By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Wolves are in Cleveland tonight for a matchup with the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs have struggled mightily as of late, posting a 7-8 record in the month of January and falling to low-tier teams in Dallas, New Orleans, and Sacramento.
Things won't get any easier for them tonight without power forward Kevin Love, who's set to miss his second straight game due to back spasms.
Concerning the Wolves, things are looking truly bright for perhaps the first time this season. They've won five out of their last six and eight of 11 following an abysmal start to the season. They most recently defeated the Orlando Magic in overtime Monday at home behind Andrew Wiggins' 27 points.
Wiggins and the Wolves look to hand Cleveland another L tonight in The Land.
What: Wolves @ Cavs
Where: Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland, Ohio.
When: 6:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: ESPN, FS North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Replacing Love's production: The trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love average 25 made field goals per game. The entire Cavaliers team average 39.1. The trio also accounts for 16.1 of the 21.8 assists the team averages. Hence, they'll need to find a way to replace Love's production tonight. A big game by bruising big man Tristan Thompson would be a start. Regardless, an already shallow Cleveland frontcourt that's now missing Love is a welcome sight for Minnesota.
Defending the long ball: The Cavs have made 12 three-pointers in six of their last seven games and are shooting 41% (46/114) from three in their last four games. Minnesota has done a fine job of defending the triple this season, ranking 11th in opponents three-point percentage. Kevin Love's absence will certainly help these percentages tonight. Now it's up to Zach LaVine to fight through the million screens Kyle Korver will be curling off of for triples.
Finding ways to win: If tonight's game comes down to the wire, it will be very interesting to see how the Wolves perform in crunch time against the East's top team on the road. We've started to witness Andrew Wiggins become a clutch player. Karl-Anthony Towns is right there as well.
This team has found ways to win close games as of late. Let's hope that continues tonight.
The Cavs own the Eastern Conference's best home record and 2nd-best home record in the NBA at 21-5 (.808).
The Cavs have won four straight games over the Wolves by an average of 17.5 points per game (117.5-100.0).
Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 28.3 points and 12.7 rebounds in his last 11 games. He's 14/29 from beyond the arc in his last 12.
Andrew Wiggins is averaging 28.8 points on 57.7% FG and 59% 3pt FG in four career games vs. the Cavs. (h/t Drew Mahowald).
I don't think either defense will be able to get many stops tonight, thus it should be a high-scoring affair. Cleveland will miss Love, but LeBron will be playing angry and that's not usually very fun for the opposing team.
Cavs win 113-106. LeBron goes for a triple-double. Wiggins pours in 32.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Young players all around the NBA are poised to find their road to success. They work their keesters off to make a mark in the league they've dreamed about playing in since they first touched a basketball. There is no question they deserve a lot of credit for where they are today. However, a large reason for their success that unfortunately sometimes goes unnoticed is because of the love and support of their mothers.
I was able to catch up with Debbie Jones - mother of Tyus and a prime example of a wonderful, supportive mother - on how the last few years have been for her with her middle son playing professional basketball and her youngest waiting to make a decision on where to play college basketball in 2018.
Dan: Tyus was a basketball phenom throughout his AAU and high school days. What was it like having your middle son garner so much attention at such a young age?
Debbie: It is a blessing and honor looking at how much attention Tyus has received starting at a very young age. He has embraced the whole process knowing the attention comes with the territory of what he worked so hard to do.
Dan: Was there a moment you realized that Tyus could potentially play in the NBA? If so, when was it?
Debbie: From the time Tyus picked up a ball when he was just a few years old, it was apparent he was advanced beyond his years. Even at such a young age it was impressive not only how he excelled athletically but how he would think the game and talk about the game. In the third grade when an AAU coach approached him to try out for his team, he told Tyus he was going to be a Pro. For me, I believe, the realization became serious after Tyus was selected to the USA team when he was 15.
Dan: What was it like during Tyus’s freshman year of college having him so far away from home?
Debbie: It was different having him far away but as a family we made a plan for how we would routinely be able to see him whether it was going to Duke or seeing him on the road. It did involve lots of travel and time away from work but putting that plan in place allowed us to be able to spend lots of time with him his freshman year of college.
