By: Dan Slaubaugh
Happy Friday, Wolves fans.
Tonight, the Wolves will try to win their second straight home game of the season as they host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Minnesota comes into the game with a 10-22 record, sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference. Milwaukee is 15-15, 7th in the East.
The Bucks - coming off a convincing road win in Detroit - are elite in terms of athleticism and length. They're trouble in the open court. Giannis Antetokounnpo - a top 12 player in the league - will be an All-Star this season. Jabari Parker (20.3pts, 5.8rbs) will have a chance to sneak in as well. They're an exciting, young team much like the Wolves, which makes for a fun game tonight at Target Center.
What: Wolves - Bucks
When: 7pm CT
Where: Target Center. Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Fastbreak opportunities: The Bucks are incredibly dangerous in the open court. They're scoring the 5th most fastbreak points in the NBA at 16.0, which is a large concern for a team (Minnesota) that gives up the sixth-highest transition frequency (14.4%) and the 4th-highest efficiency (1.14PPP). If Milwaukee can run the way they want tonight, they're going to be tough to beat.
Growing pains: Much like the Wolves, the Bucks have had a fair share of blown leads this season. One can attribute Minnesota's blown leads to their starters being tired in crunch time because of having to make up for a bad bench the entire game. Milwaukee, on the other hand, boasts a productive bench (5th in NBA Deff). Therefore, their starters are simply blowing leads after the bench does their job. Frustrating for both teams. Something will have to give tonight.
The return: Many people will come to Target Center tonight to see Giannis Antetokounnpo and Jabari Parker on display. However, the main attraction will be former Wolf and 2008 number two overall pick Michael Beasley. Lol. All kidding aside, he's legitimally establishing himself as a valuable rotation player (averaging 8.2pts and 3.6rbs in 16.1 minutes per game while shooting 43.3% from three-point range) in Milwaukee's system after spending year part of last year in China. Props to Beas for his hard work. It pays off.
The Wolves lead the all-time series 29-23.
The Bucks are in the middle of a four-game road trip that will conclude tomorrow tonight in Chicago.
The Wolves have held the rebound edge in seven of the past nine games (+6.0 rpg in that span, 45.4-39.4).
The Bucks and Wolves play in opposite conferences, which prevents a true rivalry from developing with only two meetings each season. The teams play again March 11 in Milwaukee.
Although every Wolves loss seems like a collapsed bridge, things really aren't all that bad. Their starting five is playing very well. But with how bad their bench played, it doesn't even matter how good their starters are. This, my friends, makes it impossible for the Wolves to win consistently. When that will change is pure mystery. But for now, all we can do is hope they can be just productive enough so that Thibodeau doesn't have to play his starters 38+ minutes to keep them off the floor.
I think they'll show up at some level tonight, giving the starters needed rest heading into the fourth quarter.
Wolves win 107-100, close strong in crunch time. Target Center fills up in what will be the 3rd highest attended game of the season so far.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
From everyone at On The Prowl, Merry Christmas. We hope your days will be filled with joy, laughter, and lots of Wolves wins through the New Year.
Christmas brings a different taste to Wolves fans this year, as the Pups will lace it up for the first time in franchise history on this special day.
While excitement is high for tonight's game against Oklahoma City, I'm simply hoping the team can put on a good performance in front of the national audience on one of the biggest stages of the NBA season. After all, I'm sure the schedule-makers predicted the Wolves would be sitting in a much better place going into today's game than they currently are (9-20, 13th in WC).
Regardless, you have every reason to be excited for tonight's game. It should be a fun one.
What: Wolves @ Thunder
Where: Chesepeake Arena. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
When: 7pm CT
Where to wtach: ESPN
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Slowing down the MVP candidate: The Wolves will have their hands full tonight strying to slow down the most explosive player in the leauge in Russell Westbrook, who poured in his 14 triple double of the season in a win over the Celtics on Friday. Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring (31.8) and is second in assists (10.8). The ball is in his hands a ton, indicative of a league-leading 42.0USG%. That's ridiculous, especially considering the next highest is Demarcus Cousins at 37.5%. If the Wolves can hold Westbrook to under 30 points tonight, they'll have a great shot at grabbing their first ever Christmas win.
