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Corey Brewer, Jeff Green

In preparation for tonight’s game in Boston, I had a chat with SB Nation’s Celtics Blog writer Dustin Chapman, a guy I’ve talked basketball with for a long, long time. Click here to follow him on Twitter. We talked about the Rondo trade, key matchups, and discussed Pek vs Vitor in a battle of the giants.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are a good team.

This is fun to say. This is also weird to say. Last season, we were enjoying an incredible ride for the first 41.98 games of the campaign. Kevin Love was playing like an MVP candidate (remember when Wolves fans still liked him?), Nikola Pekovic was emerging as the Chuck Norris of the NBA, and Ricky Rubio was dancing around our hearts with his one-handed bounce passes and defensive effectiveness. They had us believing that the playoffs were a legitimate possibility because Rick Adelman was coaching three really good players and a bunch of middling role players.

Then the ACL tear happened and then the bone spurs in Pek’s ankle happened and then Love was concussed and we were left with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, and a rat maze of feces the team couldn’t get out of. The lone highlight after Love’s showdown with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City ended up being the Wolves finally winning an April game.

The fallout of the falling out of the 2011-12 season led to a huge roster overhaul. As now we see the roster before us. The crazy thing is it’s not even our complete roster. The Wolves are still missing Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee right now. Josh Howard is out with a hyperextended knee too. The Wolves are getting by with Andrei Kirilenko’s awesomeness, Pek coming into his own the last few games offensively and playing great defense all season, Alexey Shved proving a spark off the bench before and in the lineup now, and the Barea-Ridnour combo playing really good basketball as of late.

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Good to have you back, sir.

I’m still trying to parse my thoughts on his surprise return and what it means for the team. I think we’re in for some awkwardness over this road stretch. The Wolves will basically have one practice in between about four games. There isn’t a ton of opportunity to get Love and his teammates back on the same page and they’ll all have to re-learn what’s going on in the system. You know, assuming they can run their system. The Wolves are going to be a pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop heavy team until they’re closer to full strength. Love can thrive in this environment but how does everybody else manage to do it?

Kirilenko looked stagnant in the second half of the Nuggets game and the Wolves just can’t have that. He’s a smart player and he’ll quickly learn how work off of Love. But it’s probably more important he figures out how to have a two-man game with Nikola Pekovic while Love is drawing so much attention on the strong side of the ball. A quick reversel to Kirilenko in the high post should allow him enough space to get a quick pass to Pek when he has position.

Until Rubio comes back, we’re going to see a lot of forced offense by everybody on the floor. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it just means the games will be a bit harder on offense. The nice thing is the Wolves have enough talent this season to make it work, as long as the defensive effort keeps up.  Continue Reading…

The rosters don’t look similar and it’s only a couple weeks into the season so take this in the spirit that it’s intended, but this Bobcats team reminds me a lot of the way the Timberwolves played last year.

After so much mediocrity, the Wolves became a scrappy bunch that played an exciting brand of basketball. The Wolves were fueled by Kevin Love’s emergence as one of the top players in the NBA, Ricky Rubio’s creativity and electricity, and the discovery that Nikola Pekovic was a wrecking ball out of nowhere. This Bobcats team doesn’t really have any of that. They have a coach who decided losing wasn’t going to be acceptable anymore. They have a guard trio that has fueled their offense most nights, and their offense most nights is really good this season. They have a rookie swingman who is probably going to be the next great defender in the NBA.

The Bobcats don’t have much in terms of interior scoring or presence. Byron Mullens and Bismack Biyombo are the two key big men for them. Brendan Haywood is playing a lot of competent minutes. And this team is doing a fantastic job of hitting the offensive boards, taking care of the basketball, and finding a way to get shots at the rim. The Bobcats scrappiness and frenetic style are what reminds me of the Wolves of yesteryear.  Continue Reading…

Miss u guys

Here we are — two peas in a pod.

Both the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves have been survivors through the first two weeks of the NBA season. We both lost our star power forwards for about a month to start the season. They’ve lost Shawn Marion after a hot start; we’ve lost Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, and parts of Brandon Roy after our hot start. This leads to the inquiry by some as to whether or not this basketball team or even Minnesota sports in general are cursed.  Continue Reading…

Welcome to the NBA everybody. You gut out a thrilling victory in a grueling game against one of the league’s most intense, physical teams. You expend copious energy, both physical and emotional. Then you get on a plane and do it all again the next night. Of course, while the Pacers are a well-coached, defensively oriented team, they don’t hold a candle to Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls.

The Bulls are, as is their custom are sitting atop the league in defensive efficiency, allowing a cruel .93 points per possession. Yes, they’re missing a certain famous former MVP, but they still boast some guys who really like to get after it: namely, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, among others. The Bulls’ ability to pressure the ball and then recover to all five positions should you change sides of the floor is unmatched by any team the Wolves have played this year. Unless of course you count the drubbing these very Bulls put on the Wolves in the preseason.

