MVP Chris Johnson and the Wolves take it to Atlanta for a matinee against the Hawks. The last time these two teams faced, the Wolves emerged victorious. However, Lou Williams injury or not, the Wolves are going to have a very difficult time winning today.
As much of an awesome feel-good story Saturday was, let's draw two conclusions from kind of a glass half-empty perspective:
1. The Rockets played perhaps the worst team game seen in the NBA this season. They shot 32% from the field and 8-31 (!!) from 3. McHale benched his starters throughout the game to make a statement. They were playing their 4th game in 5 nights. Again, while seeing Johnson and Gelebale score 23 straight to start the 4th quarter was a Hollywood storyline, the Rockets basically won this game for the Wolves. There is a decent chance the Eagan 8th grade women's badminton team could have pulled off a win against the Rotten Rockets on Saturday.
A larger, positive implication, however, is that Houston remains a big rival for a low seed on the playoffs, and have clearly fallen off of a cliff of late. Despite the Wolves' recent struggles with injury, the core rotation will recover and the Wolves do have a fighting chance of sneaking into the playoffs barring some major mojo gathering, as well as Rubio returning to form in the coming weeks. Hopefully Rick's wife recovers from her ailment soon so our leader can return.
2. Two players signed to 10-day contracts, one of which hasn't played an NBA game in about five years, outplayed a bulk the core rotation. Now, hopefully this gives guys like Steemer, Williams, and Lou a kick on the butt, but the tenured players should sort of be embarrassed with themselves after what happened. Again, the feel good story was glorious to watch, and provided fans with a much-needed temporary surge of optimism, but the fact that two 10-day guys just owned the team is sort of ridiculous. Effort and good shooting. That's how the Wolves will win. And as stated above, hopefully this provides some motivation to the bench bigs at the very least.
Despite his anomaly of a game, it was really nice to see a long, active center in there like Johnson, playing his heart out trying to make the most of his opportunity. I really think there is something to be said playing a guy trying to earn his right in the league versus players like Stiemsma and Lou, who are so obviously resting on their laurels I almost want to see them benched indefinitely. This is a very common and true example of humans responding to incentives. Lou and Stiemsma have a fraction of the incentive as Johnson to put in 100%, hence the difference. Should Johnson have another good set of games, the Wolves really should give some strong consideration to cutting Lou or Lee. One game is one game, let's see how he does today, but this team needs players who can contribute, and as a 4:1 bad play to good play ratio type, Lou has shown he isn't going to contribute anything significant to the Wolves this season. Remember that Johnson can only be here for 10-days max barring a roster move to create a spot.
As for the Hawks, the Wolves will sport the Houston rotation again today, plus DC added to bruise and hit mid-range shots off the bench. While Houston provided that great feel good story, Atlanta is likely to play like an actual NBA team today so expect it to sort of get bloody barring another miracle performance from GeleJohnson off the bench. This team sure can surprise at the oddest of moments, but expect the Wolves to be a bit overmatched this afternoon.
Ed Note: Please welcome guest columnist Michael Pina. Michael volunteered to write an article for us on Derrick Williams, and how he must seize the day with Love out indefinitely. Do enjoy.
Is Derrick Williams the next Michael Beasley? Comparisons are beginning to take form. Are they fair?
After an incredible freshman campaign at Kansas State University that was favorable to Kevin Durant’s tenure at Texas, Beasley was taken one slot after Derrick Rose in the 2008 NBA draft. He’s currently on his third team in five years, and has yet to materialize into the consistent, All-Star caliber scorer many pegged him to be.
Williams was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves three years later, right after the Cleveland Cavaliers used the first overall pick to replace LeBron James with Kyrie Irving. The parallels between Beasley and Williams are heavy. Skewed, but heavy.
Derrick Williams is 21 years old and averaging 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in his second NBA season. That sentence, taken out of context and with absolutely no other noteworthy bits of information, makes him look like a really good player. A young productive forward who appears to be fitting in splendidly as an integral piece on an NBA team’s never ending puzzle.
In his second season, Williams’ PER has increased along with his usage percentage. Another suggestion that he’s adjusting nicely, taking on additional responsibility and handling the daily rigors of professional basketball with a smile on his face.
