Archive for the ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’ Category

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If we knew it, then the Raptors players and coaches had to know it. If they couldn’t end their 13-game losing streak at home against the Timberwolves, their streak could reach Cavaliers territory.

The Raps came out with a solid offensive first quarter, but their usual lack of defence prevented them from opening up a large lead.

A good sign was that Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, who have struggled recently, were hot in the first quarter, combining to score Toronto’s first 10 points and 19 of their 33 in the quarter. Minnesota’s five turnovers in the game’s first four minutes and seven in the first quarter also helped the Raptors put up 33 in that first frame.

DeRozan and Bargnani failed to get involved in the offence in the second quarter, and the Raptors’ offence, overall, became sloppy, helping the T-Wolves make a run. The Raps were caught napping for most of the quarter, until a 16-9 run to end the half sent them to the break up four.

The Raptors had their opportunities to extend the lead and really open up the ball game throughout the night, but the T-Wolves found a way to keep it close. Two plays that stick out were the last plays of the first and third quarters. A buzzer-beating Minnesota three at the end of the first quarter was the difference between a five-point Raptors lead and a two-point lead. Later, the Raps looked poised to head into the fourth up eight, before a buzzer-beating tip-in by the Wolves cut it to six. As small as they seem, those five points were a factor in keeping things interesting.

The major factor working to keep the game close was Minnesota’s fury of threes. They made 12 three-pointers on 30 attempts, and seemed to make one every time Toronto started creeping away in the fourth quarter.

What the Raptors did in that fourth quarter though, which they were unable to do in their previous 13 games, was come up with timely stops and make big “response” buckets when they couldn’t stop the Wolves. The final spread of 11 is probably appropriate for how this game went. The Raptors were clearly the better team, but the T-Wolves did just enough to avoid getting embarrassed.

On to the portion of the post where we look at individual performances. Where else to start but Jose Calderon? On a night when he had no true backup point guard, Calderon tied a franchise record (that he already shared with Damon Stoudamire) with 19 assists.

As a team, the Raptors ball movement and willingness to share really stood out, as they racked up an astounding 35 assists on 46 made field goals. Trey Johnson and Julian Wright were commendable in spot-relief of Jose at the point. The other team-stat that leaps off of the page is that the Raptors out-rebounded the league’s best rebounding team.

Amir Johnson continued his solid play by shooting an incredibly efficient 8-of-10 from the field and coming four assists shy of a triple-double. DeRozan used his aforementioned hot start to finish with 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting, though his zero trips to the line for the second straight game might become a concern. The other member of the “Young Onez,” Sonny Weems, probably played his first good game since November. Weems finished with 18 points and shot the ball well, but it was his willingness to move the ball and share the rock instead of taking ill-advised shots that stood out to me.

Bargnani finally broke through with a 30-point game, but you still have to take his game tonight with a grain of salt. Andrea continued to shoot the ball poorly (going 10-of-26 from the field) and ended up jacking up seven three-pointers. He also committed five turnovers. He did seem a little quicker and less hesitant with the ball in his hands, but the numbers beyond his point-total suggest he still isn’t up to full speed.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 36 Min, 19 Pts, 8-10 FG, 3-3 FT, 12 Reb, 6 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 Blk

Timberwolves Player of the Game: Kevin Love – 37 Min, 20 Pts, 5-11 FG, 3-6 3Pt, 7-8 FT, 15 Reb, 2 Ast (Love recorded his 35th consecutive double-double and during the ball game, word got out that he will be commissioner Stern’s selection to replace the injured Yao Ming at this year’s All Star game)

Goat of the Game: Michael Beasley – 13 Min, 4 Pts, 2-7 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 TO

As much as I’ve tried to block the memory of last Saturday’s 103-87 loss to the Timberwolves, I still recall what a hideous and depressing display it was. Tonight, the Raptors have a chance at a small piece of redemption against a team with a 2-22 record in road games this season.

