Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
Two nights after they looked so shocked and stunned against New Orleans, the Wolves on Monday night began that seven-game trip that could define their season by outlasting the Suns 127-124 in Phoenix.
Here's the game story from Monday night and...
Here's a little of this, a little of that supplied by the team from the game as well as a good bit of video from post-game interviews:
* The Wolves were missing their most creative playmaker and yet set season highs for points, assists (30) and three-pointers made (14).
Their 63.6 percentage from three-point range was the best this season as well.
* After consecutive losses at home on Friday to the Lakers and Saturday to New Orleans, the Wolves have climbed back over .500 once again at 22-21 and they're back to a half-game behind Houston for that eighth and final playoff spot.
* Kevin Love made five of those 14 threes and scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter alone.
He set a franchise record with his 15th 30-point game of the season, surpassing the 14 Tony Campbell had in 1989-90, the team's inaugural season. He now has 24 of those 30-point games in his career, behind Kevin Garnett (82) and Campbell (30) on the franchise list.
With those five threes, he now has five games this season with five or more threes and ties the club single-season record held also by Randy Foye in 2008-09, Latrell Sprewell in 2004-05 and James Robinson in 1996-97.
* And get this: Love is leading the NBA in scoring in March with a 32.2 ppg average.
Player G Pts FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast
------------------- - ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----------------------------
Kevin Love, Min. 6 32.3 .471 .467 .804 12.7 2.2
Kobe Bryant, LA-L 6 30.5 .427 .324 .830 4.7 3.8
LeBron James, Mia 6 29.5 .574 .353 .689 10.3 5.2
Kevin Durant, OkC 6 29.0 .454 .325 .883 7.3 3.5
Dwight Howard, Orl. 6 28.5 .670 .000 .500 14.0 1.2
* Love also moved into second place on the team's all-time rebounding list.
With 7 Monday, Love now has 3,035 career rebounds and passed Sam Mitchell (3,030).
He now trails only Kevin Garnett who finished with 10,542 rebounds for his Minnesota career.
"Only 7,500 more?" he asked. "Is that all?"
* The Wolves ended a 9-game losing streak to the Suns, including five straight in Phoenix. The Wolves last beat them Jan. 16, 2009 during that fine January they put together after Kevin McHale took over for Randy Wittman as coach.
* About those 30 assists, Luke Ridnour had nine, J.J. Barea had a season-high 8 in 15 minutes in his first game back after missing two games because of a sprained ankle and Martell Webster set a career-high with six.
* Those 127 points tied the eighth most in franchise history and it's also the most in a non-overtime road games in team history.
Until Monday, their season high was 122 at Portland just nine days earlier. The 35 points in the second quarter was a season high.
* The Wolves have 10 or more threes for the sixth time in the last 10 games, and they're 6-0 in those games.
They're shooting 41.9 percent on threes in that time and seven players all are making better than 40 percent each.They are:
Wes Johnson 13-24 54.2%
Mike Beasley 9-19 47.4%
Derrick Williams 14-30 46.7%
Wayne Ellington 5-11 45.5%
K-Love 21-49 42.9%
Martell Webster 8-19 42.1%
J.J. Barea 5-12 41.7%
* Barea played 15-plus minutes in his first game back after missing two with that sprained ankle and reported he came through it feeling fine.
* Beasley scored 15 points in 11-plus minutes in the first half on 6-for-7 shooting and then barely played after halftime because of a sore toe that Markieff Morris stepped on and bent in the second quarter.
He yelped when he tried to put his shoe on that left foot and I wouldn't be surprised a bit if he misses some time because of it.
* The win was the Timberwolves NBA-leading 7th win in games decided by 3 points or less (tied with the LA Lakers), and an NBA high 13th game (7-6) in that category. No other team in the NBA has more than 10.
* The Wolves now are 10-9 on the road. In the West, only Oklahoma City (14-7), San Antonio (11-9) and Denver (11-9) have better road records. Remember, the Wolves won 10 road games total the last two seasons (5-36 in each of the last two seasons).
That's all from Phoenix on Monday night.
The Wolves will have an optional practice on Tuesday here and then will have a full regular practice on Wednesday before they fly to Salt Lake City for Thursday's game at Utah.
These two days between games are the first of only three such breaks between All-Star weekend and the season finale on April 26.
Good night from Phoenix...
After the game ended almost nobody was willing to blame Ricky Rubio's injury for the way the team played last night.
It won't take long to figure out if that's true. One bad outing can be written off to a team battling emotional fatigue in the wake of Rubio's season-ending knee injury. But now the team goes on the road, and it will have to play a heck of a lot better than it did Saturday or this seven-game road trip could be the trip from hell.
"it was just a disappointing game all-around," coach Rick Adelman said. "I thought maybe it was the worst game in a long time defensively for us. No communication, ball-watching, not playing as a team."
