Posts Tagged ‘Nikola Pekovic’

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A “defining moment” for the Heat | Warriors talk it out | Lillard becomes a leader | Beal goes down in Wizards’ win | Lakers can move on without Jackson

No. 1: A “defining moment” for the Heat — When they won their first six games after the All-Star break, we thought the Miami Heat had flipped the switch in preparation for the playoffs. But they’ve since lost five of their last six, falling to the below-.500 Denver Nuggets at home on Friday. There’s still a month left in the regular season, but LeBron James believes this is a “defining moment” for the champs, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes:

This shrine of basketball on Biscayne Bay hasn’t known tedium for some time, but a little bit of that stuff has crept into the cracks of the hardwood in recent days. The Heat (44-19) has lost five of its past six games and is 3-5 in March.

“A tough loss at home, and we just have to figure it out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not the way this streak started. Sometimes, it just happens to you in this league where things turn and moment changes and you find yourself in a hole you feel like you can’t get out of. Obviously, we’ll be able to get out of it. When? We don’t know.”

Said James: “We’ve been here before. It has been a while, but we’ve been here before, and this moment will either define our season or end our season. … We always have one defining moment, and this is it right here for us.”

***

No. 2: Warriors talk it out — The Heat weren’t the only good team to suffer an embarrassing loss at home on Friday. The Golden State Warriors gave up 68 points across the second and third quarters in a 103-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s not acceptable for a team that has mostly won with defense this season. So the Dubs aired it out in a post-game meeting, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News writes:

Mark Jackson took extra, extra time to come out to speak to the media and spoke about as harshly as he has allowed himself to during his Warriors tenure–so the mood was clearly a little different.

Why? This season has been built on defense, and the Warriors built a huge early lead and then got shredded by a bad Cleveland team, which is just about what Jackson said.

Then, after Jackson’s presser, maybe 30 minutes after the game ended, the locker room was opened to the media and players were noticeably still talking to each other – not at all heatedly, but with nods and solemn expressions.

One player stood out – Stephen Curry was still in uniform and walked up to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bogut and David Lee (among others) and had long one-on-one discussions in the locker room corridors.

***

No. 3: Lillard becomes a leader — Speaking of locker room meetings, the Blazers had one after Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio, their fourth straight. And it started with Damian Lillard, who doesn’t want to settle for having just played hard. He wants results and Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes that the point guard’s speech may have been a turning point for the Blazers:

“Hold on,” Lillard said.

And from there, a passionate, pointed and spontaneous flow of emotions and leadership came from Lillard. His interjection, and subsequent soliloquy, sparked a team meeting. The players and coaches want the details of the meeting to stay in house, but Lillard said the essence of his speech was that it was up to the players, not the coaches, to step up in crunch time, and to not accept the “we competed hard” as a pacifier for losing.

“He took control,” said Dorell Wright, who is in his 10th NBA season. “It was a big step for him.”

Added Wesley Matthews: “It showed he’s grown. He’s one of those guys who has always led by example, and he put it on himself. He was tired of losing so he voiced his opinion. It was good.”

***

No. 4: Beal goes down in Wizards’ win — The Washington Wizards came back from six down in the final 65 seconds of regulation to win in Orlando on Friday. But Bradley Beal turned his right ankle in overtime, meaning that the win may cost the Wizards in the long run. They play a big game against the Nets – with whom they’re tied in the standings – in Washington on Saturday. Michael Lee of the Washington Post had the story from Orlando:

The night didn’t end without a brief scare. On the next possession, Beal forced rookie Victor Oladipo (15 points) into missing a driving layup and rolled his right ankle when he landed. Beal hit the floor, weeping in the hardwood, thinking that he had broken his ankle, as his concerned teammates gathered around him. Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. eventually had to carry Beal to the locker room but he walked out of the arena on his own power.

“I was just hoping it wasn’t broken. That’s always a player’s first instinct — hope and pray it’s nothing too too serious and fortunately, it was only a sprain,” Beal said. “We just keep going, keep attacking. You’re not always going to stay hot all the time. You’re not going to make all your shots. For us to get this win up underneath us is a great feeling.”

***

No. 5: Lakers can move on without Jackson — It’s been almost three years since Phil Jackson left the Los Angeles Lakers, but only now can the franchise finally have some closure. Lakers fans may still want Phil, but he was never going to get what he wanted (full control) in L.A. Ramona Shelburne has a good read on the Jackson story from the Lakers’ perspective:

Over the past three years, he’s been neither coach nor consultant. His fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is the one still receiving Laker paychecks, not him. But in his absence, Jackson’s presence has only grown larger among the Lakers and their fans. By remaining in the shadows, his enormous shadow has hung over the franchise. The “We want Phil” chants still ring out at Staples Center from time to time.

People got used to it that way. It was comforting to know Jackson was still there, close by. Just a tweet away. That also made it hard for other things to grow, but it was better than the alternative.

When legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, Jackson was still the one subsuming that patriarchal role in this very strange, dysfunctional saga. The Lakers and their fans never really had to stare into the abyss in front of them.

Now they do. That it took a full week for Jackson to formally sign on as the Knicks president after word of their serious mutual interest leaked only prolonged the torture for Laker fans.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a response to an Op-Ed by agent Jeff Schwartz, Chris Paul detailed the NBPA’s search for a new executive director … In an up-and-down season, Jonas Valanciunas had a big night against the Grizzlies … Nikola Pekovic couldn’t play through ankle pain on FridayThe Nets have signed Jason Collins for the remainder of the season … and O.J. Mayo is out of the Bucks’ rotation.

ICYMI of The Night: Lillard backed up his words, scoring 27 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter) in Friday’s win in New Orleans:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

A 5-Horse Race For West Seeds 6 – 8?


VIDEO: Kevin Love has 33 points and 19 rebounds to lift the Wolves over the Nuggets

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A five-horse sprint to capture playoffs seeds 6 through 8 could be the most heated Western Conference race of the stretch run.

At the top of the standings, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are battling it out for the top seed while the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston and Portland are jockeying for seeds 3 through 5.

At the bottom it’s an ever-tightening battle for survival, not just to get into the playoffs, but if at all possible to seize the No. 6 seed and go for broke against anybody other than the Thunder or Spurs.

Entering Tuesday night’s games, No. 6 Golden State and No. 7 Phoenix both have 24 losses and are separated by one game in the win column. No. 8 Dallas and No. 9 Memphis both have 25 losses and are separated by two games in the win column. Dallas has the same number of wins as Golden State  and Memphis has one fewer win than Phoenix.

Got it?

In simple terms, seeds 6 through 9 are separated by 1 1/2 games.

And don’t totally dismiss the No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves just yet. Fueled by Kevin Love‘s breathtaking February and the return of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, the Wolves are making a desperate attempt to get back into playoff contention, but still remain five games behind Dallas.

All five teams have 23 games or fewer remaining. All have attractive stretches where they can potentially make up ground in a hurry, but all also have pitfalls where the dream can just as quickly come to a crashing halt.

Below is a breakdown of the five teams in contention. How many home games does each have? How many games against the West? The East? Against Indiana and Miami? Where must each team take care of business? And where must each simply survive?

