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.
On Monday the Wolves won in Chicago against a Bulls team depleted by injuries, a problem magnified when starting center Joakim Noah was an injury-related scratch.
Ditto Wednesday night, when the Wolves finally pushed their way above .500 with a victory over an injury-depleted bunch of New Orleans Pelicans after rising star Anthony Randolph was a late scratch.
It will be far more difficult Friday when the Wolves host a Memphis team that, back to good health, is starting to make a serious run. The Grizzlies have won four straight – including home and away victories over Houston and a 17-point beating of the Blazers in Portland.
The Grizzlies have won nine of their last ten games.
Health? Center Marc Gasol, back after missing 23 games with a knee injury, has been a spark, with the Grizzlies going 7-1 since his return. Gasol and Memphis power forward Zach Randolph are a formidable pair, especially for a Wolves team without center Nikola Pekovic.
“They’ve proven the last two or three years they’re a really good team,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after Thursday’s practice. “They’re a playoff team. Without Gasol they struggled. But right now, they’ve had four really impressive wins. And they’ll defend us. They’re going to take things away from us. So it’s going to be a big challenge.’’
It doesn’t stop there. Memphis point guard Mike Conley – always a thorn in the Wolves’ side – is averaging a career-high 18.2 points per game along with 6.3 assists.
Six of the Grizzlies last eight opponents have failed to score 90 points. They will defend. And they will make it difficult for Kevin Love to get his shots. What can the Wolves do to counter that?
“There has to be more motion,” Adelman said. “Just more activity. [Wednesday] night it was the first game [Without Pekovic]. With Pek, they had to honor Pek all the time. And that would just naturally space the court for us. With Pek out now, if we post up Kevin, they’re going to double him. And so we have to have movement. Take it to one side, then come back.’’
Here are some other items from today’s practice:
--The players had a league-mandated meeting following practice.
--Adelman on Conley: “Conley is really good. He’s really good defensively. He’s got really good hands.’’
--Adelman likes the fact that Kevin Martin is getting more aggressive with his shot. But he still wants more. “I just think he continues to have to be more aggressive,” he said of Martin, who scored 18 points on 7-of-18 shooting Wednesday. Adelman wants Martin to be quicker with his shot. “I call it quicker taking his shot, and not massaging the ball. He’s got that explosiveness that, if he gets a step on a guy, he’s gonna get the shot off. I think he shoots better when he does that.’’
That’s about it for now. Jerry, back from his golfing adventure, will be covering the team tomorrow.
Kevin Martin practiced fully with the Wolves Thusday at Oracle Arena and afterward said he's fine and ready to play the Warriors there on Friday night.
He lacerated the pinkie finger on his shooting hand above the knuckle Tuesday at Utah and after that game said he wasn't sure how much pain he'd have or if he could play in three days.
He said Thursday after the Wolves took Wednesday off that the finger won't affect his shooting Friday night.
"There's pain, but I'm not allowed to take days off right now," he said. "I'm good to go tomorrow."
Meanwhile, Alexey Shved didn't practice Thursday and Rick Adelman wasn't sure if he'd play Friday.
Adelman said Shved felt fine after breaking his nose in that same Utah game, but the team is waiting for a protective mask for that nose and there was no sense risking that it might get whacked again in practice.
Friday's game starts a back-to-back set that ends Saturday in Portland. The Wolves play three games in the next four nights when you factor in Monday's game at Chicago that ends this four-game road trip.
The latest buzzword when it comes to the Timberwolves is: Communication.
As in, the team has to communicate on defense . As in, communication on defense Saturday was a big reason why, in a one-sided route of Utah, the Wolves held the Jazz to 28.8 percent shooting.
There have been other buzzwords the Wolves have latched onto at different points in this up-and-down season. They have needed more energy. They have needed better starts. They have needed to be more willing to foul.
And now, they just need to talk.
After Monday’s practice, with the team about to board a plane to Salt Lake City for Tuesday’s rematch with the Jazz, coach Rick Adelman and star forward Kevin Love both talked about….well, talking.
