GameDay LIVE Blog: Wolves vs. Pelicans | Jan. 29, 2014

GameDay LIVE Blog: Wolves 88, Pelicans 77





Final: Ballgame. The Wolves are now winners of five of six with this 88-77 victory tonight against the Pelicans. Love had 30 points and 14 rebounds, Martin had 18 and DC had 12. More to come on Timberwolves.com tonight so stay tuned. MIN 88, NOP 77

Q4 1:15: The Wolves are up by nine and fans are beginning to file for the exits. It hasn't been a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Wolves should have this one locked up. They're sending Rubio, Martin, Mbah a Moute, Cunningham and Love to the court for this final stretch. MIN 84, NOP 75

Q4 3:45: Dante Cunningham hit a jumper, and before the inbound Rubio drew a foul on Morrow that put him on the line. He connected, and the Wolves were able to take advantage of an opportune event there. Love has 30 points and 14 boards, by the way, and Wolves are up nine. MIN 82, NOP 73

Q4 7:42: Rubio is checking back in with four fouls. He's got two points and five assists on 1-of-4 shooting tonight. Minnesota is up 11 with 7:30 to play. MIN 77, NOP 62

Q4 9:51: Now that's the start to the quarter the Wolves needed. Minnesota is on an 8-0 run through the first two minutes of the fourth led by six from Kevin Love, and Minnesota is back up to a 13-point lead just like that. That's the largest lead of the night. MIN 75, NOP 62

End Q3: Same story as we enter the fourth. The Wolves' offense has straight up not looked very good tonight, and as a result they're clinging to a five-point lead against a Pelicans team without three of its four best players. Minnesota needs to come out with intensity in this fourth quarter to create some space on the scoreboard. Love has 22 points and 11 rebounds, Martin has 16 points and Barea has eight off the bench. Rubio has been saddled with four fouls since early in the fourth and has just two points and five assists tonight. Gordon has 13 for the Pelicans, while Aminu has 10 and Roberts and Evans each have nine. MIN 67, NOP 62<

Q3 5:32: The Wolves are doing the one thing they can't afford: They're letting the Pelicans hang around in this second half. Minnesota once led by as many as 12 and have never trailed tonight, but they're only up five with 5:32 left in the third. Love has 20 and Martin has 14, but no other Wolves have more than six. The Pelicans are shooting 36 percent from the field and 2-of-16 from 3, yet they're only down by five. That 3-point shooting will pick up at some point, and when it does the Wolves will need to find an answer. MIN 57, NOP 52

Halftime: Minnesota ended the half on an 8-0 run and take a 47-35 into the break. Love is leading the way with 18 points and 10 boards, while Kevin Martin has 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Minnesota is getting beat 22-16 in the paint but has an 8-2 lead in second chance points. That 8-0 run was huge, because without Davis, Holiday and Anderson this Wolves team should have a sizable lead against the Pelicans. New Orleans isn't doing itself any favors by shooting 30.2 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from 3. Gordon has nine, Aminu has eight and Morrow has seven for the Pelicans. MIN 47, NOP 35

Q2 5:33: Not exactly a 3-point shootout tonight at Target Center. Minnesota is 1-of-7 from beyond the arc, while the Pelicans are 2-of-12. Minnesota is trying to create a little separation here with New Orleans battling so many injuries, but the Pels are keeping it close midway through the second. MIN 32, NOP 27

Q2 8:48: The Wolves just played an awesome in-arena video about how Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love are inseparable all the time using the song "Happy Together" in the background. Great use of montages and Photoshop. Then it switched to how every February they're separated when Love goes to All-Star and Pek has to stay home. This year, they said, we need to join the movement to send Pek, too. Genius video. Join the movement yourself with the hashtag "#PekGoesToo."

End Q1: The Wolves hold a seven-point lead heading into the second led by 10 points and eight boards by Love. Martin has six, and Budinger has three off the bench. We've seen Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, J.J. Barea, Gorgui Dieng and Budinger all on the floor so far tonight, showing that without Pek the Wolves will be spreading some minutes around to try and save on some legs and wear and tear. For the Pelicans, it's been a similar deal. Ten different players have checked in for New Orleans, including Tyreke Evans three minutes into the game. He's got six to lead all Pelicans in scoring, by the way. MIN 23, NOP 16

Q1 2:36: Love continues to be very active in the paint tonight. His latest board was a classic Love rebound where he simply gained position and out-maneuvered a pair of Pelicans for the ball--drawing the foul on the ensuing pump fake. Love has six boards to go along with seven points. Meanwhile, Budinger just checked into the game for Kevin Martin late in the first. MIN 17, NOP 11

