Archives For Gorgui Dieng

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

“They’re all getting paid. They all have a job to do. Not only our organization – the whole league is going to judge them by how they finish out this season. And that’s what they have to understand. They’re a select group of people that get to play in the NBA.” – Rick Adelman

Ever since the final nail was hammered into the coffin containing the Wolves’ playoff dreams (back on March 5th), much of the discussion about the Timberwolves concerns expectations for the rest of the dearly departed campaign. Would Minnesota devolve into zombies, morbidly sleepwalking until the final buzzer sounds on April 16th? Would the starters exude professional pride, or fall into bad habits, knowing their futures are secure with guaranteed deals in place for next season? Will the team begin tanking? Would the bench, full of (mostly disappointing) parts, show signs of fight and life, hoping to leave a lasting impression on the front office, working earnestly for their next contracts? Has Rick Adelman checked out, or is he at least invested until the season’s done?

The answers are never black or white, never the same from night to night. The Clippers’ 114-104 defeat of the Wolves at Target Center on Monday had a little bit of everything – some good, some bad, some new developments, some familiar flaws, and comments from the coach about professional pride, effort, and finishing what you’ve started. Continue Reading…

Lakers Timberwolves Basketball.JPEG-0b3e5 (1)

In the skyway back to the parking lot after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ comprehensive mangling of the Los Angeles Lakers 143-107, two Laker fans stood vigil with a view of the exit to the visiting team bus. This was well after most of the crowd had made their way to their cars and the skyway was mostly empty.

Below, other fans stood a meager layer deep waiting for a dejected Lakers team to make their way to the bus. The 143 points Minnesota put up set a new Timberwolves franchise record and also gave them their largest win since a 42-point victory over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2009. Their 67.1% shooting set a single-game franchise record and was the highest in the NBA so far this season. Kevin Love had a triple double at the end of the third quarter. Nikola Pekovic was a plus-38, Jordan Hill a minus-38. The Wolves biggest lead was 41 points, the Lakers biggest lead, zero.

These two Lakers fans, in jerseys and hats, in Forum blue and gold, waited. If this Laker team manages two more wins this season, they’ll be spared the ignominy of having the second-worst win total in Laker history, beating out their 25-50 finish in 1959-60 and their 19-53 finish in 1957-58. They were still the Minneapolis Lakers during those two seasons. Terrible basketball has a long tradition in Minnesota.

Maybe that’s why these fans who come out of the woodwork in the visiting team’s colors for games against the Lakers, the Heat, are such easy targets. Being a Wolves fan for any serious amount of time demands resilience. It fosters a mistrust of success, an expectation of disappointment. At the core of this fandom is the sense that it has to be earned with hardship, not bought in the form of a #24 jersey with “BRYANT” on the back.

Even an offensive explosion like last night’s — a game Nikola Pekovic, back from injury, called “a triumph from the very first moment” — is going to bring with it a sour little note: Where was this kind of performance when it could have gotten them into the playoffs, when it could have mattered?

But “mattered” is a strangely relative term. Since the Wolves have fallen out of contention for a playoff spot, they’ve been peppered with questions about what there’s left to play for and they’ve given the same bland, generic responses that most athletes do in such situations. Stuff about still having things to learn, about seeing where they are for next year, about playing hard because that’s what you do.

But last night there was a little pure joy in the game. Returning to the bench after starting six games and putting up a double-double in all but one of them, Gorgui Dieng got a hero’s welcome when he checked into the game for the first time at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. Some of the applause was also no doubt for Pekovic’s sterling effort in that first quarter, where he went 4-4 and scored 12 points. And some of it may have been for the simple fact that a bench player checking in for the Wolves was not a reason to nervously bite your fingernails. Dieng acquitted himself well in his backup role with 14 points and 9 rebounds. (“The guys were giving him a pretty hard time there with only nine rebounds,” said Adelman in his postgame presser.)

And as the third quarter was ending with the Wolves up comfortably, an errant Laker shot bounced harmlessly towards the Wolves bench. Love was the closest to the ball and the Minnesota bench, well aware of his 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, starting shouting, “GET IT! GET IT! GET IT!” When Love gamely scooped the ball off the ground for a buzzer beating rebound, they cheered. In the break between quarters they patted him on the back and smiled. Everyone was just having a good time.

You can take what you will from a historic win like this at the tail end of a disappointing season. You can say that when the chips are down, this team didn’t step up, that their inability to close out games shows a lack of character. That any team can have a good time when they’re romping all over an opponent as hopeless as the Lakers. That Love is leaving so none of it matters. I get it: It’s a weird thing how at the end of a bad thing, there are good things.