Take a look:

No. 6 Golden State Warriors (36-24)

> Games left: 22 (13 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Tonight at Indiana (7 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 15 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 7 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 11 (Indiana, Phoenix, Dallas 2, L.A. Clippers, Portland 2, San Antonio 2, Memphis, Minnesota)

> Moving time: Five-game homestand from March 18 – 30 (Orlando, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Memphis, New York)

> Must-haves: March 9 vs. Phoenix; March 11 vs. Dallas; March 28 vs. Memphis, April 1 at Dallas

> Must survive: March 9 – 16 (vs. Phoenix, vs. Dallas, at L.A. Clippers, vs. Cleveland, at Portland)

> Wild card: The offense has struggled, but can they rely on their No. 1 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in the West to win pressure games?

==========================

No. 7 Phoenix Suns (35-24)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 away)

> Next game: Tonight vs. L.A. Clippers (9 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 14 (10 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (0 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (L.A. Clippers 3, Oklahoma City 2, Golden State, Toronto, Minnesota, Washington, Portland, San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis)

> Moving time: March 12-21 (vs. Cleveland, at Boston, at Toronto, at Brooklyn, vs. Orlando, vs. Detroit)

> Survival time: March 9 at Golden State, March 23 at Minnesota, March 28 vs. New York, March 30 at L.A. Lakers

> Wild card: Eric Bledsoe is practicing. Will he return and, if so, can he and Goran Dragic recapture their early-season magic?

==========================

No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (36-25)

> Games left: 21 (12 home, 9 away)

> Next game: Wednesday at Denver

> vs. West: 18 (9 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 3 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Portland, Indiana, Golden State 2, Oklahoma City 2, Minnesota, L.A. Clippers 2, San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis)

> Moving time: First four of a season-long eight-game homestand March 17 – April 1 (Boston, Minnesota, Denver, Brooklyn)

> Must-haves: March 11 at Golden State; March 12 at Utah; April 1 vs. Golden State; April 12 vs. Phoenix; April 16 at Memphis

> Survival time: Wednesday – March 16 (at Denver, vs. Portland, vs. Indiana, at Golden State, at Utah, at Oklahoma  City) and March 25 – April 3 (vs. Oklahoma City, vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Sacramento, vs. Golden State, at L.A. Clippers)

> Wild card: Dirk Nowitzki, 35, will be solid, but can Monta Ellis, in the playoffs just twice in his career, elevate his game another rung?

==========================

No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (33-25)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at Brooklyn

> vs. West: 14 (6 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (1 vs. Indiana, 2 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 13 (Chicago, Portland 2, Toronto, Miami 2, Indiana, Minnesota 2, Golden State, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas)

> Moving time: Saturday – March 19 (vs. Charlotte, vs. Portland, at New Orleans, at Toronto, at Philadelphia, vs. Utah)

> Must-haves: March 15 at Philadelphia, March 19 vs. Utah,  April 13 at L.A. Lakers, April 14 at Phoenix, April 16 vs. Dallas

> Survival time: March 19-30 (at Miami, vs. Indiana, vs. Minnesota, at Utah, Golden State, at Portland)

> Wild card: Assuming 3s aren’t going to start falling from the sky, can Memphis keep turning up its defensive intensity? Overall, the Griz’s D ranks just behind the … Timberwolves?

==========================

No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves (30-29)

> Games left: 23 (14 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at New York

> vs. West: 13 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 10 (0 vs. Indiana, 1 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Toronto, Dallas, Houston 2, Phoenix, Memphis 2, L.A. Clippers, Miami, San Antonio, Chicago, Golden State)

> Moving time: Wednesday – March 16 (vs. New York, vs. Detroit, vs. Toronto, vs. Milwaukee, at Charlotte, vs. Sacramento)

> Must-haves: March 19 at Dallas, March 23 vs. Phoenix, March 24 at Memphis, April 2 vs. Memphis, April 14 at Golden State

> Survival time: March 31 – April 11 (vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Memphis, at Miami, at Orlando, vs. San Antonio, vs. Chicago, vs. Houston)

> Wild card: Can everybody stay healthy down the stretch run?

Sizing Up Love: Dunks, Data Or Victories?


VIDEO: Kevin Love executes perfect pass and dunk after practice in Phoenix

When taking the measure of an NBA superstar, what’s your preferred yardstick: Highlight videos or cold, hard analytics? Something visceral and dazzlingly in the moment, or something statistical, built on percentages and decimal points?

Minnesota’s Kevin Love had you covered both ways Thursday.

The fun stuff occurred after the Timberwolves’ practice in the Phoenix Suns’ gym at U.S. Airways Center, as the Wolves – after beating the Suns Tuesday, 110-101 – stuck around for a few days before heading to Sacramento for their game Saturday against the Kings. In an homage to LeBron James‘ impromptu dunk show after Miami’s practice on the same court earlier this month, a shirtless Love fired a ball off the side wall, caught it on the bounce and threw down a reverse, two-handed slam.

All of it, right down to the barechestedness, was just like LeBron. Only this time it was captured by teammate Ronny Turiaf on rookie Gorgui Dieng‘s cell phone.

Now it’s time for the math: The gap in the Wolves’ schedule allowed for some numbers-crunching that showed how much impact Love and his All-Star season has had on his Minnesota teammates.

If the 6-foot-10 power forward’s 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game aren’t enough, or his 38.4 percent 3-point percentage, a 28.3 PER rating, those 48 double-doubles (one triple-double) and 20 games scoring 30 points or more, consider how much better the other Wolves players are when Love is on the court with them than when he’s not.

Point guard Ricky Rubio, for instance, has an offensive rating of 109.8 and a defensive rating of 102.2 in the 1,603 minutes he has played alongside Love this season, a net rating of plus-7.6. In the 188 minutes Rubio has been out there without Love, those stats drop to 97.6 and 105.9, a minus-8.3.

Shooter Kevin Martin has had the same pattern: 107.1/102.8/plus-4.3 with Love, 100.7/108.2/minus-7.5 without him.

So has center Nikola Pekovic, at 109.7/102.8/plus-6.9 vs. 95.0/103.2/minus-8.1.

And Corey Brewer, 110.1/103.0/plus-7.0 vs. 95.2/101.7/minus-6.6.

And J.J. Barea, 105.3/100.1/plus-5.1 vs. 91.3/104.5/minus-13.1.

Love’s own on/off numbers for the Wolves: 113.8/104.8/plus-9.0 in 1,956 minutes played vs. 99.5/107.9/minus-8.4 in 784 on the side.

Love’s impact shows up in other ways. Martin, for example, has hit 43.9 percent of his field goal attempts with the big guy around to draw defenders but just 33.7 percent when he’s not. Rubio, Pekovic, Brewer, Barea and Chase Budinger also have shot better with Love on the court.

Only Turiaf of all the Wolves players, curiously, has been more efficient and/or productive with Love out of the game. Maybe that has something to do with some overlap in where they’re at their best.

So which is it that impresses you more: The grainy dunk-show video in all its individual glory, or the hardcore data tied to teammates?

