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We can't remember a night like Tuesday, when the Gophers won a track meet against Iowa (preferring to finish the race as the tortoise instead of the hare, but more on that later) and the Wolves came back to win at Phoenix. Both victories were largely influenced by two players -- redshirt freshman Charles Buggs for the Gophers and rookie Shabazz Muhammad for the Wolves -- who have typically only seen playing time in mop-up duty this season. Both had breakout games that, while they might not be indicative of greatness to come, at the very least rescued their teams in varying degrees of must-win games.
First, Buggs: He had played exactly 21 minutes this season -- 2 in Big Ten play -- before Tuesday. He had attempted three shots, making two. But with Oto Osenieks out with a knee injury and two bigs in foul trouble, Buggs was the spark the Gophers needed. He had 11 of his career-high 13 points in the first half, looking smooth and confident shooting from long distance. His three-pointer late in the half made it 45-41 Gophers and helped them take a halftime lead. His only bucket in the second half came at a critical time. A 5-0 run had helped surging Iowa get within 68-66, but his steal and layup ignited a 12-1 run that proved essential. That put Minnesota ahead 80-67. The Gophers did not make a field goal the rest of the game -- the final 8:30 -- but they made 15 free throws and never let Iowa reclaim the lead in a 95-89 victory. There was wisdom in the slowdown approach the Gophers took on a lot of possessions after taking that 13-point lead, but there is also danger in choking off your own momentum. It almost cost them on Tuesday, but huge performances by Austin Hollins, DeAndre Mathiue and the unlikeliest hero in Buggs were enough to get a MUST-HAVE victory. It moves the Gophers' conference record to 7-9, with three very good Big Ten wins (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa). An upset win at Michigan and a home win over Penn State to close the season would seal an NCAA bid. A competitive loss to Michigan, a win over Penn State and at least one win in the Big Ten Tourney would at least give Minnesota (which bumped up to No. 43 in the RPI with last night's win) a reasonable shot at making the Big Dance. Anything short of that would be precarious at best in our minds. But that Iowa win was one they had to have.
Next, Bazzy: He's played just 140 minutes for the Wolves this season, but a combination of injuries and him forcing the issue with good work in practice have given him a little more run lately. He has 89 of those minutes in February, including 57 in his last three games. Tuesday was easily his most complete game as an NBA player -- 8 for 13 from the floor, six rebounds, a pair of steals and 20 must-have points in a 110-101 victory over Phoenix. The Wolves' playoff hopes are pretty much dangling by a thread, but they would have been far more precarious without a win over the Suns. They are now 5.5 games behind the Suns, who occupy the No. 8 spot at 33-23 in the brutal West. They're still 4 behind ninth-seeded (and out of the playoffs) Memphis. But there are still 25 games left. A loss last night would have been a two-game swing, putting them 7.5 behind Phoenix and all but dead. Now there is a glimmer of life thanks to a monster game from Kevin Love and an the unlikely contribution from Muhammad. Most impressive was his determination. The Wolves trailed 81-75 entering the fourth quarter, which is usually a recipe for a road loss with this team. Muhammad had 10 points in the final quarter, several massive rebounds and one huge assist, dishing to Corey Brewer after fighting for an offensive rebound and setting up a layup that made it 102-97. He is a terrific rebounder for his size, with 19 in his last three games over a total of 57 minutes. He presents matchup problems as a post-up option against certain wings/guards because of his strength. And if he stays within himself, as Rick Adelman has preached, he can help.
Like we noted before, none of this guarantees anything about what Buggs, the Gophers, Muhammad or the Wolves will do for the rest of the season. But for one night at least, we were treated to two massive pleasant surprises. We'll take what we can get.
In a little GQ feature about Kevin Love -- most of it was about his beard and his hair -- we find this little nugget about his opt-out clause after the 2014-15 season and his potential to stay in Minnesota:
Now that he looks like a leading man—and with free agency looming as an option at the end of next season, and the Wolves not exactly killing it on the court—everyone assumes that his next big move is to Los Angeles. He's dating actress Cody Horn, a California girl, and his Beach Boy uncle, Mike, co-wrote “California Girls.”
