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.
The Wolves are in New Orleans on what is rumored to be the night before Ricky Rubio's season debut. A few short updates are below. Comment on the game here as you see fit, or in the forums if you so desire.
1. Shved Starting. Per the team, Alexey Shved will get the start tonight at the 2 guard. Shved has earned his stripes and is clearly ready for more time. This could perhaps mean that Shved has earned the starting role for the remainder of the season barring injuries or a meeting with the rookie wall. JJ Barea will be your bench sparkplug. Let us collectively begin our campaign to get Shved to Houston for the Rookie Challenge.
2. Lee Hurt. Also reported by the team, Malcolm Lee has suffered a knee injury related to degenerative cartilage and is out indefinitely. Great! Lee has had major knee surgery a few times, so this is of no great surprise. if Kahn has learned one thing since he started, I hope it is to stop going after guys with major injury histories. The past doesn't always predict the future, but his recent fascination with Pau Gasol, who has developed knee tendonitis, basically seems like a match made in heaven for Kahn. Just stop it.
3. Brow Back. The Wolves will get their first look at Anthony Davis, out the past couple of weeks with ankle problems. Brow came off the bench after returning from injury, so look for Monty to get him back in the swing of things against Minnesota and their porous interior defense.
And lastly.....hug your family and friends this holiday season. A terrible tragedy occurred today that goes beyond words. Let this be a reminder to always keep things in perspective.
Prediction: The Wolves should have little issue getting the win tonight.
Tonight after what seemed like six years off, the Wolves take it to Target Center in Ricky Rubio's would-have-been season debut. The Nuggets, long thought to be Western Conference contenders, are quietly right on par with the Wolves at an underwhelming 11-11 despite the team being generally injury-free for most of the season. This game marks a bit of a deja vu game, as the last time the two rivals faced off the Wolves benefited from a similar vacation followed by a game vs. Denver at home. Tonight's situation would have been even more eerie had Rubio decided to suit up, as Love miraculously came back from injury the last time the two teams squared off, but it is not to be. Rubio will be gazing onward yet again, hopefully debuting Saturday against the Mavericks. If he doesn't, well, that would stink.
1, The Love Comments. But let's tackle this elephant first. Unless you live under a rock/Pekovic, you know that yesterday Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a rhetoric-laden account interlaced with some rather shocking (or not, really) quotes from Kevin Love questioning David Kahn and, to a smaller, more implied degree, Glen Taylor. As one who loves to poke around quietly and see what the fanbase generally thinks about current issues, the response to this has been all across the board. Some were quick to blame Love, calling him a Diva. Others were quick to remember just how terrible Kahn has performed as a GM despite a successful offseason. A few blamed Woj for writing an obviously one-sided article that contained mostly his opinion and stance with little-to-no source material other than conveniently guiding Kevin Love's off-color comments towards an obvious personal disdain for the Wolves' front office on behalf of his agent source. Whatever the answer may be, none of this is particularly good for the franchise. But despite this, let's put on our earmuffs and briefly analyze this situation.
a. The media is a tool for athletes, as well as agents. One of the more often misperceived or under thought aspects of sports media today, is that fans and followers don't often grasp that most messaging and rumors are sent with a strategic agenda in mind. Furthermore, rumors and speculation are often, but not always, driven by those who are excellent at controlling the media: sports agents. Now of course there are plenty of examples where FO staffers speak under condition of anonymity, but trade rumors, free agent rumors, and other stories are generally leaked through agents. This is why Woj is so good at breaking stories. He has a national platform with perhaps a little bit more editorial freedom than his competition over at 4-letter or whichever outlet, and as such has become the ultimate PR tool for sports agents to sway public opinion towards or against a particular client and his respective organization. This then elicits action on behalf of a client. And thus the game of chess continues.