Or are you old school, focusing on Minnesota’s 28-29 record and dreary spot (10th) in the Western Conference standings and withholding your ooh‘s and aah‘s until Love makes his impact felt with a playoff berth? Fair enough.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap, a quick rundown of the 12 games played Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh rises to sink Blazers | Smith lashes out at Cheeks | Clippers interested in Bynum? | Wolves back to .500

No. 1: Bosh rises to sink Blazers — On a night the Miami Heat were looking to avoid consecutive losses for the third time this season, LeBron James sat out with a groin injury and Dwyane Wade didn’t have it going. But there was the often overlooked member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, an All-Star in his own right, standing by to save the day. The Heat’s power forward outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge, posting 37 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 1 team. In the final huddle Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play, but Bosh overruled it, wanting to take the 3, and Spoelstra smartly rolled with it. After Bosh drilled the shot, the Heat bench, including James, erupted and showered Bosh with a wild celebration that revealed how big that win was and how much Bosh’s teammates enjoy seeing him succeed.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report provides the details:

“My call at the end of the game was much more conservative,” Spoelstra said, after the Heat’s 108-107 victory. “I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said no, I want it for three.”

Bosh wanted the extra space, especially since he knew his momentum would take him away from the hoop anyway.

He wanted the extra point too.

“I told him I wanted to go for the jugular,” Bosh said.

“So he overruled it and became a prophet,” Spoelstra said. “Why did I even diagram something else for him? I mean, he already hit two threes. He was feeling it, he wanted it, and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ It was much better than what I had planned.”

It was. So much better.

Norris Cole inbounded to Dwyane Wade from the left side, with Mario Chalmers running Damian Lillard down the baseline from right to left, while Ray Allen occupied Mo Williams‘ attention on the left wing. It was similar to the previous play, in which Allen’s screen freed Wade for a slam.

Bosh set a brush screen—and this time, Aldridge left him to help Nicolas Batum chase down Wade.

“My job was to drive his man to me,” Wade said.

It went just as they planned.

“It didn’t really go exactly like that,” Wade said.

OK, it didn’t. Wade lost the handle briefly, before chucking the ball behind him on one bounce, fortunate that Williams didn’t budge.

“He threw a crazy pass a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Bosh said. “But I was able to see it, nobody was in the vicinity, so I didn’t have to rush, and I was able to lock into the goal the whole time.”

Bosh collected it with his left side touching the three-point line, backing up, stepping in and launching from 26 feet with 2.6 seconds left.

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

No. 2: Smith lashes out at Cheeks — The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of hitting .500, but have now lost four of five and two in a row, blasted on back-to-back nights by Orlando and then at Washington on Saturday. And now the Pistons have the first signs of internal conflict brewing with big free-agent acquisition Josh Smith unhappy about being benched for the entire second half and suggesting that coach Maurice Cheeks called him out for not playing hard. As David Mayo of MLive reports:

Josh Smith didn’t play the second half of a 106-82 blowout against the Washington Wizards, the second time head coach Maurice Cheeks has made that decision this season.

This time, Smith suggested Cheeks called him out for not playing hard, and that he took “real offense” to the accusation.

Smith also was benched the second half of a Nov. 12 game at Golden State.

“Like I told y’all before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna be tested,” Smith said. “It’s either that we’re gonna come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what’s really at hand?”

What’s really at hand is the Pistons (14-18) have lost four of five, bombed in a two-game road trip against sub-.500 teams this weekend, and now have their first hint of internal upheaval.

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

Asked if Smith will start Monday’s home rematch with the Wizards, Cheeks replied, “I assume he will. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. We’ll wait until that next game gets there.”

Smith said he isn’t inclined to have a personal discussion with Cheeks about their disagreement before the next game.

“To me, it’s over with,” Smith said. “But you know, some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not saying that he (Cheeks) does. I don’t know.

“But I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in the coach’s office and have one-on-one sitdowns. I’m more of a team morale guy, worrying about what we can do, as far as teammates are concerned, to make ourselves more successful.”

***

No. 3: Clippers interested in Bynum?The former Lakers big man, troubled by knee injuries and possibly a lack of desire to play at the highest level, was suspended indefinitely by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team. Reports have the Cavs eager to deal Andrew Bynum. The Clippers, in need of frontline support behind center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin, could be one team interested in trying to make it work with the troubled 7-footer who had not long ago put himself in the discussion alongside Dwight Howard as the league’s top center. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The Clippers would have interest in Bynum if he was released by the Cavaliers, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But according to one Eastern Conference executive, the Clippers would have competition for Bynum because the Miami Heat also would have interest in the seven-footer.

The Clippers have the NBA-maximum 15-player roster and would have to waive a player if they were to sign Bynum, who is still only 26.

The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal over the summer. But only $6 million of Bynum’s $12.2-million contract for this season is guaranteed if he is waived before Jan. 7.

The Eastern Conference executive said it’s possible Bynum will be released by the Cavaliers in early January if they can’t trade him so the team is not on the hook for the last $6 million Bynum would be owed.

Bynum has averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes in the 24 games he has played with the Cavaliers. He had 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes when he started for the Cavaliers against the Clippers on Dec. 7

.***

No. 4: Wolves back to .500It had been since Dec. 10-11 that the Minnesota Timberwolves had won consecutive games. A team expected to make the playoffs this season following last year’s disastrous injury problems, the Wolves have yet to find any consistency and have lost late leads in multiple games. On Saturday night, they avoided a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back, blowing out woeful Milwaukee to get back to .500. They haven’t won three in a row since starting the season with three consecutive victories. They’ll get the chance to match their season-high win streak at home on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they handled twice in November. Kent Youngblood of the Minnesota Star Tribune has the story:

The message, at halftime, was something like this: Don’t let it happen again.

The Timberwolves were winning against the lowly Bucks on the road Saturday night, but Milwaukee was getting too many easy baskets and points in the paint. This was feeling a bit too much like last week’s game against the Lakers. Or the week before in Boston, when the Wolves had followed an impressive win with a listless loss.

Not to worry.

With Kevin Love leading the way, the Wolves scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and built their lead to as much as 31 late in the quarter at Bradley Center. That was enough to withstand some shoddy play by the bench to start the fourth quarter. The result was a 117-95 victory that ended a three-game road losing streak and put the Wolves (15-15) back at .500 with five of their next six games at home.

“We haven’t played great in the second night of back-to-backs,” said Love, who scored 33 points with 15 rebounds. He made four of six three-pointers and had six assists. It was his 10th consecutive game with 25 or more points, most in the league this season, and his fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds.

The Wolves, who won Friday against Washington, have won two in a row, sweeping both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time in eight tries this season. Love and center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage of a Bucks lineup missing 6-11 John Henson. Kevin Martin added 20 points and Corey Brewer had 12.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Deron Williams‘ season keeps getting uglier as Nets get crushed by superior Pacers … Knicks hope to get Carmelo Anthony back for tough Texas road swing. … Bradley Beal makes welcome return 24 hours after limping off the floor and helps Wizards rout of Pistons … Nets center Brook Lopez will undergo foot surgery next Saturday

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end

Timberwolves’ History, A Tale of 5 Kevins


VIDEO: Minnesota history, in five guys named Kevin

– San Antonio vs. Minnesota, in Mexico City, Wednesday night (9:30 ET) on NBA TV –

Surnames are for plaques and record books. Nicknames are for broadcasters. But first names are for the fans, in a familiarity bred across years.

