GameDay LIVE Blog: Wolves vs. Suns | March 23, 2014

Wolves Lose 127-120



Final: That's the ballgame, folks. The Wolves fall 127-120 tonight despite once leading by 22 in the second half. Love finishes with 36 points, 14 boards and nine assists. Martin had 25 points, Rubio 19 points and Brewer 14 points. Markieff Morris with 25 off the bench for Phoenix, who is still very much alive in the Western Conference playoff hunt. More to come here from Target Center, so stay tuned. PHX 127, MIN 120


Q4 26.4: K-Mart hits a pair of free throws to cut this to two. Suns ball. PHX 122, MIN 120


Q4 32.7: A quick steal and score followed by a Wolves miss and subsequent foul makes this a quick four-point swing in favor of the Suns. Gerald Green just hit both of his FTs to extend it to 4. PHX 122, MIN 118 


Q4 1:06: Tie game again. That's the seventh time tonight we've been knotted up. MIN 118, PHX 118 


Q4 2:04: The Wolves lead by one here and Phoenix has the ball. Love had a huge basket while drawing contact in the lane moments ago. His free throw securing the 3-point play put the Wolves back up. MIN 116, PHX 115


Q4 4:25: Kevin Love just hit another shot to put the Wolves up 110-109, and they Wolves had a chance to extend that lead on their next possession after a Love defensive rebound but Kevin Martin's shot didn't fall. We've got just about 4 1/2 to play and it's going to come down to the wire tonight at Target Center. The Wolves need a solid couple minutes of defense here to create a little separation. MIN 110, PHX 109


Q4 8:02: Game on, folks. The Suns just cut this lead to 2 with a drive and 1 from Eric Bledsoe. He'll have a chance to cut this one to one after the timeout when he goes to the line. Minnesota is being outscored 11-3 early on in this quarter. Tough way to start after having such a strong first three quarters, especially offensively. They have now dropped below 50 percent from the field. Love checks back in alongside DC, Brewer, K-Mart and Rubio. MIN 106, PHX 104


End Q3: Gerald Green was chirping pretty loud after hitting a 3 moments ago and wanted an and 1 for his efforts. So he did induce a free-throw attempt....only for the wrong team. Green received Phoenix's third tech, and K-Mart hit his shot as the Wolves pushed their lead back up to 10 after 3. Love is playing like an animal tonight, per usual. He's got 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Kevin Martin had 21 points, and Rubio has 15 points and eight assists. MIN 103, PHX 93


Q3 3:42: Big response for the Wolves. Phoenix cut the Minnesota lead to five but the Wolves responded and brought this thing back up to 12 with 3:33 left in the third. Love capped that stretch off with a driving layup. He's up to 27 points (8 in the third) and is really leading the way here as we near the fourth. MIN 96, PHX 86


Q3 5:28: We've got ourselves a game here with about 17 minutes to play. The Wolves once led by 22 but are up 85-80 here with 5:28 left in the third. The Suns have gotten aggressive and are starting to get to the line while also hitting their shots. They're shooting 60 precent from the field and 52 percent from 3. Kevin Love is doing his best to hold them back. He's got 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting with eight boards and six assists.  His latest 3 came after a Gorgui Dieng offensive board extended the possession. MIN 85, PHX 80


Halftime: The Wolves put up 73 points in the half. That's right, 73. They also gave up 62 and take an 11-point lead into the second half. The Wolves are shooting 57 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3. The problem is the Suns are shooting 61 percent from the field and 53 percent from behind the arc. The Morris twins--Markieff and Marcus--are a big problem for the Wolves off the bench. They've combined for 24 points, including 15 from Markieff, and they've shot a combined 4-for-4 from 3. The Wolves have 16 points off the bench total, led by Shabazz's eight. Love has 19 points, seven boards and six assists. Rubio has 12 points, Martin 11 and Brewer nine. Dieng has six points and six boards. MIN 73, PHX 62


Q2 2:54: Alex Len was one of the prospects last season who could have been the first overall pick. He was rumored to be in that conversation despite never working out due to offseason surgery during the combine season, and he ended up falling to fifth overall. He was an intriguing prospect out of Maryland because of his size and his up side over time. So far tonight, Len has one points and one board in five minutes, while rookie Gorgui Dieng has six points and six boards for the Wolves. MIN 65, PHX 48


Q2 4:13:  Shabazz keeps impacting the game with his hustle. He's got eight points in 10 minutes and also has three boards--the latest led to a 3-pointer by Kevin Love. Love has 13 points, six boards and six assists, by the way, so keep an eye on that. Rubio has 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. MIN 61, PHX 47