Greetings for a final time tonight. Kent Youngblood here.
Adelman is 100 percent correct. The defense Saturday was reminiscent of the 2010-11 Wolves. The Hornets had 28 assists on 39 field goals made. Seven Hornets players had two or more assists.It was ridiculous how many easy shots the Hornets got because nobody in a Wolves uniform was playing help defense.
Again, in the wake of the Rubio news, you can give the team a one-game break. But let's see what happens Monday in Phoenix.
Here are some observations from tonight's game:
1. Malcolm Lee made his NBA debut, getting just 5:15 of playing time. Offensively he looked a little tentative, which is to be expected. But he was OK on defense. Still, Wolves fans should hope that J.J. Barea comes back soon.
2. Barea could be back Monday. If not then, Adelman said he'd be back by the Utah game.
3. Love, playing with a back that is still sore, scored 31 points and had 16 rebounds. He, Pek and Ridnour all had double-doubles. But too many other players took the day off. Michael Beasley's defense was gosh-awful and he was 1-for-7 shooting with two turnovers. Martell Webster played more than 24 minutes and managed just two points on 1-for-5 shooting. Wes Johnson was 0-for-3 in 25 1/2 minutes.
4. Getting his first significant action in a while, Wayne Ellington came off the bench, hit five of eight shots and scored 12 points.
5. But the bottom line is the Wolves will have to re-imagine their offense in the post-Rubio portion of the schedule. Even when Barea returns the Wolves will have to find different ways for the ball to move, for open shots to be created. This will be a huge test for the coaching staff.
That's about it for now. The Wolves are off tomorrow, and Jerry will pick them up in Phoenix on Monday.
Coming off a 2-2 road trip that Kevin Love termed "great," the job now is for the Wolves to focus on winning as many of the few home games the team has this month.
And that starts tonight. Kent Youngblood here. I'll be covering tonight's game, with Jerry Zgoda getting a much-deserved night off. The Wolves are a super-respectable 9-9 on the road this season. Splitting your road games is one of the key ingredients for a team looking to make the playoffs.
But a .500 home record isn't. And that's what the Wolves have at this point, going 10-10 at Target Center. "It means a lot for us to play well in front of the home crowd," Love said. "We're not putting extra pressure on ourselves. But we need that extra push at home.''
There is no question about that. Tonight's game vs. the Clippers is the first of four straight at home. After that the team goes on the road for a seven-game road swing, the longest since the Wolves had a seven-game swing from March 23-April 5, 1998. After this week, the Wolves have only two more home games this month.
Here are some other items from today's morning shoot:
--Derrick Williams said the key to his recent surge in scoring is about him playing aggressively. It's also about him getting back to the kind of player he's always been, he said. "Just that fire, playing with a little more passion," Williams said. "I felt like in the first half of the season I wasn't really playing like i used to, like I know how I can play, like I was playing back in school. You know, just having fun and playing with passion."
Williams has scored in double figures in four of his last five games, and he is shooting 24-for-44 (54.5 percent) from the field in those games, 7-for-14 from three-point range.
--Another fellow who appears to be finding his shot of late is Wes Johnson, who is 12-for-25 from the field (4-for-8 on three-pointers) in his last four games. I talked to him this morning, and he discussed the frustration he has felt with his shots not falling this season, and how hard he has worked to get it back. I'll have more on that in tomorrow's paper.
That's about it for now. I'll get back to you before the game.
J.J. Barea ran and shot without as much as a limp at the Wolves' morning shootaround today and afterward said he expects to play tonight against the Trail Blazers in Portland.
"I feel a lot better, I feel great," he said. "These two days helped. I'm going to try to give it a go tonight."
He will wear a compressive sleeve tonight on that calf that he injured Wednesday against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Barea missed Thursday's game at Phoenix because of the injury.
There's playoff implications to this one tonight, considering you've got the 18-18 Blazers and the 18-19 Wolves chasing that eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
There's also all sort of connections between the teams, on both sides.
From the Minnesota end...
Rick Adelman has lived in Oregon since he took a junior-college job in the 1970s and coached the Blazers as an assistant and head coach for 11 years until 1994.
David Kahn grew up here and still considers it home and, of course, Love grew up here, too.
Assistant coach Terry Porter's No. 30 playing jersey is retired in the Rose Garden rafters after a long career here.
Martell Webster was drafted by the Blazers and played his first six seasons here, not far from his home up the freeway a piece in Seattle.
Assistant coach Bill Bayno was a Blazers assistant here before getting hired by the Wolves last summer.
From the Blazers side...
Monticello's own Joel Przybilla signed last week to return to Portland after being wooed by both Miami and Chicago in free agency.
Blazers trainer Jay Jensen was the Timberwolves' original trainer and assistant coach Dean Cooper used to be an assistant coach and a scout with the Wolves.