You can rough out a pretty rich history of the NBA sticking entirely to some of the greatest players’ first, or given, names: Wilt. Oscar. Elgin. Willis. Julius. Kareem. Moses. Larry. Earvin. Dominique. Charles. Isiah. Michael. Karl. Shaquille. Kobe. LeBron. Carmelo. Amar’e. Dwyane. Dwight.

It helps when the name is exotic, the game is transcendent or, ideally, both. But that’s not always necessary. Consider the Minnesota Timberwolves, where a pretty strong timeline can be drawn entirely through a handful of fellows named, simply, Kevin.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that moniker. A noble line of Kevins has populated the league , from Duckworth, Grevey and Johnson to Porter, Willis and Loughery, not to mention Restani, Kunnert, Edwards and Ollie. There’s a star player in Oklahoma City well on his way to appropriating the name entirely, making Kevin his own the way Kleenex glommed onto facial tissue.

But what are the odds that one franchise could largely trace its heritage across a quarter century through that name? Take Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with a pebble-grained twist, and you have Five Degrees of Kevin, Minnesota style:

KEVIN HARLAN

Harlan (right) with Garnett, 2004

Kevin Harlan (right) with Kevin Garnett, 2004
(David Sherman/NBAE)

The challenge for any expansion team is to make games entertaining even when the team isn’t. Entering the league in 1989 with the Orlando Magic, the Wolves didn’t always manage that (the NBA home-attendance record they set and still hold was based on novelty and the expansive Metrodome seating capacity that first season). But the team’s radio broadcasts were something special, thanks to a 28-year-old “voice of” in his first big-time gig.

Kevin Harlan was one part play-by-play announcer, two parts carnival barker in the Timberwolves’ early, raggedy days. He embraced the role.

“The success of the team in those early years was almost secondary to selling the NBA, selling Michael Jordan, selling the Celtics, selling the return of the league to the Twin Cities,” Harlan said recently by phone, on the road again for a Thursday night TNT doubleheader. “After awhile, it wasn’t the new flashy car anymore. Now the car had some miles on it and it was still getting the same [poor] gas mileage. They had some pretty dark days in there.”

Harlan, son of former Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan and a one-time airline pilot wannabe, logged his miles for nine seasons as the Wolves’ radio (and occasionally TV) announcer. Strapped with a sputtering basketball operation that lost 60 games or more in five of its first six seasons, Harlan, game host Tom Hanneman, sidekicks such as Quinn Buckner and Trent Tucker opted for irreverence over irrelevance.

They cracked wise on the air, concocted timeout and halftime video bits, conspired to drop “words of the night” into broadcasts for their own amusement, turned the team mascot Crunch into a cult hero and put Twin Cities notables such as music producer Jimmy (Jam) Harris and wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura in guest headsets. When local legend Kevin McHale came aboard after his Boston Celtics career, the antics – and the basketball insight – jumped considerably.

Kevin No. 1, meet Kevin No. 2.

“We knew the team rarely was going to win, and it was on the personality of the broadcasters we had. Certainly McHale,” Harlan said. “He was the kerosene on the fire. He was funny, yet biting and honest – he had everything. He was incredibly insightful and he had the name.

“He really did not care what anybody thought. The league would call our front office and complain about what Kevin was saying, whether he was getting on an official or making fun of a player. It wasn’t like a college frat party, but we knew the address.”

Harlan stuck around long enough to see McHale promoted into the front office and Minnesota make the first two of eight straight playoff appearances. As the team improved, the broadcasts added heft, but Harlan’s personality never waned. He literally would rise out of his courtside chair on some calls. Some of his catchphrases – “No regard for human life!” – linger 15 years after he left for greener network pastures.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone who has the passion, and is so upbeat, as he is every day,” said Flip Saunders, arguably – with owner Glen Taylor – one of the two most important people in franchise history not named Kevin. “Even when they were getting their [butts] kicked here, it was going to be ‘better the next day.’ He’s always been extremely positive in what he’s done and that’s why he’s one of the best in the world.”

Harlan would growl J.R. Rider‘s name. He’d lose it sometimes on Tom “Googly-oogly-otta, baby!” But the one that stuck best was hanging “The Big Ticket” on Kevin Garnett.

“Always electrifying,” Garnett said of Harlan the other day. “No matter what he’s going through, it always seems like he’s in the same playful mood. Refreshing is the word I would use. Not only great to work with but great to be around. A true sense of a friend and a breath of fresh air.”

So you’re good with the “Ticket” thing?

“Absolutely. It’s who I am.”

KEVIN McHALE

Kevin McHale, 2009

Kevin McHale, 2009 (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

The second-most famous son of Hibbing, Minn. – Bob Dylan, after all, calls it his hometown – wanted little more after his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Celtics than to come home, hunt, golf and keep a hand in basketball. A native of the state’s Iron Range and a Big Ten star at the University of Minnesota, McHale initially worked with Wolves big men and soon took a seat next to Harlan.

The team’s worst nights, when the two would largely ignore the game and banter on air between fistfuls of popcorn, often were the best, too.

Then the Wolves nearly got sold to New Orleans in the spring of 1994. Taylor, a billionaire businessman from Mankato, Minn., swooped in to rescue the franchise and persuaded McHale to take the title of assistant GM to Jack McCloskey. By May 1995, he was vice president of basketball operations. For most of the next 15 years, he was the organization’s primary decision-maker on personnel matters

McHale’s first move was a masterstroke. He and Saunders, holding the fifth pick in the 1995 Draft, attended the invitation-only workout of a Chicago high school player trying to become the first preps-to-pros success in 20 years. McHale went for the kid named Garnett.

He courted savvy vets such as Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, added to the locker room by subtracting trolls such as Rider and Christian Laettner and, in his second draft at-bat, made the right move again by trading Ray Allen‘s rights for point guard Stephon Marbury. For two seasons, Marbury and Garnett were a budding Stockton & Malone or Payton & Kemp.

“I came to Minnesota out of respect to Kevin McHale,” said Porter, now a Wolves assistant on Rick Adelman’s staff. “He was trying to start something and he just gave me the plan: ‘We’ve got some young talent but they don’t know how to win yet.’ He’d been part of a championship pedigree and I’d been a part of really good teams, so a lot of stuff he talked about was changing the culture here.”

With McHale upstairs and former college teammate Saunders on the sideline, Minnesota made eight playoff appearances in eight years and reached the Western Conference finals in 2004 when they gambled by adding mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.

