Posts Tagged ‘Rick Adelman’

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.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers take thriller vs. Pacers | Wolves gear up for Mexico City trip | Bradley trying to maintain Celtics’ tradition

No. 1: Blazers continue to amaze — Before the season, few would have pegged last night’s Blazers-Pacers showdown in Portland as perhaps the top early-season matchup to watch. But that it was, as Paul George of the Pacers and Damian Lillard of the Blazers put on a show in a thrilling 106-102 win for the home squad. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on the Blazers, who have the NBA’s best record, and their fast start that seems to be morphing into a season-long trend of success:

At first, the Trail Blazers’ stunning early-season success was dismissed as a hot start.

Then, after the wins piled up against so-so opponents, it was simply a byproduct of a soft schedule.
But now, after another impressive victory against another top-notch foe, it’s hard to find too many flaws in what is unfolding in the Northwest.
It’s time to hop aboard the bandwagon, Rip City.

“We’re a pretty damn good team,” Wesley Matthews said, when asked what Monday night’s win showed. “And we can beat anybody.”

The game was billed as the best of the East versus the best of the West, as the Pacers (16-2) entered the game with the best record in the NBA, while the Blazers sat atop the Western Conference in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs. It also offered a contrast in styles, pitting the rough and rugged Pacers against the free-flowing, fun-to-watch Blazers.

After beating up on the NBA’s also-rans, the Blazers have now earned credible wins over the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls — with Derrick Rose — and now the Pacers. And Monday’s victory against the brawny, rugged Pacers showcased a Blazers trait often overlooked:

Toughness.

“That was a 48-minute fight,” Batum said.

The Blazers will face two more challenging opponents this week — including the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — but they way they see it, they’ve already proven their early-season hot streak is no fluke.

“We’re right there,” Batum said, referring to the Blazers’ standing among the NBA’s elite. “This was a big win.”

***

No. 2: Wolves gear up for trip to Mexico City — In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Timberwolves are set to take on the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 4 … in Mexico City, Mexico. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman doesn’t come across as the biggest fan of the trip in this story from Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune, but nonetheless, there’s some definite merit — both financial and otherwise — to the trip for the Wolves as a franchise and the NBA at large:

Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified.But he knows better: He was there at the beginning.

Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance.

“You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”

Adelman is reluctant to give up Target Center’s home-court advantage for one night and compound a hectic November schedule by flying so far south for a game that could have playoffs implications come April.

The league began discussing a Mexico City regular-season game with Wolves officials a year ago, partly because the team has Spanish-speaking Ricky Rubio from Spain and J.J Barea from Puerto Rico among its seven international players.

The Wolves — Adelman notwithstanding, of course — were willing because the NBA is paying it at least the equivalent of a Target Center game’s gate receipts and because owner Glen Taylor calls it “the responsibility of being an owner and doing your part” for a league that’s a $4 billion-plus business.

The NBA operates offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including two Chinese offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Taylor has served on the NBA China board since its inception and calls the number of people watching league games on their smartphones and targeted through social media “amazing.”

He also calls worldwide revenues a “relatively small amount” of the NBA’s massive pie — “not a significant part, yet” — but also terms it the league’s fastest-growing revenues.

Taylor said it’s simply smart to capitalize on a growing international game that Adelman believes produces through discipline and fundamentals more skilled, matured team players at younger ages now than an American AAU feeder system that emphasizes individuals and a superstar mentality.

“To us, that’s just good business,” Taylor said, mentioning growing worldwide TV rights and international corporate sponsorships to name just two. “We get paid back in several ways.”

Barea represented the NBA in Mexico City last year at the finals of a school tournament that brought together winners from five regions in the country.

“They love the NBA and basketball is growing there,” Barea said. “It’s a big place: a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but a lot of the fans of the NBA. It’s going to be crazy. If it was an away game for us, it’d be even better. But it’s all right, it’s just one game, a good change. I know a bunch of our guys have never been there before, so it’ll be fun.”