That being said, it is not a coincidence that Kevin Love shares the same agent as Al Jefferson, or Michael Beasley for that matter. Consider Love spent an odd amount of time addressing Kahn's decision to trade Al Jefferson over two years ago for pennies on the dollar. Consider Kahn flamed Michael Beasley publicly early on. Consider that good old Jeff Schwartz has not been able to get the better of Kahn in any contract negotiation to date. Consider Kahn has responded by making questionable roster decisions and thus lowering the value of one of his marquee clients. You see, as much as this is really about Love....it is more about the suddenly quiet David Kahn. Why Love was the talking head in the situation instead of Schwartz (under anonymity of course) remains to be seen. But one thing is clear, this wasn't some accidental set of circumstances. Love didn't just wander into an upscale Philadelphia restaurant and happen to run into Woj, known for basically dousing every word he writes in gasoline and setting it on fire, and decide "hey pal, let's talk!" Regardless of the true agenda, this was a calculated decision, whether right or wrong, by Love and his agent to sway opinion in some way. Love, growing more and more unlikable, clearly has beef with Kahn and this was another move on his part to sway the tides against him after Kahn did his best to cover up his liquid cesspool of ineptitude of a roster with a box of Band-Aids (whatever their premium item is! let's not discredit AK47.) this offseason.
b. So What is the Agenda? As implied above, this is not about Kevin Love. What is done is done. He feels mistreated, he feels mismanaged, he feels like he is in a bad situation and he is, only because of the POBO. I could be dead wrong here, but this issue seems to quietly be about Kahn more than Love himself. And this is, in a twisted way, a good thing. It says to me that Love would rather stay here than leave. Woj tweeted out as much this afternoon. It says Love feels he has a home here, but also that Kahn is not the best guy to lead the ship. And if he and his agent, another guy with a clear agenda and vendetta against Kahn who has had Woj's ear for years, have anything to say about it, they will. It is all a game. MPR Columnist Bob Collins had a great comment on this matter. "You have to be part PR-agent to be a sportwriter." And this is another case of another agenda in action. Just like the next big agent-driven trade rumor you hear (currently happening with Pau Gasol). As much as we think FO's control the league, agents are the quiet deities of the league in many cases. One only needs to remember Stephon Marbury's departure years ago when David Falk basically ran the entire league.
What is important to think about in this situation is not "what" Love said, but "why." The "what" portion has been obvious the second Love started playing at a star level, making all-star and Olympic teams, and watching his inferior peers get 5-year max deals from their respective front offices. But the "why" is really quite obvious if you dig at each carefully (yes, carefully and calculated) crafted comment he makes. He all but said, "I will play in Minnesota; I like this fanbase and community, but Kahn has treated me like scum and I won't tolerate it again." And in a situation where Love will hold every piece of leverage imaginable in three years, he made a good move for a professional exit strategy should no change be made in the front office. Once again, it all boils down to the infamous David Kahn. Anything beyond that is mere speculation. As if he went into the meeting with Woj ignorant of his negative editorial style and masterful rhetorical use of quotes? Give me a break.
And that is about as deep of an analysis as you will get until Love starts commenting about it again.
2. Oh yes, the game. No Rubio as mentioned above, and a grudge match for an over .500 record. Denver played, and defeated, Detroit last night so they will be coming in a little bit tired while the Wolves will be coming off a 4 day trip to the spa. For a team in such bad health, any rest is great rest. Iggy and Gallinari are your x-factors, thus Malcolm Lee and AK47 will have a big challenge tonight. Look for Ty Lawson, coming on after a slow start, to murder Ridnour off the dribble. It will likely come down to what it always has this season: getting to the line and making the shots, and at least trying not to shoot a historically terrible clip from 3.
Prediction: Wolves win at home 101-92. #embracehomerism
If you haven't seen it before, the website StadiumJourney.com publishes reviews of sports stadiums from all over the world. To date, they have posted reviews of over 1,200 different stadiums. It's actually pretty cool if you ever go check out the site. And SJ also recently posted a new review of the "experience" at Target Center. I can't say the "experience" will knock your socks off, but admittedly it is much, much better than things were before the renovations of a few years ago. Man, Target Center was just brutal before back then. So, I guess things have improved in that regard!
Please click "Read More" to check out the TC review, and thoughts on the impending return of Ricky!
According to ESPN and a number of sources Kahn offered the Lakers a package built around Derrick Williams and Pekovic for Pau. Since he joined the Lakers you could make a case that the Lakers go as Pau goes, and since last years playoffs it's been very mediocre fare for both.