Seven of the postseason trips were one-and-done cameos. The Marbury move backfired and so did other drafts (Ndudi Ebi, Rashad McCants), trades (Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric) and signings (Troy Hudson, Michael Olowokandi, Mike James). What McHale got in return for Garnett in 2007 (Al Jefferson and Celtics discards) got portrayed by some as a sweetheart deal for old Boston pal Danny Ainge. And don’t forget the Joe Smith fiasco, in which McHale at least fell on his sword for the franchise in a 1999 salary-cap violation that cost the Wolves three forfeited first-round picks in four years.

Twice McHale took his turn in the coaching tank, replacing Saunders in February 2005 and Randy Wittman in December 2008. He went a combined 39-55 but showed real enthusiasm for working with players and real acumen for exploiting mismatches and playing to his talent.

Most who knew him as a player and an exec never figured him as an NBA head coach, but he liked it enough to snag, in 20-11, the job vacated by Adelman in Houston. Heading into Wednesday’s schedule, McHale’s Rockets had gone 92-75 and 13-6 this season. They went to the playoffs last spring, while Minnesota’s drought has reached nine years.

“You’ve got to find your team’s strengths, you’ve got to go to that, and I think he’s done that very well,” Adelman said.

McHale’s tenure as Wolves VP has been polished up a bit lately, too. Four seasons of David Kahn in that role – Kahn dumped him as coach in June 2009 – made McHale, in numerous ways, look good. Two of Minnesota’s three core players, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, were acquired by McHale (and were underappreciated by Kahn because of it).

“What can I say about Kev?” Love said. “Mac’s the best. He’s a lot of fun on and off the court. Guy who always kept it light, always kept it interesting. I still look at him as one of my mentors.”

McHale’s best move, of course, remains his first.

KEVIN GARNETT

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995 (Dale Tait/NBAE)

He’s got a glare most often seen in the moments before a prizefight’s opening bell. Lately, he’s been glowering in a widely circulated headphones commercial, shutting out a world where loudmouths and loyalty do not mix.

Hard to believe, then, that when Garnett arrived on the NBA scene in the fall of 1995, he was a hoops version of Ernie Banks. Or Magic Johnson 2.0. His game didn’t click for half a season, but his personality was a plus from the start for a team that had relied too long on its narrator.

“I had a couple years with Garnett and for whatever reason, we just connected,” Harlan said. “He brought such hope, and with hope comes enthusiasm, and that certainly came out in the broadcast. You knew this kid was going to be something and that Kevin and Flip had a handle on things and it was an ascending situation.”

The joy of basketball was evident in Garnett’s smile, in his words, in the spring in his coltish game.

“I think when he first came in, he was just so happy where he was in life,” Harlan said. “He was on an NBA floor with Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan. It was fun for all the right reasons.

“Once he began to win, I think he looked around the league at other people who won and he saw serious people. He saw Jordan, he saw serious-minded people who felt every night was a war.”

Some would say Garnett felt pressure living up to the $126 million extension he leveraged after just two seasons (and from the blame it got for triggering the 1998-99 lockout). Others saw frustration from all those first-round exits and McHale’s inability to put a supporting cast around him like Tim Duncan had in San Antonio.

While his demeanor changed, Garnett’s game abided. He strung together 20-10-5 seasons, six of them from 1999 to 2005, while earning one MVP (2004) and arguably meriting another (2003).

Garnett logged crazy minutes and played hard at both ends. As the disappointments mounted in the team’s post-playoffs, too-many-coaches-and-teammates period, he kept media and fans at arm’s length and started checking out of bad seasons early, some minor ailment cutting short his last two Wolves seasons.

He fought the trade to Boston almost to the end, his sense of loyalty out of sync with the business of sports and even his own best interest. What he wound up with was an instant living-well-is-the-best-revenge tale, winning his long-sought championship in his first season out of Minnesota.

Garnett, 37, now is in Brooklyn in what has been a miserable six weeks. He remains the greatest player in Timberwolves history.

“I’ve never been around anyone who has the passion that he has to play,” said Saunders, back now as Wolves president of basketball operations. “He’s such a perfectionist … he’s one of the few guys you can put into a locker room and he’ll change the whole culture of a team.”

In Brooklyn’s recent visit to Target Center, Garnett and Love battled all night, the former Wolf picking up a technical for whacking at the current Wolf’s arm. Love’s team won and he posted the better stats line, but he said afterward he was happy not to catch Garnett (who had dominated their matchup two years earlier) in his prime.

“Garnett is another guy I grew up watching,” Love said. “Obviously I tried to emulate him but being 7-foot-1, as big as he is, that’s definitely tough to do. He’s a Hall of Fame player who, as far as effort goes and passion for the game, a lot of people should look up to.

“When he really locks in on defense, there are very few who can match that. Most of the time, he’s going to play better defense than you’re going to play offense. He’s that good.”

The fellow speaking, if you’re counting, was Kevin No. 4.

KEVIN LOVE

Kevin Love, 2008

Kevin Love, 2008 (David Sherman/NBAE)

People might forget that Love broke the news of McHale’s ouster on Twitter back in June 2009. “Today is a sad day…” the young forward Tweeted, fresh off his rookie season.

He and the man who dumped McHale never saw eye-to-eye on much after that. When Love’s $61 million contract extension in January 2012 was capped at four years, rather than the five for which he was eligible, what was left of a smoldering bridge between Kahn and Love was ablaze again.

Then there was Kahn’s – and to be fair, others’ – assessment that, if Minnesota were going to become a legit title contender, Love would need to be the team’s second- or third-best player. Even if that was meant to highlight the Wolves’ need for a go-to shot creator, it seemed to patronize his spectacular abilities as a scorer and rebounder, along with his burgeoning 3-point game.

Love, for his part, found the backhanded compliment within.

“Have they not looked at the guys who are the third-best player on championship teams?” he said. “OK, that’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, perennial All-Stars. You look at Boston [recently], that’s Ray Allen and Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. And what, [All-Star point guard Rajon] Rondo‘s the fourth link?

“I think that’s overrated. To win at a high level, especially to compete for a conference title or an NBA title, of course you have to have great players. Right now, we have to be more of a Dallas from 2011, a team where it all comes together. But I do look at myself as the leader of the team. I like having that on my shoulders. It’s something I always wanted. But now I think we have the personnel to really make some noise.”

Love twice has been an NBA All-Star. He earned an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012 and he’s been in the early-season conversation among MVP possibilities (23.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg). But the opt-out in his contract after next season already has rumors circulating and Minnesota fans fearing the worst. Every national media mention is vetted for signs that Love will be looking to play elsewhere in 2015.

But Saunders isn’t Kahn. And he isn’t worried.

“Kevin is extremely vested in where we’re at,” he said. “He’s one of the top five or 10 players in the NBA, and the most important thing is to have your best player committed to what you’re trying to do. I’d say that us being able to [achieve] that is as important as anything, since I came in here.”

An inveterate schmoozer, Saunders has sought out Love’s advice on matters big and small, shared plans about arena renovations and a proposed downtown practice facility and picked up a bunch of lunch tabs between the two. He likes the Wolves chances of building around Love, even as the team’s first-best player.

“Two years, in the NBA, is an eternity,” Saunders said. “All we can do is put our organization in a position where free agents are attracted here, by the personnel you have and the facilities you have. And you have relationships.”