Q1: 5:51: The Wolves are out to a meager 8-7 lead despite having twice as many shot attempts through six minutes. Minnesota is 4-of-13 from the field to New Orleans' 2-of-6. Love has four points and four boards early, but his best play to this point was the charge he drew three minutes in. Brewer followed up and drew a charge in transition a minute or so later. The Wolves need to create turnovers and tighten defense without Pek's presence adding 18 points a night, and that's a good start. MIN 8, NOP 7

Starters:

Pelicans:
PG-Brian Roberts, SG-Eric Gordon, SF-Al-Farouq Aminu, PF-Greg Stiemsma, C-Alexis Ajinca

Wolves: PG-Ricky Rubio, SG-Kevin Martin, SF-Corey Brewer, PF-Kevin Love, C-Ronny Turiaf

Also, really nice address by Love to the fans during pregame thanking them for voting him into the 2014 All-Star Game. He said he's excited about representing the Wolves and the state in New Orleans next month.

PREGAME 7:00 PM: I had a nice chat with Greg Stiemsma during the pregame tonight, who will be starting tonight in place of Anthony Davis in the Pelicans' lineup. He had great things to say about his time in the Twin Cities playing for the Timberwolves, even if it was for just one year.

"I've got a lot of love for this city, for these fans," Stiemsma said. "I've got a lot of friends and family that still live around here. It's always nice to come back. I loved my time here and spent most of my summer here and plan on spending this coming summer here, too. So it's a fun city for me."

Williams said Stiemsma has been a nice addition for the Pelicans this year, and the biggest thing has been consistency.

"He's had his moments," Williams said. "He was really good last night. Last night he was very good at verticality at the rim, rebounding the ball well, and he was hitting a few jumpshots last night. He has a very good basketball sense about him. You know, he's had his games, so we're just looking for more consistency from him, and it's tough--he doesn't get consistent minutes, but that's the position he's in."

PREGAME 6:35 PM: No Jrue Holiday. No Ryan Anderson. And according to Pelicans coach Monty Williams, New Orleans will be without shot-blocking extraordinaire Anthony Davis tonight against the Timberwolves. Davis has been battling a finger injury and played through it during last night's win over the Cavs--even scoring 30 points and blocking eight shots in the process--but Williams said the team needs to step in and keep him out tonight in order to ensure he doesn't hurt his hand worse for a more long-term injury.

Williams said he expects Davis to be back for next game.

Still, that means the Wolves have a great opportunity to patch over another game without their own injured center Nikola Pekovic. Last game, Pek left the Wolves' matchup with a Chicago team missing center Joakim Noah. Tonight, Davis will be out. Williams didn't say who would take his place in the starting lineup, but he did say you could probably expect more time for former Minnesota center Greg Stiemsma on the floor. Coach Rick Adelman said losing Davis does hurt the Pelicans offensively as well as in the shot-blocking department, but it also means New Orleans could go smaller and use their athletes to their advantage.

Stiemsma said losing Davis is a big blow because of all the little things he does on the court. He said the reason Davis has been so effective so early in his career is because he works so hard and has really taken a lot of pride in improving his game--that says a lot considering how highly touted he's been since Day 1.

"He really strives to get better, and I think he's taken some big steps early this season," Stiemsma said. "He plays hard. He runs the floor better than any other big I've played with. Just that ability alone makes things a lot easier for us knowing that he's one of the first guys on the floor every time, and that lead pass gets our offense going."

Stiemsma said Davis is a natural shot-blocker, and that's a big part of becoming a good rim protector. It's not something you can learn over a summer. Stiemsma would know--he earned his spot in the league based on being able to protect the rim in Boston two years ago, and he turned those efforts into a contract with the Wolves last year.

"He's definitely one of those guys that's really skilled at it," Stiemsma said of Davis. "He's got a good timing, and obviously a great athlete with good length."

Stiemsma said even with injuries, the Pelicans have been able to endure. Part of that is because they've focused in on details over the past two weeks.

"We've had the mindset that we want to be better. We have to focus on the little things," Stiemsma said. "Those little things that every team, every coach talks about every season from the start. We've done a better job with those little things and executing down the stretch--limiting our mistakes. When we do that and we play hard, we're going to give ourselves a chance."

PREGAME 4:15 PM: The Wolves have won seven of their past 11 games against the Pelicans franchise, including three straight at Target Center. Their most recent win against the Pels was a 124-112 victory on New Year's Day, a game in which Nikola Pekovic led the way with 22 points and Minnesota shot a season-high 56 percent from the field. Love had 21 points of his own, while Kevin Martin had 20. For the Pelicans, Ryan Anderson had 25 points and Jrue Holiday had 19.

This will clearly be a much different day for both teams. Pekovic is out with bursitis in his right ankle, and both Anderson and Holiday are out for the Pelicans. That means three of the top four scorers from the last matchup are all out. But fear not, because both teams have been able to win without those respective players. The Wolves lost Pek early in Monday's game against Chicago, beating the Bulls 95-86 in their lowest-scoring win of the season. Note that Pekovic scores on average 18 points per game. Meanwhile, after losing eight straight New Orleans has won four of five and three in a row. Their latest win came against Cleveland last night, but they've also beaten Orlando, Detroit and Memphis in that span. Their lone loss since Jan. 20 was at home against Sacramento. In their last three wins, the Pelicans have scored at least 100 points and held their opponents to 92 or fewer twice.

