Archives For 2011-12 Season

Jose Juan Barea, or “JJ” as I like to call him, deserves a lot of praise for the job he’s tried to do since Luke Ridnour joined Ricky Rubio in the trainer’s room.

These are unusual minutes for him. In his entire career, he’s played just 30 minutes or more 36 times (counting last night). That’s 36 times in just six seasons. 26 of those came in his five years with the Dallas Mavericks. He’s not used to this kind of load with minutes played and the responsibility of running a team that comes with them. It’s easy to dismiss this reality for him and say that he’s an NBA point guard and should be capable of doing this with the money he’s getting to be here.

However, that’s just not how the NBA often works. Guys need routines and they need specific roles that they’re accustomed to. For Barea, he’s always been the scorer off the bench that is inserted for measured minutes to spark the offense. I wrote when the signing happened that he’s here to be a change of pace running back type of player for the Wolves and that’s what he was until Ricky Rubio went down.

He’s played at least 30 minutes or more the last eight games and he’s trying to adapt to new responsibilities with the team. While it’s tired him out, bloodied his lip and made him the lone creator on offense for a few games in a row, he talked after the loss to Memphis about how much he’s enjoyed this change of a role and being able to fight alongside his teammates.

I think we can all agree that the Indiana loss was as pathetic as we’ve seen all season. It was a dead moment from the beginning and even an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter couldn’t keep this team from losing by fewer than 23 points. But in the last two home games now, we’ve seen an incredible fight in this young MASH unit that we’ve all been hoping to see.

It hasn’t led to any victories yet. The April losing streak still continues and is sitting ugly at 27 straight right now. However, it seems like this team is figuring out how to fight when there is nothing more than pride and momentum to play for.

This Memphis team is still rounding back into form with getting Zach Randolph back to himself, and yet they’re still a much better team than anything this group of Wolves should be able to handle. Minnesota was right there in the thick of the fourth quarter last night with a chance to steal a home victory though. When Anthony Tolliver’s 3-point play was taken away for an odd offensive foul call, it changed the momentum of a potential victory.

Now the Wolves needed to answer back after hoping to build a four-point lead with 3:49 left and they fell short. The shots stopped falling and turnovers occurred. They couldn’t guard Rudy Gay over the final four minutes of the game. And yet, JJ Barea had this squad within three points and less than a minute to go.

At a certain point, you look at this roster and realize with the injuries this is all you can really ask for – a chance to win and hope for the losing streak to end.

Since Luke went down with his ankle injury, Barea has been clawing and troubleshooting his performances as the lead guard on the court. He’s averaged 16.1 points, 9.1 assists, 3.8 turnovers and 34.8 minutes per game. He’s shooting 43.1% from the field and 48.8% from 3. This isn’t some jaw-dropping line by any means. They’re good numbers for a starting point guard but they aren’t numbers that make you feel comfortable with situation at hand.

What they show is that JJ Barea has decided to help fight for this team. Whether guys like Beasley, Wes, Martell, and Randolph will step up doesn’t really matter. Their production will come and go but Barea is going to fight with whomever is willing to step to the front of the line. I don’t know that it means much heading into next season. Ideally, Ricky will be back, Luke will be his backup and Barea will be the change of pace running back off the bench. We will hopefully never rely on Barea to fill in this role in the next three years.

That doesn’t mean that right now it’s not nice to see someone on this team step up and play for pride. I actually have hope that either the Pistons or the Warriors will fall to the Wolves in the next five days and we’ll no longer have to count consecutive April losses.

JJ Barea is managing his way through his new role and he’s enjoying the experience of fighting alongside his teammates right now. And I actually am enjoying watching that.

Let’s recap the past two games.

Jason Smith had 26 points on 16 shots against the Wolves a couple days ago. They lost to a tanking New Orleans team on the road. Monday night, Markieff Morris had 21 points on 15 shots off the bench. The Suns beat the Wolves IN MINNEAPOLIS by 24 points. There are so many problems with this that I don’t really know where to begin.

The problem is there is no beginning to figuring this out because I don’t really know if there is a point. The Wolves no longer care. They can claim that they care and provide all of the lip service a fan could ever dream of. They talk about coming together as a team and playing for pride and blah blah blah.

