier this season.
That Nuggets team that handed them those losses is certainly not the same one we saw tonight. The Nuggets are an injury-riddled squad. They're missing three players that are likely starters and another two guards that could both be seen as 'sixth men'. The Nuggets were without Ty Lawson (broken ribs), Nate Robinson & Danilo Gallinari (torn ACLs) and JaVale McGee (broken leg). Because of disagreements between veteran player and rookie coach, Andre Miller has been excused from the team indefinitely. I find it quite insane that they don't bring him back considering they're playing basketball without a point guard right now! Nonetheless, it sounds as though Miller will be moved at the deadline and the Wolves are one of the interested parties (maybe they liked what they saw from Barea tonight?!....doubtful).
The Wolves had injuries of their own, with two of their starters and primary scorers watching from behind the bench in street clothes. Nikola Pekovic missed a ninth-straight game with bursitis in his ankle, while Kevin Martin missed his third-straight game with that broken thumb. Both are hoping to return shortly after the All-Star break. Stay tuned to the Injury Report on HOWL for updates on both early next week!
With the Wolves struggling the past couple weeks this was the ideal opponent to face before taking a week off for the All-Star break. They cruised to an easy win courtesy of big nights from Love, Brewer, Rubio & Barea and the hope is that they can carry that momentum into the final 29 games of the season.
I've been asked a few times if I think the Wolves' season is over (ie: they're not going to make the playoffs). I think deep down I may agree with that, but hopefully they make things interesting the next couple months. Can this team that has lost so many close games and been so inconsistent all season long really expect to reach that 46-48 win mark that most anticipate will be the cutoff for the West's 8th seed? That means losing only six or seven more games this season! Not impossible, but as of right now, not probable.
Nonetheless, I'm going to take it one game at a time and hope the Wolves do the same. This team has a lot of talent and for that reason alone, I can't quite entirely dismiss making the playoffs quite yet (though my tune will most certainly change after another double-digit loss...say...2/19 vs. the Indiana Pacers?).
Tonight's box score...
Rubio finished just 3 steals shy of a triple-double...7 steals! 7. That's one off of tying his career-high. Kevin Love finished just 2 assists shy of that same mark! Love also hit 6 three-pointers and may have single-handedly willed my fantasy team to a win this week. The insanely inconsistent J.J. Barea finished a perfect 8-for-8 from the field! This was Ronny's third-straight game grabbing double digits in rebounds.
I do find it a bit surprising that Alexey played only 7 minutes despite the Wolves having this one well in hand throughout. I was asked the other day which 'Wolf' is most likely (if any) to be moved by next week's trade deadline. J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute & Dante Cunningham all sound as though they're available. I honestly don't think the Wolves will make a move...but I wouldn't mind trading Barea or Shved for a more consistent presence in that reserve backcourt.
With Denver playing without a true point guard, they certainly had trouble taking care of the basketball. They turned the ball over 20 times for 29 MIN points, compared to just 10 for 10 DEN points! The Wolves also nailed 12 triples (they were 8-15 in the first half) and shot 52% from the field.
If only Minnesota's last 29 games consisted of matchups against the Nuggets, Jazz & Sixers. The Wolves now have a full week off. They don't play again until the 19th vs. the Pacers. Here's hoping that Pekovic is back by then. Stay tuned for updates (in the News section) this weekend on Kevin Love at All-Star weekend and how he fares in the Three-Point Contest (Saturday) & All-Star Game (Sunday).
For two games last week Kevin Love didn't play due to an assortment of injuries. Love returned tonight and churned out yet another double-double, finishing with 31 points & 10 rebounds.
When Love was out vs. the Thunder and again vs. the Blazers last week we saw a Wolves team look to unlikely contributors to put points on the board. Ricky Rubio was aggressive, Dante crashed the boards and got putbacks, Budinger had his best scoring game of the season (vs. POR) and rookie Shabazz Muhammad actually played meaningful minutes and contributed a career-high in points (12).
That was on Saturday, tonight with Love back the Wolves went back to the same one-dimensional offense they've gone with since Nikola Pekovic went down with that ankle injury. Love is undoubtedly Minnesota's best offensive option, but those games without him (and Martin & Pek) showed that there are other players on this team that can be contributors.
There were multiple plays tonight (especially in the fourth quarter) that the Wolves continued to swing the ball to find Love for a shot (usually heavily contested or a bad pass resulting in a turnover).
Minnesota's 11-point fourth quarter is simply inexcusable. There's absolutely no reason that this team (even sans Martin & Pek) can't muster more than 11 points against an average Houston Rocket defense.
As per usual, the Wolves played a decent first three quarters before falling to shambles in the finale--something we've seen WAY to many times these past few seasons.