But then I think about those Lakers fans waiting for their team — without Kobe Bryant, without Pau Gasol, without any clear path beyond lottery luck — and I think about why they’re out there in the skyway. It’s possible they’re Los Angeles transplants, that they grew up there and grew up with the Lakers, that they’re sticking by their hometown team. But I would almost prefer for them to be bandwagon fans who jumped on a frontrunner because of the glitz, the rings, the Black Mamba. Maybe the weird thing for them is that they actually started liking the team and now they can’t get out of it.

One way or another, we end up places. We get there by a mix of things we can control and things we can’t, and then we have the choice of either leaving or sticking around. Those Lakers fans and this Timberwolves team last night are a reminder: If you’re sticking around, at least try to enjoy yourself. It’s just much easier on your constitution.

Ricky Rubio Kick

 

infiltrate, verb: enter or gain access to (an organization, place, etc.) surreptitiously and gradually, especially in order to acquire secret information.

Wednesday night’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks brought the Timberwolves back to .500, at 35-35, with 12 games to go. I’ve recapped approximately a third of those games, and so far, I’ve resisted the urge to do any meta-writing, or writing about writing, and also I’ve refrained from submitting a game recap that’s about ancillary things (like the curiosities of venturing into an NBA locker room, or missing out on halftime refreshments because some local media members are no-account gluttons). Instead, I like to focus on the games, themselves, diving into their intricacies, (hopefully) illuminating something about it you might have missed, attempting to put the events into their proper context.

Tonight, I’m going to do something a little different. This late in the season, it’s time to try new things. It might go well, like a late-season audition that garners a pay bump, or it might go poorly, like Mark Madsen jacking up three-pointers. NBA seasons are incredibly long; strange things begin to happen as they wind down. People start doing things they aren’t supposed to do; they infiltrate areas of the arena or the court no one expected them to. Continue Reading…

LoveContest

We’ve been here before, hoping for competitive losses.

I should clarify. I’ve certainly been here before. I can’t assume you guys are necessarily there with me and based on the frustration flowing through my Twitter feed and some of the local media on Sunday, I might be mostly alone on this one for now. That’s probably the case because this is the latest in a season the Wolves have been competitive in about a decade. It’s also probably because the expectations heading into this season were competing for the playoffs. With roughly three weeks left, it would take two monumental collapses and the Wolves not collapsing to make that a reality.

Because of the draft pick implications heading into the game against the Phoenix Suns, my hopes for the game were for it to be extremely competitive and for the Wolves to protect their draft pick lives. Losing to the Suns was going to all but guarantee they keep the pick, assuming the Suns don’t come through on the 1.8% chance of landing a top 3 pick on the night of the lottery (that’s also assuming they don’t make the playoffs). The Suns making the playoffs altogether would actually be ideal because the Wolves would almost certainly keep the pick.

What I wanted out of Sunday’s game happened.  Continue Reading…

RickyBuckets2

I’m not going to be unrealistic here. That was a bit flukey.

Ricky Rubio became the new Ricky Buckets, if only for a night, and it was largely due to a pretty mediocre at best Dallas Mavericks’ defense. I don’t know why Jose Calderon was pressuring Rubio when he had the ball 30 feet from the basket. I don’t know why Calderon lets guys turn the corner on him with such little resistance. I don’t know why Samuel Dalembert wears cement shoes. I don’t know why Monta Ellis plays horrendous defense and then pretends it’s the refs’ fault. Whatever the answers to those issues are, Rubio did arguably the best job attacking a defense I’ve ever seen.

And while I’m going to be realistic about a game like this and note its flukey nature like I did above, it’s not going to stop be from enjoying the hell out of this performance. 22 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, and four steals with 8/12 shooting from the field and 7/9 in the restricted area.  Continue Reading…

LoveMath

There was a point early on in the Wolves’ win over the Chicago Bulls in which Kevin Love was struggling. He wasn’t playing poorly but he was having trouble finding his way to the free throw line against Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed. The struggles against Taj Gibson aren’t anything new for Love, or anybody around the league really. Gibson is one of the top defensive players in the NBA and rarely gets his national due because he’s a role player off the bench.

Taj is familiar with Love’s game too. They’ve played against each other on every level of play — high school, college, and in the NBA. Along with his defensive prowess, his familiarity with Love may be a big reason he’s had such great success defending the Wolves’ big man throughout their respective careers. Before Monday night, Love was 0-5 against Gibson at the NBA level. Love’s had three pretty awful games against the Bulls in this time, one decent game, and one Kevin Love game.

