The Wolves traveled to Phoenix tonight to take on former Timberwolf and cupcake enthusiast Gerald Green and a roster full of other "wait, I thought that guy kinda sucked" players. Phoenix came into this game sitting at 33-22, good for the 8th seed in the loaded Western Conference and 2 games ahead of Memphis who is lurking at the 9 spot.
The Suns were one of the preseason favorites to be the America's Sweethearts of tanking, with the only real proven NBA talent on their roster being Goran Dragic. Seriously, there were some preseason over/unders that had the Suns winning only about twentyish games. Well, that didn't happen. Phoenix got off to a stellar start, going 19-11 through December before falling back to earth a bit after the New Year. The fact that they have been able to have the level of success they've had in a ridiculously hard Conference has been the funnest story in the league this year, and it will be interesting to see how they fare down the stretch of the playoff race. Assuming the Wolves don't pull off an uncharacteristic franchise miracle (we''ll talk about this more later), the last three playoff spots in the West will belong to three of Golden State, Phoenix, Dallas, and Memphis - who are all within 3 games of one another. Personally, I think Phoenix will figure out a way to stay alive, and may actually move up a spot or two if the reports of Eric Bledsoe coming back in the next week or so are accurate. Speaking of which - the Dragic/Bledsoe DragonBlade backcourt is so awesome, and I can't wait for those two to get back on the floor together and ruin some defenses. Take a short break to enjoy some DragonBlade basketball porn -
While Goran and Bledsoe had some previous NBA success, the rest of the Phoenix roster was a different story. Gerald Green had almost worked his way out of the league, spending last season collecting DNPs in Indiana before being traded along with Miles Plumlee and a first round pick in exchange for veteran big Luis Scola. The trade looked to be a tanking tactic for the Suns at the time, but Green has had a career reviving season. Miles Plumlee has developed into a key frontcourt contributor after spending his rookie season (as a 24 year old) in the D League. The Morris Twins (aka The Morri) have turned into the NBA forward so great that God made it twice. Channing Frye is somehow a good player again. There are also things called PJ Tucker, Ish Smith, and Mr. Christmas playing solid minutes. Long story short, Phoenix (with a little help from rookie savant coach Hornacek) took a roster of castoffs, figured out a way to triple their career production, and be a relevant piece in the postseason landscape. Oh yeah, and because they were supposed to be sucking their way through a rebuild, they also hold potentially 4 first round picks in one of the deepest drafts in the last decade. They will have a lot of options in the near future to bolster up into a legitimate contender through a combination of drafting pieces, trading picks/players for roster upgrades, and using some of their shitload of cap space to lure free agents. Suns fans have a bright future to look forward to and I am truly jealous.
As for the Wolves, the last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster ride. After losing 6 out of 7 games between January 31st and February 10th, they had won three straight (including an all out asskicking of the Pacers at Target Center) before collapsing a big lead and losing a heartbreaker in Portland on Sunday night. I don't care if a game in Portland on the tail end of a road back-to-back is a "schedule loss" - these guys play professional basketball and waffling away an 18 point lead with a couple of quarters of clown ball is embarrassing.The Wolves currently sit 6.5 games back of the final playoff spot, so blowing a very winnable game was a killer.
With Kevin Love's 2015 player option looming and a "must win now" attitude, the stakes are high to make something happen. A victory tonight would mean 3 wins in four games with an upcoming schedule of: @Sacramento, @Denver, New York, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, @Charlotte, and Sacramento. That's a lot of winnable games, and will probably be the last chance for the Wolves to get back into the playoff discussion. In my opinion, if they fail to capitalize on this stretch of favorable matchups, it will be time to start tanking to ensure we keep our lottery protected pick - which we somewhat ironically otherwise owe to Phoenix in exchange for taking former Wolves 4th overall pick Wes Johnson - that's not a typo, that's Timberwolves. The Wolves exist in a sick inverted world where we have to give up draft picks to get rid of players we drafted. Wolves fans, have a drink. You earned it.
Just realized I'm almost over 1,000 words and I haven't recapped a single part of the game yet. Thanks for sticking around.