Q2 8:17: Shabazz Muhammad has five points here and provided a little spark off the bench with his pair of field goals plus an and-1, and Dante Cunningham just took an alley-oop pass and slammed it home on the baseline. That got the crowd going. The Wolves have pushed their lead to as many as 22 and have settled in at up 17 four minutes into the second. MIN 51, PHX 34


End Q1: The Wolves put up 41 in the first and have ecliped 30 points in the first quarter of each of their past five games. Love is quietly putting together another "Kevin Love" game with 10 points, six boards and five assists through one on 4-of-8 shooting. Brewer and Martin each have nine. The Wolves have a 26-16 advantage in the paint and a 7-2 edge in second-chance points. Dragic has seven for the Suns. Minnesota is shooting 64 percent from the field, while Phoenix is shooting 60 percent. MIN 41, PHX 27


Q1 2:28: First off, there is a guy wearing a sun costume in the stands. Like for real, a sun costume like from the California Raisins box. Good for him. Secondly, the Wolves are still shooting 12-of-19 from the field and just went on a 20-3 run through the middle part of this quarter to take a 33-20 lead. All five starters are on the board led by nine from K-Mart and Brewer. Shabazz Muhammad and Dante Cunningham are checking in right now. MIN 33, PHX 20


Q1 5:58: Solid start tonight for the Timberwolves as they jump out to an 18-13 lead in the first six minutes. They're shooting 60 percent, as are the Suns (both at 6-of-10). The difference is the Wolves are getting to the line. Minnesota is 4-of-6 from the stripe while the Suns have not shot a free throw yet. Meanwhile, Brewer is 3-of-4 with a pair of dunks (one of them coming on a sweet steal and no-look pass from Ricky). He's got seven points to lead all scorers so far tonight. MIN 18, PHX 13



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


Suns: PG-Goran Dragic, SG-Eric Bledsoe, SF-P.J. Tucker, PF-Channing Frye, C-Miles Plumlee


PREGAME 1:45 PM: Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he expects J.J. Barea to play today. Barea went through warmups today before the game to test out that sprained left foot. Had he not been able to go, it definitely would change up the Wolves' back court rotation given how much time Barea gets on the floor in place of starter Ricky Rubio or alongside Rubio in a two point guard back court.


"If he gets it going and gets to the basket, he's a big factor for us because he can create problems for the other team," Adelman said. "He's probably the one guy off the bench that we count on to consistently score for us. So he is a big factor."


Speaking of factors, Nikola Pekovic will miss his fourth straight game with an ankle injury, giving Gorgui Dieng the start. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek talked about Dieng prior to the game today and said both he and Pekovic impact the game in different ways.


"It's similar to the way we have Miles Plumlee, a guy who can go up there and alter shots," Hornacek said. "He doesn't necessarily need to block them. he makes them thinka bout a shot a little bit. He's long, so it's a little different wehn Pekovic is in there. I think he does a great job of getting in the way. Sometimes you don't have to block a shot to have a big effect on it inside the lane. So you know, they're different types of players but they both have the same impact.


Hornacek said the Suns didn't talk about the playoffs until two games ago when the coaching staff put the postseason standings up on the board. This was meant to ensure the Suns players kept an eye on each individual upcoming game and not look too far into the future. But now, the Suns are a game out in the West and have a shot to be a surprise entry into this year's postseason if they make push now.


"They started to see, hey, we have no choice but to go out there and play every game like it's our last," Hornacek said. "...We can't afford any slip ups. We've got to go for it now and not wait until the last five games."


One last note on Hornacek--I wrote a story a few weeks ago about the current NBA coaches who played in the league during the mid-1980s through mid-1990s. Hornacek is one of 13 that fit that description. He obviously played half of his career under Jerry Sloan in Utah and took things from him, much like players do from every coach they've played under. Sloan, a member of the NBA's 1,000 wins club, taught Hornacek the value of pushing players and demanding excellence from them in every play of every game. He said sometimes it took until after seasons for Hornacek to full appreciate the lessons he learned from Sloan, but he understood he had a great chance to succeed because of how hard Sloan pushed his players every day.


He said another reason for so many coaches coming out of that era is, quite simply, it was a great era of NBA basketball.


"The guys that are our age now are close enough to some of these guys where htey remember us as players and they feel confident that we went through it and the things we learned we can pass onto them," Hornacek said. "I think that era, I think guys knew how to play the game....I think the late '80s and early '90s, you look at that one Dream Team. They were athletic, they knew how to play. That era, you couldn't play during that time if you didn't know how to play, because those guys would kill you. That's probably why a lot of those guys are coaching now."

PREGAME 11:30 AM: Welcome to Target Center, folks, for the lone home matinee of the season the Timberwolves as they take on the Phoenix Suns. These two teams have split 1-1 this season, and this being the final matchup of the year ensures whoever wins will take the season series. It is not on local television today, so keep that in mind and follow along right here with blog updates while listening to the myth, the man, the legend Alan Horton on 830 WCCO-AM.