Bench production: The Wolves bench has been awful lately. They scored just 11 points in the loss to Sacramento on Friday night, basically forcing Tom Thibodeau to play his starters huge minutes in order to keep them off the floor. Bazz used to be an unkown commodity. Now he's just unkown. Dunn has quick speed and great handle, but has no idea what to do with it. Bjelica hasn't been awful, but he needs to be better. They have to find a way to be more productive and find the cohesiveness they exhibited a few weeks ago against the Knicks and Hornets on the road.
Wolves post defense: Minnesota has struggled to defend in the paint all season, which could be problematic tonight against big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Towns has regressed on that side of the floor so far this season, which is a reason for concern. That said, expect Aldrich to receive 15+ minutes tonight to take some of the pressure off him and Dieng against OKC's bigs.
Victor Oladipo is out for tonight's game (sprained right wrist), so the Thunder will rely on Russell Westbrook even more than they already do. Expect him to put up 30+ shots.
The Thunder took the season's first meeting between these two teams, prevaling 112-92 in an early November tilt.
After Friday night's victory, Minnesota became the first team in NBA history to have three 40+ point scorers (KAT, Wiggins, LaVine) in a single season, all age 22 or younger.
With Oladipo unavaliable to play tonight, the Wolves can solely focus on Westbrook on the perimeter. Because of that, I'm predicting Russell Westbrook to still stuff the stat-sheet, but in an inefficent manner.
Wolves win 109-104. Wiggins pours in 36 points. KAT grabs another double-double. Zach LaVine gives us the best Christmas gift we could possibly ask for throwing down a 720 dunk from the free-throw line.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Have a wonderful Christmas.
By: Zach More
Happy Friday, Wolves fans.
This is the first time we get to do a primer after back-to-back wins. It feels pretty good. Tonight the Wolves will look for their third straight win as they take on the Sacramento Kings. Something to watch tonight will be to see if the Wolves can stop always entertaining Demarcus Cousins. I would assume Dieng will be matched up with him on defense to start the game. Dieng has been guarding the opponents best frontcourt player on most nights. Cousins has struggled in the past to stay out of foul trouble and as a Wolves writer, I wouldn't mind seeing that again tonight.
When: 7pm CT
Where: Target Center, Mineapolis, MN
Where to Watch: FSN
Where to Listen: 830 WCCO
Playoffs? As has been mentioned a lot on Wolves Twitter, the Wolves are only 2.5 games back from the 8th spot. That is the good news. The bad news is they still only have 9 wins and still have 4 teams ahead of them that they would need to pass to take that 8th spot. Since it is the Holiday season we will end this with more good news. The Wolves do play a lot of those teams ahead of them, including Sacramento, in the next couple of weeks.
Gay out: Rudy Gay will miss the game tonight due to a hip injury. This is good news for the Wolves, as they have struggled (might be an understatement) to stop Rudy in the past. Also, Omri Casspi is questionable for the Kings tonight with an illness.
Trade talk: The Kings are well known to be interested in a point guard. They will get a first hand look at Ricky Rubio Tonight. I am not sure these two teams match up well in a trade but you never know going forward - a three team trade is always a possibility. The Kings could also be interested in Tyus Jones, but most likely will not get to see him play many minutes tonight unless an injury or foul trouble.
Wolves win 108-98. Towns picks up his 10th consecutive double-double. LaVine and Wiggins combine for 50+ points.
I believe the Wolves are finally turning a corner on the defensive end, and that is why I have them winning this game. With Gay being out, that limits Sacramento's options on offense and allows the Wolves to focus more on Cousins. I expect big scoring games from both Wiggins and LaVine tonight and a good team defensive effort.