Unfortunately, none of this is true. In reality, Williams is a hesitant lottery pick who’s continuously struggled adapting to bigger, faster opposition.
Unlike Beasley, Williams’ trouble is rooted in the fact that the team that selected him already had a young, growing All-NBA forward they were ready to build around. Unless Williams is traded, starting at power forward (probably where he belongs) is out as a long term option.
Going back to Love’s first injury before the season even started, Williams has swayed from legendarily awful (a two point, 0-10 shooting performance against the Chicago Bulls in early November), to brilliant flashes (a 23 point, seven rebound, four block explosion against the Golden State Warriors six days later).
He’s logged over 20 minutes in 12 games this season and scored at least 10 points in six of them. That’s the bare definition of inconsistent. For his career, he has three double-doubles in 94 games.
But how well Williams plays with Love out of the lineup can only be seen as a good thing by the Timberwolves in the sense that it increases his trade value. Moving forward, Williams ability to produce alongside Love is a determining factor in predicting how much longer his Timberwolves tenure will last.
Williams and Love have shared the court for just 29 minutes this season. The sample size is hardly worth looking at, but in case you’re curious it’s been brutal, with Minnesota netting a minus-16.1 points per 100 possessions point differential. They’ve seriously struggled scoring points.
Last season the two shared the court for 699 minutes, the ninth most common pairing Minnesota utilized. These lineups could score, averaging two more points per 100 possessions than Minnesota’s average—mostly by taking more three-pointers and free-throws than average—and they played at a slightly faster pace.
Overall, most of Williams’ offense this season has come from spot-up jumpers and baskets in transition, per Synergy. However, the truth is, in transition, he hasn’t been nearly as explosive as everyone thought he’d be when Blake Griffin comparisons were being thrown around two years ago (he’s currently making less than half of his shots at the rim, which is a little embarrassing). He just isn’t nearly as capable of a ball-handler.
Despite his hefty build, Williams rarely sets solid screens, preferring instead to either slip towards the basket (looking like a shorter Amar’e Stoudemire) or pop out behind the three-point line (where he’s shooting 37.7%).
Watching Williams this season can best be compared to observing an Oscar nominated actor on a small black and white television. You’ve been promised creativity, flair, and spontaneous excitement, but how you’re watching it unfold is incredibly frustrating.
Let’s say Williams heads into All-Star weekend on a monstrous tear, Godzilla-ing himself on an unsuspecting crop of opposing forwards. Should the Timberwolves choose to cash out when his value hits its peak? Or do they hang on to the potential, and hope to the heavens their man turns into the player Michael Beasley could not? It’s a pivotal question for a franchise that’s finally reached the point where pivotal questions are worth answering.
The Wolves are in Dallas, where I currently live. Dirk is back in Big D and the Wolves are on a bit of a low streak and on the 2nd half of a back to back featuring yet another blowout the night prior. Things are looking dim for the Wolves' playoff chances as of now. Very dim. Along with Dallas, the Lakers are set to wake up before long and contend for that 8th seed. Barring some sort of miracle or trade, the team's fate is sealed back to the lottery and I firmly believe it is not too early to call that as of now.
Fun Fact: I had a dog growing up named Maverick. His shot release was more fluid than Shawn Marion's
Let's have today's topic be Pekovic. Aside from perhaps Glenn Close Kirlenko, he has been this team's best player of the season. After a slow start to the year, Pek has shown he is a player in this league once and for all. The big implication from the Wolves' standpoint is that he is entering into restricted free agency this offseason and will command a solid amount of money it would seem. Now, this is all fun and dandy, but there have been some loose and unsubstantiated rumblings that Kahn has never been a big Pekovic supporter and our favorite Grinch Glen Taylor is not overly enthused about committing top dollar to him. It would appear the Wolves dodged a bullet with Anderson Varejao suffering yet another injury, for the rumors surrounding AV are in trades that most certainly would involve Pekovic. Regardless, I have a sinking, unsettling feeling Pek's time in Minnesota is coming to end either at the deadline or in the offseason where he will most certainly be signed by the Blazers.