Why would the Wolves do this? Clearly we are building a foreign based team and Pau is one of the highest profile European players, plus he is the Patriarch of the current dominant Spanish team, so the Rubio connection is obvious.
Check out this great #EPICWINNING video from Kevin Love that he created with the help of some teammates, to launch his fifth annual "Minnesota Coat Drive":
His coat drive video "The Session" is just full of comedy gold. Look at Nicola the "Peksecutioner" breathing through his "neck gills" at the 0:47 mark. Lolz! And of course there is K-Love playing his sax throughout. If only Alexey Shved could have made an appearance, this would be the best. video. ever.
Line: Boston by 6. Over/Under 190. On the sports betting site I go to SportsBetting.ag, the public is picking Boston -6, the experts are leaning toward Minnesota +6, and the O/U is split right down the middle (Extra gambling nugget: The Wolves are 4-0 against the spread when 5+ point underdogs this season).
Ever since the Dollar Bill for Loose Change trade, this matchup is bi-annually anticipated with great excitement by many Wolves fans. I personally love KG and will always go to bat for the guy, but I know at this point many in Wolves Nation have not only moved on from Garnett, but have vilified him. However, there is also still a big section of TWolves fans who feel forever grateful and indebted to the man who gave his all to this franchise for 12 years, putting Timberwolves Basketball on the map, and providing endless moments of excitement, passion, and dedication for all to see.
The Wolves have yet to beat the Celtics since the Garnett trade. I was at the game in Boston in 2008 when they almost pulled this feat off. Somehow, our inspired Jaric/Telfair backcourt (true statement, not a typo) almost defeated the would-be champion Celtics on their court in front of a frenzied crowd. However, the Wolves left defeated in the end, losing 88-86. Garnett did not play in that game, but a month earlier was the infamous Celtics/Wolves matchup at Target Center, where the Celtics eeeked out a 1 point victory, concluding with Garnett popping his Celtics jersey and losing many of his former Wolves fans’ loyalty in the process (My take on this: he is a passionate guy who gives everything for his team. The Wolves traded him. Therefore, his team changed, which means his loyalty on the court changed. We should not fault him for putting on for his new team with the same KG-like passion we celebrated and loved when he had our jersey on. After all of the years, we know how he works, we know what he is about. But unfortunately many Minnesota fans have that one of us mentality, and once a player leaves, whether it was their decision or not, they get turned on. I don’t agree with it, and frankly I find it embarrassing and simple-minded).
Last year, Boston completely creamed the Wolves 100-79 in Target Center, and KG showed KL that he may not be truly elite yet. Elite means that you can dominate the game with your presence alone. Love seems to be in the class where he needs to put up big scoring numbers in order to dominate. Although since his first week back, in which he played like a bit of a shot happy diva, he has seemingly reinstated more concentration on boarding, passing, defense, and playing solid team basketball. However, the stopping after a botched offensive play to cry to the refs while the other team runs a fast break routine HAS to stop. Love is first in the league with 3.18 of these a game, leading Dwight Howard by almost 1 full CTTRWOTRFB. JJ Barea has also now entered the top ten, averaging 1.34 CTTRWOTRFB per game.
Regarding the Wolves/Philly matchup last evening: YES. It was a total team win, featuring fantastic bench play, great ball movement (shockingly even from your guy, JJ Barea), heady defense, and concentration. It was great to have a pretty, blowout win. I will leave you with a few more assorted thoughts on last nights game and subsequent postgame show: If Lou Amundson is a 1-Tool NBA Player, than that tool is fouling…SHVED! He is looking more and more like our SG of the future each game…Speaking of Shved, Tom Hanneman called him “Sexy Alexi” postgame. This really happened…Weird looking at the box score and seeing all three of our shooting percentages in the 50’s (FG: 53%, 3P: 52%, FT: 59%)…Jim Peterson, donning a heavy pinstripe suit, during the postgame show: “My suit must have inspired them, because they were playing like gangsters. We just had to give Alexi Shved a tommy gun out there.” Okayyyy Jim, thank you for that!...Malcolm Lee: career high 10 points for the zillionth time this year…Kevin Lynch’s heavy Minnesota accent drives me nuts…If Josh Howard can play that well every night, it would be huge…Royal Ivey was 1 rebound away from a 2 trillion…Dante CunningHAM’s mouthguard, which has a black streak down the center, makes it look like he is missing his front teeth, which I think is the point, which is glorious…Final Wolves/Celtics game prediction: Celtics 98, Wolves 90, (for those keeping track at home, that’s Celtics and the Under) and Rondo with 18 assists in his return from suspension…Stay funky, Wolves fans, Ricky is lurking...
