The Wolves and the Wolves’ faithful have dropped down a peg or two since Monday’s improbably cakewalk-ish victory over the Dallas Mavericks. That win, which brought the Wolves to 5-2 and gave them their best start since 2001, though, was also the game that saw half-man, all-beast (that’s 150% man-beast) Nikola Pekovic leave the game with a sprained left ankle from whose bourn he has not returned. Then came a loss to the Bobcats that was very nearly a win after a borderline surreal firestorm of a fourth quarter. With no Love and no Rubio and no Budinger and no Barea and no Roy and no Pekovic making the Wolves something something, the team signed veteran swingman Josh Howard yesterday for the veteran minimum because, let’s face it, he’s ambulatory. Put this all together and what you have in Wednesday’s loss and tonight’s loss to the Golden State Warriors (who do, Jon Krawczynski, have the best-looking unis in the NBA that weren’t designed before 1980) are two games to just survive before the four-day layoff leading up to next Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets. Continue Reading…
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There are plenty of word that could be used to describe this Orlando Magic team, but I think I’ve settled on rudderless. After losing their noon, their midnight, their talk, their song, their Dwight Howard, this team was a question mark, but now playing without Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson or Al Harrington, it’s just a complete mystery where offense will come from. They’ve been reduced to Aaron Afflalo kickouts and J.J. Redick curls and the result tonight was a team that shot 35%, plus 25% from distance.
I wish I could say it was never even close. But although the Wolves started hot, jumping out to a 15 point lead and holding it to double digits almost through a quarter and a half, their focus eventually slackened and the shots stopped dropping. Orlando pulled closer, then the Wolves pushed back, then Orlando pulled to within 5 with 2:01 remaining on a Redick 3-pointer. But then, impressively, the Wolves seemed to decide they’d had enough, eventually pushing the lead to 27 before settling for a solid 15-point win.
As Zach said in his preview, this was an eminently winnable game and they won it, bringing them to 3-1 for the season and delivering what can firmly be called a hot start to a season that was supposed to be a slog without Love and Rubio. As far as what this game means as a game, I think that’s plenty.
So let’s look at three things that were interesting about the way the Wolves played.
Upside Down Guards
Adelman’s been running J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved as his backcourt for the second unit, and although nominally that makes them the point guard and the shooting guard, their instincts push them in counterintuitive directions. The diminutive Barea is the scorer, the penetrator, while Shved primarily looks to create for others. Tonight, that pattern didn’t hold true for the bench with Shved notching 3 assists and 7 points while Barea—very strangely—got 5 dimes and only 1 point.
But now it looks as if the starters might be working in much the same way. Roy continues to struggle with his shot, going 1-6 for just 3 points but putting up 9 assists while his backcourt partner—and nominal point guard—Luke Ridnour scored a team high 19 points with 3 assists. Adelman seems content to let these units find their way on the floor, and maybe this is just something that happened tonight, with Roy and Ridnour taking what was in front of them. But if it becomes a way to build the offense’s identity, it could be fascinating.
Pekovic: A Man in Motion, All He Needs Is a Pair of Wheels
Right from their first game against Sacramento, Ben Polk was perplexed why Pekovic wasn’t being used in more pick and rolls rather than catching the ball in the post. Although Pek’s post game has improved since last season and he’s able to do more with his newfound lateral quickness, it still seemed an odd choice for a player who often thrived moving towards the basket on the break or in the pick and roll last season. But tonight, what Adelman called a broken play led to Pek catching the ball on the move. The play was actually a pick and roll designed for Pek, but when Williams couldn’t get him the ball on the initial action, he posted up then stepped across the lane and Ridnour caught him directly under the basket for a layup. He caught another dish from Ridnour in transition for a dunk, then worked free in a pick and roll for another on the move. Rather than setting up on the block and waiting for the ball to come to him, he managed to get the ball while he was moving, and 290 pounds of massive Montenegrin is pretty hard to stop in those cases. If this is a permanent development in the offensive scheme, it’s a great one.
Stiemsma: Destroyer of Worlds
When the Wolves picked up Greg Stiemsma, the reactions ranged from mild interest to active disinterest. Although he was a blocks machine in Boston last season (averaging 4 per 36 minutes), that was about all he was viewed as being good for. But lo and behold tonight he scored 12 points on a super-efficient 6-7 shooting, good for 1.5 points per possession. And though he put up only 2 blocks and 5 rebounds, he was like a supermassive black hole in the best possible way in the late third and fourth when he scored 8 straight points for Minnesota. He was active, setting screens and hitting hook shots and jumpers, closing out on shooters, and doing all the little stuff. When a guy who’s just supposed to provide one dimension off the bench can suddenly become the heart of the team out on the floor, that’s a recipe for success for a team that’s not only learning how to play without their stars, but how to play with each other period.