Fun Fact: Glenn Close played the pirate who gets sent to the boo box in the 1992 Classic Hook.
Pekovic or not, and not to add fuel to the depression fire, but we very well may have reached the peak in talent acquisition this past offseason. Kirilenko could very well bolt for unrestricted free agency. Pek could be gone. Roy is done. Are we facing yet another rebuilding situation this offseason or at the deadline? Let's hope Kahn makes a move here in the next month to avert these fears and at the very least provide some ammunition to have a fighting chance of competing for the playoffs. Because, plain and simple, the current Wolves will not be able to pull it off. Not without a quick, quality addition to the roster. Not with all current injuries keeping guys out until the month of March. Not with Rubio struggling mightily since his return. Not with Adelman tending to his own matters and out indefinitely, if not permanently. And while the Wolves are apparently close to addng Mickael Gelebale, he will provide role-player production at best. So what next?
Fun Fact: Brandon Roy has earned $1 million per game played this season. This is about the amount Greg Oden will probably earn when Kahn signs him this summer.
It is tough because this season is already starting to be viewed in a "well, there is always next year" context. History repeats. And maybe that's the answer here. We only have to wait another ten months! Rubio will be healthy, Love might be in shape, Kahn may swing a deal for a real 2 guard who actually has knees. Who knows? All I know is, when it comes to the Wolves, expect the worst. It happened again.
Too negative? Let's look at a few things to be excited about for this team over the long term:
1. Love is really good and will return to form someday. In fact, Love will be back yet this year and when he is, his hand will be completely healed this time.
2. Players such as JJ Barea are finally deciding to seek 2nd opinions to our training staff and team "doctors."
3. Alexey Shved is a real NBA prospect and we have him signed for two more years.
4. Derrick Williams is actually starting to hold his own as a sixth man player capable of playing multiple positions.
5. Ricky Rubio has nowhere to go but up.
6. The season is not even half over yet. Despite the knee-jerks above, a lot can happen and probably will.
7. If the Wolves sign Gelebale, that will be interesting thing to follow. That's it.
8. The Wolves are 2 up on the Mavs this season and beat them at home the other month with an equally if not more depleted roster.
The Wolves are capable of playing some surprising ball. Tonight could be one of those surprising nights against a struggling team working its own star back into the mix. All it will come down to is, as always, team shooting. Hit a few extra shots from the outside, put in a consistent effort and keep getting to the line, and usually the Wolves fare well. It's that thing called shooting that usually gets us.
The Wolves are in New Orleans tonight to take on the Pelicans with Eric Gordon back in the mix. Some notes:
-Return of Gordon. EG has played 5 games this year for New Orleans, averaging 15.6 a game. While he will certainly be a threat, his 3 point shooting has yet to return to form as he is just 3-20 on the year. However, given how many 3's the Wolves have been giving up over the last few games, leave it to Gordon to get hot tonight. The Wolves will need to keep close on him on the perimeter and keep him below 20 points to ensure an easy victory.
-Ham vs. Brow. You have to love this matchup, Cunningham is proving his worth as one of Kahn's best moves of the offseason. While not scoring at a high clip since taking over for Love in the starting lineup, he has given non-stop energy and defense, two terms not quite typically uttered when discussing the Wolves. With HAM's length vs. Brow, this is going to be an intriguing matchup. But does coach Williams place Brow on Pek in the block given Pek's slight issues against lengthier defenders? Perhaps.
-Adelman Update. Per the team, Rick's wife has been admitted to the hospital for unknown reasons, hence his recent absence. There have been no formal reports on how long he will be out, but speculation indicates it could be awhile, if not permanently. Wishing Rick the best as he goes through this difficult time.
-Injury update. Barea will likely be out tonight again, along with the usuals: Love, Roy, Budinger, Lee, etc. Not having Barea really hurt bench production against the Thunder the other night. Not that the Wolves had a chance given turnovers and OKC's near perfect shooting. Lazar Hayward continues to be our purgatory player of choice while Gelebale continues to be watched by the Wolves. I have a feeling once Gelebale is ready to leave for the NBA the Wolves will sign him to two 10-day contracts. While Gelebale isn't going to light the world on fire, it will be an interesting storyline to observe should Sixth Sense Hayward continue to be generally underwhelming.