After Love’s injury-marred 2012-13 season, Adelman has challenged him to boost his assists totals, perhaps not to Garnett levels but beyond the 1.9 he averaged through five seasons.

“He’s giving up the ball,” the Wolves coach said. “I think he’s matured as a player. Two years ago, he was scoring big and rebounding big. But we need him to do everything. We need him to pass the ball and be a facilitator too, and we need a consistent effort defensively. So I think he’s changed a lot. Probably being hurt last year gave him some drive this year.”

A foe-turned-teammate has noticed.

“You see the work that he puts in and just his feel for the game,” shooting guard Kevin Martin said. “He puts up scoring numbers that I haven’t seen since Kevin Durant. And rebound numbers? I’ve never seen a guy rebound like that.”

Don’t get confused here. Durant plays for the Thunder. Martin is the Wolves’ Kevin No. 5.

KEVIN MARTIN

Kevin Martin, 2013

Kevin Martin, 2013 (Jordan Johnson/NBAE)

The Timberwolves’ history, as far as free agency, generally has been what the team could do for the player rather than the other way around. Saddled with the league’s, er, most challenging climate and the lack of any championship tradition, Minnesota often has missed out on top talent and overpaid (in years or dollars) what players it has signed.

That’s why Martin’s decision to join up on a four-year, $27.8 million deal was so significant last July. The 30-year-old guard is a professional shooter with 3-point range and a career 17.8 scoring average through his first eight NBA seasons. He had been swapped a year earlier by Houston in the James Harden trade, fitting a little awkwardly into what had been Harden’s instant-offense role off the OKC bench.

For a Wolves team that had leaned on the likes of Wes Johnson, Alexey Shved and Malcolm Lee at shooting guard, Martin was a serious upgrade. A franchise once so barren that it touted its play-by-play man now could surgically add a key basketball piece.

“I wanted to bring in players that were gonna make Love, Rubio and Pekovic better, not players that those guys would make better,” Saunders said. “The way Kevin [Martin] plays, he was going to make those guys better.”

At 23.2 points nightly, while hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, Martin is producing at a level unseen since his final year in Sacramento (2008-09). It helps that he’s back with the coach who had him, both with the Kings and the Rockets.

Said Adelman of Martin: “He went through the year last year where he was more of a role player. I think he feels better about his situation [now]. He’s getting opportunities that he didn’t have because of [Russell] Westbrook and Durant there, and I think he’s enjoying it, being a starter again and having responsibility on his shoulders.”

Love called Martin an “easy fit” in personality and in game.

“It feels like it’s been a perfect fit for me since Day 1,” Martin said. “That’s why I decided to come here. Just playing in the system and playing with K.Love, seeing his game grow, which I knew it would.

“With Kevin and Ricky and big Pek coming along, and coach Adelman – that’s another big reason – it’s a more interesting team now. Bringing in a guy like Flip who has won at the highest levels. It’s a great place.”

Not always. But not bad if your name is Kevin.

Q&A: Timberwolves’ Love Clears Mind, Timeline To Focus On ‘P’ Word


VIDEO: Mike Fratello breaks down Kevin Love’s shot selection

MINNEAPOLIS – The top of Kevin Love‘s head has been in fine shape so far in this 2013-14 NBA season. His affability, at least as far as a lot of Twin Cities media folks are concerned, has been less so, because they mostly have been getting, well, the top of the Minnesota Timberwolves forward’s head.

Love’s postgame session after a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was said to be typical: A ring of reporters standing, Love sitting in the middle, looking mostly straight ahead. He fielded questions as they came – if they really were questions – and answered each one. But he did so almost in monotone, with little emotion or animation and even less eye contact.

For one of the league’s great conversationalists, it seemed forced, a little stand-offish. But it turns out, it might just be a handy coping mechanism. Love wants to keep things almost entirely in the present. He’s not willing to rehash the trials and tribulations of a forgetting 2012-13, when a twice-broken hand, inconsistent play in the 18 games he did make, Minnesota’s injury epidemic and sagging record, and alleged rancor between him and former Wolves president David Kahn led to some of the hardest criticism Love ever has heard. Nothing productive there, though, for the here-and-now.

Nor, for that matter, is Love much interested in jawing about the future, since invariably questions hone in on the summer of 2015, when he can opt out of his four-year, $60.8 million extension with a year left and hit free agency. And who can blame him: The Wolves’ future – at least ending a nine-year playoff drought – is now. Love’s individual accolades and achievements, from his 30-15 games to his Olympic gold medal, all would snap into sharper focus if things started to sizzle in his day job.

So that was the context for what wound up being his in-the-moment post-game media session. It was like stepping outdoors, eyes closed, letting the rain splash down or smelling the flowers, all the what-was and what-will-be giving way to what-is.

What is, lately, is pretty good for Love – he went into Monday’s game at Indiana No. 4 in scoring (24.9) and No. 2 rebounding (13.6), an early-season MVP fave. So after an off-day workout last week, the five-year veteran and two-time All-Star talked at length with NBA.com:

NBA.com: Everyone is asking and we have to, too. How do you do what you do so well in spite of your limited natural ability? [Love was the No. 1 pick of NBA general managers for making the most of allegedly meager athletic ability.]

Kevin Love: I don’t feel like I have “limited natural ability.” I guess I can’t jump to the top of the square every time. But I have soft hands, I have great footwork. I can shoot the ball, I can rebound, I can pass.

NBA.com: So where does that impression come from, do you think?

Love: Gee, If I had to guess, it would be that I’m white. I mean, what do you think?

NBA.com: I do remember how Christian Laettner, heading toward the 1992 draft, used to sneer when reporters would mention Larry Bird in straining to make comparisons. He felt it was done only because he was white. So now you hear it, where instead of people comparing your outlet passing to Wes Unseld…

Love: They compare it to Bill Walton instead. Right. People compare “like” to “like,” I guess. I don’t know what it is.

NBA.com: What explains your fast start?

Love: I’m just at peace on the court. Feel great. Off the court, feel great. I’m loving playing with this team. Locker room’s gotten better. Coaching staff. I feel like we all know exactly what they want out of us, so that’s great as well. And yeah, getting into a good rhythm right off the bat is always nice.

NBA.com: I saw the “all present, no past or future” outlook on display last night. How did that come about?

Love: I’ve always wanted to think like that and focus on carpe diem and seize the day and living in the present. I finally spoke it into existence. I don’t want to dwell [on] or be happy about – whether last year or years before – how things went for me, on the court or off the court. But don’t want to focus on the future either. Just want to focus really day-by-day and the [next opponent] at this point.

NBA.com: Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders told me in October about have a very “Zen-ful” summer, then some early frustrations led to an embarrassing nightclub incident and an injury. nner peace isn’t always easy to come by.

Love: Off the court, with my family and close friends, everything’s really going great. So that allowed me to focus on playing basketball. Had a great summer working out – didn’t talk to you guys at all [laughs]. The only time I really did media was at USA Basketball.

