Archive for the ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’ Category

The matchup we're all waiting for.

The matchup we’re all waiting for.

The Raptors look to earn a measly 11th road win for the first time in three years as they begin a three-game road trip in Minnesota.

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The Raptors scored their first win of the season on Sunday night as the backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan proved too much for Minnesota to handle. For the second straight game, the pair combined to score over 40 points and tonight they complemented that with a combined 14 rebounds and 6 steals. Andrea Bargnani had a brutal game and he will need to make more of a contribution if Toronto is going to hang with Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

Raptors 105, Timberwolves 86

-Terrence Ross sighting! Ross was the first player off the bench after getting the dreaded DNPCD in last night’s game against the Nets. He had one assist on an unselfish swing pass and he showed a little bit of ball-handling in the 2nd quarter, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s still not a good sign that the 8th overall pick is getting so few minutes (7 tonight) on a team that plays with such a deep rotation.

-DeMar DeRozan’s jump shot continues to shine. As I talked about in my post on DD’s offence, expect his jumper to revert back to the above-average form of 2010. He faces looser defence and gets more open looks as a result of being the 2nd/3rd option behind Lowry and Bargnani. He also isn’t being forced to take difficult jumpers at the end of the shot clock, as he was last year when Bargs was out. DeMar still brought his usual aggressive approach to the offensive end, finishing the game with 6 free throw attempts. He spent a lot of time hanging around the basket looking for rebounds tonight, which will make Raptor fans happy. He appears to have a renewed commitment to the glass this year and hopefully it continues. Through three games, DD is averaging 5 rpg. Be sure to tune in to Monday’s RaptorBlog Radio podcast, as I’m sure there will be a heated debate regarding DeRozan’s contract.

-I can’t say enough good things about Kyle Lowry. He communicates, he’s a leader and he’s a flat out baller. He plays a very physical style at both ends of the floor, which leads to free throws on offence and steals/deflections on defence. His jump shot appears to have improved from last year, as he is shooting a fantastic 8-of-16 from downtown. I don’t see any significant weakness in his game.

- I’m beginning to get scared that Lowry will lead this team in rebounding. If there continues to be a 5-man frontcourt rotation, nobody up there will post big rebounding numbers. So far this season, Lowry has been admirably filling some of the rebounding void left by Bargnani and others. However, if the starting point guard leads the team in rebounds, the entire organization should be embarrassed. Lowry’s 7.3 rpg are unfortunately leading the team right now.

-Andrea Bargnani hasn’t found his stroke yet this season. The worst part about Bargs struggling from the field is he allows it to affect the other parts of his game. It seems as if he becomes more interested in defence and rebounding when his jumper is falling. As a result, he finished tonight with a disgusting line of 10 pts on 4-16 shooting and one rebound. Dwane Casey might have sent Andrea a message by limiting him to 24 minutes.

-Landry Fields continued to struggle on Sunday and I’m beginning to wonder how long the leash is for Fields as a starter. He is 3-for-14 from the field this season and he isn’t looking for his shot consistently. He made a nice baseline cut early in the 4th quarter and followed that up with a confident pass to Amir on the pick-and-roll. However, there needs to be more than a handful of assists and rebounds each night, if he wants to stay in the starting lineup.

-I like Alan Anderson because he always provides a consistent effort and he has a very well-rounded game. He is a professional scorer and can defend wing players as well as anyone on this roster. Tonight, Anderson scored 18 points in 31 minutes while Fields had just 5 in the 21 minutes he logged. Anderson has a better jump shot than Fields and the other aspects of his game aren’t far behind – if they are behind at all. Anderson may be the guy to displace Fields, if things continue on their current course.

-Jose Calderon is a fantastic offensive complement on the perimeter, but he does the Raptors no good if they can’t find a scrub on the other team for Jose to guard. He is a neutral impact if every bucket he produces is cancelled out by one he gives up on defence. In the first half he was exposed by JJ Barea and Alexey Shved.

-Amir Johnson is one of the best roll-men in the NBA. Last year, Johnson ranked in the top 10 of the league in points per possession as the roll-man.

-Valanciunas was schooled several times tonight by the 295-pound Nikola Pekovic. Jonas was called for a couple ticky-tack fouls early in the 3rd quarter, but it was clear he was unable to defend Pek one-on-one. JV remains very raw on both ends of the floor. It would be nice to see him get more playing time in order to expedite his learning curve, considering the fouls haven’t been a huge issue.

-Toronto’s bench had a significant impact on this game. The bench produced 42 points tonight as Dwane Casey went with an 11-man rotation. Casey said his rotation will vary night-to-night but it certainly is a luxury to be able to go 11 or 12 deep, when necessary.

Raptors player of the game: Kyle Lowry – 22 pts (8-10 FG), 7 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl & 2 TO

Timberwolves player of the game: Andrei Kirilenko – 17 pts (6-7 FG), 6 reb, 3 ast, 3 blk & 2 TO

The Raptors travel to Oklahoma City for a game on Tuesday night. The Thunder are still figuring out their rotation without James Harden, but they are likely going to continue playing with a chip on their shoulder as the whole league fawns over Harden. We may see a lot of Dominic McGuire, as I’m concerned Landry Fields doesn’t have the length necessary to bother Kevin Durant’s jumper.