-Prediction: All will depend on shooting. If the Wolves go on a few runs, the game should be ours.
-No timetable yet on Love's return. I am guessing 6-8 weeks, which is really just awesome.
-Rubio should be back in action tonight. Although I wouldn't be shocked if some odd announcement came out today that he is sitting.
-The Wolves have opted to re-sign Lazar Hayward to a 10-day. Season saved
-Pek is questionable tonight.....??
-This season is becoming more and more difficult to watch as time goes on. These injuries. I refuse to believe the training staff is up to speed on modern medicine. Some you can't prevent...duh.....but this is just borderline odd. With Love's hand, this is two injuries where they made the wrong diagnosis at first. The other was Howard, who was rehabbing his own mis-diagnosis of an ACL tear. And who the hell knows what is up with Roy. It is certainly getting fishier by the day. Something weird is up over there. Discuss.
-The Hawks are a good team. Horford and JSmoove, with a sea of shooters to frustrate the Wolves. It will be tough to win it tonight.
-That being said, despite the injuries, you have to hand it to Adelman and the Wolves for being a decent team thus far. Can you imagine this team healthy? A refrain to get used to.
Left to Right: Anderson Varejao, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bruce Jenner, Todd Day, Sundiata Gaines, Matt Bullard and Kurt Rambis enjoy a Jazz Jam in the offseason
Happy New Year! Why does it feel like the Wolves always have a century in between games? Alas, they resume their regularly scheduled programming tonight in Utah against the declining Jazz. UThe Jazz a clear rival for that 8th seed, have lost 4 in a row and are now a 15-17. With a 9-4 record at home, Utah is a beatable opponent and an important one. These next three games are quietly very important and solid barometers for the rest of the season. Utah, Portland and Denver all are up this week. All division and standings rivals. Some other bullets:
-No Rubio. Rubes is out with back spasms and will miss the two game road trip. It is just becoming ridiculous at this point. Rubio needs to be healthy. I think the fans are really relying on him to provide a boost for the second half of the season for a playoff run. Thus far, as somewhat expected, that magic still hasn't been there and any series of minor injuries stunting the growth of this team is just yet another setback. Beyond frustrating. Everyone in the west is good. It is absurd. These bit injuries are going to come back to bite us when the final west seedings come down to one or two games at the end of the season.
-Lazar "Major Lazer" Hayward. But never fear Wolves fans, Lazar is back. In a confusing move, Lazar will handle 4th guard duties on this upcoming road trip, signed over the weekend to a non-guaranteed deal. It may be too early to criticize this, as the sequence of moves may be more complete following the contract guarantee date of January 9th, but this signing confused me. Why were the Wolves fearing a guaranteed contract when 3 wing players are out for the season (I am counting Roy here), and Budinger is gone for at least two more months? Who is this player who is on the mend that will come back? And while defense and hustle are nice, getting a knockdown 3 point shooter would have been the answer in my humble opinion. What would be more valuable to this team right now? A +40% 3 point shooter or a 10 minutes per game hustle guard who can marginally slow down opposing bench guards for a few minutes per game? Considering the Wolves are last in 3 point shooting in the league and just continue to fire them, I am saying the former. This team needs a shooter in the worst way. It may have been wise to just cut ties with Roy and use the subsequent injury exception to acquire a shooter such as Anthony Morrow from Atlanta. However, the strong possibility remains that Lazar will be waived next week, giving us the option to sign Mickael Gelebale to a few 10-day deals. Gelebale, while not a great shooter, certainly provides more experience and is likely a better option for a hustle swingman.