Overall, he was shooting 40% in these match-ups and attempted just 19 free throws in five losses. The Bulls have been a great defensive team during this run (analysis!) and part of the reason they’re so good is they know the angles to take, when to take them, and use their incredible frontcourt to slow guys down. Even Carlos Boozer is a plus-defender in Tom Thibodeau’s system, or at least enough of a plus-defender to hold the fort as Joakim Noah and Gibson protect his back.

So what changed for Love during Monday’s game to finally give him a big advantage against Gibson, Boozer, and Thibodeau’s system?  Continue Reading…

ShabazzShaback

After a successful four-game stretch with the Iowa Energy of the D-League, Shabazz Muhammad has been recalled by the Minnesota Timberwolves to rejoin the team this week. Muhammad showed off that ability to score which made him such a top prospect coming out of high school and did a great job of hitting the rebounds in his four games. He tallied 98 points and 39 rebounds in his four games, shot nearly eight free throws per game, and had seven assists (!!) and just five turnovers.

Here’s the release from the Wolves about the recall and my thoughts on the experience below:  Continue Reading…

The thud you heard at the 10:17 mark of the second quarter in Friday night’s blowout victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder was Ronny Turiaf fracturing the radial head of his right elbow. When a missed Jeremy Lamb missed a push shot in the lane and Ronny Turiaf went up for the rebound, Nick Collison came crashing in to keep the possession for OKC alive. Unfortunately, he crashed Turiaf more than he crashed the offensive glass and it resulted in a tough injury for the Wolves’ backup center.

Here’s the statement from the team regarding the injury:  Continue Reading…

This move Kevin Love worked on in the offseason isn't great. (Getty)

This move Kevin Love worked on in the offseason isn’t great. (Getty)

I tried. I really tried to churn out some thoughts on the Wolves losing to CSKA Moscow on Monday night and just nothing appeared. The effort was there for me trying to write about what was an on-the-surface embarrassing loss to a really talented Euroleague team. But ultimately, I just didn’t care enough about the result or what we saw on the court from a team standpoint.

And really, that was the problem with the Wolves in that game as well. I’m not sure they cared enough about their opponent throughout the 53 minutes of action to really want to do what they were supposed to do. There were individual players like Derrick Williams, Othyus Jeffers, A.J. Price, and Ronny Turiaf that appeared to give a damn. They fought through as much as they could against CSKA Moscow and nearly walked away with a victory. But there were too many mental mistakes, too many lazy offensive sets, too many poor defensive rotations throughout the game to end up defeating a quality opponent.

Make no mistake about it either; CSKA Moscow was a quality opponent. They have six guys (seven if Sonny Weems is playing) that can play in the NBA right now. The rest of their team is full of solid players as well. It’s an opponent that even the third string of the Wolves should be able to close out, but you have to have a full game of effort in order to do that. The Wolves didn’t have that and it showed both in their play and in the way Rick Adelman discussed the game afterward.

That wasn’t the case Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors.  Continue Reading…

Wolves and friends

Media got let into the gym with about 15-20 minutes left in a scrimmage between the A Team (no Mr. T) and the B Team. As I sat down, someone who was already in the gym leaned over to me and said, “By the way, that score is not a scoreboard malfunction.”

The B Team was wiping the floor with the A Team. They were up 20 points on them. By the time the clock on the scrimmage had run out, the final score was the B Team winning by 12 but even some late execution by the A Team wasn’t nearly enough to erase a deficit. There’s some good and some bad in the “other players” pushing the “main players” so much. It’s good to see adversity, no matter how irrelevant it might be a couple weeks from now, for the main unit of guys who should be dominating these scrimmage based on talent. To see how they respond in Day 3 of training camp will be very interesting.

“Well, I think all of our young guys are playing really hard,” Rick Adelman said after practice on Wednesday. “They just kicked the tails of our nine guys who are going to play a lot. They got killed in the first quarter against our young guys because they played their tails off.”

Guys like Lorenzo Brown, Dante Cunningham, Othyus Jeffers, Chris Johnson, and Shabazz Muhammad were scrambling all over the court, swiping down in the post, and causing the kind of havoc you’d hope from a second unit. They were catching the Wolves’ top guys off guard with offensive rebounding, lob plays, and just executing the basics on both ends of the floor. You saw the usual frustration out of guys like Kevin Love and J.J. Barea, who took a couple of chances to plead to the referees that they needed to call certain things.

Thursday, the Wolves’ starters will have a chance to take it out on the young guys. Here’s a look at a couple of notes I took while watching the scrimmage moments I got to see: Continue Reading…