Toronto heads to Dallas on Wednesday night, before returning home for games against Philadelphia and Utah.

Start Time: 6:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2 (also the 2nd of the 3 straight games on NBA TV in the US)

Probable Starting lineups
Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas
Minnesota: Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic

Injury report
Toronto: No injuries to report.
Minnesota: Kevin Love – out until December with a broken hand. Ricky Rubio – out since March with torn ACL.


Pre-game thoughts:

- It will be interesting to see who spends the majority of the game guarding Nikola Pekovic. The Raps were exposed by Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez in the first two games of the season and Pek is probably more of load on the block than either of those guys. Valanciunas may not be the best post defender on the team yet, but it’s only a matter of time until he is. I would like to see that process sped up and I would have no problem seeing him develop with playing time at the expense of winning one or two games.

-Matchup of x-factors – JJ Barea vs John Lucas III. Very similar players, as  neither scoring guard stands taller than six feet. Last season, Barea had a true shooting % of 50, while Lucas was just below him at 49%. Barea will be playing a lot of minutes until Ricky Rubio returns and Coach Casey may increase Lucas’ minutes to matchup. Barea started the season strongly with a team-leading 21 points in their opener against the Kings.

-The T-Wolves have lost 14 of their last 15 trips to Toronto and 8 straight – for whatever that’s worth as these two rosters had a lot of turnover in the off-season. Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy now give the Wolves their best wing tandem since  the days of Latrell Sprewell and Wally World.

-Look for Kyle Lowry’s hot start to continue against the defensively challenged Luke Ridnour. Lowry is a beast when he puts his head down and drives to the rim and his 3-pt shot has looked very consistent through two games. As per @checktheticker, Lowry was the first Raps player since Mike James in 2006, to record 28 pts, 8 reb & 8 ast in a game. He has also amassed 8 steals in two games. Although his steals are often a result of sagging off his man, Lowry has rarely been burned by leaving his check.

Game No. 9: Raptors 97, Timberwolves 87

The Raptors bounced back from a couple of miserable performances this past weekend by simply outworking the T-Wolves for a hard-fought W.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

1- The Battle of Spanish Point Guards. At first I thought it was just us fans, and mostly Raptors fans, that were hyping this game up as a matchup between Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon, but lo and behold, I take my seat at the Air Canada Centre, and what’s the first thing they play on the jumbo-tron before the starting lineups? A video montage of Rubio and Calderon highlights, complete with Spanish subtitles and very authentic Spanish music. For a few seconds, I felt like I had been transported to Spain and was getting ready to watch a bull fight.

There wasn’t much of a one-on-one battle once the dust finally settled. Calderon finished with a solid 14 points and six assists in 41 minutes, while young Ricky finished with a more than respectable 10 points and six dimes in 30 minutes. Watching him play in Euro competitions and international tournaments, I was never really sold on Rubio, but watching his first couple of weeks in the NBA and seeing him live, I’m definitely a believer now. The guy can flat out play, and he looks like a star in the making.

2- Maybe it’s five-and-a-half years too late, maybe it’s not going to last, but wow, Andrea Bargnani, now this is the guy Bryan Colangelo drafted No. 1 overall for a reason. You might see his 11-for-25 shooting or see his nine rebounds and think it’s not much for a seven-footer, but if you actually watched this game, I don’t see how you weren’t impressed with “Il Mago.” He was working his tail off on the defensive end, contesting as many shots as he could get to, was going up in crowds and coming down with the ball, and on offence, was un-guardable for parts of the game. I’m not saying two weeks of solid play should erase years of maddening performances, but I can’t find anything wrong with what Bargnani is doing right now. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, regardless of this team’s record, Andrea Bargnani is playing like an All Star right now.

3- I can’t give Bargnani all that love and not mention Amir Johnson. On Monday night, Johnson simply out-Kevin-Loved Kevin Love. Love gets by with limited natural ability but a lion’s heart and hustle. Amir showed us what it looks like when someone with more natural ability and athleticism puts in the same kind of effort Love does. Amir finished with 19 points despite taking just nine shots, grabbed 11 rebounds, and perhaps most impressive of all, finished with a plus/minus of plus-31 in just 30 minutes of action. He nearly had a double-double (eight points, eight rebounds) in the first quarter alone. Sometimes his silly decision making and inability to avoid foul trouble make watching Amir Johnson insanely frustrating, but when he puts it all together, he reminds us why so many people still have high hopes for him. In the last two games, Johnson has 31 points on 13-of-20 shooting and has grabbed 25 rebounds in 62 minutes. Now the question, as it always is with Amir, is can he do this on a consistent basis?