-The Roy Saga. Speaking of Roy, what is Kahn holding on to here? Why distract yourself? The risk of signing him just hasn't paid off. And in hindsight, Kahn looks desperate pulling for the guy and not doing the due diligence with his medical outlook beforehand. There was a chance the move could have been a masterstroke, but let's be aware that what you have with Roy today is a guy making $5 million to endorse Arby's and AT&T while taking up a roster spot in desperate need of production. Like the guy as much as you want for what he did in Portland, or for being a good dude, but today this is what Brandon Roy is offering the Wolves. Roy, who last week went through his second behind-the-scenes stint of wanting to re-retire in the first third of the season alone, is seeing things in the long term and it just doesn't seem as if he has much of a desire to return. You have to feel for the guy without question -- a former superstar who just doesn't have it anymore -- but at this point, he isn't adding value to the roster. It begs the revisionist comment that, while a fair risk to take arguably, the Wolves probably shouldn't have even decided to take any sort of risk in the first place. Courtney Lee or OJ Mayo absolutely, positively could have been had (for potentially even lessmoney), and now with the Wolves being over the cap this summer, that $5 million will not be able to be replaced by a productive wing in the offseason. The risk has cascaded. There are many people who thought staying away from Roy was the right move. Those people were definitely right as it stands today. Could he bounce back for the second half of the year? Sure. Will it have been worth him missing half of the season in a position of desperate need? Highly doubtful.
4. Utah - The Jazz are on a bit of a slump lately so the Wolves will be in prime position to win. In order to do so, Kevin Love is going to have to absolutely, positively not dog it on defense. Utah has a very talented front court that can score from anywhere on the court, and given Love just surrendered his night last Saturday to Luis Scola, he is in solid position to be outworked by Paul Millsap. Excuse the negative nature of this post in general, but Love has been a disaster to start this season. He certainly has already lost his all-star spot, and he is going to have to get through whatever funk he is in to help this team win games against critical opponents such as the Jazz.
For the Jazz - Mo Williams is likely out with a thumb injury which is great news for Minnesota. Mo has been a Wolves killer for years and his absence makes things easier on the squad. Tonight also marks another game vs. Randy Foye.
Prediction - The Jazz are good at home. The Wolves are poor on the road. If the Wolves can hit a couple of outside shots and pack the lane on defense to contain Millsap, Favors and Big Al, this game is ours. Unfortunately, magic always seems to happen at Energy Solutions Arena and I don't have a strong outlook for tonight. Wolves lose a heartbreaker. My New Years Resolution of being more positive will begin at a later date.
Sorry for the lack of front page updates over the holidays. Thank you to regulars to our forums for keeping things interesting over the past week or so.
Tonight brings the return of Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley and Seb Telfair. The goal ought to be to simply prevent Dudley, Gortat or Scola from having a notable game and the win should not be difficult to come by. Dragic remains questionable for Phoenix. Amazingly, the T-Wolves are favored by 8.5 points tonight, if you are someone that is interested in sports betting. The Suns are dysfunctional and atrocious, play no defense whatsoever (besides Gortat and Dragic somewhat), and are probably going to be without Dragic tonight due to a minor injury. AND Phoenix played a game last night as well. I just don't see how they can hang with the Wolves at home, although I am also not sure if I'd lay 9 points either. Tough call. If this isn't your cup of tea, then maybe just go do some Super Bowl betting over the internet intead.
For the Wolves, Phoenix brings another game where we just hope these guys break out of the funk. Love couldn't hit the broad side of an Oliver Miller, and just needs a monster night to get his confidence back. As expected, Rubio's return to date hasn't quite brought back the magic to this team yet. I would suspect we will continue to see growing pains for this next quarter with the back half being something of a revival for the top few guys.
Other team notes:
-Brandon Roy was set to return tonight, but signs are looking like he will shoot for at least one additional full practice before returning.
-Rubio's minute limit has been increased from 18 to 24.
-Chase Budinger is on track to play the last 1/4 of the season.
-All quiet on the free agency front after the Wolvs brought in Lazar Hayward, Joey Graham and James Anderson earlier in the week.
The Wolves are in Miami, hours after suffering a horrendous, inexcusable loss against the Magic. Tonight we face the Heat. On NBATV. Without Rubio. The odds aren't in our favor. Might as well pull a Popovich and just start Lou Amundson and a hurt Lee. But, after the atrocious second half last night I think it is safe to say the Wolves are plenty rested. In all seriousness, what it will take to win:
1. AK47 playing out of his mind defensively. As if he hasn't already. AK47 has LeBron, Durant, and Melo to deal with his next three games. Think about that for a minute. Here's to you AK. You are officially the most important player on the court.