On to the game. For something like the 7th straight game, the Wolves would be without the services of Nikola Pekovic (foot bursitis) and Kevin Martin (hand injury). This sucks because Pek and KMart account for about 37 ppg and alleviate some of the scoring/rebounding load from Love. On the other hand, it's been kinda fun to watch Love go beast mode in their absence, averaging 34 and 14 over his last 10 games. I am convinced that if Love was a more selfish player those numbers could be closer to 40 and 18. The dude is playing unreal basketball right now. Also, being short staffed has allowed some minutes to open up for rookies Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, and they have both shown flashes of competence in their opportunities. That said, the Wolves need Pek and KMart to get back on the floor if there is any hope of salvaging this season.
The game off to a quick start, with both teams basically trading buckets for about five minutes. Not much defense, and a lot of running and uncontested shots. But about halfway through the quarter, the Wolves settled in and starting playing some lockdown D that I have not really seen from them this season. Love was blocking shots, Dante was trailing runners to be a pest, and Bud and Brew were getting into the post and going vertical to contest - I like it when we play defense. Phoenix got back on track with a mini run at the end of the quarter, but the Wolves hung on to a 34-28 lead. Looks like we're on track for 110+ point barn burner. I'll allow it.
Shabazz sighting! Shabazz Dunk! Shabazz fighting for a 50/50 ball on the floor! Dammit JJ is in the game! I lost count of how many Morri are on the floor! Shabazz steal! Shabazz AND-1 (missed the free throw but IDGAF)! Despite the exclamatory demeanor we just lost the lead! Halftime score of 55-57 favoring Suns! Will he ever stop it with this annoying exclamation style recap?!!! Stay tuned to find out !
I fixed myself a rum and coke and calmed down a bit. Sorry about that you guys. I get really fired up about Shabazz.
A lotta whistles happening early in the second half. The first three minutes of the quarter take about 15 minutes due to fouls, shot clock malfunctions, and unnecessary TV timeouts. The sloppy, scrappy play continued through the quarter and appeared to favor the Sus, who walked out of the third with an 81-75 lead.
As usual, this is where things really go south for the Wolves. Bad shooting, bad defense, stupid gambles on defensive rotations, letting three point shooters wander off freely.....we've seen this before. Down 8 with 7 minutes to go. But wait, in some miraculous act of God, Love and Rubio getting back on the floor almost immediately cuts the lead back to three! Ricky steal and push for a Shabazz And -1! Deficit down to 1 with five minutes and change to go! Then, Dragic stupidly fouled out on a loose ball foul and sent Love to the line to let the Wolves take the lead. The Morri retaliate. Dante gets a lead change with a 20 footer. Wolves get a stop and Brewer bodies into layup to go up three. Another stop and then a Shabazz miracle offensive rebound and dish to Brewer for a bunny and a 5 point lead! Go ahead and mock Bazz's college assist numbers. I dare you. Wolves Win thanks to Shabazz!
Nothing too fancy here, just a standard report card. As I have demonstrated before my grading system is fully objective and fair with absolutely no bias. My objective analysis is correct on all counts and indisputable.
Kevin Love - Basically a triple double with 31/13/9. No need to say more. A+
Ricky Rubio - 7 points, 11 assists, 3 boards, 3 steals. Solid effort and some cool acrobatic contested shots in the paint. But it's really the clutch steals and defense in the final quarter that get you this A
Shabazz Effing Muhammad - God bless Shabazz. I didn't like the Shabazz pick at the time, but now I'm a believer, and my only regret looking back is that we didn't trade for more picks and draft three more Shabazz Muhammads. There is a current trend in the NBA of surrounding a post player with 4 shooters. My dream is team with Kevin Love as a floor spacer and 4 Shabazzes posting up down low. That's over 26 feet and 880 pounds of Shabazz posting you up. You wanna defend that? Forget about it! But alas, Flip absolutely screwed the pooch in the draft and only selected one Shabazz, and now we're stuck with another sub .500 squad. We will always have to wonder - what if? Anyways - Shabazz tonight - 20 points on 8/13 shooting, 6 boards, 1 assist. Shabazz, come hang out with me and maybe we'll go get some buffalo wings. A+
Corey Brewer - When Brew is pretty much only shooting open corner threes and dunks and isn't doing stupid things on defense, he ain't half bad and I don't throw remotes at my TV. B
JJ Barea - I'm not even going to waste my time looking at your stats. I hate you. F. A thousand times F.
I'm not going to grade anybody else. It's late and I don't really care. The Wolves got a much needed win on the road, and can hopefully extend this into the upcoming easy-ish series of games. This was unnecessarily long for a game report card.