Dan: What emotions were you feeling when the Wolves traded for Tyus on draft night?
Debbie: It is difficult to find the words to describe all our emotions that night. Amazing, unbelievable and pure joy don’t even begin to describe our feelings.
Dan: Do you ever think about what it would be like if Tyus played for Cleveland?
Debbie: I suppose there are times we have thought about that…but we are so blessed with how everything has turned out. Having Tyus playing at home and being able to see him on a regular basis is truly special.
Dan: Has Tyus bought you anything really nice?
Debbie: Yes he has. Tyus is very thoughtful but smart about his purchases.
Dan: Was it a little overwhelming thinking about your 19-year old son traveling the country to perform in front of large crowds of people for an 82-game season?
Debbie: Yes it is overwhelming but knowing how Tyus handles things is reassuring. We also make sure we stay involved with the process so he has anything he needs.
Dan: Tyus has performed well in his limited minutes this season and taken advantage of his opportunities, yet hasn’t quite been able to find a consistent role in the Thibodeau’s rotation. Through it all, however, Tyus maintains a professional attitude and does what’s best for the team. Are you proud of the way he’s handling things?
Debbie: I am so proud of Tyus and his professionalism with everything. He truly understands the big picture and what it takes to be a professional. Tyus focuses on what he can control and that has served him well throughout his basketball career.
Dan: Do you try to make all of Tyus’ games? What happens if Tyus and Tre play on the same night (assuming both games are home)?
Debbie: I do try to make all the home games but not without some conflicts with Tre’s schedule.
Dan: And now you have Tre, who is going through the same situation as Tyus did back in his recruitment period. Are things less chaotic this time around?
Debbie: Things may be a little less chaotic with Tre’s recruitment in part because we have already built relationships with coaches as a result of Tyus’ recruitment. We continue to appreciate and enjoy the process of Tre being recruited, and look forward to his bright future as well.
I'd like to thank Mrs. Jones for being kind enough to participate in this Q&A. All of us at On The Prowl truly believe in Tyus Jones' ability to be an impact rotation player and are excited about the future of younger brother Tre.
Dare By: Jonah Sprinkel
With the Timberwolves currently on their hottest streak this season, 6-3 in their last nine games, fans everywhere have begun to discuss the possibility of grabbing the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Realistically, this is just an invitation to get walloped by the Golden State Warriors. However, any form of playoff experience is invaluable to such a young team.
With a record of 17-29, the Timberwolves are 3.5 games back of that final playoff spot. Four teams stand between them and the playoffs. Dan laid out the schedule for the respective teams' next ten games and made a few predictions yesterday on the Slack group message. With that, let's take a look at each of these teams, where they've been and where they're headed.
Denver Nuggets #8
The Nuggets are the current holders of the eighth seed with a record of 19-25. Though the team is 5-5 in their last 10 games this number is slightly misleading. After dropping five straight to Philadelphia, Golden State, Sacramento, San Antonio and Oklahoma City the Nuggets have rebounded and won five of their last seven. This has included a 20 point win against a depleted Clippers team and a 10 point win over Utah.
The key for Denver recently has been the second year Serbian, Nikola Jokic. Over the last seven games Jokic's per game averages are incredibly impressive; 25.1 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.4 blocks while shooting 60.7 percent from the field. "Big Honey" has looked every part a franchise player. If the Nuggets finish out the year as the eighth seed, he will be a big reason why.
Next 10 games:
Dan's prediction: 4-6
Portland Trailblazers #9
The Blazers are an interesting team. After locking themselves in for over 350 million dollars worth of contracts over the next few years they've found themselves in the middle of the pack. Like the Nuggets, they are 5-5 over their last 10 games. That's about as far as the similarities go.
The first two of five wins came against the Lakers, convincingly. Sandwiched in between those wins was a loss to Detroit. Directly after the second Laker win was dominant victory against Cleveland. The Blazers then lost four straight to Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Philadelphia before regaining their footing with wins against Boston and the once again, the Lakers.