By: Eric Page
The Wolves are coming off a 115-108 home win over the Suns on Monday and are playing their best basketball of the season during a 2-2 stretch over the past four games after suffering an embarrassing home loss to the Pistons 12 days ago. The Wolves held late leads in both losses in that stretch, which came to two of the best teams in the West (Golden State and Houston).
So, what’s changed? Karl-Anthony Towns is playing more assertive and getting more touches inside, and the offense is flowing better as a result, with more ball movement (24 team assists up from 20) and more open shots on the perimeter for guys like Zach Lavine and Andrew Wiggins. As a result, Towns is averaging 27.5 points and 15 boards over the past four, and Wiggs and Lavine are both knocking down 3s at plus-45%.
What: Wolves (8-19) at Hawks (14-14)
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
When: 6:30 p.m. CST
Where to watch: FSN North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Versatile bigs: The matchup of Towns and Paul Millsap will be fun, as both are able to play inside and out. Towns is playing his best basketball of the season, and Millsap is coming off a 30 point, 11 rebound performance in Monday’s win over the Thunder.
Ricky vs. Dennis: Rubio had his best game of the year in Mondays’ win over the Suns, finishing with 12 assists. Schroder presents a challenge, in that he is a quick guard who can score and distribute. He had 31 points, 8 assists and 5 boards in a matchup with Russell Westbrook on Monday. Ricky (and Kris Dunn) containing Schroder will be key to the Wolves chances.
Two in a row: Can the Wolves win back to back games for the first time this year?
The Wolves swept the Hawks last season, 2-0.
The Wolves and Hawks will play twice in the next five days, with Atlanta visiting the Target Center on the 26th.
Hawks big man Dwight Howard is out with an injury.
I expect Towns to continue his dominant play and for the Wovles offense to continue clicking. Wolves 111, Hawks 99.
By: Eric Page
As I write this, the Dallas Mavericks are up 25 heading into the fourth quarter of what is looking like it will be their sixth win of the season. That means when the sun rises Tuesday morning, the Wolves will be tied for the worst record in the NBA.
Let that sink in.
The Wolves, with a 6-18 record, have as many wins as the Sixers, Mavs, and Nets just past the quarter pole of the season and are on pace to finish with fewer wins than last year. What a supreme disappointment.
It’s not that we haven’t been here before. Lord knows the past decade has provided countless moments of frustration when Wolves fans sat back on their barstools, sighed, and said, “Man, we suck.” What makes this year different is that the Wolves don’t suck. They are oozing with potential, but they just can’t put it together for 48 minutes. It’s not even right to say we’ve seen flashes of that potential, because we’ve consistently seen full halves of basketball – three quarters Sunday against the Warriors – during which the Wolves look like a top-five team in the league only to collapse again and again … and again and again. It’s maddening to watch a team play so well and then, predictably, so, so bad when it matters most down the stretch.
So, what is it? Why do the Wolves keep building big leads and then falling apart in the second half? Don’t ask Tom Thibodeau. He doesn’t seem to know. “Something’s being missed. Something is not right,” the “very concerned” first-year Wolves boss said after a blowout loss to the Pistons on Friday.
Yeah, no kidding, Thibs. I can see that from my recliner in Iowa.
What I see is a team wildly inconsistent on the defensive end that seems mentally incapable of winning close games. I see a team that has regressed under Thibodeau in ways we all expected it to make progress. I see a timid Kris Dunn (although improving) and an at times confused Karl-Anthony Towns. I see a coach who doesn’t trust his bench (partly for good reason) burning out his starters too early in games. I see guys trying to play hero ball to stop runs but more often fueling opponents’ momentum by turning the ball over or missing shots that trigger transition. And during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Warriors, I saw a team defeated well before the game was over.
It seems Ricky Rubio saw that coming. “Playing with no heart, with no desire,” he said. “It’s just awful. Right now, it’s just bad.” That was the Wolves floor leader after Friday’s loss to the Pistons, two days before the team blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against the Warriors.
