The Wolves have certainly had their highs and lows this season. The Wolves are currently in one of their 'downs' as they've lost four of their last five games. Hopefully a game against the Phoenix Suns (lost four straight) will help get Minnesota trending upward.
Many of Minnesota's struggles stem directly from injuries. Take away every injury any Wolves player has suffered this season and this team isn't just a .500 squad. Kevin Love doesn't break his hand and averages his usual 25pts & 12reb and does so efficiently. Ricky Rubio is available to start the season and as the starting point guard he averages 10pts, 11ast & 2stls. Roy's knees hold up, Chase doesn't tear his meniscus and Lee's 'chrondal' knee injury never happens. You then have one of the top teams in the NBA. That isn't the case and we can play the 'what if' game all we want, but this team is a .500 squad and all we can do is move on from where we are now.
How do we get better? Ultimately the majority of Minnesota's problems right now stem directly from Kevin Love's poor outings. Kevin Love is the star of this team and without his contributions on the offensive end it makes everything harder for each member of this team. Without Kevin Love's three-point shooting and ability to stretch the floor and have to respect his outside game, teams will clog the lane and that harshly hampers Nikola Pekovic's game. Love is in a slump and a lot of that can be attributed to injury. There are a lot of TWolves fans that have turned on Love and had some incredibly harsh criticism for Minnesota's superstar. I can guarantee you this though, when he gets back to those 25-12 nights and does so efficiently, which coincides with TWolves Ws, those skeptics will be quieted and once again cheer on their All-Star forward.
Well then, let's get back to TWolves vs. Suns...
The Wolves come into this one 13-13, 8-4 at home, 5-5 in their last 10 games and having lost two-straight games. The Suns are 11-19 on the year, 2-12 on the road, 4-6 in their last 10 games and having lost four-straight games.
The Phoenix Suns will be a lotto team come Summer 2013 and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Suns make some trades prior to the February trade deadline.
The Suns lack a star on this team. If I was Alvin Gentry, I would give the keys to this offense to my big man: Marcin Gortat. Gortat is (in my opinion) one of the NBA's top centers. He has the brute strength and post proficiency of a guy like Nikola Pekovic, but also possesses the athleticism and low-post defense of some of the better defensive centers in the League. I wouldn't be surprised if Gortat has a new home in a month or so.
Looking at the injuries for both of these teams, for the TWolves I'll direct you to our very recently updated Injury Report. Included on there are updates on Brandon Roy & Chase Budinger. Nikola Pekovic played limited minutes in the loss to the Rockets on Wednesday because of an illness. He practiced on Thursday & Friday and will play tonight and should be just fine.
For the Suns, they've been without Channing Frye for the entire season after doctors found he had an enlarged heart. He won't play at all this season, but doctors says there's 'a better chance than not' his heart will heal completely and he'll be able to return to the court in 2013-14. Goran Dragic missed the Suns last game vs. the Pacers after a fall in their game vs. the Knicks. On the fast break, Dragic went up for the easy layup and was undercut by J.R. Smith. Dragic hit the floor hard, landing on his back/hip. He's questionable for tonight's game with what they're calling a hip bruise.
In Minnesota's last game (an 84-87 loss to Houston on Wed.) their starting frontcourt struggled mightily. Nikola Pekovic was battling an illness that limited him to just 23 minutes. He finished with 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting along with 7 rebounds, 1 turnover and 1 foul. Kevin Love finished with 7 points on 3-of-14 shooting, including 0-for-7 from deep and 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers and 1 foul in 36 minutes. That magnifies exactly what I highlighted in the first few paragraphs here today. The Wolves need more from these two guys if they're going to have any chance of closing out games and making the playoffs. Andrei Kirilenko played 29 minutes on Wednesday and finished with 8 points on 2-of-6 shooting and 4-of-6 from the line, as well as 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block and 2 turnovers. That isn't a terrible statline, but when guys like Pek & Love struggle the Wolves need more from a guy like AK. Kirilenko is capable of doing more offensively too. He's had his 20-point games this season. To put it all on him isn't fair: Ridnour, Shved, Barea, etc. can all do more. Kevin Love getting out of this slump solves a lot of TWolves problems though.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups in this one...
If Goran Dragic is ruled out for this one because of that hip bruise, Sebastian Telfair (6.5ppg, 2.8apg, 0.8spg) will start again (he did yesterday vs. Indiana). The former Wolf Telfair finished with 19pts, 1reb, 6ast, 1stl in yesterday's loss to the Pacers.
The battle in the post will be the matchups to watch in this one. Nikola Pekovic vs. Marcin Gortat will be two HUGE battering rams going at one another. It's going to be a battle and A LOT of fun to watch. Don't count out the battle at power forward though. I'm sure most of you haven't forgotten "The Stomp" last season, when Kevin Love stepped on Scola's face as he was down on the floor and was subsequently suspended for two games because of it. We'll see if it gets 'chippy' again tonight between these two.
Just one last thing I wanted to add here today, the former Timberwolves that are on this Phoenix Suns roster: Sebastian Telfair, Wesley Johnson & Michael Beasley. Telfair didn't play much in his second tenure with the Wolves under coach Kurt Rambis, despite the underperforming Jonny Flynn, Telfair was still the third string PG and hardly ever saw the court. Now, Sebastian is the main backup to starting point guard Goran Dragic and playing fairly well in his role with this Suns squad. Wes Johnson & Michael Beasley aren't having the same 'rebirth' with the Suns, however. Beasley began the season as the starting small forward, but has since been relegated to the bench. He's currently averaging 24.2mpg this season along with 10.4ppg, 3.6rpg, 2.3apg, 0.4spg, 0.7bpg, 2.1topg and shooting 38% FG, 32% 3PT and 75% from the line. Wes Johnson started 64 of the 65 games he played last season in Minnesota, but his role on this Phoenix Suns squad is slightly different. Wes has played in 12 of the Suns' 30 games this season and is averaging 5.9mpg with 0 games started. Playing only 'garbage time' Wes has season averages of 2.3ppg, 0.8rpg, 0.4apg, 0.2bpg and shooting 33% FG, 29% 3PT and 67% from the line. I remember watching the Suns press conference after he was traded to Phoenix and listened to him talk about how playing in Minnesota was a bad fit and he was sure he fit better on this Suns roster and could kickstart his career here. I still don't understand the "didn't fit" thing as he started 64 games and was given every opportunity to succeed here. His performance this season in Phoenix proves that Wes Johnson, simply sucks. I'm not saying he can't turn things around, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's playing in the D-League or overseas next season.
That's all for now, tipoff for this one is set for 7pmCT and full gameday recap can be found on this site following the final horn, until then thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!