These are good days for Timberwolves fans. Not just in our lovely neck of the woods but from far and wide. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been back and forth, in the Big Apple and down covering Twins spring training for upcoming GameON! Shows and it’s noticeable. The All-Star Break not only gave players a chance to catch their collective breath on this shortened season but fans as well.
After a few years of being on the bandwagon with open seats all around, the rig is finally filling up. The Wolves are fun to watch. They are no longer the forgotten when talking about up and coming teams. Safe to say, it’s OK to venture out when travelling abroad wearing Minnesota Basketball on the front of your dry fit wear.
Just to get it straight, I did hear NBA great Reggie Miller giving big time LOVE to the Wolves and David Kahn. During the All Star weekend broadcasts, the former Pacers sharpshooter pulled out the white flag. Miller admitted, “you know I have made fun and given plenty of grief to David Kahn for that team (Wolves) but you’ve gotta’ give it to the Minnesota Timberwolves. To be 17 and 17 at this point. MAN!” I about fell over.
Reggie has good reason for his words. The Wolves arrived at the All-Star Break with numbers that made everyone smile. 17 and 17 when last year, in 34 games, they were 9-and-25. No hope. Struggling. As Wayne Ellington admitted to me recently, “disillusioned”. That 82 game season was miserable for all concerned and to make these kinds of strides makes coming to work for players enjoyable. For staff, it’s stepping into sunshine after years of overcast and clouds and fans, it’s flat out sweet. Remember too, the Wolves won 17 games in 82 games last season.
The .500 mark is a good place to be too. Considering the Wolves haven’t been there since the 2004-05 season (when they were 27-27 in an 82 game season), Coach Adelman has been straight forward about it: “It’s progress. We’re not there yet.”
I know the second half has started so I’m careful to get the ol’ cart before the horse when it comes to laying out the rest of the season. Assistant Coach Jack Sikma reminded me last week (and echoed his bosses company line) that “this team has a lot of work to do. A lot of learning. A lot of growing.” That being the case, I’ll take wins like the pre-break thriller against Utah when the Wolves were down by 18 then used a 3-15 run to rally to win by two. I’ll want more after a two point overtime loss in Denver in which we should have seen the Wolves win. I’ll enjoy staying up last on the east coast when the Wolves are using a frenetic fourth quarter to beat the over hyped LA Clippers for the second straight time away from the Twin Cities.
This is how basketball is supposed to feel as we watch the season unfold. As I recently mentioned, it’s no mistake to sense that this is a turnaround on time and on track. To watch Coach Adelman put the pieces together so gently. Remember too that he is carefully keeping players in check. Players, like Derrick Williams, who wants to go 48 but still needs to be brought along slowly while learning from the All Star in front of him. For as much as Adelman is turning the key to start this car, he needs players to but in and believe in what they are trying to accomplish. So far, so good. And winning has a lot to do with it. That vibe is good. From practices to pre-game shootarounds, to wins home and away and everything in between. JJ Barea told us just a Sunday ago on GameON! That this is a group of players who enjoy hanging together. Its showing. Yes, we’re seeing it happen.
Ask and they will come:
Funny. Have you heard that line that it’s harder for Minnesota teams to get players to come to sign as free agents or come here?!
I recently asked Barea about that and he immediately dismissed it. “I was excited to come here. I knew the Wolves had lost a lot of games over the past few years but they wanted me and made me feel like I could help get it turned around.” Barea WANTED to be here and he had no hesitation signing with the Wolves. We couldn’t be happier either. The little point guard was one of the key reasons the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title last season and when you watch him, you see why. He’s confident. Barea will drive the lane even if a Mack truck is in his way and still believe he’ll score (or get fouled). Barea’s “been there, won that” mentality is a breath of fresh air to the faithful. JJ credits the coaches for leading this turnaround. “Coach Adelman lets us play. He puts us out there and plays to our strengths. I’m very glad I came here.”
JJ admits that inside the team they know what needs to get done. Slow the turnovers, take better shots, tighten the team defense and fight through it when they get “outta’ synch.” He’s right, too. Fifteen turnovers against Denver which translated to 18 Nuggets points, and against Utah, 18 turnovers for 18 points. The work in progress continues.
Linsanity up close:
Just back from NYC, I got a firsthand look at the Jeremy Lin fever. It’s real. It’s gripped basketball and it’s very noticeable in Manhattan. No one is on the fence about the new point guard for the Knicks. That town has been waiting for the Knicks to improve. New York loves its basketball team. Jeremy Lin may be the missing piece.
When Lin and the Knicks visited Minneapolis a few Saturdays ago, the Knickerbockers didn’t have Amare or Melo but they still won and put on a heck of a show. Now the team is loaded, players healed from injury and ready to stir up the east.
EVERYWHERE you turned, they were talking Lin this and Lin that in midtown. In pubs and restaurants, hotel lobbies and at crosswalks, Lin chit chat audible and his hot selling No. 17 on every corner. The banner headlines in papers and tabloids shouted Lin. In the cramped NBA store, they couldn’t keep the Knicks road blue #17 in stock.
It’s great for the game. It’s great for the Knicks and believe it or not, it’s very good for the Wolves. In this lockout shortened season, we have a team that’s becoming part of the story. That story that reads easily, about turnarounds and opportunities seized. Lin is not only a great player but he’s an amazing player find who’s helping a storied franchise become relevant again. Like immediately! The Wolves have new faces that are doing the same thing here, from JJ to Ricky Rubio and K-Love’s emergence as an NBA all-star and standout.
Check these out!:
The Timberwolves will have tough duty in the week ahead. THE week I’ve been waiting for all season has arrived with three games, Monday against the LA Clippers, Wednesday with the Portland Trail Blazers and then Friday against the LA Lakers. This is a critical stretch for the Wolves. All Western Conference foes and teams they have to beat to climb the standings ladder and continue to gain respect.
We know what those three teams bring to town. The Clips with Chris Paul (CP3) and Blake Griffin, the Blazers with LaMarcus Aldridge and the Lakers with Kobe, Pau Gasol and crew. Tickets are available and worth it.
BACK and FORTH:
The Timberwolves have sent rookie guard Malcolm Lee back to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League. Lee needs playing time and more court time to play into shape after his injury. Earlier this season, Lee appeared in three games for the Skyforce, averaging 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 25.3 minutes.
Big upside for this rookie. Lee underwent successful surgery on Dec. 30, 2011 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He’s a player; a 6-5 guard from UCLA, Lee was drafted 43rd overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and acquired by the Wolves in a draft-day trade. He averaged 9.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists over his three-year collegiate career. Lee earned both First Team All-Pac-10 and Pac-10 All-Defensive Team honors in 2011.
See you on TV:
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