So, here we are. Six and 18, and already it appears the Wolves’ 12-year playoff drought is going to reach a baker’s dozen (insert Jim Mora “Playoffs!?” line here). As crappy as that sounds and as lousy as 6-18 feels, there is reason for optimism.
Let’s start with Zach Lavine. Zach has been the most consistent Wolves player this season, and, in his third year in the league, is blossoming into the player we all hoped he’d be after seeing his production soar after the all star break last spring. He’s carrying a heavier load, playing 38 minutes a game, which ranks second in the league. His shooting numbers from the field are on par with where they were last year, despite the increase in minutes, and he’s upped his free throw percentage to 88%. I heard someone on the Raised by Wolves podcast compare Zach to a young Ray Allen earlier this year, and I actually really like that comparison.
Andrew Wiggins can shoot. Wiggs has cooled significantly since his hot start to the season, but his stroke from 3-point range has come a long way. He’s shooting 38.5% from deep (up from 30% last year) and is making 1.5 3s per night, more than twice as many as last season. His overall field goal percentage has dipped a bit as a result of taking more 3's, but this is all a part of Wiggs becoming a more diverse offensive threat.
The Wolves dominate the first half. This Wolves team comes out of the gate as fast as anyone in the NBA. On the season, their first-half numbers are strikingly good for a 6-18 team: 48.5% fg, 39.6% 3pt, 54.8 pts, and a healthy +3.5 margin. But we all know how the song goes – the second half is a decidedly different story, as those numbers shift to 41.6%, 30.4%, 48.3 pts, and -7.0. The plus/minus in the third quarter alone is -5.8.
As Thibs so eloquently put it, “Something is not right,” which is a good segue to causes for concern.
Is Thibs the coach we thought he was? I’m not sold on Thibs as the right coach to develop a young team. This team is fragile, and I feel like the fan base has been slow to criticize the coach because we feel lucky to have him. We’re like the nerdy guy in high school who got a date with the smoking hot prom queen and is willing to take the abuse just to be seen with her. For a coach who has built his career on his defensive know-how, Thibs is failing early on with the Wolves. A young roster is partially to blame here, too, but progress is hard to see. At times the Wolves defense has been downright awful, especially when blowing leads after halftime. Rotations are slow, and the interior defense is nonexistent. I had expected KAT and Gorgui Dieng to do a better job of protecting the rim, but I’d also expect a better scheme from Thibs. In addition to the defensive letdown, Thibs is living up to his reputation of running his starters into the ground. Lavine, KAT, and Wiggs all rank in the top 15 in the league in minutes played, and they’re getting gassed in the first half. They’re young, yes, but their legs need to be managed more effectively - meaning more productive minutes from the second unit - to have something left in the tank in the 4th quarter.
KAT’s confused. This might not be fair to a second year player averaging 21.6 pts, 10.8 rebs, 2.3 ast, and 1.4 blks, but those numbers seem misleading to me. I feel like KAT has regressed a bit and is trying too hard to be the uber-dynamic player he was hyped all offseason to be. Too often he’s floating around the perimeter, shooting step back jumpers and 3s. I am all-in on KAT being a transcendent talent, the big man of the future in the league, but he and the Wolves would be better served right now if he spent a little more time closer to the basket.
What’s with Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill? I wrote earlier this fall that I thought the offseason signing of Rush and Hill would be good for depth and defense. Man, was I wrong. Hill has only played in three games, and Rush has been a non-factor. I didn’t expect huge contributions from them, but Hill is particularly puzzling. Why sign a guy if his season box line is going to be DNP – Coach’s Decision? It’s not like someone else signed Hill and left him for Thibs to figure out. This was his roster move. Weird.
So, here we are. Six and 18 -the worst record in the league - with a schedule that could leave the Wolves distantly out of playoff contention before the calendar turns to January. This certainly is not what many of us expected.
Something is not right.