And yes, I realize that a) that was a preseason game and so b) who cares and also that c) the Wolves were without both Nikola Pekovic and Luke Ridnour. Nevertheless, the Wolves have only intermittently been able to create offensive continuity with their guard play. Their best offensive moments have come either when the team is fluidly executing Rick Adelman’s sets or when a guard, be it Brandon Roy, J.J. Barea or Alexey Shved, has taken it upon himself to break down the opposing defense. Unfortunately, nobody disrupts offensive continuity and atomizes the five opposing offensive players as well as Chicago. And should Luke Ridnour or Shved or Roy–remember, JJ Barea will miss the game with his foot injury–attempt to attack the Bulls by himself, well that just plays into the hands of the Bulls’ swarming defense.

Adding to the problem is that the Bulls have real matchup advantages in the frontcourt, which has been the Wolves’ strength. Luol Deng vs. Andrei Kirilenko is essentially a wash; both players are long, elite defenders and crafty, efficient scorers, although Deng is asked to shoulder a much greater share of his team’s load, both on offense and in terms of minutes, than AK. But then the real problems begin. Joakim Noah is the kind of long, active center that gives Pekovic fits (observe the way that Hibbert disrupted Pek’s offensive game last night). And, recent defensive improvement notwithstanding, Derrick Williams showed very little ability to stay with Carlos Boozer in their preseason matchup.

The Wolves’ great hope here, as it has been before, just may be their bench. Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma seem to me to be well equipped to take on Boozer and Noah defensively. And whether or not Cunningham can actually match Taj Gibson’s intensity (very hard to do, but I bet he can) that matchup should be pretty furious stuff, particularly if the game is close. Still, while matchups circumstances seem stacked against the Wolves, they surely seem to be oceans ahead of where they were two weeks ago. Tonight will be a great test of just how far they’ve come.

Mike Brown ruined my day and I forgot about this preview.

Well, I guess Mike Brown didn’t ruin my day. It was more the Lakers’ fault. When Brown got fired, I was prepared to post this preview, head to the gym, and keep the revolution moving on in Assassin’s Creed III after I played some basketball. Instead, the feces hit the fan and I ended up writing about why Mike D’Antoni would make sense with the Lakers’ current crop. Give it a read if you don’t mind. Actually, you don’t have to read it; just click if you don’t mind.

But the Mike Brown noise made me think about how lucky this Wolves team is right now. The Lakers should have gone after Rick Adelman during the 2011 offseason. He was there for the taking, and I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have taken the job if offered before the Wolves got involved with their coaching search. Instead, the Lakers grabbed Mike Brown, gave him a year, gave him a new team, and gave him a pink slip after five games in his second year.

We don’t have to worry about coaching for a while. Adelman is one of the best in the league and he’s our team’s coach for at least the next three years. After that, there will probably be a succession plan in place. If Adelman wasn’t here, I’m not sure who would be the coach but certainly wouldn’t be a coach with the acumen that Rick has. I’m not sure Kevin Love would be happy or the new role players would be here or Pek would be blossoming at this point in his career, if at all.

We may still be in a good place as a franchise with someone else, but I don’t think we’d be as excited as we are. So it’s nice that the Lakers screwed up and we benefited from it.  Continue Reading…

This is what happens when you Google “Magic Wolves.”

We’ve got a big stretch of games coming up for the Wolves and it starts tonight.

Ever since Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups, we’ve been trying to figure out how this team survives the presumed month he’s out healing. If the Wolves can be a .500 team during the month of November, it keeps them deep in the playoff race in the Western Conference. After a 2-1 start, the Wolves have five of the next seven games at home. Tonight’s game against Orlando, Friday’s game against Indiana, and then three in a row starting Wednesday of next week against Charlotte, Golden State, and Denver. In between, there are two road games against Chicago and Dallas (without Dirk and possibly without Marion).

This is a stretch in which the Wolves really need to win at least four of these games.  Continue Reading…

Hello, Brooklyn!

After the horrible aftermath in the New York area (and much of the Eastern seaboard) took away the Brooklyn Nets’ theatrical home opener against the New York Knicks to kick off the Brooklyn era properly, New York’s newest team finally debuted their new duds and domicile against the Toronto Raptors. I don’t have a ton to add about that game. The Nets rode Brook Lopez and just pounded the Raptors inside to get the win. Think what you will about Brook Lopez but he’s a weapon the Wolves really have to worry about tonight.

But we don’t have a ton to go off of with how this new Brooklyn team might play the Wolves tonight. What we CAN do is make fun of the Nets’ mascot. The Nets unveiled “the Brooklyn Knight” during the pregame introductions of the game against the Raptors and it was immediately the worst mascot I’ve ever seen. Here’s a fun fallout of the unveiling from The Brooklyn GameContinue Reading…

So the Timberwolves won a game in which Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were in suits, Nikola Pekovic had nine points and five rebounds, the team shot 36.8% from the field and just 2-of-17 from the 3-point line?

What the what?

Now there are two possible reasons for this:  Continue Reading…