January 13, 2012

Your parents probably told you that its not nice to hope for bad things to happen to other people. But in the case of the 2011-12 Minnesota Timberwolves, you really cant blame New Orleans Hornets fans for openly rooting against the Timberwolves. You see, as part of a complicated series of trades culminating with New Orleans Dec. 14 four-player deal with the Los Angeles Clippers the Hornets now own the Wolves first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. In essence, that means that the more games the Timberwolves lose this season, the better off the Hornets draft position will be in June (the Hornets also still own their own first-rounder, meaning they currently have a total of two picks among the first 30 choices). In fact, theres even a Twitter account (@Tumblewolves) that was started by avid Hornets fans, with a stated mission to cheer for the Hornets draft pick in the summer of 2012.

New Orleans fans hoping for a poor Minnesota campaign were pleased when the Wolves started 0-3, but they immediately rallied to post impressive consecutive victories over Dallas and San Antonio. Minnesota is now 3-7 overall.

Fridays game in the Crescent City is the first of three meetings between the Hornets and Wolves this season. The Wolves will return to New Orleans on April 7, with the Hornets making their only stop in Minneapolis on March 10.

Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Chris Kaman vs. Kevin Love
After coming off the bench early in the regular season, Kaman was shifted into the Hornets starting lineup, partly in order to move Carl Landry to the second unit, where Landrys been most comfortable throughout his NBA career. As a result, Kaman will frequently go head-to-head against some of the premier players in the NBA there are a multitude of formidable starting power forwards in the Western Conference. One such force is Love, a scoring and rebounding machine for Minnesota. In the Wolves first eight games of this season, Love tallied at least 20 points and 12 rebounds, a historic streak that finally came to an end Monday in Toronto (he had 13 points and 14 rebounds). Kaman and the Hornets big men will focus on boxing out Love and trying to keep him from dominating on the boards.


Its been a frustrating run in recent years for the Timberwolves, who havent made the NBA playoffs in eight years and havent posted a winning record since going 44-38 in 2004-05. Over the past two seasons, Minnesota has been one of the leagues worst teams, going 15-67 in 2009-10 and 17-65 last year. After consecutive finishes at the bottom of the Northwest Division standings, however, there appears to be legitimate reason for long-term optimism in the Gopher State. One byproduct of the rampant struggles in recent years has been that the Timberwolves consistently pick in the early portion of the NBA draft lottery, which has yielded a promising group of young players. The 23-year-old Kevin Love, a first-time All-Star last season, is the headline performer for whats been a fun team to watch early in 2011-12. Love is joined by fellow top-10 overall draft picks such as exciting rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, 21, as well as athletic rookie forward Derrick Williams, 20. Minnesotas roster also includes recent lottery picks Wesley Johnson, 24, and 22-year-old Michael Beasley, who was selected one slot after Chicagos Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft.

Whats new
Among the current crop of NBA rookies, numerous players have already met or exceeded expectations just three weeks into the season. Newcomers Rubio and Williams also qualify, having given Minnesota an immediate boost in excitement. The pair often combines on highlight-reel alley oops, with Rubio using his deft passing skills to set up the high-flying Williams. In addition to those first-year pros, the Timberwolves added valuable backcourt depth in free agency when they signed Jose Barea, a critical component of the Dallas Mavericks run to the 2011 NBA championship. Barea has been Minnesotas third-leading scorer early in the campaign, but also missed a handful of games due to injury. Other offseason pickups for the Timberwolves include veteran center Brad Miller and rookie guard Malcolm Lee, though neither player appeared in any early-season games.

Timberwolves star
Though some of his individual accomplishments may not receive widespread publicity due to his playing for a team that has struggled mightily, NBA coaches and opposing players have an ample amount of respect for Love, a fourth-year pro. When the Western Conference All-Star team was initially announced last February, there was an outcry throughout the league when Loves name did not appear on the roster. The oversight was later rectified when Love was added to the West squad as an injury replacement. Love, who averaged 24.0 points and 14.9 rebounds in Minnesotas first nine games, has produced several eye-popping performances in his relatively brief career. His 31-point, 31-rebound game vs. New York last season was the first 30-30 outing by an NBA player since 1982.

Timberwolf on the rise
Minnesota drafted Rubio in 2009, but the Spanish guard opted to play the next two seasons overseas, partly in order to be fully prepared for his NBA career. Rubios arrival in Minnesota this season has been greeted with enthusiasm by fans around the league, who enjoy watching the point guards outstanding floor vision and passing ability. Timberwolves supporters also appreciate the way Rubio appears to make the players around him better hes averaging 7.4 assists per game despite only logging 28.2 minutes a night. The native of El Masnou, Spain, was also supposed to be a below-average shooter, but he was 8-for-16 from three-point range through nine games.

On the sideline
With so many positive changes taking place in Minnesota, one of the most important may be the hiring of Rick Adelman. Timberwolves executive David Kahn recently remarked on NBA TV that several players told Kahn that Adelman is the best coach theyve ever played for. Adelman led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, and later guided the Sacramento Kings to the most successful era in franchise history.

Did you know?
The Timberwolves joined the NBA in 1989-90, one season after the Hornets debuted. While waiting for their current home, the Target Center, to be completed, they played 89-90 in the Metrodome and averaged 26,160 fans per game.

Players the Timberwolves want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Timberwolves need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through Jan. 9)
Moved into starting lineup after Michael Beasley injury.
Averaged 6.8 trips to foul line per game last season.
Upped rate to 84.4 and 84.7 percent in last two seasons.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Jan. 9)
Pure shooter a third-year pro from North Carolina.
Surprising range for a 6-foot-10, 260-pound player.
Shot career-best 44.0 percent last season.

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