So let’s take a quick run through this one as we prepare for tipoff. First off, expect Gorgui Dieng to again start at center in place of Nikola Pekovic, who has missed three games due to a sore right ankle. He’s doubtful for today. Ronny Turiaf has missed the last 13 games and will do so again today as he’s out with a bone bruise on his right knee. And as we talked about yesterday in the Practice Report, J.J. Barea is going to test his foot this morning during warm-ups to see if he is able to go. He’s been feeling soreness in his left foot for a week, he said, but it really stiffened up in Houston. If he’s not able to go, expect to see more Alexey Shved as the backup point guard.

We’ve seen a merry-go-round of players in and out of the rotation over the past few weeks, especially at the wing. We’ll see who gets more minutes this time around. In Houston, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute entered back into the mix because he was Adelman’s best bet to guard James Harden. But we’ve seen Robbie Hummel and Shabazz Muhammad in and out recently, and it was Shabazz who really was the catalyst in a 110-101 comeback win in Phoenix on Feb. 25. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and was a menace for the Suns to stop down the stretch. Does he have another one in him today?

The Wolves are 5-3 against the Suns in their past eight games, beginning with a 127-124 win on March 12, 2012 that halted Phoenix’s nine-game winning streak against Minnesota. Phoenix did rebuild last season and tried to regroup in the post-Steve Nash era. They picked fifth in the draft last year and were expected to be a high lottery pick again as they moved on. But Phoenix surprised everyone, thanks in part to bringing in Eric Bledsoe to bolster their back court and a Coach of the Year-worthy effort from Jeff Hornacek. Today, the Suns sit one game back of Memphis for the final playoff spot. Lots to play for today, folks. And lots to look forward to....this is the only game this year where we might get a media room brunch. Let’s get to it.


Here are a few pregame notes to ponder:


·         The Wolves trail the series 32-61 and are 18-27 at home. The teams split the two previous meetings this season with the Suns winning 104-103 at Target Center on Jan. 8 and the Wolves getting a 110-101 victory at US Airways Center on Feb. 25 behind 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists from Kevin Love and a career-high 20 points from Shabazz Muhammad. 

Wolves Notes

·         The Wolves are currently 10th in the Western Conference, 5.0 games behind Phoenix and 6.0 games behind Memphis. The Wolves are 10-5 in their last 15 games.

·         The Wolves have tallied 30+ points in the first quarter a league-leading 31 times, including the last 4 games. Minnesota is 23-8 when scoring 30+ in the first quarter, 12-2 at home.

·         Kevin Love has made at least two 3-pointers in the last 15 games -- the longest streak in the NBA this season. Love is shooting 44.3% (51-for-115) from long distance over this stretch.

·         Love currently leads the NBA in double-doubles (54), 20/10 games (43) and 30/10 games (18). He ranks 4th in the league in scoring (26.5 ppg), 3rd in rebounding (12.7 rpg) and 3rd in free throws made (439). Love is also averaging a career-high 4.2 assists -- the last players to average 26+ points, 12+ rebounds and 4+ assists over a full season were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo in 1975-76.

·         Ricky Rubio ranks 2nd in the NBA in steals (2.42 spg) and 4th in assists (8.6 apg). He has recorded 3+ steals in 30 games this season, the most such games in a season by a Wolves player. With 162 steals this year, Rubio needs one more steal to pass Tyrone Corbin (162, 1990-91) for the 3rd best single-season total in club history. Next on the list are Micheal Williams at 165 (1992-93) and Corbin at 175 (1989-90).

·         Rubio is averaging 11.2 points, 10.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game over the last five games, including shooting 47.2% from the field during this stretch.

·         Gorgui Dieng became the first Wolves rookie to record a 20/20 game with 22 points and 21 rebounds Thursday at Houston. Four other Wolves player have accomplished this feat; Kevin Garnett (26times), Love (16), Al Jefferson (5), Tom Gugliotta (1).

·         Dieng has started the last three games and recorded a double-double in all three. He is averaging 14.7 points, on 57.1% (16-for-28) shooting, and 14.3 rebounds over this stretch.

Suns Notes

·         With a 40-29 record, Phoenix is 9th in the Western Conference, just 1 game behind Memphis and 1.5 games behind Dallas. The Suns have won four of their last five games. Phoenix is 16-16 on the road this season, 8-11 vs. the West.

·         The Suns rank 1st in the NBA with 18.8 fast break points per game with Goran Dragic ranking 5th individually in this category with 5.11 ppg. Phoenix is 4th in bench scoring with 38.2 ppg.


·         Gerald Green is averaging 20.2 points, on 45.8% shooting (42.4% from long distance), in his last 20 games. Phoenix is 14-6 this season when Green tallies 20+ points.


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