Just try telling that to Adelman, though …

“It is what it is,” Adelman said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’re going there. San Antonio is going to do the same thing. We just have to accept it. You’ve got to look at it as an experience and a challenge. It’s all you can do. Where we are right now, every night is a challenge to get a road win. If we get that one there, I’ll count it as a road win.”

***

No. 3: Bradley trying to continue tradition started by Garnett, Pierce — During the offseason, the Celtics made a decided move to rebuild when they sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in a salary cap-saving move. As such, most would expect Boston’s defense — a trademark of the KG years — to fall apart. So far, that hasn’t been the case as Boston ranks 9th in defensive rating this season after finishing fifth in that category in 2012-13. Part of that strong defense could be attributed to guard Avery Bradley, who is one of the league’s best perimeter stoppers and has embraced the role of carrying on the Celtics’ tradition of defense first, writes Shams Charania of RealGM.com:

Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett understood leaders on their former team would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.

“They told me this was going to be hard,” Bradley told RealGM. “At some point in their careers, they both played on teams that were very young, and that’s how our team is now. It takes time, but if everybody buys into what we’re trying to do, everything works out.”

Bradley has been a solidified voice for these Celtics, and him developing a close relationship with Jeff Green has proven a reliable influence on a hard-playing team. Already, Brad Stevens has established a rapport within his locker room, a scheme on both ends of the court; infusing seven wins a month into the season.

For Stevens, Jordan Crawford has grown into a playmaker and Jared Sullinger is continuing his basketball growth, adding range and versatility to his jump shot. Nevertheless, the Celtics feed off Bradley’s tenacity on defense and he knows how critical his outside jumper is to the offense. In Bradley, teammates see a little more Pierce than Garnett, more action and force than rah-rah and verbiage.

“I don’t really speak much, I try to lead by example,” Bradley said. “I definitely learned leadership from the guys that were here before, because the Celtics have a culture. Playing hard and respecting the game – I try to keep that going, hoping it rubs off on my new teammates and some of the younger guys.”

Over a summer of sharpening his ball handling and smoothening his jumper, Bradley replayed situations from his most extensive memories last season. As a combo guard asked to play more point guard late in the year, he knew struggles would come in placing the Celtics into proper offensive sets. Yet, everyone around the Celtics expected out of Bradley nothing but further repetition in the offseason – now off to a career start.

“I was put in situations where I had to learn both guard positions,” Bradley said. “I just have to keep improving each game now. Once I got the chance, I knew everything would work out. My main thing now is just consistency.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards reserve forward Trevor Booker is frustrated with his role on the team … ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls the state of the the Eastern Conference ‘embarassing’Jameer Nelson continues to embrace his teaching role with the young Magic … Derrick Favors gets some praise from his idol, Dwight Howard

ICYMI Of The Night: Leave it to Tim Duncan to cap off a historic night with a game-winner, too …


VIDEO: Tim Duncan nails the free-throw line jumper to sink the Hawks

Rubio Has Cleared Physical, Mental Hurdles From ACL Injury


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio’s no-look reverse bounce pass to Kevin Love is the assist of the night

DALLAS – Ricky Rubio is in his third NBA season. Yet in terms of games played, he’s not even a season-and-a-half into his expectation-laden career.

In a 112-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, Rubio played in his 116th career game since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011 from his native Spain. His rookie season was first shortened by the lockout and then short-circuited by an ACL tear in his left knee. His recovery delayed his debut last season until Dec. 15, and it would take several more months to gain back the trust in his knee with the long and ugly scar that is ever so remindful of the agony he endured.

Now Rubio is back, all the way back. The doubts and fears certainly still creep into his thoughts now and then, but the magical point guard has figured out how to at least make the emotional scars disappear.

“It’s a big injury and you always think about it even if you don’t want to,” Rubio said after scoring 12 points with seven assists in a desperately needed road win. “I think I have to forget it already and just feel confident out there playing hard, going and running 100 percent. So I feel good.”