With arguably the second best back court in the West, the Blazers will compete with anyone. Until further notice, the defense will continue to be their Achilles heel; they currently rank 27th in defensive rating.
Next 10 games:
Dan's prediction: 3-7
Sacramento Kings #10
The Kings sit one game ahead of the Timberwolves in the standings with a record of 18-27. Sacramento has, and will probably always be, home to drama. Boogie Cousins continues to lose his mind on the court while his partner in crime, Rudy Gay, is done for the year with a ruptured left Achilles.
Recently the Kings have hit a skid, going 3-7 in their last 10 games. This included a five game losing streak to Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Memphis and Chicago. The bright spot in all of this is their two most recent games, wins at Detroit and at Cleveland in overtime.
The Kings remain the same. As it has seemingly been for the last 3 years, it's all up to Cousins. The weight of the franchise and the fans hope for a playoff appearance rests directly on the Kentucky product's shoulders. And the big man has risen to the occasion. Through 44 games this year, Boogie has averaged 28 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3. He also leads the league with 14 technical fouls.
Next 10 games:
Dan's prediction: 3-7
New Orleans Pelicans #11
With a half game lead on the Timberwolves the Pelicans are vulnerable. Though Anthony Davis has only missed four games this year he continues to leave games early with nicks and bruises. This doesn't bode well for the Pelicans but it certainly helps the Timberwolves playoff chances.
Through the last 10 games the Pelicans are 4-6. There's nothing here to convince many that their have a true shot at the playoffs. Their four wins have come against, New York, Brooklyn, Orlando and Cleveland. Their six losses have come at the hands of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn and Oklahoma City. The win against Cleveland is what gives New Orleans hope, Anthony Davis did not play that game and Terrence Jones scored 36. Though Cleveland has struggled of late.
Davis, like Cousins, is carrying this franchise. Through 40 games the former Wildcat is averaging 28.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.4 blocks, on 49.9 percent shooting. We're looking at two players here who are doing just as much for their franchises now as Kevin Garnett did for the Timberwolves over 10 years ago.
Next 10 games:
Dan's prediction: 4-6
Minnesota Timberwolves #12
Dare I say it? The Timberwolves are learning to win basketball games. Though the team can't seem to grab that elusive four game winning streak they have strung together two separate three game winning streaks. This first included wins against Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City with the second streak being made up of wins versus the Clippers, Denver and Phoenix.
While the box score will show a loss to Indiana last night there is reason for hope in that game. Despite Paul George's 32 points and the referees inability to see Jeff Teague step out of bounds the Wolves fought the whole way. The hit big three after big three. It simply wasn't their night. But the late game fight that Wolves fans have rarely seen finally appeared in strong fashion.
In the case of the Timberwolves, their playoff chances rest on the shoulder of their own "Big 3." Though Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine have seemed redundant at times they have begun to play off of each other. This trend will hopefully continue to improve as Zach steadily regains his footing.
At the moment however, the piece driving the Timberwolves engine is of course, the one and only, Karl-Anthony Towns. Who, since the first three game winning streak is averaging 27.9 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 blocks while dropping in 62.7 percent of his shots, including a ridiculous 45.5 percent from downtown.
Dan's prediction: 5-5
If, at the end of these 10 games, Dan's predictions hold true, the standings will look like this:
8) Denver 24-31
9) Portland 23-34
10) Minnesota 22-34
11) New Orleans 22-34
12) Sacramento 21-34
Simply due to how close the standings are it's going to be difficult for the Wolves to gain any sort of separation. It's going to take a true seven or eight game win streak as well as losses from three or even all four of these other teams. That just doesn't seem realistic at this point.
Barring some unforeseen event, the Timberwolves will be battling for the remainder of the season for a chance to appear in the NBA playoffs. Although they may lose out on a top five draft pick because of that, the experience they will gain by playing meaningful basketball in March and April is of equal importance in my book.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Wolves are back in Minneapolis tonight for a matchup with the Indiana Pacers. This will be the first of two meeting two meetings this season, with Indiana winning both matchups a season ago.