So fess up, Kev: You're gone, right? “People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” he says. “And I'm not [redacted] on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun.”
Note the present tense.
Make of that what you will. The summer of 2015 is still a ways out there. But file that quote away ...
As such, Wolves fans, take heart in Simmons' list of the 30 worst contracts in the NBA. These are the kinds of deals the Wolves used to hand out with alarming frequency. We're thinking of you, Darko, And you, Mike James. And especially you, secret Joe Smith deal.
A guy the Wolves originally drafted and reportedly went after in the offseason (O.J. Mayo) makes the list at No. 15 after he signed with the Bucks for three years and $24 million.
But nobody on the current Minnesota roster cracks the list.
The top five (meaning the worst): Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Gerald Wallace and Amar'e Stoudemire.
That said, we will leave you this question for the comments: What is the worst contract on the Wolves?
Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked about tanking during All-Star weekend. Here was the money quote, as found by commenter Clarence Swamptown:
“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding. And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”
And here is from the Star Tribune game story the night Mark Madsen hoisted seven three-point attempts -- all in overtime -- when the Wolves lost to the Grizzlies in the 2006 finale.
Farce. Mockery. Circus. Travesty.
Call the Timberwolves' 102-92 two-overtime loss to Memphis on Wednesday night all of the above and more, and you would not be incorrect. Or unduly harsh.
When offensively challenged, backup big man Mark Madsen is allowed to aim seven three-point shots at the rim, ostensibly, in the two extra sessions, it's pretty clear that the Wolves' season is over and their minds are on things other than winning. Such as draft picks, Ping Pong balls, a history of lousy lottery luck and, allegedly, some old-fashioned fun.
From that narrow perspective, then, mission accomplished.
Maybe Silver forgot about that game?
A Yahoo report suggests the Wolves and Grizzlies are discussing a trade in which the principal players involved would be J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger leaving the Wolves and Tayshaun Prince plus Tony Allen joining them.
Two words: Do it.
If you are the Wolves, you need to shake things up. And while this deal isn't perfect for a number of reasons, it isn't bad, either.
You'd be losing a three-point shooter in Budinger. You'd be losing "good" Barea, the guy who can still score in bunches off the bench. And you'd be taking on two less-than-perfect contracts (Prince is owed $7.7 million next season, the final year of his deal, and Allen still has THREE years remaining after this one at about $5 million per year). Prince will be 34 in a couple weeks. Allen is 32. This trade could lock the Wolves into the same salary cap madness cycle they went through with Kevin McHale.
Wait, why should the Wolves do this again?
Plain and simple, they need a shakeup. It's going to be tough to overhaul the roster in any other way than a trade since they are already up against it cap-wise and historically it's been tough to get big-time free agents to come here anyway. The roster, as currently constructed, is missing something -- and the main component just might be defensive toughness/chemsitry in the fourth quarter. Prince and Allen would solve that immediately. A crunch time lineup with those two, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic would have the right balance of scoring and toughness. The Wolves could play offense-defense substitution with Kevin Martin and Allen as needed, too.
They would miss Budinger's three-point shooting, but Prince actually has a higher career mark from long distance (36.8 percent vs. 35.9) than Budinger. They would be handing the backup point guard role to A.J. Price, unless they made another corresponding move for a backup point guard, but that wouldn't be the worst thing, either. It's time for Rubio to sink or swim, and playing 38 minutes a game is the only way to do that.
In short, you lose some scoring and flexibility, but you gain toughness and the potential to get better. If you're all-in on Kevin Love, this improves you in the short term. Maybe it's too much of a shortcut, but the status quo isn't cutting it and the chance to improve otherwise will be tough.
If the deal is really there, the Wolves should make it.
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