He looked good, too, with a beautiful baseline drive for his only two points of the fourth quarter to give the Timberwolves a 98-92 lead with 4:35 to go. He was at his creative best a couple minutes later in a late shot-clock situation. Working at the top of the arc, Rubio beat his defender, Monta Ellis, and as he got deeper into the lane, Rubio made a no-look, behind-the-back pass that split Ellis and the helping Dirk Nowitzki to Kevin Love. Love got off the 3-pointer just before the buzzer for a 106-96 lead with 1:55 to play.

“I saw Dirk was behind me and I was afraid of a blocked shot,” Rubio said. “I knew he was there. I got kind of lucky and he [Love] made it and it was a huge play.”

Still, there is work to be done for the 23-year-old Spaniard. He is averaging 33.1 mpg, very close to the per-game average during the 41 games of his rookie season. Also, however, nearly identical to his rookie mark is his field-goal percentage. Rubio is shooting just 35.8 percent from the floor, but the encouraging news is his 38.2-percent accuracy from beyond the arc, easily a career best.

He was just 1-for-5 from back there against Dallas, but it was a big one, putting Minnesota back in front, 69-68 in the third quarter as the Mavs had just taken the lead with a 27-14 run.

“I feel confident,” Rubio said of his shot following a 4-for-12 night. “I’m practicing in that area. I know I have to improve, I feel like I have to improve in all the areas. I just keep working hard and trusting myself.”

Coach Rick Adelman continues to preach patience, a quality that can unfairly be in short supply when Rubio’s young career is not looked through the proper lens of his early misfortune.

“He’s still playing as hard as he did before [the injury], he competes all the time, so I think that’s passed,” Adelman said of Rubio playing through mental barriers of the recovery process as he did for most of last season. “It’s just he needs experience. He’s a young player. He’s only played, combine both years, maybe one season — and half of that he was hurt. So he’s just very young.”

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.”

No Tech For Rivers Left Adelman Teed Off


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks with the media following win over Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS – With the Clippers and the Timberwolves meeting for the second time in nine days, it seemed like a fair and logical question: Would Minnesota’s Rick Adelman be allowed to stroll to midcourt this time to call a timeout at a pivotal point in the game?

That’s what happened at Staples Center in the closing seconds of the Clippers’ 109-107 victory: Doc Rivers went nearly to center court before he got referee Tony Brown‘s attention to call time in the midst of L.A.’s possession. The move incensed Adelman as well as a lot of Wolves fans, who felt Rivers should have received a technical foul for strolling so far on the floor during play.

But the Clippers coach didn’t think twice about it at the time and, from the sound of it, wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing again.

“If I can get out there, I will,” Rivers said about 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday at Target Center. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s really a bad circumstance.

“One of the questions was, ‘Didn’t your players know to call a timeout?’ I said ‘No, I gave them a play to run.’ And in the middle of the play, I’m looking at the play and thinking, ‘This play’s not going to work.’ I needed a timeout. I tried to call a timeout.”

At that point, Rivers barged onto the court and got his timeout with 11.8 seconds left.

“There’s really nothing you can do about it — it’s on the opposite side of the floor. There should be no tech called on that, by the way – the worst that can be called is delay-of-game. But as long as you don’t run into anybody or touch anybody, there’s no way around it.”

Rivers said he was open to suggestions on alternatives, such as “give me a red button that I can blink.” He also said he understands an opposing coach objecting to the move. “If that had been Rick, I’d want him thrown out of the game. But me, I think I should be able to do it,” he said, laughing.

Rivers got away with a similar move during the 2010 Finals, when he helped the Celtics avoid a halfcourt violation late in Game 2. “It was almost the exact thing,” he said. “It’s tough on the refs, though. They should not be paying attention to me. … There’s nothing in the rule book, I don’t know what you do about it, but it’s a toughie.”