Tonight's game was one of runs, where each team took their turns scoring at will against shoddy defense. Unfortunately the Wolves couldn't get anything together in that fourth quarter. The Wolves shot just 5-for-24 from the field in the fourth. Getting Pek & Martin back will undoubtedly make this team better, but now that the Wolves have fallen 4 games below .500 and now 6.5 games behind the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
The All-Star break begins for the Wolves following their Wednesday night contest vs. the Nuggets, it certainly can't come soon enough for this floundering Wolves squad.
No Nikola Pekovic, no Kevin Martin & No Kevin Love. With an average of 60+ points sitting on the sidelines in street clothes, it was clear going into tonight's game that if the Wolves didn't give it their all, they were going to get slaughtered by the Blazers.
Thanks to contributions from some unlikely places the Wolves were able to hang with the 35-win Blazers throughout tonight's contest.
Ricky Rubio was incredibly aggressive and set a new career-high with 25 points in addition to 2 rebounds, 9 assists & 1 steal. Rubio tagged with his only other usual starter: Corey Brewer. Brewer had one of the best games I've ever seen him play. Brew finished with 26 (one shy of tying a season-high and 3 shy of tying a career-high) in addition to 7 rebounds, 2 assists & 1 block. If Rubio was 'aggressive' tonight, I don't even know how to describe Brewer's game. He was relentless as he slashed to the basket, he exerted endless effort on both sides of the ball and he played like someone who had something to prove!
Add to that, the outings from Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger & Shabazz Muhammad and I've got to admit, I'm glad Minnesota's "Big Three" sat this one out because this was a really fun game to watch.
With so many scorers out and the Wolves in need of offense, Rick Adelman relented and actually gave rookie Shabazz Muhammad an opportunity to play some meaningful minutes. Muhammad responded with a terrific second quarter in which he played 8 minutes and scored 9 points on 4-5 shooting. In addition to that, Shabazz also showed hustle and determination on defense and looked like a guy campaigning for more minutes. Muhammad played a career-high 17 minutes and finished with career-highs in points (12), FG made (4), FG attempted (8), FT made (4) and FT attempted (5).
Chase Budinger broke out of his shooting slump and had his best game of the season as a starter with Corey Brewer on the wing. Chase played a season-high 29 minutes and finished with a season-best 19 points & 5 rebounds on 6-12 shooting, including 3-6 from deep. Once he knocked down his first couple shots, it was clear that it would continue to carry over for Chase and it certainly did! With Martin out until at least after the All-Star break, Chase is going to get a lot more minutes as the starting small forward and let's hope that this breakout game can carry over.
The Wolves hung with the Blazers through three quarters, but at the end of the third the Blazers went on a 8-4 run to tie the game at 83. That was thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge who scored 12 of his 26 points in that third quarter.
The Wolves started the fourth with Barea, Muhammad, Brewer, Hummel & Turiaf. They kept it close for the first four minutes as the score was tied at 87 with 8:07 to play, but the Blazers promptly went on a 13-1 run to take a ten-point; 88-98 lead with 5:28 to play.
Despite Minnesota's scrappy play, they just couldn't get the lead down to more than 5 points over those final five minutes. Despite that, there was no giving in from this Wolves squad. They played the 'foul game' and had some opportunities that they converted and others that they couldn't, but there was no quit in any Wolf tonight.
I despise 'moral victories', but I absolutely LOVED how this Wolves squad played tonight. They were aggressive, they were shorthanded and talent-lacking, but they didn't let the Blazers push them around, they hung tough and they gave it their all. If Love, Martin & Pek can find that kind of grit and the Wolves can carry this kind of effort over into future contests, there's absolutely no reason that they can't begin to stretch some wins together.
Tonight's box score...
Rubio, Budinger & Muhammad all set new season-highs and for Shabazz & Ricky their also new career-highs. Gorgui Dieng's 3 offensive boards are a new career-high. Dante's 10 rebounds are a new season-high and his 6 free throw attempts ties a career-high. Rubio's 19 field goal attempts are a new career-high. Ronny Turiaf set new season-highs in offensive boards (6), rebounds (13), assists (3) and minutes (38).
Despite being without their two top rebounders (Love & Pek) the Wolves out-rebounded Portland (the #1 rebounding team coming into tonight's game) by a +4. The Wolves also pounded the Blazers in the paint by a +24. The Wolves did force more turnovers, but were unable to capitalize on Portland's miscues and only got 8 points off their 13 turnovers.
In such a close game, there's really not much more to point to than getting more stops or hitting more shots. When you lose a game decided by 7 points in which you battled for 48-straight minutes, there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of win or lose.
The Wolves are back in action on Monday night vs. the Rockets at the Target Center. That one will tip at 7pmCST. Check back for updates (in the injury report) on the "Kevins" & Pek.
