Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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On Tuesday night, the Gophers fell behind by 17 points before rallying...and losing.
The Wild continued to embarrass itself and its entire effort-based sport with another pathetic performance.
Our bright spot came from the NBA. Actually, from two unanticipated sources in the NBA.
And Kevin Love.
Mo, as you know, scored 52 points to break the Wolves' losing streak. Just as impressive, he scored 52 points without frequenting the paint. He scored 52 points with a 7-3 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was both prolific and efficient, and it's nice to see a Wolves point guard invested in avoiding losing. (You can come back any month now, Ricky.)
While Mo was doing strange things, Kevin Love kept proving he is who we thought he was. In a loss at Phoenix, Cavs coach David Blatt benched Love for the fourth quarter, saying he liked the way his on-court lineup matchup up with Phoenix defensively.
In other words, Love remains a terrible defensive player.
Love finished with nine points and nine rebounds. He was 3-for-11 from the field. He was a team-worst minus-20.
Blatt made headlines the other day by saying Love isn't a maximum-contract player. He tried to spin that after guaging the public reaction, but I believe he was offering an honest assessment of a limited player.
Love is great at putting up big numbers. He's not so great at playing winning basketball.
I'll admit I've been conflicted on Love (great band name) for years. I've praised his productivity. I thought Wolves fans blamed him too much for the struggles of what has been a terrible basketball organization. But I also questioned his effort, defense and attitude at times.
Now he's playing with the best player in the world, on a team that should be near the top of the East, and the Cavs are 19-20, and Love is partly to blame.
I'll give Flip Saunders credit for getting Andrew Wiggins for Love, and I'll also credit the Golden State Warriors for being smart enough to keep Klay Thompson. It's not surprising that the team that decided against trading for Love is playing so well.
Tonight's podcast: 5 p.m. at The Local (the great Irish bar on Nicollet), former Viking and current North High AD Leo Lewis will be my guest. Friday at 5 p.m. at O'Gara's, my guest will be Strib hockey writer Michael Russo. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com. Thanks.
Andrew Wiggins still doesn't show much emotion on court. He still doesn't look like he's always passionately engaged with playing in the NBA. But let's stop looking at body language and look at results. The kid is playing at a remarkably high level for a rookie, especially one at his age.
He's scored 20 points or more in five straight games. Last night, against Phoenix, he was remarkably efficient, scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting and making four of his five free throws.
He's increasingly willing to drive into the heart of a defense, and to be the Wolves' go-to scorer.
Yes, the Wolves have lost 13 straight, and yes, Ricky Rubio may take two or three more years to come back from an ankle sprain, but the most important person in the Wolves' organization is Wiggins, and he's starting to perform like a budding star.
The Wolves drew a small crowd for an 8:30 start on a freezing night, but at least a few fans were there to chant ``R-O-Y'' - meaning rookie of the year - when Wiggins went to the line late in the game.
While my appreciation of Wiggins grows, I'm having trouble watching Thad Young play. He's Kevin Love Lite - he can amass a certain number of points and rebounds, but his defense is horrid.
At 3 p.m. today Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I will run a live podcast from the XCel Energy Center press box. We'll talk about the passing of J.P. Parise, and the predicament in which the Wild finds itself, plus the usual music, pop-culture and other-sport nonsense. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
According to Bovada of Las Vegas, the two teams favored to win the NBA championship are the Chicago Bulls and the Golden State Warriors. Both are listed at 5-to-1 odds.
What do they have in common?
Both considered trading for Kevin Love, and decided against it.
The Bulls are 25-10, even with Derrick Rose struggling to overcome injuries.
The Warriors are an NBA-best 27-5, and are the most entertaining team in the league as well as the best.
The Cavaliers, who added LeBron James and Love, are 19-16 and currently in the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
If there are lessons to be learned here, I think they are these:
1. Love is proving again that he is capable of accumulating numbers without dramatically affecting the outcome of games. He went for 30 points and 18 rebounds last night...and the Cavs lost again.
2. Those who argued against the Wolves trading Love for Klay Thompson said that Thompson was a one-dimensional player, a pure shooter and little else. They ignored the fact that he's a driven young player who was bound to improve, and has.
3. The Wolves probably made the right decision, trading Love for Andrew Wiggins. Despite a remarkably optimistic view from inside the Wolves' organization before this season started - there were key decision-makers who thought this team could make the playoffs - this roster is nowhere ready to win. So Thompson would have been frustrated, even if he had helped the Wolves win a ffew more games.
If you're going to lose big, you might as well do it with young players.