Actually there is: Rule No. 12, section V, article d(5), pertaining to Fouls And Penalties, Conduct:

A technical foul shall be assessed for unsportsmanlike tactics, such as … (5) A coach entering onto the court without permission of an official.

Adelman initially joked about Rivers’ bit of gamesmanship Wednesday. “I think that’s reserved for certain people. He’s got a lot more money than I have, so he didn’t care if he got a technical,” the Wolves coach said.

Except, of course, Rivers didn’t get T-ed up.

“I could not believe they just allowed that to go on,” Adelman said. “You can’t do that. We’ve talked about it at times. The coaches have, in the last couple years, stepped onto the court to call timeouts. And I’ve had two different discussions: one said no, you’re not supposed to do that.”

The Wolves coach also sounded surprised that Rivers was desperate to get the timeout called. “I couldn’t believe … why he was so mad,” Adelman said. “They had the [2-point] lead and they had the best point guard in the game [Chris Paul] with the ball.”

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.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nash injures back in loss to Wolves | Woodson rips Knicks’ effort vs. Spurs | Jefferson may return tonight for Bobcats | Adelman cautiously uses advanced stats

No. 1: Nash leaves game with back pain, will see doctor — Through eight games this season, the Lakers find themselves at 3-5 after getting off to a 2-2 start. Point guard Steve Nash has played in only six of those games this season as the Lakers and coach Mike D’Antoni have attempted to keep the point guard as fresh as possible by resting him in the second night of back-to-back games, a plan devised by D’Antoni. But as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, Nash suffered a back injury during last night’s loss to the Wolves and will see a specialist soon:

Steve Nash exited the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves early on Sunday night because of back pain and will visit Dr. Robert Watkins, a back specialist, on Monday for evaluation.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni pulled Nash from the game with 1:42 remaining in the second quarter and the point guard did not return, finishing with two points and three assists in 13 minutes.

“It’s tough,” Nash said after the game. “I hesitate to even talk about it now because it’s probably not a good time. I’m a little emotional. It’s hard. I really want to play and I really want to play the way I am accustomed to playing. To be so limited is frustrating and also to not know where kind of a cleanish bill of health is [coming] is a little daunting, too.”

The two-time league MVP told reporters last week he is still struggling with nerve issues stemming from the broken left leg he suffered last season that caused him to miss 32 games.

“I still feel that almost every day all over,” Nash said of the nerve discomfort. “It’s not just in that spot [in his left leg]. It’s like the nerve system and nerve roots are on guard. So the whole system in a way is different now. It’s just a little more sensitive, and you face different things because of it. So, freaky, freaky thing, but I can’t complain. I’m still playing basketball and I’m still effective and I can get better physically and my game will come around the more I play.”

Nash detailed his injuries after the game on Sunday.

“I have, obviously, back issues,” Nash said. “It’s nerves coming from my back. You could call it the back, you could call it the nerves. I’m getting the pain in the hamstring. … It’s basically the same thing from the end of last year.”

Nash missed the Lakers’ final two playoff games in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs last season, unable to play despite receiving three epidural injections in his right hamstring in the span of a week to try to get back on the court.

“I’m trying to play through it but at the same time be smart and try to overcome what I can and see,” said Nash, who added that the same issues had been bothering him for the last several weeks. “But it’s taken a bit of a turn for the worse.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on loss, Nash’s injury

***

No. 2: Woodson, Anthony rip Knicks’ effort vs. Spurs — The Knicks got J.R. Smith back in the lineup yesterday after he served his NBA-mandated five-game suspension for a substance abuse policy violation, but not even his return to spark New York to a win. The Spurs took care of business against the Knicks in Sunday’s matinee, ripping New York by 31 points, which drew the ire of coach Mike Woodson and star forward Carmelo Anthony, writes ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley:

“We didn’t compete tonight. That’s just unacceptable,” Woodson said. “Right from the start, we let our offense, shots that we missed, dictate how we defended on the other end.”