I made it so you could say Marcy and it was all good. I ‘aint cross over, I brought the suburbs to the hood. Made ‘em relate to your struggle, told ‘em bout your hustle. Went on MTV with du-rags. I made them love you. You know normally them people wouldn’t be f—ing wit you, til I made ‘em understand why you do what you do. I expected to hear, ‘Jay, if it wasn’t for you’….
Shawn Carter bought a basketball team. Well, technically he bought one-fifteenth of one percent of a basketball team, but who’s counting? Regardless, the savvy branding of his recent purchase has blanketed the borough in black and white. Brooklyn Nets apparel is no longer solely in support of a franchise, but of a culture. Their snapbacks are the manifestation of a dream, their owner’s jersey sells more than anyone else on the team, and a short stroll from the Barclay’s Center holds the reason why.
See, because here’s the thing: I couldn’t find anything other than WCCO’s immaculate radio coverage to watch the Wolves in their final preseason tilt against the Milwaukee Bucks at Green Bay’s Resch Center. League Pass was blacked out, it wasn’t being shown on regular TV, and there weren’t any (ahem) places to watch it (cough) online. So I fired up the ol’ Xbox 360 and my copy of NBA 2K13 (starring Zach Harper), released Rubio and Love from the Wolves for this game and got my popcorn.
Before the ball was even tipped, Clark Kellogg tried to sell me on the importance of the preseason as a confidence builder. “Confidence leads to momentum,” he says. I’m actually pretty sure mass times velocity leads to momentum. Yeah science.
So here are some funny things that happened, and I will remind you I was watching and not playing this game.
Monta Ellis being Monta Ellis
“We must move forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.” —Kang as Bill Clinton (or possibly Kodos)
Pretty sure this is goaltending by Shved (whom I had to make), but Zach assures me they’re simply playing by the new FIBA rules. No word on what rules of physics allowed his arm to pass through the rim.
Ellis’ meaty thighs get in the way
Brandon Jennings dribbles the ball right off Monta Ellis’ big manly inner thigh here, leading to a break away and layup finish for Roy. If you look closely at the end, you can see James Franco reaching in desperation for the ball.
Drew Gooden leads the league in casual rebounds
The angle’s not great, but it actually hit him in the face. The little nod at the end that says, “Ain’t no thang” is the best part.
And finally, an actual basketball play that looked fairly pretty and also representative
Roy sets up Jennings with the nice hesitation cross and then drives the lane, drawing an extra defender before he kicks it out. Regrettably, he’s kicking it out to Derrick Williams who was very Derrick Williams-ish in this game going 2-8. But Kirilenko (who did some serious dirt in the actual game tonight and finished with a line of 8 pts, 10 rebs, 6 stls, 4 asts and 1 block) is there and cleans it up.
But behold: I actually kind of maybe almost learned something watching this. With Love and Rubio both out, the CPU-controlled Wolves utterly failed to make use of Pekovic, who finished with only 4 points and 9 rebounds. Instead, they relied time and time again on Budinger shooting long and often contested twos and threes and more of the same from Lee and even Roy sometimes. When Roy drove to the hoop, he was better, but still, the Wolves were out of this one by the half and never climbed back. If they’re going to be successful without Love to start the season, they’re going to need to use Pek a lot more.
In good news, this matters as much as a preseason game.
Also, Steve Kerr would like you to know that the position Luc Richard Mbah a Moute plays is “winner.”
You probably know the stats: the Wolves currently have 15 players on their roster. Ten of those players are what you might call “white.” Of the 12 players likely to see meaningful minutes this year, nine are white. This is a whiter team, both proportionally and in sheer volume, than any of the legendarily white mid-’80’s Celtics teams. This is about as white, I’d wager, as an NBA team can possibly be.
I bring it up not to encourage or endorse the message board/comment section paranoia that inevitably buzzes around issues like this. There’s no conceivable reason that Kahn/Adelman/Taylor (or whichever alliance of the above is actually making the Wolves’ personnel decisions) would have made skin color a guiding roster-building principle. Yes, Minnesota is a pretty white place and yes, we are crazy about Joe Mauer and hockey but we’ve also screamed ourselves hoarse in praise of KG and Kirby and Adrian Peterson and Clem Haskins among many others. The truth is, Minnesotans love a winner, just like everybody else; we’ll go nuts for anybody who can deliver the thrill. In fact, I find the feat of assembling this team even more fabulously weird for its un-intentionality.
But although almost nobody has failed to notice and remark upon the Wolves unconventional racial make up, our discussion of the issue has generally begun with the glib, occasionally paranoid one-liner and ended with a gaping moment of silence. The cultural complexity, the understandable and well-founded fear of giving offense, the sheer strangeness: it all tends to leave us a little stupefied.