The consensus seems to be, that if you want to make the playoffs in the Western Conference it's going to require your team to win roughly 46-48 games...and that's just the eighth seed. Now at 24-26, do the Wolves have what it takes to go 22-10 in their remaining 32 games to win 46 this season? The easy answer after another blood boiling loss is...no.
In Minnesota's final 32 games, they play Western Conference opponents 21 times and Eastern Conference opponents 11 times. Of those 11 Eastern Conference opponents, four of those opponents are over .500 as of 2/7 (Atlanta .521; Toronto .531; Miami .729; Indiana .796). So, let's assume in those other 7 games, we can beat the sub-.500 teams (it's not probable considering there are teams that are better than their record or are playing better now: Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, etc). However, for sake of argument, let's assume we would beat the teams below .500. Chances are good the Wolves could beat either Atlanta or Toronto (or both) so they could conceivably finish with 8-9 wins in their remaining 11 games vs. the East (highly doubt we beat Indy or Miami). We'll call it 8, with us beating Atlanta.
In the Western Conference we face Dallas, Golden State, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers & San Antonio each once. I'd say we'll beat Dallas & the Lakers and steal one of the games between GSW, SAS & LAC. That's another 3 wins.
We play Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, Portland & Utah two more times each. We beat Utah both times and let's say we split the remaining games between the other three opponents (we've lost to Denver twice already, Phoenix once and we're 1-1 in the other two matchups: POR & MEM). That's another 6 wins.
Then, we play both Houston & Sacramento three more times. For the Wolves to make the playoffs and hit 22 wins, we'd need to go 5-1 vs. these teams (in this scenario).
We can argue back and forth that the Wolves could beat teams like Memphis, Phoenix & Denver in their remaining games and so on...but this (in my opinion) is a fairly accurate representation of what this team could accomplish in these final two months.
Ultimately it's going to come down to beating the teams they've got to beat. Of Minnesota's 32 final games, 19 of them will be vs. teams currently .500 or better.
There's a lot of things you can't point to for what seems to be another "lost season". The most popular choice right now is Rick Adelman. I can't say I agree 100%, but I certainly don't disagree. His rotations simply baffle me. I can't understand the infatuation with Barea, or not playing Mbah a Moute more or sitting Alexey Shved these past few weeks after he was probably Minnesota's best reserve in the month of January or even playing Chase Budinger, who has struggled to find his shot, so many minutes (I understand you want to get him playing time so he can build his confidence back up, but he's looked B-A-D since he returned and there are other options on the bench).
Speaking further on rotations, I've don't think I've ever seen a head coach so resistant to change. Why doesn't Adelman try different starting lineups and different rotations? He's got 15 players on the roster and yet (barring injury) we see the same 9-10 guys every night.
I don't think Adelman is even 20% to blame for this season though. It comes down to the players. These guys just seemed scared to win and scared to succeed. The worst thing about it all is the inconsistencies. One night we'll blow out the Sixers by 20 and the next night we blow a 12-point lead and let the Pelicans (playing without Holiday, Anderson & Smith) come back in the fourth for the W.
Yes, the team misses Pek. Yes, they are a better team with him. Yes, tonight's squad is better than New Orleans' and we should have beat them by 20. Too many times this season we've talked about "if the Wolves don't turn things around quickly they'll find themselves out of the playoffs once again". Tonight is no different...but the next time we let a team like the Bobcats or Bucks or Jazz beat us...it could very well spell the end to Minnesota's playoff aspirations.
Here's a few notes on tonight's game...
The Wolves had just 14 assists, while shooting 37% from the field and 22% from deep. They also turned the ball over 15 times and were outscored in the paint (36-40) by a Pelicans team that doesn't really have a dominant inside force beyond the occasional dunk from Davis. Shows just how many easy layups and putbacks the Wolves allowed from the Pelly guards & bigs.
The bench regressed once again after having a couple nice outings. Their play early in the fourth quarter got the Pelicans rolling and even when Adelman went back to his starters, the Wolves just couldn't get back over the hump. All five reserves finished with negative +/-.
Kevin Love finished with 26 points & 19 rebounds and went 14-for-17 at the line, but shot just 30% from the field. I attribute some of that to his injury-riddled body and another good portion to some questionable officiating. By my count, Anthony Davis & Luke Babbitt each should've fouled out of this game twice! They got away with a lot of fouls in the paint and that turned out to be one of the difference makers--with the Wolves not getting the foul calls down low, they turned to the long ball down the stretch and their 1-for-7 3PT in the fourth is a pretty clear indication of how that turned out.
With tonight's loss the Wolves are two games below .500 24-26 and 5.5 games behind the Mavericks for that 8th seed in the West. Up next? The 35-15 Portland Trailblazers in Minnesota tomorrow night for Minnesota's 4th game in 5 nights.