The Knicks fell behind 10-0 to start the game and trailed by as many as 18 in the first quarter. They heard boos throughout the game from the sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.

After the game, Woodson was asked if the Knicks showed any pride in the second half as the Spurs’ lead ballooned to 37 points.

“No. No. Not at all. It’s something that will be addressed [in Monday's practice]. It’s just unacceptable,” the coach said. “It’s my job to push them through it and try to get them over the hump. I know we’re a better team than what we’ve shown.”

Carmelo Anthony agreed with his coach’s assertion.

“It was embarrassing for us to come here on our home court and lose a game like this,” said Anthony, who scored 16 points on 10 shots and sat for most of the fourth quarter. “It wasn’t about losing a game. It was just how we lost the game. We didn’t compete today, and it showed out there on the court.”

The loss was one of the worst in Woodson’s 112-game tenure and continued a nightmare start to the season for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Mike Woodson says Knicks ‘didn’t compete’ vs. Spurs

***

No. 3: Bobcats get Clifford back in practice; Jefferson to return soon? — Last Thursday night, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford began experiencing chest pains that ultimately led to him missing Charlotte’s game against New York so that he could have two stents placed in his heart. Clifford has been given the medical OK to coach tonight’s game against the Hawks (7 ET, League Pass) and while he’ll be back on the job, the Bobcats may also get starting center Al Jefferson back tonight, too. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more on Charlotte’s news:

Coach Steve Clifford was at practice Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena, two days after two stents were inserted into his heart to guard against blockages. Clifford felt chest pain Thursday night and was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital.

Meanwhile center Al Jefferson, who played in the season-opener against the Houston Rockets, then missed the next five games, returned to practice for the first time since re-injuring his right ankle.

Clifford said he’s “hopeful” Jefferson can play against the Hawks, but that won’t be determined until they see how his ankle responds Monday to a full practice.

Clifford is in a dramatically better position than he was Thursday night, when the chest pains started. A first-time NBA head coach, Clifford said there is a history of coronary disease in his family.

“I was lucky. It was a warning sign and I’ve since been educated that a lot of people who have strokes or heart attacks don’t get warning signs,” Clifford said. “Also fortunate I had great doctors. They have a good plan for me, and I’m going to follow it and get better quickly.”

Clifford will have shorter workdays, at least for the next week. He can coach games and travel, but doctors want him resting most of the time in-between.

Jefferson sprained his right ankle in the second preseason game against the Miami Heat. He played in the season-opener, then was stiff and sore enough that he couldn’t play the second regular-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over a week later, he said it’s now primarily a bone bruise along his ankle that is the issue.

Jefferson played one-on-one games the three days leading up to Sunday’s practice to test the injury. He said he felt out of game shape,but has done enough workouts on a stationary bike that he should recover full game shape in about a week.

A key free-agent acquisition – he signed a three-year, $41 million contract in July –  Jefferson is wary of another setback.

“I don’t want to play one game, then sit out another two weeks,” Jefferson said. “When I come back, I want to come back to stay.”

***

No. 4: Adelman cautiously embraces new-wave stats — Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman is no stranger to the the new-wave stats revolution that has swept up the NBA. He was coach of the Houston Rockets from 2008-11, which coincided with the rise of the team’s GM, Daryl Morey, and his advocacy of advanced stats. Though thought to be an old-school coaching type, Adelman isn’t so gruff that he can’t see the value in advanced stats, but he’s taking a careful view of them nonetheless, writes Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com:

Speaking before his team took on the Lakers Sunday night, he talked about the biggest challenge for a lot of coaches dealing with this — how to get the information from stats across to the players in a meaningful way.

“Maybe I’m just old fashioned or whatever, but when they give us stats and everything like that I kind of know what’s coming,” Adelman said. “I’ve seen it, I’ve observed it, I may not know all the reasons, and they give you very good input, but I think it’s knowing what you run offensively, knowing what your tendencies are, those things all help…

“I think in the playoffs it gives you a bigger factor, because we play so many games in a week you know can have stats one game after another. So you pick and choose what you show players, you pick and choose how to reach them, and I think changes from week to week.”