2. Getting the right players in foul trouble. The Wolves are quietly among the top teams at getting to the line. It is a good thing too, and the key to early season success. With the shots doing everything but falling, the Wolves' superb ability to get to the line has been the saving grace. Sadly, the Heat's firepower all comes from outside. Adelman should run plays that pack the lane and do whatever on God's green earth you can to get the ref's to buy into the "Minnesota should win tonight on the road in Miami" storyline. If only Rubio were playing to help convince them of the merits of such a story.
3. Love having an outlier game. I'm talking a 35-20 game. With even scoring through 4 quarters. Not a hot start, but a consistent, amazing night. He needs it. The team needs it in order to have a prayer.
4. Good free throw shooting. 75+% from the fouls the Wolves will have to draw in order to stay in it.
5. A big night from Pek. Interior scoring. Again, it's the only way. This team is not winning games on the perimeter these days.
6. An unsung hero off the bench. I nominate Barea and Williams. One of those two needs a 15+ point night off the bench against the weaker 2nd unit of Miami.
Do all that, and we stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning this game. But given it's Miami, I would rather Adelman saves whatever this team has for a gigantic game on Thursday against the Thunder at home on TNT.
Prediction: Wolves fall easily, although stranger things have happened in Miami.
This is the Wolves' last chance for an easy victory before the schedule becomes nothing short of ridiculous. Rumor on the street is that Ricky will play tonight and sit out tomorrow vs. Miami. Good call? Bad call? Weird call? I'm not sure why they don't just stick to a minute limit, but perhaps that is just fan impatience.
For the Magic, guard Afflalo/Redick on the perimeter, keep Vucevic off the glass, get a hand up on Big Baby in the mid range....and you will probably win the game. Should be no trouble. Tomorrow? Well....yeah.
No word on Love but all signs point to him playing tonight. As the fans turn more and more sour on the guy, he needs every minute to get out of his funk and redeem himself. Something is up.
On March 9th, 2012, in the final minutes of a game against the Lakers, the current villains/laughing stock of the NBA, Ricky Rubio went down in heroic fashion attempting to draw a charge against Kobe Bryant, the goal per usual being to will his team to yet another surprising victory. As you all know, what happened in that game was a watershed moment for the remainder of the season, as the Wolves plummeted in the standings, in attendance, and in quality of play. To bring the memory full circle, here it is.
I was at this game, and like the rest of the arena was wearing a white t-shirt, deeply engaged in what should have been another Wolves win against a hated team during a period that can only be innocently described as magical for a fan base used to watching a team go through periods where a 3-7 stretch of ten games was considered a quality effort. But Rubio went down, and the crowd was reduced to dead silence. The Lakers then went on to win the game, and Rubio went on to rehab, while the fanbase went on to following other things. Then of course, David Kahn made several quality acquisitions which have done nothing but ease the short term loss of the new hero of Minneapolis, enabling the Wolves to start at a solid 13-11 clip, 6th in the ridiculously competitive Western Conference, despite blow after blow after blow after blow in terms of injuries. And you have to wonder, had Rubio stayed healthy the rest of last season, would the Wolves have had the kind of offseason they did this summer? It remains a burning "what-if?" question in my mind, and a testament to the fact that the symbolic sacrifice Rubio made, and the way the rest of the roster performed when he went down, was awake up call to team ownership.