To be blunt, if the Raptors can’t end their losing streak tonight, it might not end for a long, long time. Kevin Love is going to get his numbers (or is it NUMB#RS?) but the Raptors still should be able to pull this one out unless Andrea Bargnani repeats his career-worst 5-for-24 performance from Saturday. These are both terrible teams, but I maintain that the Raptors are slightly less terrible — faint praise, indeed.

Injury report

Toronto: Jerryd Bayless is out with a sprained knee, Leandro Barbosa will be a gametime decision.

Minnesota: Luke Ridnour and Wayne Ellington will both miss tonight’s game due to personal issues.

Five questions

1. Do you think Kevin Love was unfairly snubbed when he was left off the reserves for the Western Conference All-Star Team?

2. Will Love’s snub inspire him to go into “beast mode” tonight?

3. Now that Linas Kleiza’s season is over, who do you think should be the starting small forward for the rest of the season: Sonny Weems or Julian Wright?

4. Which of these two franchises do you think has a brighter future?

5. Why the hell did Michael Beasley bring two cell phones to his pre-draft meeting with the Chicago Bulls?

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Minnesota: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic

Tonight’s pregame song is “Stay Positive” by The Hold Steady. Easy for them to say…

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If you tuned in to watch the 10-36 Timberwolves host the 13-34 Raptors, you got what you expected, or at least what you should have expected from two of the worst and coldest teams in the NBA. In fact, you probably got more than you expected, in a sick, twisted way.

Matt and Jack had to spend the entire first quarter talking about the contingent of Canadian/Raptors fans in attendance in Minnesota (which was nice to see and equally impressive) because there was no basketball game in front of them to talk about. Seriously, the first quarter was highlighted by the Raptors shooting 35 per cent, the T-Wolves shooting 29 per cent, and a dream one-on-one matchup between Alexis Ajinca and Darko Milicic.

From a Raptors perspective of disgrace, things were just warming up. On my count, the Raps shot 5-of-23 in the second quarter, refused to take a step in the paint on offence or move a muscle on defence, let the T-Wolves go on a 13-0 run and as you can tell, played with no sense of urgency, or pride for that matter, whatsoever.

Even worse, the team seemed to feel no shame for their atrocious first half display. In fact, Jay Triano’s halftime interview was totally calm, as he talked about how his team was doing fine defensively and just not making shots on offence.

Jay clearly wasn’t aware that those watching his interview had also actually seen the first half.

Toronto responded with their worst quarter of the night, and headed to the fourth down 21, shooting a feeble 27.6 per cent after three quarters.

Trying to bask in the glory of just their 11th win of the season, the Timberwolves enjoyed every minute of the fourth quarter. They hit some threes at the beginning of the quarter, laughed as the Raptors clanked jumpers and then got to watch Martell Webster take the ball from the three-point line, drive straight down the middle of what passes as Toronto’s defence, and throw down this jam. That made it 91-65 Minnesota, and it became painfully clear for Raptors fans that they were watching one of the worst performances in franchise history.

The Raps went on a bit of a run in the dying minutes to make the final score look somewhat respectable, but that’s typical of an NBA blowout. This game was ugly from the get-go, and only one team chose to jump up and fight for a rare victory.

The Raptors had no effort out of the gates, and no fight when they needed it. No matter how you slice it, they just didn’t want the victory. If you’re going to come with the “all pro athletes want to win” argument, then I suggest you review the game film from Saturday night.

The only player in black who demonstrated an ounce of competitive spirit was Ed Davis, but it’s hard for a 21-year-old rookie to carry a team. The other guy you can usually count on for an honest effort, Julian Wright, didn’t see the floor until there were seven minutes remaining in the game, because Jay Triano thought Sonny Weems had earned his way back into the starting lineup, gave him 28 minutes and went to Trey Johnson when Sonny needed a break. As if Jay hadn’t given Raptors fans enough reason to call for his head.

