Good morning! It's Friday, and the Minnesota Timberwolves play a basketball game tonight. The 37-12 Memphis Grizzlies roll into town, the most under-the-radar second seed in the NBA. They have a better record than anyone in the league not named Hawks or Warriors, they're on an eight-game winning streak, they still have one of the better defenses in the NBA (96.0 points allowed per game, best in the NBA; 102.6 D-Rating, 7th in the league) (although the PPG mark is aided by their slow pace of play, which, at 91.9 possessions per 48 minutes is 26th in the NBA). They have Western Conference All-Star Marc Gasol inside, and can punish you from 3 (Mike Conley and Courtney Lee are both shooting over 40% from 3). The addition of Jeff Green from Boston gave them another scorer (12.4 points per game). Basically, this is a really, really good basketball team. The onus tonight will be on Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to match up with Gasol, keep him off the glass, and keep themselves out of foul trouble.
Other news and notes for your day:
- The rest of the line-ups for the All-Star Weekend events were announced last night, and the three point contest is absolutely stacked to the ceiling. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver, and last year's winner Marco Belinelli. That's an absolutely insane lineup. I've got Korver, just because the dude doesn't seem to miss ever, but any of the eight could win and it would be no surprise. Full set of info is here.
- The Skills Challenge received a new format and also has an interesting field of competitors, featuring John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, Michael Carter-Williams, Jeff Teague, Trey Burke, Brandon Knight, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry. Check out the information here.
- Adam Silver commented on the conference imbalance during Wednesday night's Suns-Warriors game. Full article from SBN's Ricky O'Donnell is here, but here's the exact quote:
"Ultimately we want to see your best teams in the playoffs," Silver said. "And there is an unbalance and a certain unfairness. There is a proposal where the division winners would all automatically go into the playoffs and then you'd seed the next 10 best teams. I think that's the kind of proposal we need to look at. There are travel issues of course, but in this day in age every team of course has their own plane, travels charter. I don't think the discussion should end there. And as I've said, my first year I was studying a lot of these issues and year two is time to take action. It's something I'm going to look at closely with the competition committee. I do think it's an area where we need to make a change."
As recently as last year, a plan to take the sixteen best records would have had the Timberwolves a mere three games out of the playoffs behind the Charlotte Bobcats, now Hornets. If the Wolves are even middle of the pack next year in the West, this proposal could benefit them significantly. Very much an issue worth keeping an eye on.
- Flip Saunders was on Dan Barreiro's show on KFAN yesterday afternoon and had a couple of interesting comments. Show is here, Flip's comments start at 57:15 and end at 85:30.
On Rubio's return and Andrew Wiggins (59:00):
"It's gonna take some time for the whole team to just gel as a whole. I mean, there's no question that we're better with Rubio, and it's interesting because the guys that play well with him are guys that just know how to play. You know, Wiggins has got to learn more how to play. He's been force fed by us a lot because we've had to use him because we haven't really had anybody else to maybe score, so we've had to run a lot of set plays for him. Now with Rubio, we just play. What's gonna have to happen is Wiggins, it's gonna help his game, because now he's going to learn how to have to just play and learn how to score in the context and flow of the game.
On defense (65:00):
"Our biggest issue is this. We've got some guys that are coming back, and there are a lot of guys that played in the culture where they basically want to switch every time. What's happening is, some guys that have been with us, that's not part of what we're trying to do defensively. So we start yelling out switches, and we've got two guys guarding one guy, and we're leaving guys open. So if I had to say what's the biggest issue, it's just a lack of communication. It's something we're gonna keep on working with, we watch film every day, we talk to guys individually about it. I tell our guys, we gotta get our hands, we gotta be more handsy on defense, we gotta show some physicality , which I thought that we showed in the last eight minutes of the (Miami) game, but I said 'Guys, we need it for forty-eight minutes, not eight minutes.' "
On Zach LaVine (68:00):
"He's still going to have an opportunity to play. I mean, I would look eventually where he's gonna play a minimum of 18-20 minutes. But as I told our players, our young players at the beginning of the year, I told them that they're getting minutes right now that they normally might not get, they better utilize those minutes. Because all those minutes help, whether you get minutes early or you get them late, whenever you get them, you better utilize those minutes. It's not gonna stop us from playing him. Is he going to play 30 minutes a game? No, that's probably not gonna happen. He'll still have opportunities to play minutes, and I guess the most positive thing now is that, with young players, they're gonna have to understand that now, their minutes are going to be based on productivity."
On tanking, essentially (72:30):
(Barreiro) "As you get the whole roster back or move closer to that day and maybe even a day where Rubio is not limited to 20-22 minutes, what's the goal here? Obviously, your record isn't going to be what you thought it might be if you'd stayed healthy all year, and, you know, I dont have to tell you, there are people doing all kinds of rhymes, because they want you to make sure you play respectably but lose as many games as possible so you're in the best position to add yet another piece. You probably can't think of it that way, so how do you think of it? What do you want to see, what do you need to see the rest of this season?"
(Saunders) "I want to be competitive, and I want to be in a situation as we progress here that we can look at our guys that we have on our roster and we can pretty much identify guys that we feel are going to be part of moving forward, and maybe guys that maybe are not going to be moving forward with us. Being able to stay competitive and evaluate those situations and continue our development of our young players but the development of the young players might be as much mentally here the last two months as anything. Them understanding there's a certain way they have to play. We might not be as easy and accepting of mental mistakes as we were the first three months of the season and they're going to have to understand that, because when next year starts and there's a training camp and the season starts, the focus is going to be totally different than what the focus has been since we had the rash of injuries at the beginning of the year."
Flip didn't fall for the bait when asked about Love, and the Cavs. "Listen, they've won 11 games in a row."— Zachary Bennett (@ZacharyBD) February 5, 2015
Flip on KFAN: "We'd like to get some length at that 4 spot" and "I'm not comfortable playing those guys [Pek & G] together right now."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 5, 2015
Flip is saying he doesn't like playing Pek next to Gorgui because Gorgui doesn't understand all of the defensive concepts at the 4.— Zachary Bennett (@ZacharyBD) February 5, 2015
I thought the last comment was especially interesting. I'm curious to see how his focus on "mental mistakes" is manifested in in-game decisions, especially in the context of the defensive communication remark earlier. Might just all be fluff, but there's some good stuff in there. The brief comments are about the Cavs were amusing because of Flip being very careful not to accidentally draw a fine from the league. There's also a bit of fun at the end (84:00) where Flip talks about ripping one of J.J. Barea's posters from the Mavericks game in half right in front of his face. Also, Flip says "you know" a lot. Music for the day is Greek ska, enjoy it, and happy Friday.