Well, show’s over, kids. The thirtieth Olympiad has concluded and gone with it are the hours of equestrian, water polo, race walking and assorted moments in broadcasting cluelessness which left us fumbling for the remote. Of course scattered amongst the monotony were the reasons we actually watch; the worlds greatest athletes, having toiled for years in relative obscurity, dazzling us with their talent, passion and character. The Olympics are shared moment, one where household names and legends are created in a matter of seconds. For Kevin Love, it was just more of the same.
As the majority of the online Wolves community knows at this point, we lost Canis Hoopus writer and overall great guy Tim Allen on Monday.
I can’t pretend to know what he might have been going through or why any of this happened. And out of respect for his friends and family, I ask that we don’t really get into that in the comments if you decide to leave your thoughts. I know that the news shocked me and it’s still hard to wrap my head around. I don’t know that I ever actually will. Oceanary from CH has already shared some great thoughts about his friendship with Tim. And there is information via CH for Funeral/Memorial services here.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to ramble for a bit here because I don’t know how to properly approach this.
Aside from Myles Brown and a couple of the beat writers for the Wolves, Tim was one of the first Wolves people/fans that I got to know after I moved to Minneapolis last fall. Growing up in California I didn’t know another fan of this team until I got to college in San Diego. That was the first time I met someone that shared the same interest in a basketball team as me. It wasn’t until I moved here in September that I was actually surrounded by fans of the same team as me.
At Media Day in December, I was sitting down in a row of chairs, waiting for Wolves personnel to usher David Kahn and Rick Adelman to the podium. Tim walked over to me and introduced himself. I knew him from following him on Twitter and from reading his incredible writing on Canis Hoopus. We talked for a few minutes, exchanged a few comments about how excited we were to see Ricky Rubio finally play in a Wolves uniform, and then he went back to his seat.
During the season, the team would credential him and he’d join us in the locker room. If Michael Beasley said something quirky or Brad Miller said something funny or players joked about Darko a few feet away from him, we’d look away from the player, exchange a little eye contact, and ask what the hell was going on once the scrum broke up.
I can’t say that I got to know Tim extremely well. Aside from a few moments in Vegas at Summer League this year, we never really knew each other outside of the Target Center. We talked at pre-draft workouts and press conferences. We shared our thoughts on how we thought the team was coming together or falling apart or shaping toward the future. It was fun to talk about the Wolves with a fellow fan, face-to-face and in person. I find him to be extremely quick witted and just a blast to talk basketball with from time to time.
Last week, he sent me a DM on Twitter saying that on Facebook he had seen pictures of the new apartment my lady friend and I had just moved into, and wanted to know if it was the building he was about to move into. Turns out that it wasn’t the same building but his new place was actually going to be about 50 feet behind my building. We were excited to find out that Tim would be moving close to us and it would be fun to get to know him.
I never got to know Tim in the way I thought I eventually would, but I did get to know enough about him to know that I wanted to know more about him. He was a great guy and I never read or heard a bad word about him or his insightful writing about the Wolves. Over the past couple days, people have been kind enough to offer condolences to me and said that they’re sorry for my loss.
The truth is that it doesn’t feel right to have someone phrase it in that way. It’s not my loss. I obviously wasn’t nearly as close to him as his family and friends were. I wasn’t as close to him as the editorial team on Canis Hoopus or the commenters he bantered with on a daily basis. I was just a new person in his life hoping to foster a friendship. I do know though that his passing is everybody’s loss. Whether you were close to him or more on the outside looking in, he probably had a positive influence on your life.
I’m extremely sad to know that he’s gone and will think of him every time I look out my window to see the building directly behind me or watch the Timberwolves play.
May you rest in peace, Tim.
We’ll return to Wolves coverage tomorrow.
Awards! From the T-Wolves:
The NBA today announced that Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played from the start of the season (Dec. 25) through January. The honor is the first of Rubio’s career and just the fourth Rookie of the Month Award in franchise history.
Rubio ranks fifth among rookies in scoring (11.4 ppg) and first in assists (8.9 apg) and steals (2.24 spg). The first-year guard is tied for first in the NBA in point/assist double-doubles with nine and he ranks 12th overall in double-doubles. In 11 games as a starter, the Wolves are 7-4 with Rubio averaging 12.5 ppg, 9.7 apg, 5.5 rpg and 2.82 spg. Overall, he ranks 4th in the league in assists with 8.9 apg and 3rd in steals with 2.24 spg.
There’s are pretty impressive numbers when you look at em like that. And hey just because it feels good:
The Lakers are in town and for the first time in a long time, circumstances have changed between these two teams. Our fair city is no longer just another pit stop on Kobe & Co.’s championship tour, but a game the Wolves are legitimately favored in some corners to win. We had a chat with the Kamenetzky brothers of ESPN LA’s Land O’ Lakers for a closer look at tonight’s matchup.