“It was one of our better games communicating to each other,” Adelman said of Saturday’s victory. “It’s something we have to do consistently, in each game. We’re not that great defensively, but we can get better.’’
Said Love: “If we can do that, get our back line, our bigs, talking – between me and (Nikola Pekovic) and even (Corey Brewer) when we’re switching off – then it just kind of goes all the way through our lineup. It’s pretty contagious. If we do that, communicate, we’re always gonna be a better team.”
We’ll see if they keep talking on the upcoming road trip.
Here are some other tidbits from today’s practice:
--With the deadline for fan voting set for tonight, Adelman once again pumped up the volume for Pekovic and Love.
On Pek: “He’s played well enough for it,” Adelman said. “But who knows? There are a lot of people in the West, a lot of power forwards who are really good. So I don’t know what the coaches will do. But he’s been consistent all year long. He’s really backed up what he needs to do with that contract. He just comes out and plays. You hope he’d get some consideration for that.’’
On Love: “He’s been terrific,” Adelman said. “I mean, he’s played at a high level. He’s had to made adjustments. Other teams are trying to take things out of his hands, so he can’t get the opportunities. But he’s been consistent, night-in and night-out. His rebounding is the same. His assist totals are up. I mean, he’s done just about everything he could do for us.’’
--Adelman on playing the same team in back-to-back games: “I think it’s a hard thing to accomplish, to go out and get two wins,” he said. “It really is. But it’s a good opportunity for us. We know they’re going to come out and their place and be aggressive. So it’s just one of those things. Seems like it’s happening more and more though. As you look around the league, it’s happened a lot this year. So, just the way it is. There are a lot of things about scheduling that you have to wonder about. But you can’t do anything about it.
--Love was asked today for some mid-season state-of-the-team analysis. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “We just need to start climbing back, and we’ll be good. You can quote me on that.’’
--One last thing: Love is approaching a couple more milestones. He needs three rebounds to reach 4,000 for his career and is 41 points away from reaching the 6,000-point plateau.
When Love gets those three rebounds Tuesday -- a virtual certainty -- it would be his 327th NBA game. Since 1985-86, only Shaquille O'Neal and Dikembe Mutombo have reached 4,000 rebounds in fewer games. Dwight Howard did it in 327 games exactly.
That’s about it for now. Have a great rest of your day
Wolves coach Rick Adelman, not surprisingly, was still annoyed Thursday after putting his team through a lengthy film session. But that made for some fairly insightful and direct comments about the Wolves, who have lost two straight and three of four games. Here is a selection of some of the things he had to say today:
On his team’s lack of aggressiveness against Sacramento: “There is no doubt,” he said. “There were a couple of instances last night that they had a bigger guy, whether it was Rudy Gay or Derrick Williams, were posting up on a smaller guy. Number one, we didn’t come over with any urgency to just to help, and two, why would you let him take a big power dribble? Just foul him. Don’t let him score. But our tactic is that we don’t give resistance, and if that doesn’t change we’re going to be in trouble. I think it’s very evident in the games that we’ve lost that we’ve had leads in that we have a tendency just to relax, ‘we’ve got this one.’ Before we know it, they’re back in the game. And now any mistake or anything can happen. That’s kind of been the MO of this team and it has to change. We’ve talked from Day 1. They’ve got to get out of their comfort zone. Whatever that it is it’s got to be better than what they’re doing. We just seem to be going back and forth. We have a good game and then we just drop right back.’’
On his team’s current situation: “We’ve got to face fact that we’re a .500 team,” he said. “Right now we’re below .500. I told them today that if you think you’re a playoff team why don’t you just forget it, because you haven’t proven that you are. You haven’t gone out and really established yourself yet. You make some changes, and it looks good on paper, but it means nothing.’’