A big part about it was, I changed a lot of my contacts up. People weren’t able to reach me. I kind of like that – I was able to work hard, focus. Every night I’d go home, just rest, chill, read a book, watch TV. I like to live a little bit as a recluse and a shut-in so I get to focus on what I love most, and that’s my family and friends and my basketball.

(more…)

Howling Wolves Deal With Quiet Time


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Timberwolves 112-101 on Saturday

Remember when the Timberwolves were something to howl about?

It was less than two weeks ago when the ball and the shots were moving through the offense like they were notes in a symphony.

You could pull on your parka and a pair of mukluks, then squint your eyes and imagine you were watching the Spurs North.

You could see Ricky Rubio spinning, darting and creating with only the edges of his imagination as a limit, see Kevin Love go down low to score in the post and then come outside and make it rain from behind the 3-point line, see Kevin Martin drop in all those improbable shots from all those impossible difficult angles.

The Timberwolves were 6-3 right out of the box and they were a team that could dance right off into the stars.

But now they have two left feet. All of a sudden, they can’t shoot, can’t defend, can’t muster up enough energy to take the floor and make their coach happy.

“You can look at stats all you want, but we didn’t have enough,” said Rick Adelman after their fourth loss in six games, a flogging by the James Harden-less Rockets. “I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job and the schedule doesn’t matter.”

The schedule has turned brutal of late, serving up nine games in 14 nights, five in seven, including rising teams such as the Clippers and Rockets and next up are the East-leading Pacers.

“We play 18 games right off the bat this month,” Love said. “It’s tough. I think that’s really what it is. Plus we’re playing some really good teams. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”

One of the things that makes it hard has been the continuing struggles of Rubio to put the ball into the basket. For all of the wizardry that he uses to set up his teammates for easy baskets, the 23-year-old doesn’t seem to have a trick up his sleeve to help himself.

Rubio has made half his shots from the field only five times in the first 15 games, shooting just 34.7 percent. Now in his third NBA season, Rubio has scored 15 or more points in a game while making half his shots only nine times. The Wolves are 6-3 in those games. It’s just not that simplistic, but if Rubio could learn to shoot, the Wolves could take a big permanent step forward.

“It’s a lot easier when all your guys can make shots,” Adelman said. “He’s such a good passer and creator that if he’s making shots it makes it very difficult for the other team. They can’t go under screens, pick and rolls and things like that. It’s a process he’s going to have to go through.

“This is the first year he’s had training camp since he’s been in the league. He’s been hurt or we had a short training camp. It’s going to take time. He’s playing well and hopefully he’s to going to make shots.”

They’re a team that has Love and Rubio back in the lineup after being plagued by injuries a year ago and they have small forward Corey Brewer back with the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. They have big man Nikola Pekovic doing all that he can in the middle and with Chase Budinger again sidelined by injury, they’ve sucked everything they can out of Martin as if he were a water hose in the desert.

“We were the worst outside shooting team in the league last year,” Adelman said. “So having Kevin opens things up. And having the other Kevin (Love) back opens things up too. Last year we were firing blanks. We didn’t really have a lot of answers. This year we have a few more.”

They are still a team that has less depth than a wading pool and could use former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to be something more than a massive bust or Alexey Shved or Dante Cunningham or Robbie Hummel or anyone to step up.

“We’re a solid team,” Martin said. “We got some work to do. It’s a long season. Everybody goes through their tough stretches with a tough schedule…We feel like we’re right in there. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Just got to weather the storm right now.”

Blogtable: New, And For Real

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


New and for real | Westbrook’s speedy return | Bynum’s impact on Cavs, East



VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Kevin Love

Give me something new you’ve seen, from a player or team, that you’re convinced is real.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It would be hard to find anything more new than Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ top draft pick who won’t turn 19 for another month. He’s a long-term project but with the right tools — 6-foot-9, arms that stretch from Pewaukee to Oconomowoc — and the right demeanor. He’s eager to learn and, naturally, the Greek import needs to learn plenty. But both in preseason and through the first week, he has been up to the many challenges. We can’t run wild with Kevin Durant comparisons — OK, so they’re built alike — but check out “G-Bo” and his early stats (2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 42.9 FG% in 11.3 mpg) next to No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett‘s (0.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.0 FG% in 12.5 mpg) in Cleveland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: TRD (the real deal) is MCW (Michael Carter-Williams).  In the golden age of NBA point guards, the Sixers rookie looks like 21K.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Warriors and Andre Iguodala. The former All-Star is essentially a fourth scoring option who is shooting 55.3 percent, 10-for-20 behind the arc. On any given night he can go off, as he did Monday at Philly, for 32 points, or for 11 assists as he did against the Clippers. More valuable is the big-time perimeter defense he provides, a real game-changer for the Warriors, especially combined with a healthy Andrew Bogut under the rim. So far, Golden State ranks third in defensive rating (the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions) at 93.0, seven points better than the league average and a nine-point improvement over last season, when they ranked 13th.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I think Minnesota’s start is real, after the much different look last season. Not .750-ball real, but this is a playoff team when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are going good, when Nikola Pekovic is a factor on the boards and when Kevin Martin is hitting shots. If the defense keeps up — I am not nearly as confident about that aspect — the Timberwolves really have something.

Paul George

Paul George (Glenn James/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m convinced the Indiana Pacers are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Paul George (62.9 effective field-goal percentage) and Lance Stephenson (64.3) aren’t going to keep shooting this well, but they are better players than they were in May, and that means a lot to what was a below-average offense last season. More importantly, they have the No. 1 defense in the league, which will win them a lot of games when the offense isn’t there. Even with George Hill missing some early games, the Pacers have hit the ground running. And though there will be highs and lows over the course of 82 games, that defense isn’t going to let up. I don’t know that they can beat the Heat (or Bulls, or Nets) in a seven-game series, but I believe the Pacers will be the No. 1 seed in the East.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Minnesota Timberwolves. I think the playoff movement in the Twin Cities is legit. They’ve got superstar talent in Kevin Love and potentially Ricky Rubio. They have a coach in Rick Adelman, who has been to the postseason promised land before and knows how to get teh most out of the most complete roster Timberwolves fans have seen in years. All that depth in just the right places, coupled with good health from their core group (go ahead Timberwolves fans, cross those fingers) and this hoop dream should become a reality by season’s end. I know they’ve been in this position before, where things appeared to be lined up perfectly for a potential playoff chase, only to see it all come tumbling down in a pile of injuries or miscalculations on the personnel side. I believe those days are over with the group currently assembled. This is the year … I can feel it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: A larger audience saw it in the playoffs than saw it in the regular season, but Paul George is a beast. He’s currently tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring, and is averaging over eight boards per game. Not to mention he’s one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, which plays a large part in the Pacers’ early shut-down defense. As I write this, the Pacers currently lead the NBA in opponents points per game allowed. I think everyone suspected that Indy’s improved bench would be a big help this season, but to me their commitment to team defense is going to propel them to the top of the Conference.

