It's a new year and the Timberwolves are looking to start 2011 undefeated.
Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0) vs. New Jersey Nets (9-24)
Forget what you think you know about the Minnesota Timberwolves. Forget all of the losing, the disappointment and the unfulfilled potential. It's a new year. It's 2011 and the Wolves are ready to take the next step on their journey to the top of the Western Conference.
The first game of the year is against the New Jersey Nets, the only team that the Timberwolves swept last year. It's the perfect team for this situation and the Timberwolves are favored by 5 points (Accuscore predicts us as 69% favorites). The Nets, while not as bad as they were last season - they were 3-29 at this time last year - are still one of the league's worst teams with a roster that does not have a ton of talent.
Let's break down the matchups in the New Year's Day game:
The next Tim Duncan? Just like Darko is the next Wilt Chamberlain, I guess.
Darko was held out of practice on Thursday with a left hip contusion, and is still listed as day-to-day, so its not certain that he will start for the Timberwolves tonight. If Darko does not start, the Wolves could go with Nikola Pekovic, who is recently back from injury; Kosta Koufos; or they could go small with Kevin Love at the 5. Love does not match up horribly with Brook Lopez, who despite the height advantage, has poor mobility and is not likely to beat Love off of the dribble or to kill him with his post game.
If you type the names 'Brook Lopez' and 'Tim Duncan' into Google, there are plenty of articles comparing the two players or calling Lopez the "next Tim Duncan". I just don't see it. Sure, Lopez has solid offensive fundamentals. But Lopez is not a great rebounder - his rebounding numbers this season are the lowest of his career - and while Duncan was one of the best post defenders during his prime, Lopez is a poor defender who can block shots but cannot do much else.
Plus, Tim Duncan had only five fewer wins last season than Lopez has had in his entire career.
Winner: Darko Milicic
Former Big Ten Freshman of the Year vs. former Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
Kevin Love vs. Kris Humphries
Former Gopher standout and current Kim Kardashian boy-toy Kris Humphries returns to Minnesota tonight as a starter for the New Jersey Nets. Although generally considered a selfish offensive player who struggles on defense, Humphries is having the best statistical season of his career, despite his scoring average decreasing quite dramatically. His rebounding rate has gone from 17.8 to 21.5, his shooting percentage is up to 53% and his assist rate is the highest that it has ever been during his NBA career.
But Humphries should have known that mediocrity follows around the Kardashian family. Kim and her Kardashian sisters, who have a mediocre reality show and mediocre modeling careers, only date mediocre athletes. Their current and former flames have only one All-Star appearance between them (Miles Austin was a 2009 Pro Bowl selection), and while Lamar Odom and Reggie Bush have won titles, neither one was a starter for those championship teams.
Humphries didn't become mediocre when he started dating Kim. The relationship just confirms his mediocrity.
Kevin Love, meanwhile, is the opposite of mediocre. Mediocre for Kevin Love is a 20/10 game. You'll see what I mean. Just watch what happens tonight.
Winner: Kevin Love
Michael Beasley vs. Stephen Graham
Stephen Graham has been in the league five years, and although he showed flashes with the Pacers a couple of years ago, he has not been anything but a fringe rotation player ever since. John Hollinger described him as "a fifth wing who can fill in at either shooting guard or small forward in the case of injury or fouls".
So, naturally, Graham is the starting small forward for the New Jersey Nets. There aren't many other options since the Nets traded away Terrence Williams. Travis Outlaw already starts. Quinton Ross and Sasha Vujacic aren't much better. Anthony Morrow hasn't played in 8 games. So, the Nets are left with Graham.
No wonder they are so desperate to get Carmelo Anthony.
The Timberwolves - who had similar wing problems last season - now have Michael Beasley and Martell Webster. Beasley has scored 30+ points 6 times this season and has averaged 27 points over the past 5 games. Both guys have struggled with turnovers this season, but they are also reliable scoring options who the Nets are going to have major problems trying to stop tonight.
In fact, I don't think they will be able to stop them tonight.
Winner: Michael Beasley
The biggest free-agent acquisition for Mikhail Prokhorov and the New Jersey Nets in 2010.
Wesley Johnson vs. Travis Outlaw
It was a bit of a let down, I'll admit. After hearing all about Mikhail Prokhorov, his billions of dollars and his nickname as the "Mutant Mark Cuban", I expected the Nets to make a bigger splash in free agency. For all their efforts to shed cap space, the Nets wound up with Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Avery Johnson. No LeBron. No Bosh. No Stoudemire. Not even Carlos Boozer. No superstars wanted to come play with the Nets.
Travis Outlaw, the biggest acquisition for the Nets, has the skill set to be a quality player. At $7 million a year, however, the Nets need more than 10 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist per game at less than 40% shooting. Wesley Johnson, on his rookie salary, has .5 less points, .9 less rebounds and 1.2 more assists more per game than Outlaw, while shooting 45% from the floor. Johnson - as PoorDick would tell you - is three years younger than Outlaw, too.
Yep, talk about a let down. Sorry, New Jersey.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Remember when people thought Mark Cuban was foolish for trading Devin Harris for Jason Kidd? I wonder, after Harris has led his team to 21 wins over the last two seasons, if anyone still feels that way.
Luke Ridnour vs. Devin Harris
Devin Harris is likely the best player on the New Jersey Nets and is a reliable 17 points-7 assist guy who can blow past defenders, finish at the rim and make plays on offense. Unfortunately for Harris, other than Brook Lopez in the post (and perhaps Derrick Favors), he has very few reliable options on offense and his playmaking skills are counteracted by his own team.
This has started to take its toll on Harris. Harris was one of the best defensive players at his position when he was in Dallas, but in New Jersey, has been one of the worst mostly due to a lack of effort. He can pass the ball, but he's also become a ball-pounder in New Jersey, since his own playmaking is more reliable than the shots of guys like Stephen Graham and Travis Outlaw. It's not completely unreasonable to suggest that Harris is intentionally trying to play his way out of New Jersey.
Luke Ridnour, meanwhile, has started to discover the opposite is true in Minnesota. While Ridnour sometimes shoots the ball too often, he's had 6 assists or more in 9 of the last 12 games, including his second double-double of the season against New Orleans last week. Now that Beasley, Webster, Johnson, Love and the other Timberwolves are starting to gel on offense, Ridnour is trusting his teammates more often, and the results on the court have been very visible.
Winner: Luke Ridnour
It's gonna be a good year in Minnesota. The Wolves start by taking on New Jersey and the next three games are against a KG-less Boston on the road, as well as the Bobcats and the injury-plagued Blazers at Target Center. A 4-0 start to the month is not out of the question.