None of it really matters. If it matters, this team wouldn’t have lost six straight games the way it did. I don’t even care that they lost six in a row. On some level, I absolutely care because they were in the playoff hunt with a favorable upcoming schedule and managed to throw guano all over the situation. But losing streaks happen to young teams all the time. You can get over that.

What you can’t get over immediately is the way they lost them.  Continue Reading…

After the loss to the Warriors the other night, a few of the players talked about having pride, learning how to win and leaving a good taste in their mouth at the end of this season that can carry over into next year.

There is a certain element of pride in still playing hard even when you really don’t have anything to play for. When facing a team like the Hornets, New Orleans has a goal to attain by beating the Wolves. The more the Wolves’ lose, the better their odds of getting a high lottery pick are. Sure, they could continue losing to make sure their own pick finishes with a higher likelihood of winning the number one selection, but it’s hard to convince players that losing is the best policy for the franchise moving forward.

The Wolves have been embarrassingly bad over the past month. Yes, they’ve been injured and injuries are certainly a concern. They’ve lost their two best point guards and are relying on a scoring point guard and a rookie with fewer than 130 minutes of playing time to pull them through these losses. Their bruising, powerful center has been hobbled and the best wing scorer on the team (in terms of talent) has been out. The problem with blaming the play on injuries is it doesn’t recognize that other teams have gone through injuries and it doesn’t bring any accountability to the players still playing.

Kevin Love is the team’s best player (breaking news, I know). Kevin Love was salty over not getting a five-year max contract. He wants to be considered among the league’s best players and people (myself included) want him to be considered for MVP because of his phenomenal statistics and the improvements he’s made to elevate his team. Here’s the problem with this:

Love has been bad lately. Continue Reading…

I think it’s safe to say the nail in the playoff coffin has been inserted.

After the loss to Boston on Friday, the Wolves had a favorable stretch of games in which they could presumably sweep them and end up climbing above .500 and right into the Battle Royale playoff fight. After the first two games of this stretch, the Wolves have dropped both while trying to shuffle through injuries and playing atrocious defense all around. Wolves are now five games under .500 and free falling into a lottery position they don’t get.

I think to expect playoffs as an actual possibility, even if it’s mathematically possible, is just irrational hope wrapped in a warm blanket of denial. Luke Ridnour is probably gone for a long time after that ankle injury tonight. Even if it’s just three or four games (by some miracle), there are only 11 games left in this season. Pek came back tonight and gave good minutes, but they were probably able to afford his absence a lot more than Luke’s.

Maybe JJ Barea can come back on Wednesday and play some good basketball. Maybe Pekovic’s ankle will still be okay (he told Adelman after the game that only his conditioning gave him problems) and he can build on his minutes while still scoring efficiently. Maybe Malcolm Lee will grow with each outing and give the Wolves some really solid minutes at the point.

Even then the Wolves have 4.5 games to make up with just 11 to play. The math looks funny to me.  Continue Reading…

Here it is in all of its glory!

You know what’s kind of crazy?

Kevin Love finished this game with 40 points and 19 rebounds last night, including 14 in the fourth quarter to close out the worst team in the NBA, and it’s probably his third best game of the week. The level of production and play Love is throwing at our eyeballs and his opponents’ defensive schemes are ridiculous right now. I like to fancy myself as a pretty good NBA 2K12 player. It’s really hard to put those numbers up in the video game, let alone with actual athletic giants flying around your personal space.

I’m having a hard time really getting excited about this win because they beat the worst team in the NBA. However, without Rubio, Pekovic, Barea and Beasley, it’s still cool to see Kevin Love take over a contest and just decide to win it. He didn’t win it on his own either. Anthony Tolliver had another phenomenal effort off the bench with a double-double (11 and 11). Luke Ridnour was slinging passes all over the court and finished with 15 points and 14 assists. The Wolves dominated the boards in a game that saw plenty of misses (40.7% FG for Minnesota, 39.7% for Charlotte).