Injury update: AK47 is out again, and Love is questionable due to "food poisoning." I have a feeling he will tough it out, but that is an unknown at this point. In other, better news Ricky Rubio was cleared for practice yesterday and all signs point to him starting his season well before Christmas. My prediction remains Rubio makes his debut next Friday against Cleveland in a self-esteem boosting blowout win. But then again I am about 0/586 on random predictions this year.
Rather than do bullets for this, I'll have you guys write this preview by leading with a few questions:
-Will the Wolves play a single game this season at full health?
-If the Wolves win with Love out of the lineup, what implications should we draw?
-Is there concern with rushing Rubio back because the team is underperforming these past 8 games?
-Who should Derrick Williams be traded for?
-What defensive adjustments should Adelman make against yet another dynamic back court in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings?
-Do you have any Mafia connections, 10 grand laying around, and a dislike for Barea's recent play as much as I do? If so, let's talk.
Prediction: I have a good feeling about tonight. Someone is due for a big "statistical anomaly game" and hopefully it's Shved. I want that young man to get as much confidence as possible his rookie year. Wolves should win this one.
Two straight back to back's on the road will create a fatigued team, and the Wolves are leaving the best for last heading into LA tonight to battle Vinny Del Negro and the equally struggling Clippers.
Talk about the game here as you wish. Some thoughts:
-CP3. Do we put Malcolm Lee on him? How to contain the man? It is no mystery that all opposing teams are attacking from the perimeter and exploiting the porous defense of the Wolves' back court "defenders." Chris Paul is arguably the best PG in the league and is probably eating a wholesome lunch today thinking about how he is going to make mincemeat of Luke Ridnour tonight. The key will be preventing the lobs and providing ample help on the penetration. Luckily ace defender Kevin Love is back in the lineup to help out there.
-West Woes. Both the Wolves and the Clippers have recently come back to earth. As we all know, the Wolves are losers of 6 of 8 games (hello Rhombus era!) and the Clippers have dropped four in a row themselves. That being said, the Clippers are very unlikely to coast through this game and a bounceback effort at home should be fully expected. Furthermore, Blake Griffin, off to a slow start this year, scored a career low 4 points the other night against the Hornets. Against Ryan Anderson. He is not going to take this game lightly and is sure to have one of those nights that just makes your blood boil. Have we seen a player become so unlikable so quickly in this league?
-Getting used to Love. Against the Kings, the Wolves generally looked a lot smoother on offense. An offense tends to when playing the Kings. Most notable was that Adelman tightened his rotation considerably, relied more on the starters, and the Wolves' actually got some real offense from both starting guard spots for the first time this season. Love seemed more eager to move the ball, and was more active in running the offense outside of the left elbow, as he did ad-nauseum against the Warriors over the weekend. As a result, better ball movement created better shots and looks all around, as production and scoring was well-balanced throughout the roster. What has really plagued the Wolves thus far has been perimeter shooting. Love sans hand brace will help this over time. Now, should the Wolves' guards come up flat again tonight vs. the Clippers, we are in for an ugly night.
-Prediction. The Clippers are a playoff team, and a highly seeded one at that. With Rubio last year, the Wolves sunk this team a few times but marginal improvements from the guards will not be enough to withstand the depth of the Clippers. Sadly, the Wolves will likely head back home tonight with their tails between their legs, especially coming off a back to back in which the starters logged huge minutes. The Wolves will get 3 more attempts later on this year to right the ship.