So what's the key tonight? With Pekovic out, it takes nearly 20 points off the board that Minnesota needs to make up. But it also adds opportunity for Turiaf, Dieng, Cunningham or anyone who slides into more prominent minutes in the rotation to shore up the defensive end. Either are viable options in maintaining their recent success during the absence of their standout center.

"Definitely on the defensive end we can always get better, but we're going to have to make up points as well on the offensive end," Love said. "Guys are going to have to step up, myself included."

It's worth noting that point guard Brian Roberts has scored in double figures in five straight and seven of his last eight games--including 10 times this month. He scored in double digits just once before the New Year. He's averaging 10.9 points and 3.7 boards this month. Being able to make him feel uncomfortable on the offensive end will be important tonight. For the Wolves, one way to pick up the pace offensively is to get continued production from Ronny Turiaf in that starting center role and Chase Budinger off the bench. Budinger hasn't put up big numbers since his return from knee surgery on Jan. 8, but on Monday in Chicago he had by far his best effort of the season. In 20 minutes Budinger put up 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers. Budinger, along with Shved and Barea in the back court, will be big in giving Minnesota a little extra boost on the perimeter during Pek's absence down low.

PREGAME 1:30 PM: Welcome back to Target Center, folks. I know, it’s been a while. The last Wolves home game was Jan. 18 against the Jazz, meaning we’ve gone almost two weeks since Minnesota last played at Target Center. In that time span we’ve had a whole sheet of ice placed underneath the hardwood for the upcoming National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament in March (it feels colder in there right now, by the way), we’ve seen Atlanta shut down the entire city over an inch of snowfall, and the Wolves are 3-1 after coming out of a challenge West Coast/Chicago road trip.

Lots of crazy stuff, right?

Well now we’re back, and things are about to get serious. Minnesota is 22-22 on the season and three games back of Dallas, which is currently in the eighth seed. A win tonight and a Mavs loss against the Rockets would put Minnesota two games out of that eight spot. I know it’s still January and circumstances like that don’t carry a ton of weight, but for this Timberwolves team it’s time to start taking ownership in each game, each victory, as an important step forward. I believe it will take a 25-13 record from here on out to make the playoffs. Wins against teams like New Orleans tonight and against Memphis on Friday at home are imperative.

Tonight the Wolves are getting a Pelicans team that isn’t as dangerous as they were the first time Minnesota faced them on New Year’s Day—they’re without starting point guard Jrue Holiday and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson tonight. That’s a good chunk of their scoring output on a regular basis as Holiday averaged 14.9 points/7.9 assists per game and Ryan Anderson contributes 19.8 points and 40.9 percent 3-point shooting.

But they still have Anthony Davis, and that carries a lot of weight.

Davis has lived up to his billing as a top overall pick last season, and he’s rolling into tonight averaging 20.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.27 blocks per game. His player efficiency rating is 26.8 (good for 5th in the league, right behind Kevin Love’s 26.9), and he’s so durable on both ends of the court. He’s a rim protector and scorer that put up 30 points and eight blocks last night in Cleveland—a 100-89 road victory.

That leads me to wonder how the Pelicans will station him tonight. They can either put his defense on Love or swap another player onto the Wolves’ 3-time All-Star, and there are merits to both. Davis’ reach makes it tough for players to get their shots off effectively, but putting Davis on Love also ensures the Timberwolves will draw New Orleans’ top shot-blocker away from the basket. Love stretches the floor better than anyone at his position. How will coach Monty Williams approach it?

“I think they’ll kind of mix it up,” Love said. “Last game I wasn’t able to convert on a lot of 3-points but I was kind of able to get anything I wanted out there as far as stepping into 3s. I don’t know if that will be the case tonight, but Ronny, G, DC and myself are all going to have to do some work down there to compete against him and [Alexis] Ajinca and all those different players.”

Obviously Eric Gordon is no slouch and will be an important part of the game plan tonight for New Orleans. He’s averaging 16.0 points per game, and despite his injury-plagued career he’s played in and started 41 of the Pelicans’ 44 games this season. He’s shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 39.4 from 3, and he’s effective at getting his shot off despite his 6-foot-4 shooting guard frame.

And finally, with New Orleans in town it’s important to address what’s on everybody’s mind—will Pierre the Pelican be in attendance tonight? My sources tell me he did not fly north for the game, so take that as you will. I’m sure he’s got some tricks up his sleeve, so I make no promises. If you do come, keep your head on a swivel at all times.


For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.