Watching the Bobcats, I felt sort of bad for them. They do have talent in role player form. Bismack Biyombo is awkward and yet will be a really good rebounder and defender in this league. Kemba Walker might end up being a really good third guard on a team someday. Corey Maggette can still score. DJ White and Gerald Henderson are guys every team in the NBA would love have coming off their bench.

But they don’t have any top talent right now. They don’t have anybody who can take over a game for a six-minute stretch to give the team a little breathing room. They don’t have Kevin Love.  Continue Reading…

The problem with Kevin Love’s numbers is he only gets them because he’s on a bad team. If the Wolves were a team capable of making the playoffs, he wouldn’t grab nearly as many rebounds or score nearly as many points. He’s just a product of nobody else on the team being capable of putting up numbers. Sure he’s one of the top rebounders in the league but if they had anybody else on the team that can rebound, he wouldn’t grab a lot.

Remember that nonsense?

One year, 2/3s of a season with a Spaniard, and a Hall of Fame coach later, Kevin Love isn’t just putting up insane numbers; he’s making it hard to discount him as an MVP and All-NBA 1st team candidate.  Continue Reading…

This one was not so fun.

Game six of the seven-game road trip looked like this team was just tired of being away from the Target Center. The energy was low, the effort was inadequate and the Wolves just seemed like they wanted out of there. I don’t really blame them. Not having Pekovic and Rubio has taken a toll on this team. The inside of the lane is a lot harder to patrol for the Wolves on both ends. The top of the defense is trying, but they’re just not the same without Rubio and his elastic wingspan deterring basic passes around the perimeter and into the post.

Gregg Popovich probably knew exactly how this game was going to go. Without Pekovic inside, he was going to make Love be a primary defender against the older but still effective Tim Duncan. If the Wolves fought back early, he’d probably unleash Manu and Parker drives all night. If not, he’d let Timmy break the will of Minnesota by showing them that even this old man could kick their butts on any given night. The Spurs had their perimeter attack waiting in the wings (no pun intended… okay, maybe it was a little intended) to unleash on a tired and road weary Wolves team. The Spurs are number one in the league in 3-point percentage and they’ll break your backs and runs with it.

In the end, the Wolves just were outmanned and out-energized for this game. One more Friday night in OKC before they get to come home and reacquaint themselves with home briefly. Grades after the jump. Continue Reading…

I’m not the biggest video game nerd in the world, but I used to go nuts over playing Mega Man. There was something so captivating about a guy in a little blue, pixelated suit, trying to shoot Kix cereal at bad guys coming at you from right to left.

Maybe I was just a huge Running Man fan as a child because there was the Light Bright guy trying to saw the Terminator in half or something. I’m not quite sure what the allure was. But I had a really fun time jumping and shooting at attackers from all angles. When they had a sequel of Mega Man in which you could earn powers and become a guy wielding wind or fire or earth or the Temptations, it was hard for me to imagine having more fun playing a video game as a kid. They had taken such a simple concept and added options for attack.

Mega Man had so many weapons now and it was fun to experiment with them on different levels and see which ones got you through the battles on any given pixelated plane. It’s a lot like watching Kevin Love the last two seasons. Kevin Love is the Mega Man of the NBA. He’s unassuming from the outsider’s perspective. You wouldn’t expect the evolution of a stretch-4 to be looking at your right in the face when you see him. Continue Reading…

Ricky Rubio has been at this a long time. He’s grown up in front of the press due to his professional career beginning when he was 14 years old. He’s as savvy as just about any NBA player when it comes to understanding what the fans and media all want and expect from the stars in this league.

Whether people believe his PER and shooting percentages make him a star or not, the outcry of support and sad feelings that deluged through the internet after the announcement of his ACL tear prove his stardom. He’s an important figure in the NBA at such a young age and he knows that the hopes of a fan base rest on his ligaments. Because of who he is and what he understands, I think the effort and updates on his injury he’s provided have been extra upbeat. Maybe I’m just reading into this too much or maybe he just understands his place in our NBA world that well. Regardless, he’s given us a lot of smiles in a time in which most of us have been sad about the news.

The first two pictures he tweeted were fantastic. He’s all smiles:

But now, Ricky has shot video of how he does his shopping with the knee injury. He’s taken this “cheer us up” thing to a whole new level.

Thank you, Ricky.