The Timberwolves were playing without their entire starting front line (Brewer, Love & Pek) and yet they stayed with the red-hot Kevin Durant and his Thunder through the first three quarters.
Corey Brewer remained in the Twin Cities after the birth of his son last night. This was Brewer's first missed game of the season and now Rubio is the only starter to have played in every game this season. Love missed the game with a stiff neck after taking a couple nasty spills in that win over the Lakers last night at the Target Center. And, of course Pekovic missed another game with that bursitis in his ankle.
Adelman went with a starting group of Rubio, Kevin Martin, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf. With just 12 healthy players, tonight's game gave players like Robbie Hummel, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and A.J. Price to see the court.
With Love & Pek out, the Wolves had just three 'big' guys in Dante, Ronny & Dieng. It forced Robbie Hummel to play some 'stretch four' and Dante Cunningham played a game-high 43 minutes en-route to his best all-around outing of the season.
With no Love (25.6), Pekovic (18) or Brewer (11.1) that's an average of 54.7 points of offense that the Wolves had to look elsewhere for. You've got to give a lot of credit to Rubio, Barea & Cunningham who all stepped up with so many key offensive players out. Rubio had 9 of his team-high 19 points after the first quarter and even attempted 10 field goals in the first twelve minutes! He was very aggressive and that's something the Wolves desperately needed. J.J. Barea came in, in the second quarter and picked up right where Ricky left off.
When I heard that Brewer wouldn't play I was excited for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to get more playing time (and to Mbah a Moute's credit, he played well on both ends of the floor tonight and hopefully earns a bit more trust from Adelman as the season presses on). When I heard that Love was out just prior to the tipoff, I was fearful that the Wolves would struggle to hit 80 points tonight. I was clearly mistaken.
With Cunningham, Turiaf, Mbah a Moute & Dieng getting more playing time there an aspect to Minnesota's defense we really haven't seen much of this season: Rim Protection! Starters Ronny & Dante combined for 7 of Minnesota's 8 blocks (Hummel had the other) and they certainly altered quite a few more.
The third quarter ended on a Derek Fisher three-point attempt that looked as though he was going to overshoot the basket and airball it...unfortunately Gorgui Dieng had other plans...
After an official review, it was ruled a goaltend because the ball was over the cylinder when Dieng tipped it in, so it counted as a three and the Thunder took a 77-80 lead after three quarters.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Thunder went on a 16-4 run to take a 12-point lead. Early in that fourth quarter was the first time all game that either team had led by double digits.
For the final six minutes of the game and the Wolves still down double digits, Adelman went with a lineup of Rubio, Muhammad, Budinger, Hummel & Cunningham. They were able to knock down a couple of threes to make things interesting in the final few minutes, but the Thunder ultimately pulled away for the 97-106 win.
Cunningham played a season-high 43 minutes and finished with a season-high 18 points. It was definitely nice to see him crashing the offensive glass for putbacks and knocking down those mid-range jumpers.
Mbah a Moute did a decent job defensively vs. Durant (he really can't be stopped) while also chipping in 8 points and a few rebounds as the starting small forward.
Strangely enough, Martin played just 23 minutes and finished with only 8 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He did play 40+ minutes last night vs. the Lakers and the Wolves certainly could've used his scoring down the stretch, but he didn't play at all in the fourth quarter.
Rubio did play well, leading the team in scoring (19), assists (5) and tying Cunningham with 8 rebounds. The Wolves missed 6 free throws as a team and 5 of those came from Rubio. In a game that you lose by just 9 points, seeing those missed free throws in the box score certainly hurt. Nonetheless, it was still one of Ricky's best offensive outings of the season to date.
Robbie Hummel saw his first game action since early January when the Wolves defeated the Sixers (1/6). He came off the bench for 17 minutes and did some good things on both ends. At the beginning of the season, Adelman said he (Hummel) had the skill set to be a 'stretch four' in this League (a la Kevin Love or Ryan Anderson) and I would have to agree. If he can find a consistent jumper and knock down open shots, there will be playing time for him (especially with Budinger continuing to struggle shooting the ball--something that continued tonight).
As noted above, Muhammad played the final six minutes of tonight's game and finished with a new season-high 6 points. He also airballed a three and looked shaky defensively. He got 2 of his points on an offensive rebound putback and the other two by posting up on the left box and fading away for a 12-foot jumper (hitting both). He didn't look spectacular, but he showed enough to deserve some more minutes going forward (though, barring injuries, that won't happen).
The Wolves are back under .500 at 24-25. They'll have a chance to get back to even on Friday night in New Orleans vs. the Pelicans. Corey Brewer & Kevin Love will both be back for that game and if the Pelicans are as shorthanded as they were the last time we faced them, the Wolves should find success, Friday night.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!