I think that about covers it, unless you want to include Blazers forward Luke Babbitt, whom Portland took in 2010 with the 16th pick they got from the Wolves for Webster.
And the Wolves tried to sign shooting guard Jamal Crawford in December, but he opted to go with the Blazers instead and now is starting at point guard for them.
Keep an eye on Crawford in the coming 11 days before the trade deadline: He said before tonight's game that he came "really close" to signing with the Wolves in December.
"I really thought they were a team on the rise," Crawford said. "Their young guys have gotten better, obviously with Rubio coming in. I'm a big fan of Coach of Adelman. He's really laid back. He's an old-school coach. He's got some great, great, great stuff offensively. I can't take credit and say I saw them being right there in the thick of things (a playoff race) but I definitely saw them being a lot better than they were last year.
"Toward the end of it, I wasn't sure how interested or serious they were. I think they wanted me to be more patient and at that time, I was kind of running out of time. I wanted to be in camp before the season started."
With the Blazers in danger of imploding here -- they've lost five of their last seven at home and are a long way from that team that started the season 7-2 -- and with the Blazers able to terminate Crawford's deal after this season, they just might be willing to deal him away for something if the Wolves coming calling.
That is all for now from Portland.
If you don't hear from me on the blog after the game tonight, it's because I ran out of time trying to catch a red-eye flight bound for home after being on the road for 10 days.
Maybe I'll check in from the plane if I don't right after the game.
Rookie Derrick Williams returned to Los Angeles at home Tuesday and looked more at home than he has all this season, scoring 27 points off the bench that Michael Beasley matched step by step.
History can be a fickle thing and measured in many ways, but according to Elias Sports Bureau, Derrick Williams did something Tuesday night back home in L.A. that has never been done before.
On a night when he made nine of 10 field attempts, including all four three-pointers he took, and 5-for-5 from the line, Williams became the first player in NBA history to shoot 90 percent from the field (a minimum of 10 field-goal attempts), perfect from three-point land (minimum 4 attempts) and perfect in free throws (minimum five attempts) in a single game.
He and teammate Michael Beasley each scored 27 to lead a Wolves’ bench that scored 72, most in the NBA this season and two points away from a franchise record set in 2009.
Here’s the game story from Tuesday night, when Williams and Beasley each gave the kind of performances for which Rick Adelman has been searching:
One that will keep him from having to play Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio 40 minutes or more again.
Rubio played fewer than 29 minutes, and just 84 seconds in the fourth quarter when Adelman again turned to Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea like he did in last Wednesday’s unlikely comeback victory over Utah at Target Center.
Love played just 25 minutes, both because of early foul trouble and because of a rib injury sustained in the third quarter.
He put on a padded shirt and said he was prepared to play in the fourth quarter, but Adelman never needed him because of both Williams and Beasley, who combined to shoot 80 percent (20-25) from the field and made all seven threes they attempted (4 for Williams, 3 for Beasley).
Love said he was hurting after the game – he said DeAndre Jordan hit him in the back and he got hit a couple times after that – but said he has a high pain threshold and expects to play Wednesday night against the Lakers at Staples.
A couple other things about Tuesday’s game:
· * Clippers star Blake Griffin scored 24 points by halftime, 29 by the end of three quarters and…just one more point after that in the fourth quarter, thanks to Blake Buster Darko Milicic, who played 10:36 of the fourth quarter and was mostly responsible to shutting Griffin down and allowing the Wolves to outscore the Clippers 36-21, the same lopsided fourth-quarter margin by which they outscored the Jazz six days earlier.
· * The Wolves’ 27 assists were a season high. Rubio had nine of those in his 28:58 played and Barea had seven of them and Milicic, of all folks, had five.
* The Wolves moved over .500 Tuesday night with another comeback victory in which both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio sat either all or most of the fourth quarter.
Now can they stay there?
“We can try, no guarantees,” Beasley said after the Wolves' second victory at Staples Center over the Pacific Division leaders in five weeks. “If we play like we played tonight second half, it’s no question.”
The last time the Wolves slipped into winning territory, they beat Sacramento at Target Center on Feb. 7 to get to 13-12, then lost four consecutive games, their longest losing streak of the season.
This time, they have gotten there again, this time by winning consecutive comeback games and by winning five of their last six games.
S So when, you might ask, is Adelman going to shake up a starting lineup that once trailed by 10 points in the first quarter and either replace ineffective Wes Johnson with Beasley or try Williams there at small forward?
I s I suggest you don’t hold your breath, but we’ll know shortly since the Wolves Tuesday started a stretch where they play three games in three nights on the road and 11 of their next 15 away from Target Center.
T That's it from Los Angeles Tuesday night.
I I'll blog at you again on Wednesday, when we'll find out with the NBA will allow Kobe Bryant and his broken nose to play or if the league's new concussion policies will keep him sidelined since Sunday's All Star Game.
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