Now, starting tonight, Ricky will be eased back into the lineup slowly over the next month, likely coming off the bench for awhile in limited minutes while some of the other hobbled players recover. This next quarter may be a growing one, but I have a feeling the back half of the year will be nothing short of spectacular. Ricky's impact on both ends of the floor will be felt immediately. The no-look passes, the random spurts of offense, the key steals. It is going to be fun to watch, but not without some growing pains. One of the things I have noticed about Ricky is he seems to be one of those guys that, no matter what he does, completely captures the crowd. What is it about him?: Ricky could throw a pick and roll bounce pass to Pekovic streaking down the lane and the crowd would go absolutely wild. Minutes later, Luke Ridnour could complete the exact same play in the exact same fashion in the exact same style and the crowd could have no reaction. And how can you not love that as a fan? That being said, Ricky's recovery means more than just the on-court product. It makes the team interesting and fun again. It sort of brings back that pride in the team that this town clearly has wanted ever since the Spree/Sam year. The pride that made last January and February, when the Wolves were beating elite teams on a regular basis, so much fun. Because it was an amazing time after years of ineptitude. And while the team is a quiet 6th in the West, there still has been something missing. The tone around the web is still a bit somber. the TimberTrolls have been quieter than normal. That enthusiasm just isn't there yet. Ricky returning will bring back that magic.
Despite an easy schedule, you have to hand it to the Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6 games. And now, unless something odd happens this afternoon, Rubio is set to finally make his debut nine months after sustaining the injury that derailed the 2011-2012 Timberwolves season. When Rubio went down in March, it almost felt as if we would never see him on the court again. The town had absolutely fallen in love with the starry eyed phenom; a town that desperately needed someone to love on the sports scene. Yet, the nine months have flown by, and with a team that can only get healthier for here (actually, we probably shouldn't count our chickens here), you have to feel good about where the team is going to head the rest of the season.
And that starts tonight against a Dallas team that was blown out against the lowly Toronto Raptors last night on the road. The Wolves are already 1-0 against the Mavs this season, taking the first game against Dallas on the road without Kevin Love. However, last night in New Orleans against the Pelicans (still not over that team name, I have grown to absolutely love it), the injury curse hit again, this time claiming Kevin Love and Josh Howard. Luckily x-rays on Love's hand were negative, and he should return to the court soon enough, and hopefully he will hit his stride again in the coming few weeks and start hitting shots. Josh Howard, the victim of a hyper-extended knee, will likely miss a little bit of time. And then there is Malcolm Lee, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had to undergo another knee surgery.
On team Dallas, you have OJ Mayo, who has returned to the form of his rookie year this season, where he averaged over 20 PPG, a year that had Wolves fans livid as McHale of course traded him on draft night. However, Mayo quickly fell into the Jason Terry role in Memphis, perhaps vastly underutilized, while Love summoned his inner Larry Bird and became a superstar. But with a fresh start in Dallas, Mayo has been playing out of his mind, averaging 20.4 PPG, including a 40-point night last week against the Rockets, and shows no signs of looking back. Dallas also made a few more quality short term moves, acquiring Elton Brand and Darren Collison (neither of which have worked out very well to date), as well as signing the wildly underrated Chris Kaman to a 1-year deal. All moves enable Dallas to maintain cap flexibility into next summer, where they will be able to add just about anyone they please, while still fighting for a playoff spot when Dirk returns to the lineup in short order this season. While Dallas' strategy of not defending its 2010 NBA title was criticized widely across the league, you have admire Mark Cuban's long-term vision. Dallas is a team that will likely not have to go through much rebuilding over the long term, which bodes well for the long term winning strategy Cuban has implemented.
As for the Wolves, assuming Rubio plays tonight and Love does not, they will have to rely on Pek and AK47 to bolster most of the scoring load. Pek has had an outstanding couple of games here, including a career-high 31 last night vs. NO. Are Pek's foot issues finally behind him? A big night against Dallas will be a great confidence builder for the burly fan favorite. Another storyline from yesterday was Alexey Shved making his first NBA start, a spot I expect he will hold for the Wolves for the indefinite future. While not perfect, I think it is safe to say that Shved has surpassed expectations for Wolves fans and coaches alike, and his shooting continues to improve. This is looking to be perhaps one of Kahn's top acquisitions since he arrived, and Alexey continues to be a player you just want to root for. Hopefully his pesky defensive efforts can hold Mayo to a sub-par night, a factor that was absolutely critical (thanks to Malcolm Lee's effort in his first NBA start that night) the last time the Wolves faced Dallas.
Prediction: Rubio's debut, a situation where Love being out may actually be addition by subtraction at this point....the movie script says the Wolves win it and rally the fan base before the schedule really ramps up in difficulty. Wolves win tonight at home.