Wrote about Andrew Wiggins in my column, so I'll use this space to offer instant and egiously presumptuous takeaways from the Wolves' 105-101 loss to Memphis on Wednesday night.
1. Thaddeus Young looks very comfortable being the best player on this team. He can shoot, he can get to the hoop, he can pass, and he plays hard. ``And he's only 25,'' coach Flip Saunders said. ``People don't realize how young he is. There were times out there where our average age was 23.''
2. Young and Mo Williams were ideal pickups for this roster. Williams' flagrant foul late in the game was damaging, but overall he played an exellent game, looking capable of either playing for or alongside Ricky Rubio.
3. Flip was right - this team has depth. The Wolves bench was impressive, outscoring Memphis 46-10.
4. Shabazz Muhammad really does look like a different human. Much leaner than last year after his intense offseason workouts, Muhammad played hard on both ends, scoring 13 points in 23 minutes and grabbing seven rebounds. I was not in favor of the Wolves drafting him, and I didn't like the way he played last year. Wednesday, he was an asset.
5. I did like the pick of Gorgui Dieng late in the first round last year, and he made a big impact on Wednesday, with eight points, four rebounds and a strong defensive presence in 19 minutes. He injured his right hand in the first half but returned with the hand wrapped, just another indication of his competitiveness. ``I was afraid he was going to be out a lot longer than 20 minutes,'' Saunders said.
6. Chase Budinger still looks lost. He went 0-for-4 from the field with no assists. I thought he would fit well into former coach Rick Adelman's system, but injuries kept that from happening, and he still doesn't look right.
7. Corey Brewer was a mess. He kept blowing defensive assignments, then having to explain himself to the bench. He went 2-for-7 from the field and had two turnovers.
8. As he did in the preseason, Anthony Bennett showed signs of getting it, producing nine points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. He attacked the rim aggressively and even hit a long jumper.
9. Zach LaVine did not play, and will probably be saved for garbage time early in the season.
10. Saunders seems energized, and seems to like his team. Through 48 minutes of the season, I can see why. They play hard and unselfishly and they put on a good show against a good team on Wednesday.
I'll be on WJON at 7:15. Instead of my usual 12;15 appearance, I'll be on 1500ESPN at 9:45 or so tomorrow. Thanks for reading and/or listening.
MEMPHIS -- So, before shootaround, Flip Saunders sees me with other reporters, and genuflects. He asks whether his boss and Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor has loosened the paper’s purse strings to send me to Memphis for the Wolves’ opener tonight.
Saunders seemed wired and enthusiastic on Wednesday morning. He also offered large doses of realism when it comes to expectations for his team this year.
Unprompted, he brought up the team’s decision to waive veteran guard J.J. Barea, and segued into an explanation of where his young team is.
``We made a decision on J.J., and there are some people, even on our staff, saying, `Hey, J.J. is going to help us win two or three more games,’ ‘’ Saunders said. ``I had to say, `Listen, when we made the decision to trade Love, that was the direction we chose. If we’re going to try to shortchange that, we’re going to hurt ourselves in the long run. This season is about going through the process. It’s about developing and blending the players together. It’s about finding out what we have in our young guys, what they have to work on in the next year to be where we need to be.
``We’re going to go through some nights where we’re going to play really well, and we’re going to have nights where I’m pulling my hair out.
``I don’t think that we can lose sight of the direction. It’s not just about wins and losses. I know that’s what fans want to hear about, and so do I. Right now, wins are reinforcement for what you’re doing, with young players. I’m being a realist.’’
Asked about Andrew Wiggins’ debut, Saunders used his popcorn analogy _ ``Some players are better when the lights are on and the popcorn is ready.’’ I reminded him that I first heard him use that a long time ago about another talented rookie – Stephon Marbury.
``And he was a popcorn player,’’ Saunders said.
The difference between Marbury and Wiggins is that Marbury wanted the ball in his hands on every possession. Wiggins, despite his gifts, can be passive offensively.
``He’s got a lot of potential,’’ Saunders said. `` The one thing that’s impressed me is he’s a team player. Almost, sometimes, to a fault. We’re trying to get him to be a little more assertive offensively, and to assert himself in the half court. We all know he’s going to be a very good defender, so he’s got the opportunity to be a two-way type player. In this league, if your team wants to be good, you have to have two-way players. And if you want to win a championship, your best player has to be a two-way player.’’
That’s the interesting thing about this team. Saunders is looking to build a champion, but this season is going to represent a traveling classroom. This team might lose 55 games and feel good about its future, if Wiggins develops properly.
I”ll be on 1500ESPN AT 12:15 from Memphis. Jerry Zgoda and I will be covering the opener tonight for the Star Tribune and startribune.com.
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