On responding to physical play: “Well we’ve been talking about it forever. It’s been pretty evident in some games where teams get into us. The league has changed. For whatever reason, I don’t know why, the last couple of years there hasn’t been any post defense. It’s more of a wrestling match. It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to respond to that. Players usually always respond to the way the game goes, because in our league in 82 games every game is different. You have a different officiating crew, everything is different. You’ve got to respond to it, but if you’re not going to go into the game ready to respond, if you’re going to back off you’re in trouble. You’ve got to take it on. You’ve got to be more aggressive.’’
This is a guy who wants his team to have more of an attitude, come out with more consistent effort, and defend people. Kevin Love, for one, said he completely agrees his team needs to get a bit nastier.
“One hundred percent,” Love said. “I think we need to develop some sort of edge. We talk a lot of trash. We are edgy in practice, we just need to transition that into the game. We have it in us, we just need to go out there and do it. And hopefully now that it’s out there, we can kind of hold ourselves accountable.”
That’s about it for now. Jerry will be with the team tomorrow.
Shabazz Muhammad returned to Minnesota a more confident player than the one who went to play four games with the Iowa Energy of the NBA’s Development League.
And this is coming both from Muhammad -- who averaged 24.5 points on 57.1-percent shooting along with 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game – and Wolves president of basketball operations, who was in Des Moines Sunday to watch Muhammad play.
First Muhammad, who returned to the team for day’s practice: “It felt great,” he said about his extended playing time in the D-League. “It felt a little bit like college and high school. I mean, it was a good thing. It gave me a lot of confidence coming into practice today. And I believe I can really help this team out if I just get the opportunity.”
And now Saunders: “He went down, he played hard, he played team basketball,” Saunders said. “He was aggressive. I wanted to see him run the floor and do the things he can do. I think, no question, he gained a little confidence. When you haven’t played much, it’s nice to get down there and just play. I thought he did a lot of good things.”
All that said, of course, when that opportunity to play extensively for the Wolves is unknown. For the first time in nearly two years Wolves coach Rick Adelman has an entirely healthy roster to work with. With backup center Ronny Turiaf back and a healthy Chase Budinger to help spread the floor for the second unit, it’s going to be hard for Adelman to find minutes, especially for a rookie.
“We have 15 guys,” Adelman said. “Only so many guys can play. But, in this league, things can happy very quickly, and you’ve got to be ready all the time. I think he’s proven with his attitude and everything else.’’
This is a situation Muhammad said he understood. “Whatever the coaches do, I’m going to respect,” he said. “And I’m going to wait my turn.’’
Here are some other items from today’s practice:
--Saunders identified four things that have hurt the Wolves at different times in close losses this season: Free throw shooting down the stretch, getting multiple defensive stops, turnovers, and finding the second option on offense when the first option isn’t there. “Those are the things we continue to work on every day,” Saunders said. “Even though I’ve been a coach, I’m pretty patient on things because I look at this team and I realize we’ve played 37 games. These guys have only played 37 games together. So it’s a work in progress.’’
--Adelman was asked if Budinger might be a candidate to start going forward. The answer: his current 18-minute time limit (though he played 22 minutes in San Antonio. “I couldn’t get him out of the game,” Adelman said, defending himself) would make that a moot point in the short run. “I haven’t even thought about that,” Adelman said.
--The new method for putting together All Star teams will make it harder for Wolves center Nikola Pekovic to make the Western Conference squad. But Pekovic, who has averaged 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in January, is definitely worthy, according to Saunders. "I had some people, this was three, four weeks into the season, question me and say, 'How could you be happy with Pek's signing? don't you think you made a big mistake?' At that time, I said no. I knew over the summertime that Pek had not played at all, and when a guy hasn't played for the first time in seven, eight years, it's going to take some time. ... It was just taking time to get his body to where he wanted it to be. Our medical people have worked a lot with him abou this flexibility. There's no qustion right now that if they had not changed the rules on the All Star games that he would be an All Star. So our job now is to push, because I think he's deserving of being an All Star. He's one of the top big guys in the league.''
--Monday was Turiaf's 31st birthday, and the team concluded practice by singing Happy Birthday to him.
That’s about it for now. Have a great rest of your day.
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