Then there’s this gem. After the game, Triano praised his team’s defence, even though anyone who saw the game knows the defensive effort was laughable and the Wolves simply missed a lot of makeable shots. But Jay wasn’t done. I kid you not, Jay said he thought his team “battled.” How does management allow Triano to insult fans’ intelligence like that, time after time?

You may have noticed that DeMar DeRozan has hit a bit of a rut after his stellar month. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with Sonny Weems’ return to the lineup. Both players have similar skill-sets, and it’s become clear that DeRozan thrives without Weems running alongside him. For the sake of DeMar’s development, hopefully there’s a team out there willing to give Sonny a chance to end the season with them.

Raptors Player of the Game: Ed Davis -25 Min, 15 Pts,  7-10 FG, 1-4 FT, 11 Reb

Timberwolves Player of the Game: Kevin Love -24 Min, 21 Pts, 6-10 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 7-8 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Goat of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 32 Min, 15 Pts, 5-24 FG, 0-5 3Pt, 5-6 FT, 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 Blk

The Minnesota Timberwolves only have two more wins than the worst team in the NBA (the Cleveland Cavaliers) and yet I consider them to be in the top half of teams I find intriguing to watch. Obviously, Kevin Love has a lot to do with that. But it helps that their starting center and small forward were both second overall picks. It seems improbable that a team with this much “talent” could be this bad.

At least with the Raptors, I expected them to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season based on what I saw on their roster. With the T-Wolves, I knew that Love could be a 16 and 12 guy if he made the starting lineup (I obviously underestimated him) and Darko and Beasley struck me as prospects that just needed the right opportunity to shine with the chance to play regularly.

Not that anybody who writes about the Raptors should throw stones about the defence of any other team, but the T-Wolves are universally poor on that end and Beasley and Love are the only legitimate scoring options on the team. Darko can block shots but it now appears that’s the only basketball skill of which he’ll ever be above average. And the remainder of their roster is pretty desolate. In a twisted way, it would be an intriuging exercise to see which squad would win if the T-Wolves minus Darko, K-Love and Beasley faced the Heat minus LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

The Timberwolves have lost their last six games and 11 of their last 12, so the Raptors are finally facing a team that isn’t “rounding into form” at this point in the season. Both teams have an uncanny ability to blow winnable games in the fourth quarter, so the most fascinating storyline of this matchup is which team will screw up less late in the game and stumble their way to an undeserved win. And if that preview doesn’t get you pumped up, you need to go on anti-depressants.

Injury report

Toronto: Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza are still out, Joey Dorsey is questionable

Minnesota: The T-Wolves are injury-free, which means they’re exactly as bad as their 10-36 record shows.

Five questions

1. Do you think Kevin Love deserves to play in the All-Star Game?

2. Do you think Bryan Colangelo should have tried to acquire Michael Beasley in the Chris Bosh trade to Miami?

3. Do you agree with me that T-Wolves assistant coach Bill Laimbeer would make a great replacement for Jay Triano?

4. After Amir Johnson’s performance last night, are any of you brave and/or stupid enough to continue to claim that he’s not worth his contract?

5. If Andrea Bargnani and Darko Milicic inexplicably get into a fight, who will you put your money on?

Start time: 8:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Liveblog: theScore.com and ScoreMobile with Holly MacKenzie
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Julian Wright, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Minnesota: Luke Ridnour, Corey Brewer, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic

Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with a pregame song because I’m unfamiliar with the musicians based in the hometown of the Raptors’ opponents, but that wasn’t an issue with the Raptors’ first 2010-11 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. While The Hold Steady is considered a Brooklyn-based band, the lead singer and lyricist, Craig Finn, is from Minnesota and The Hold Steady is one of my favourite bands. Before I watched any of their videos, I thought of Finn as a drunk Bruce Springsteen. Now that I’ve watched the video of their best song, his mannerisms remind me of a drunk, heavier Elvis Costello. Regardless, “Stuck Between Stations” is one of the great rock songs of the past decade.