Adelman in the end said what most coaches and scouts say about the stats — they’re a nice tool, but just another tool.

“There’s so much out there now, we had a ton of it in Houston when we were there, I think all that stuff is a tool that you can use to be better to help your players be better, but that’s what it is,” Adelman said. “You still have to play the game out on the court.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gives the Warriors a big vote of approval … The Lakers’ bench crew is the best in the leagueMarkieff Morris and the Suns continue to sizzle out West

ICYMI Of The Night: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is showing faith in Gerald Green early in the season, who has played at least 25 minutes in each of Phoenix’s last five games. Green is responding with some great play, including this amazing jam last night against the Pelicans …


VIDEO: Gerald Green shows off his tremendous ups vs. New Orleans

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!

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kaman hurts finger in China | Burke may miss 3-6 weeks? | Adelman unhappy with Wolves’ effort | D-Will may miss season’s start

No. 1: Kaman injures finger while tobogganing in ChinaLakers big man Chris Kaman is one of the league’s more skilled post players and one of its most avid outdoorsmen. No surprise, then, that when L.A. landed in China to prepare for its preseason game against Golden State on Tuesday that Kaman ventured off to do some tobogganing. But while on that trip, Kaman suffered a minor injury to his finger that he doesn’t expect will hold him out of the game, writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers have experienced Kobe Bryant‘s torn Achilles’ tendon, Pau Gasol‘s knee problems and Steve Nash‘s broken leg over the last year. Now there’s the tobogganing injury sustained by Chris Kaman at the Great Wall of China.

One of his fingers was squashed while he was sledding down a slippery concrete track after trekking along the wall for two hours Sunday with Lakers teammates and staffers.

His sled, essentially a wheeled cart with a brake, was rammed from behind by teammate Shawne Williams. Kaman instinctively put out his hand as he saw Williams careening toward him and, well, ouch.

Visitors to the Mutianyu portion of the wall take a gondola or cable car to the top of a hill where the wall is located. They can return the same way or take the toboggan down.

“I didn’t hit the brake the whole time. Guys on the edge were yelling ‘Slow down’ and I just kept going,” Kaman said. “All of a sudden I catch up to this guy close to the bottom, so now I have to brake. Shawne Williams comes behind me without hitting his brake at all and just smashed right into me.”

Williams was going 20-25 mph hour and Kaman was going only about 3 mph at the time of the collision, Kaman said.

“My hand smashed right between the two sleds. I didn’t feel the end of my finger for, like, an hour,” Kaman said, extending a bandaged, swollen middle finger. “It’s starting to throb a little right now.”

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No. 2: Jazz rookie Burke out 3-6 weeks?During the first quarter of Utah’s preseason loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday, rookie guard Trey Burke fractured his right index finger in a play you can see here. Burke’s father, Benji, who is also his agent, doesn’t expect surgery to be in the cards for the young point guard, but may miss 3-6 weeks. That means the Jazz are likely looking at John Lucas III as the starter come opening night, writes Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune:

For now, John Lucas III is captain of the ship.

With rookie Trey Burke sidelined for an estimated 3-6 weeks after fracturing his right index finger, Lucas is easily the most accomplished point guard left standing in the Jazz’s training camp.

“I’m just going to play,” he said. “I’m going to come in and hold it down. My whole thing is to come in and play right away. Whatever Ty wants out of me, that’s what I’m going to do, no matter what.

“I live for this game and, when the opportunity comes, I’m going to step it up. I ain’t shying away from nothing. I’m just going to play hard, play tough and play with a lot of energy.”

Burke will be examined by a hand specialist Monday, when a decision on possible surgery will be made and his official time-frame for returning will be announced.

