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Game #50: Detroit Rock City

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The Wolves Take On The Pistons in Detroit

Through extensive research (Wikipedia), the vegter21 lab has uncovered the early history of the Timberwolves next opponent, the Detroit Pistons:

The team was originally founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941. At the time, they were known as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons after the team owners Fred and Janet Zollner. Why is this important? Because it helps explain one aspect of the original team logo...

While the Piston Man ‘Z’ can be justified, there are many questions left unanswered. Is there a real person inside this piston costume? If so, are his left leg and right arm horribly disfigured? Could a reasonable human head fit inside the face bucket? If there’s not a person inside the costume, are we dealing with a dismembered hands and feet situation? This has serious nightmare potential. Especially if it appeared in the Piston’s home stadium, Fort Wayne’s North Side High School, attempting to entertain children and fans with free piston giveaways during game breaks.

Despite Zollner’s terrifying choice of mascot, he was a visionary in other ways. He brokered the merger of the National Basketball League and the Basketball Athletic Association from his kitchen table in 1949, forming the NBA. In 1956, he decided that Fort Wayne was too small to support a franchise and moved the team to Detroit, a city that was without basketball since 1947. Detroit’s previous team, the Gems (possible name for the Wolves D-League team?), disbanded and moved westward to a sleepy little town in Minnesota, where they would eventually become the Minneapolis Lakers.

Connections between Minnesota and Detroit continued throughout the decades, although it was long after the departure of the Lakers that these connections began to reappear:

  • Rick Mahorn, a key cog in the nice and pleasant Pistons teams of the late eighties and early nineties was selected by the Wolves in the 1989 expansion draft. The “Baddest Boy of them all” never played in Minnesota, but was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for draft picks. If only Mahorn could have spent some time with the Wolves, maybe the Minnesota Nice would have rubbed off on him. Instead, he and Charles Barkley formed the “Thump N’ Bump” rebounding duo in Philly and the Wolves got Gerald Glass.
Yaayyy???
  • Bill Laimbeer, another pivotal member of the cuddly 1980’s Pistons joined the Timberwolves coaching staff in 2009. He teamed up with Head Coach Kurt Rambis and General Manager He-who-shall-not-be-named, to put together a stellar 32-132 record over the course of two years. In an ESPN piece from a few years ago, fellow GM’s recounted a story from a Timberwolves pre-draft workout conducted by Mr. Laimbeer:

Laimbeer was on the court that day, running the workout. He set up one drill, telling the players to outlet the ball to him with a crisp chest pass, then run the lane and finish on the other end. Pretty basic stuff. Once the drill started, though, the players occasionally forgot the whole "outlet the ball" part, and Laimbeer, as he is known to do, called them out in a sarcastic manner. The next time around, the players remembered to outlet the ball but forgot about the chest pass. Laimbeer became visibly agitated by their inability to run the drill correctly. "By the end of the workout, we all thought there might be a fight on the court," one GM remembers. "Why make yourself the center of attention like that? For some executives, that day is all they know about him. And everyone left that gym with the same impression, that Laimbeer doesn't understand how the NBA works."

Ahh, the 2009-2011 Timberwolves. What a magical time to be a fan!

  • Chauncey Billups, the third overall by the Boston Celtics in the ‘97 draft landed in Minnesota’s warm embrace in 2000. He was the backup point guard to Terrell Brandon until Brandon went down with a season (and career) ending knee injury in 2001. Billups would breakout during the 2001-2002 season for the Wolves but was eventually let go via free agency. It’s a decision that still haunts this writer as Brandon would never play again, and Billups would head to Detroit where the “Mr Big Shots” legend emerged. The Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004 with Chauncey winning the MVP....

...and I’m now crying all over my keyboard.

  • Flip Saunders joined Chauncey in Detroit in 2005 to set a franchise record for wins with a 64-18 record after ten seasons at the Wolves helm. Ultimately, Saunders only lasted three seasons with the Pistons before succumbing to the whims of Joe Dumars and heading off to Washington.

While the Pistons were enjoying fame and notoriety in the late 80’s - early 90’s, the Wolves were just getting started. While the Pistons were dealing with the Teal Era/Grant Hill sadness of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the Wolves had a scrappy, young power forward named Kevin Garnett who was evolving into a super star.

Gross

Both teams reached their apex during the 2004 season, with the Wolves advancing to the Western Conference Finals and the Pistons beating the Los Angeles (formerly Minneapolis) Lakers in the Finals. Fully circled the connections. Nailed it.

It’s been a slow fall from grace for both franchises since 2004. The Pistons may have held on to success far longer than the Wolves, but eventually joined Minnesota in rebuilding hell around 2009. Ah, 2009, what a time to be alive!

Which brings us to today. The Pistons six-year playoff drought ended last season with the arrival of Stan Van Gundy as coach, the ridiculously-difficult-to-spell Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) as a points machine, and the growth of former All-Star Andre “Big Penguin” Drummond (absolutely superb nickname). They were swept by Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs, but Detroit was starting to show some promise. Plus, their coach is straight-up gangster.

This season started out much the same. They were at 14-14 by mid-December, however, they’ve struggled since then with an 8-13 record. Why did we choose mid-December as a cutoff point? Because that’s become the mythical standard for Wolves comparisons during this season. That glorious Bulls game. Over a similar stretch, the Wolves have gone 12-12, with a winning record during January.

Ideally, we would ignore the steamy poo pile that was the second half of Wednesday’s game against the Cavaliers, but unfortunately we can’t. While the Wolves suffered one of their worst losses of the season in their last game, Detroit enjoyed one of their largest margins of victory. KCP poured in 38 points against the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night, while shooting 8-11 from the arc, and 12-18 overall. Tobias Harris contributed 19 points and 8 boards, Ish Smith had 15, and The Big Penguin dropped 17 on the way to a 118-98 victory.

Meanwhile, the Wolves are seemingly still struggling with interior defense. Tristan Thomson was dominant throughout Wednesdays game. If Karl-Anthony Towns expects to get his first career victory against the Pistons, he and Gorgui better do some work against Morris and Drummond. Beware the Penguin, folks.

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Ricky Rubio

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: Nikola Pekovic is out (bear fight).

Pistons

PG - Reginald Jackson

SG - KCP

PF - John Leuer

PF - Marcus Morris

C - Andre Drummond

Injuries: SVG’s Neckline

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Suns match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Pistons

eFG% / 50.8 / 50.1

TOV% / 13.4 / 11.2

ORB% / 26.9 / 22.6

FTR / .222 / .160

Hmmm, it’s a mixed four-factor bag. The Wolves shoot about the same, turn it over more, get more offensive rebounds, and get fouled a bit more per possession. Let’s delve deeper. Minnesota’s offensive is rated better (11th overall vs 21st), however the defense is worse (23rd vs 10th). Pace is almost the same (24th vs 25th) and the expected wins are exactly equal at 23-26.

This is a tough one to call. I’m going to chase away the Debbie Downers that crept into my brain parts while writing this post and watching the second half of the Cavaliers game, and say that the Wolves are going to get back to their winning ways tonight. I’m not a stats guy. It’s not based on anything other than improving my own mental health.

Wolves 106, Pistons 100

Let’s Go Wolves!!!