Posts Tagged ‘Morning Tip’

Wolves, Wizards On Different Paths




VIDEO: Kevin Love is all smiles after a win over Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In an effort to soften the blow, we put our sunglasses on when scanning back at our preseason predictions for this season.

There are so many hits and misses, it helps to have a little shade to work with for the ugly misses. For every prediction we hit out of the park (thank you Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves), there is a prediction that seems to go horribly wrong (there’s that mess in Cleveland and, of course, that wobbly start from John Wall and the Washington Wizards).

The BluBlockers are needed for tonight’s Timberwolves-Wizards matchup tonight in D.C. (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), a duel between teams on very different paths early on this season. Both teams are loaded with young talent and have quality depth. But the results have been vastly different for the two teams that are inextricably linked — Wizards coach Randy Wittman used to be Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman while the boss in Minnesota, Flip Saunders, once coached the Wizards.

While Wall and the Wizards have struggled to an ugly 2-7 start, including their current four-game losing streak, Love and the Timberwolves have shown themselves to be an exciting and aggressive crew.

At 7-4, the Wolves are living up to all of the hype, internal and otherwise. Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Co. have managed to take on heightened expectations and handle them appropriately. Throw in that Chase Budinger is back and practicing with the team and Minnesota is looking even better.

Love is in the MVP mix, coach Rick Adelman‘s got his supporting cast thriving and the roster’s balance and depth is finally paying dividends. The Wolves are in the midst of back-to-back grueling stretches of five games in seven nights, a mettle-testing, early-season grind that will could serve them well months from now.

Tonight’s game kicks off a monster week that will see Adelman’s team face off against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at home and the Brooklyn Nets Friday at the Target Center. Then comes a road date in Houston with the Rockets on Saturday and they’ll finish this stretch up in Indiana on Nov. 25.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“I don’t know if [the league schedule-makers] know that we’re almost to Canada and Houston’s almost all the way to Mexico,” Adelman told reporters Monday.

When your team is top three in the league in scoring and set to get another boost whenever Budinger returns to the rotation, none of the teams you are blindsiding will grant you any sympathy.

The Wizards, meanwhile, could use a little sympathy … and anything else they can get right now. When their owner, Ted Leonsis, used every opportunity in the lead up to the season to tout his team as a legitimate playoff contender in the East, he surely did not envision this humbling start.

Signing Wall to an $80 million maximum contract extension in August was supposed to be a sign of the commitment Leonsis was making not only to the young face of the franchise, but to the future. Wall was not only going to be the change agent for the Wizards on the court, his extension was also supposed to serve as the symbolic change in the way the Wizards did business going forward.

Veterans would see that the organization was serious about putting the resources in the right places and taking that next step from playoff pretender to contender. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in. As sound as the plan looked on paper, the Wizards simply didn’t have the right mix.

As talented as Wall and his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal one of a handful of early candidates for the league’s Most Improved Player award — surely are, something is still missing.

As my The Beat colleague and TNT’s own David Aldridge pointed out in The Morning Tip, Wall does not shoulder the burden of the Wizards’ slow start on his own. They’re not the same defensive monster they were a year ago, not with Marcin Gortat taking Emeka Okafor‘s place in the lineup.

A top-10 defensive unit last season, the Wizards are now a top-10 scoring team but falling woefully short on the defensive side. As DA pointed out, the slightest tweak to the Wizards’ rotation and chemistry has altered the product on the floor dramatically:

Nene, whose antipathy for banging in the post was well-known, was especially good with Okafor. The quintet of Nene, Okafor, Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Wall was one of the league’s best defensive fivesomes last year. It’s not that Gortat is a horrible defender. He tries. But opponents, according to the league’s player tracking stats, are shooting 56.7 percent against him on shots at the rim. (By comparison, opponents are shooting 31.4 and 31.5 percent, respectively, on shots at the rim against New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.)

“March has done a good job for us,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Saturday. “No question, ‘Mek was solid back there for us, the last line of defense for us, with his basketball knowledge. I think what March brings, though, is that big guy who can challenge at the rim. He’s also got a very good IQ. Defense is a matter of getting your knees dirty each and every night. It’s not a fun thing, but it’s a valuable thing. That’s where we have to get back to, understanding how valuable that is for us to be a good team.”

A good team?

How about a playoff team?

After all, that’s what we all predicted for the ‘Wolves and Wizards this season. But as of right now only one of these teams is living up to that expectation.

‘Melo In Manhattan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Those good vibrations about George Karl‘s 1,000th win lasted all of what, a day?

You had to know it was coming with that win in Toronto Friday night piggybacking on a Sunday trip to New York, where Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony would face an inquisition about his future plans.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann reported, ‘Melo was mum on his future. But sources, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan, insist that it’s Gotham or bust for the All-Star forward:

The source, using the most definitive language possible, confirmed what has been widely speculated around the NBA over the past two months as Anthony has been at the center of trade talks involving numerous teams.

And while other franchises might be able to make better offers, Anthony will not agree to sign anywhere long-term unless he is dealt to New York, according to the source, who has been privy to private discussions between Anthony, his representatives and the Nuggets organization.

Whatever you think of the tactic or the Nuggets’ handling of this entire affair, at least you know that Anthony has his eyes focused on the prize. (We’re not enamored with the way anyone has handled this matter, but at this point, it is what it is.)

Who wouldn’t want to join Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton in Mike D’Antoni‘s system right now? The Knicks are rolling. Stoudemire is playing MVP-caliber basketball and Felton is showing that he was severely underrated by many (us included) during the free agent summer of 2010.

If Anthony is hunting the best possible situation outside of the Western Conference (desired location, competitive team and a chance for long-term success), he couldn’t choose much better. Although, my main man David Aldridge says in his Morning Tip that the Nets believe they remain the leader for ‘Melo because they can offer Derrick Favors and draft picks that the Knicks do not have.

What is clear is that ‘Melo is operating from a position of supreme power. The Nuggets won’t get anything of true value with Anthony as a half-season rental moved at the February trade deadline. If he won’t sign an extension unless he’s moved to the Knicks, Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri needs to Facebook friend Knicks GM Donnie Walsh and get to the business of hammering out a deal that works for all involved.

Surely, Nuggets fans don’t want to hear it. They’re faced with the prospect of losing their franchise player and the fragile uncertainty that accompanies life without him (the last time the Nuggets played without Anthony on the roster they won 17 games).

But you can’t stop the inevitable.

That “Melo in Manhattan” headline is on the way.

Of that, there seems to be little doubt.