Selçuk Aytekin, NBA.com Turkiye: Since being Most Improved Player in 2007, Monta Ellis is set to have his best season in NBA. He is prolific scorer. And I’m sure that Dirk Nowitzki and his friends are going to help him a lot. I knew that he was a good player player, but I wasn’t expecting this much impact from him at the very beginning of the season. With Kobe out, now I’ve got someone else to watch.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA.com Philippines: If the Minnesota Timberwolves stay healthy they will crash the post-season party at the end of the year and actually make some noise. They have the right materials for Rick Adelman’s system and it’s been that way the last couple of years — they just need avoid the injury woes they’ve had to their stars. The core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic is a great trio and to add a proven offensive threat in Kevin Martin makes the T-Wolves poised for something big.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Deutschland: I’ve become an Evan Turner fan over the past month. He’s a guy that’s always taken too many tough jumpers in the past, but is now making an effort to get to the rim more often. His ballhandling has always been good, and he’s lost some weight and worked on his foot speed. I see him continuing to attack — and I love this version of Evan Turner!

Never Too Soon For Snap Judgments


VIDEO: Sixers begin season with strong start

 

So what if we’ll have to skip the clocks ahead again before we even finish the long grind of the regular season? Does it really matter that it will take more than seven months for somebody to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy? It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2013-14 regular season.

Heat – Nobody this side of Miley Cyrus gets more scrutiny, criticism and hyperventilating overreaction than the two-time defending champs. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade already have to talk over the alarm bells, trying to put out the fires of two losses in their first three games. They still have the best player in the game, still have a more than capable No. 2 man if he stays healthy and still will be the team to beat when the playoffs begin in April. That won’t stop the sky from falling on nearly a weekly basis. But you still want to pick them for next June.

Clippers – So much for the closing down of Lob City by the new mayor Doc Rivers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still running free and easy with the top-rated offense in the league (119.5), but we’re going to have to see more out of DeAndre Jordan and that unicorn defense before we consider the Clips to be true playoff contenders in the West.

Derrick Rose — The Bulls’ star will be right behind the Heat with the Chicken Little crowd that will fret and worry and complain with every missed shot and turnover. He’ll have the most scrutinized repaired leg in the league until Kobe Bryant returns. The good news is that Rose hasn’t shown any ill effects from the knee surgery and it’s only a matter of time until he regains the stroke and the confidence that make him an MVP candidate and Chicago a threat to push Miami and Indiana in the playoffs.

Advantage Howard – The 2-2 Lakers might be saying they’re having fun without the 6-foot-11 distraction, but Dwight Howard is healthy and living up to all expectations in Houston as both an inside force (15 rebounds per game) and solid veteran presence in the Rockets locker room. No longer suffering from back and shoulder problems, Howard is playing joyfully and stress-free for the first time in three seasons. He’s been accepting of instruction from coach Kevin McHale, willing to move out to guard power forwards as part of the twin towers tandem experiment with Omer Asik, and has the Rockets on track to their stated goal of getting home-court advantage in the West playoffs, at the very least.

Lakers – If they were in a swimming pool, the Lakers would be wearing an orange life jacket and just trying to bob their heads above the water line. It’s a two-part season that’s B.K. and A.K. — Before Kobe and After Kobe – and things just don’t look good for the long haul with Steve Nash struggling badly and a bench that provides as much real support as a, well, bench.

Sixers – Other than LeBron and Wade declaring that they were taking the season off to visit an ashram to find inner peace, could there have been a more shocking start to the season than a 3-0 start in always sunny Philadelphia? Michael Carter-Williams, Eastern Conference Player of the Week, is the real deal. But the Warriors proved Monday that the Sixers will eventually settle down to their real level in the Andrew Wiggins Derby, especially after GM Sam Hinkie possibly parlays the quick starts by Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and maybe Thaddeus Young into deals for more draft picks.

Thunder – OK, everybody kicks five bucks into the pot and the winner is the person who picks the exact time — day, hour, minute and seconds — when some knucklehead rips Russell Westbrook for being the kind of bad/selfish teammate that will never help Kevin Durant win a championship. The truth is, since GM Sam Presti’s benevolent giveaway of James Harden to Houston, Westbrook is Durant’s only chance of getting back to The Finals. No more Memphis getting past half a Thunder team. No more avoiding the toughest challenge in the West, Spurs. Yes, Durant is OKC’s best player. But Westbrook, healthy and with a chip on his shoulder, is the hard edge on the court.

Wizards – How many times can we wait on the revamped Wizards to have that bust-out season that propels them back into the playoff picture in the East? John Wall is fine, Trevor Ariza is averaging a double-double, they have a healthy center in Marcin Gortat and yet Washington is still 0-3 with a defense that is simply dreadful. Coach Randy Wittman still leads the race for first coach fired.

Warriors – They’re like the magician that has your eyes glued to his pretty assistant in the skimpy outfit that is their high octane, high scoring offense, while coach Mark Jackson’s team really wants to pull rabbits out of their hats with a defense that will get in your face and get after it. Andre Iguodala couldn’t have been a better fit if he’d been sewn into the lineup by a British tailor.

Love Is All You Need – Well, it would certainly help to have Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the star-crossed Timberwolves remain ambulatory through the 82-game schedule. But if there were a Comeback Player of the Year Award for the first week of the season, it would have to go to Kevin Love, who’s been nothing short of a beast scoring and rebounding. This is why it was never rash to envision the Timberwolves Western Conference playoffs the past two seasons. If Love stays healthy, they make it even in a crowded race.

Nets – While losing two of their first three was seen as a sign of the apocalypse in Miami, that trendy, high-priced collection of talent in Brooklyn might be the real candidate for being oversold as championship contenders, a win over the Heat notwithstanding. It still remains to be seen if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can continue to produce like their old selves as they become older selves. In the end, it will all come down to whether Deron Williams can get himself back among the elite level of point guards. So far, the shot just isn’t falling.

Knicks – Like the buzz over Gangnam Style and Zero Dark Thirty, Carmelo Anthony and his friends are just so last year. In fact, since their blazing start out of the gate in 2012-13, the Knicks have been positively mediocre and there is no indication that things will change soon. They were laughably “all-in” for a championship run last season, came up way short and now the brightest news is Melo saying he’d like to retire as a Knick. Perfect. Looks like a lot of them already have.

Anthony Davis – The No. 1 pick from the 2012 draft has positively exploded with his growth in the league, almost doubling his scoring from 13.5 to 23.7 ppg, bumping rebounds up from 8.2 to 12.3 and blocks from 1.8 to 4.0. This the Davis who had everyone drooling over his potential at Kentucky and makes the Pelicans a fun stop when flipping channels on League Pass. Now, if only coach Monty Williams could find a way to put some zip into an offense that is only mediocre because they play at such a horridly slow pace in an up-tempo league.

Pacers — Let the Nets spend all the money, the Knicks suck up all the oxygen with talk of Melo’s free agent destination and the Bulls ride the frenzy around every peak and valley in Rose’s return. Meanwhile in the heartland, Paul George keeps getting better, Lance Stephenson keeps learning about consistency, coach Frank Vogel keeps cranking up the intensity on the league’s best defense and the Pacers happily keep playing in the shadows as the real top threat to Miami in the East.

 


VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about Westbrook’s swift return