Burke’s father, Benji, is also his agent.

On Sunday afternoon, he sent The Tribune a text message that read, “Not sure on surgery. Looking at three to six weeks, guessing. [Trey] is in great spirits.”

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No. 3: Adelman lays into Timberwolves — After a 2012-13 season marred by constant injuries and disappointments, the Timberwolves have gone through the preseason more or less unscathed (save for the injury to Chase Budinger). At 2-2, though, they aren’t drawing a lot of praise from their coach, Rick Adelman. He recently told the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda that he’s upset with Minnesota’s lack of consistency and bemoaned the team’s failure to cut down on turnovers thus far as well:

“They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team,” Adelman said. “I just told them, ‘What kind of season do you want?’ That’s really up to us to make what we want. They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team.”

He criticized their lack of concentration and preparedness and lamented a second consecutive game when his team had as many turnovers as assists. On Saturday, it was an even 16 in each category, a sure sign his players are not moving and sharing the ball.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Like I told them afterward, we’ve played two games here at home and we’re acting like we’re just going through the motions. We aren’t the San Antonio Spurs and we aren’t Miami. We act like we have plenty of time.”

In fact, the Wolves have just three preseason games left before their Oct. 30 season opener. They do, however, now have more than a week before they play again.

“Maybe it’ll help us,” Adelman said about the upcoming break. “Maybe it’ll wake us up.”

The Wolves have played the last three of these first four games without starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, who again didn’t play Saturday because of a sore Achilles tendon. Alexey Shved started in his place and Adelman took good looks in both halves at a small backcourt that included starter Ricky Rubio and reserve J.J. Barea.

The rest: Rubio and Barea combined to shoot 2-for-17. Add Shved’s 0-for-4 night and the three made two of 21 shots.

“Awful, our guards went 3-for-whatever it was,” Adelman said, adding training-camp invitee Othyus Jeffers’ 1-for-1 night. “They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to make plays. It’s not just the guards. The shooting problems carry right to the same thing: What’s your mental attitude? How are you approaching the game? Are you really doing this thing all out or are you going through the motions?

“I know it’s the exhibition season, but we’re trying to get better and we really can’t get better if we don’t go out with better effort than we’ve shown.”

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No. 4: D-Will could miss start of seasonDeron Williams continues to deal with a nagging right ankle injury that could last into the season, says Nets coach Jason Kidd. Williams hasn’t played in any of Brooklyn’s preseason games thus far and has been ruled out (along with Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry) for the next preseason game against the Sixers. If anything, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com, the timetable for Williams’ return remains iffy at best:

Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd left open the possibility that point guard Deron Williams could miss the start of the regular season due to an ailing right ankle.”This is going to be a question that we’re probably going to have to deal with every day until he does get the green light to go,” Kidd said Saturday.

“But we’re not rushing him. So if we have to start the season with him still trying to get better, I think we all feel comfortable, but we would feel a little bit more comfortable if he was starting.”

Williams, on Sunday, said there was no definitive timetable for his return.

He felt Kidd’s comment was overblown by the media.

“I’m not going to respond to anything about yesterday, about this stupidness,” Williams said. “That’s just how somebody worded a question, and you guys just write it the way you want to, so I’m not going to respond to that.”

Kidd, asked after Saturday night’s 99-88 preseason loss to the Pistons about Williams possibly being out the first regular-season game and how it would change the mindset of the team in its next five preseason games, said, “I didn’t know he was out so … “

Kidd later added: “I don’t go on ifs … right now we are playing with the guys that are dressed, and he is a day by day situation. If he is ready to go, he will play. We will just take it one day at a time. We got to focus on Sunday.”

Williams sprained his right ankle during an offseason workout in Utah.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Corey Maggette will retire if he doesn’t make the Spurs … Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, 37, believes he can play until he’s 40 … Cavs still searching for a capable starting small forward … Pelicans should have their full roster ready to play by this week … Evan Fournier still an unknown quantity for Denver