Coming into the season, I thought Indiana would compete for home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They had just added three solid veterans in Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, and Jeff Teague to compliment one of the best two-way players in the league in Paul George.
Although their season is far from a disaster, things have not went quite as planned. They currently boast a 22-22 record, good for 6th in the Eastern Conference. Their offseason additions have been alright, but nothing that have pushed them over the curve. Paul George has been really good, but not great. One continued bright spot for Indiana this year has been the play of sophomore center Myles Turner, who's averaging 15.7 points 7.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks (4th in NBA) per game.
The Wolves come into tonight's game on a three-game winning streak after wins against LAC, Denver, and Phoenix. Karl-Anthony Towns has been sensational lately. In the past eight games, he's averaging 27.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1.1 steals while shooting 64% from the field and 86% from the charity stripe.
The Wolves went 6-2 over that span. Coincidence? I think not.
It would truly be a shame if I went this whole article without mentioning Mr. Clutch ice-in-his-veins Andrew Wiggins, who rescued himself - after clanking another crunch-time free throw - and the Wolves by hitting a fadeaway jumper in P.J. Tucker's face with just a second left on the clock.
Wiggins finished the night 11-22 from the field with 31 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two triples.
He's now scored 24+ points in three straight games, while dishing 3+ dimes in five straight games.
A few quick notes for tonight's game
Since their 6-28 start, the Wolves are 11-10 with the NBA's 8th best defensive rating.
The Wolves boast the NBA's third best record in 2017 with a record of 6-2.
Gorgui Dieng leads the NBA in mid-range FG% at 51.3% (h/t John Meyer - Canis Hoopus).
Wolves win 104-98. LaVine gets back on his feet after his recent struggles, pours in 24 points with four triples.
Zach LaVine is retiring from the dunk contest...for now
This morning at shootaround, Zach LaVine confirmed that he will not be participating in this years dunk contest.
To be honest, I didn't really expect him to participate this year. What else does he have to show? I think the judges are probably ready for a new winner and I'd rather see him walk away now than potentially go out on a loss.
More importantly, I think it's great that he's not participating because he wants to focus on preserving his body for the demands of what the final 37 games will bring. It's clear the team has their eyes on that 8-seed, so it makes sense why he would want to rest during the All-Star break.
LaVine not entering the dunk contest this year will undoubtedly leave fans saddened, but it certainly suggests as a rational idea to shred the dunk label while trying to cement one self as a well-rounded player in this league.
And hey, maybe he'll return to defend his trophy after the Wolves win the NBA title in 2021.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Tim Parochka
The sports narrative changes often. Sometimes, in a single day, or a week or a month, or in some cases, even years.
On Tuesday evening in Phoenix, the sports narrative flipped in exactly 6.3 seconds.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' had 6.3 seconds to diagram a winning formula and in the end, Andrew Wiggins made a contested game-winning mid-range jump-shot over the much tougher and stronger defender, P.J. Tucker.
Wiggins, often criticized for attempting several mid-range jumpers which have analytical gurus degrading Wiggins's value, put the analytical geniuses to bed; at least for one night.
On a night where the narrative changed in the amount of 6.3 seconds, I think about how the narrative would have been if Andrew Wiggins missed a difficult shot.
Why did the 7'0 Karl-Anthony Towns being guarded by the 6'6 P.J. Tucker receive limited touches in the final five minutes? The Minnesota Timberwolves' blew another double-digit second-half lead. Andrew Wiggins missed another clutch free-throw.
There's reason for optimism because the Wolves have showcased an ability to close in their last three games. Something that hasn't been done consistently since the era of Sam Cassell. And there's reason to hesitate because the team continues to provide examples of losing basketball in the weighing minutes.
The Wolves' playoff hopes - in the eyes of fans - are probably ruined if Wiggins couldn't capitalize in the end. It's easy to forget the problems after Wiggins planted buzz into every Timberwolves fan.
In the grand scheme of things, it took a wild Wiggins fall away as the buzzer expired to defeat the Phoenix Suns.
Furthermore, the Wolves probably should have won by five.
There's your reason for hesitation.