4- Two guys who didn’t necessarily put up eye-popping numbers but who were noticeable down the stretch were James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan. Johnson didn’t force any shots, which is often his downfall (only took three in 20 minutes) and played some excellent defence to close out the game. The most memorable defensive play of the night for me was watching Johnson come flying in to block what looked to be a sure dunk and two points from the Wolves after being way out of the play. James is at his best when he’s making an impact on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s exactly what he did in this one. Five boards and four blocks in just 20 minutes was more than enough.

As for DeMar, we all know his shot has gone AWOL in the last three games, but what bugged me about his performances against the Nets and Sixers was that he didn’t seem into the game at all, and his body language showed it. Against Minnesota, DeRozan found a way to contribute despite shooting just three-of-11, as the 22-year-old grabbed six rebounds and came up with two huge steals in the game’s final minutes.

5- I know I could not have been the only one left complaining about the officiating in this game. You know how they say that technically, the refs could call a foul on every single trip down the floor? Well either someone bet the “over” on this game, or the refs were just trying to prove the old saying to be true, because what they did in the second quarter was pathetic. The game was robbed of its flow and energy in the first half, as cheap foul after cheap foul was whistled down. In total, the team’s combined for 54 personal fouls (or 1.125 per minute) and 61 free throws. Sometimes games are just overly physical or chippy and warrant those kind of numbers. This was not one of those game.

6- Finally, a note on the sparse crowd (14 097) at the Air Canada Centre. A lot of people in seats around me were talking about how small the crowd was and how bad a sign it was that the Raptors couldn’t get a big crowd for Rubio’s Timberwolves. First of all, as exciting as Rubio and the Timberwolves are to watch on most nights, they are still far from being a legitimate draw around the NBA, so I don’t see why anyone would have expected a very large crowd for a Monday night game against Minnesota. And to be honest, as bad as just over 14,000 sounds, I’m not worried at all. This Raptors team is expected to lose close to 50 out of 66 games this season, they haven’t made the playoffs in four years and they’re still recovering from losing their franchise player less than two years ago. All things considered, I don’t see Toronto’s attendance averages as a concern.

If this team were to suddenly get competitive or eventually become a perennial contender and attendance never picked up, it would be a different story. But we all know the ACC will be consistently filled with even a decent team on the floor, so don’t worry about the current attendance figures.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 30 Min, 19 Pts, 7-9 FG, 5-6 FT, 11 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO

Timberwolves Player of the Game: Kevin Love – 36 Min, 13 Pts, 3-16 FG, 2-4 3PT, 5-10 FT, 14 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 TO (I love Kevin’s hustle, and I’m aware of his numbers, but his sometimes inefficient offensive game and his lack of a defensive game keep me from thinking of him as highly as others do. He’s a phenomenal rebounder and a valuable player, but I’m not sold on him as a superstar.)

The Raps are right back at it in Washington on Tuesday night before flying back to Toronto for a home date with the Kings on Wednesday. This week should be “interesting,” to say the least.

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Rasual Butler, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson
Minnesota: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic

Injury report

Toronto: Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza are both day-to-day.

Minnesota: J.J. Barea is a game-time decision, while Michael Beasley, Brad Miller, Nikola Pekovic and Martell Webster are all out.

I admit it — I’ve got a man-crush on Ricky Rubio. But hey, who doesn’t these days? He’s poetry in motion out there on the court. His cross-court passes hit their targets like finely-tuned lasers, and his bounce passes remind me of a billiards shark sinking bank shots with ease.

I didn’t think he would be this good, this early. In fact, I predicted he would be a bust and ultimately cost Timberwolves GM David Kahn his job. I didn’t think he would fail because he’s European, but because I expected his shooting to hover around the 35 percent mark. Eight games and 225 minutes into his rookie season, he’s shooting 29-for-60 (48 percent) from the field and 7-for-14 (50 percent) from long range. I don’t believe he’ll sustain those averages, but he clearly put in a ton of work on his shot in the off-season — and it’s paying off, big-time.

Another player whose shooting is under a microscope is DeMar DeRozan, who followed up a strong start in that area with a combined 5-for-19 performance over his previous two games. The Raptors are 3-2 this season when DeRozan scores at least 15 points, and they lost all three games when he didn’t.

I predict a bounceback performance from DeRozan tonight, although all eyes will be on the Rubio-Calderon showdown. And why shouldn’t they be? Rubio is the glamour boy of the moment, but Calderon is quietly off to a fantastic start this season and you can bet he’d like to show NBA fans that he’s not ready to give up “The Best Spanish Point Guard in the World” title just yet.

Random thoughts…

  • I played “Guess the NBA Player’s Career Salary Earnings” with a couple of co-workers today and was reminded of how much fun that game is. When I guessed Kevin Garnett’s $270 million career earnings on the nose, I was super-pumped. Then again, I came in about $40 million short of Theo Ratliff’s $102 million total.
  • This Japanese department store is really “in-your-face” with its sales

While searching for a Jerryd Bayless injury update on Twitter, I found this just-released rap track by G-S Tha Dream. It’s called “Jerryd Bayless”. I’m not sure why he picked J-Bay for this song, but it’s actually a pretty decent track.