Tax time. Stadium unrest. The Awful April. It’s enough to drive a fan crazy as real life encroaches on and even closer to our most sacred of escapes. Fear not. I’m here to remind all of us how good we sports fans aka rubes got it. With “The Big Four” professional franchises in our great town we’re heading into one of the best times of the year. Football gets back on the field, baseball’s into its daily grind and the NBA moves into its second season.
I said it for the past few weeks and even though the scoreboard shows a losing streak, a few things have changed around Team Timberwolves in my view. It’s true, over the past few years the month of April has had a nasty ring to it. And even though most of March had a nastiness about it with the loss of No. 9, we have a few games left to put a better taste in our end-of-season-mouth than the vile bite that April’s giving us.
All that considered and despite a losing streak, I’m clearly on the same take as some of those fans watching the team and then filling me in on their thoughts. Two for you now. Jan in Duluth e-mailed me “We came down for our only game of the season April 14 (vs. OKC) and made a weekend of it. Hotel near the arena, great seats and fun in the city. The best part was the game!! Even though we lost, the Wolves showed heart and determination without many of their best players. Dan from Roseville barked at me “man, you need to give it up for the Godfather. I love Kevin Love but Pek is the MVP of this season for the Wolves.”
I appreciate those thoughts. With a depleted line-up, the Wolves may not be winning as many games and staying in playoff contention but at least they haven’t given up. I agree with Jan. We’ll get to Big Pek, Nikola Pekovic, in a minute. But in regards to not laying down to the season’s finale, gotta’ give a shout out to JJ Barea. Last year at this time, Barea was playing a key role in the run that would lead the Dallas Mavericks to its first NBA Championship. Now, the veteran point guard is showing tremendous leadership by staying on and with his mates, playing through pain and having an awesome April.
This month, Barea has averaged over 16 points and 9 assists and if you carry it back to late March (before Barea joined the starting line-up), he’s tallied 17points and just a tick under 10 assists a game. A triple double at OKC on March 23 with 25 pts/10 reb/14 assists, another triple-double at Denver April 11, April 14 with 24/10 against the Thunder and just the other day against Memphis, a season high 28 points with 5 3-pointers.
Barea is no different from any other player in any sport, he hates to lose. But after having him on GameON! and discussing his move from an NBA title team to an up-and-comer, I will say this. Barea has a fire in his gut. He wants to prove to anyone watching that the Wolves can and will win. It’s his mission. Barea told me he took free agency VERY seriously and was humbled by the degree in which the Wolves wanted him to be a part of their team. You know that media driven theory that no free agent wants to come to Minnesota?! Barea calls it non-sense. He loves it here. He fits. He’s a Rick Adelman type player. Barea compliments Ricky Rubio and it’s the scrappy little guard who’s holding this team together down the stretch.
When it comes to the big fella, I’m also a huge fan of Nikola Pekovic. When he comes up in conversation, I think of one word: Relentless. He’s a tall timber in the middle who bruises, bangs and busts up those who play against him. Pek has showed up to play this season and considering how sore he is with those bone spurs in his right ankle, I take my hat off to him.
Pek shrugs and smiles when you mention his nickname, The Godfather. He wears it well. Each night out, you can expect 14 points and 8 rebounds from Pek. He is relentless in the paint. The other night against Memphis, Pek was banging and grabbing offensive boards, keeping the ball alive. Pek is shooting 56% from the field, which if he keeps it up, will be a franchise record (topping KG’s 52.6%). By the way, Pek’s FG percentage places him 4th in the NBA.
You need a good center. A big man you can count on night in and night out. Is Pek as much of an MVP as Klove?! In most minds, most likely not. Love has had a remarkable season and his growth continues to amaze. But you ask Klove about Pek and he’ll tell you. ”It’s great to play with him.” And when his mates say that, it’s all that needs to be said. Proof of performance, from the guys with whom he’s working.
Great Read: Wright ON!
There are lots of stories written about your Wolves but this one, in particular, hit it right on. Longtime journalist and basketball watcher Kent Youngblood writes for the Star Tribune how the improved season has turned things around for the Wolves on and off the court. The story (here’s the link for you http://www.startribune.com/sports/wolves/148026495.html) features a one on one with Wolves President Chris Wright, discussing the highs and lows that now serve as the foundation for Team Turnaround’s success.
You might remember, it was a month or so into the lockout shortened season that we first spoke with Wright on this very subject for GameON! It’s no mistake that Chris and his team/staff are the best connected to their loyal fan base while reaching out and beyond to extend their foothold. With KLove, Rubio, Coach Adelman and all the positives that have surfaced this season, it’s no wonder the Wolves are averaging over 17-thousand fans a game and their stock in the local sports market is rising.
It’s a great read from a solid writer. We’ll re-air the Chris Wright one on one soon on GameON! It’s full of insight and his passion for the team and the customers of which the Wolves serve.
Great to see the NBA select Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour among the six divisional finalists for the 2011-12 NBA Sportsmanship Award. Joining Luke, Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison, Dallas’ Jason Kidd, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, Miami’s Shane Battier and New York’s Jeremy Lin to vie for the this season's NBA Sportsmanship Award. These are the best of the good guys in the league and Luke is a star. I was fortunate enough to have covered Ridnour as he was coming up through the prep ranks, opted to play his college ball at Oregon and then was selected by his hometown Seattle SuperSonics. The NBA Sportsmanship Award honors a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court and is voted on by NBA players. The NBA will announce the winner and award him the Joe Dumars Trophy after the regular season.
Returning & Reloading!
The Lynx will be back on the court next month with a few new faces trying to earn a spot on the roster of the defending WNBA Champions. The WNBA Draft is in the books with the Lynx picking talented Notre Dame forward Devereaux Peters with the third overall pick. From there, the Lynx picked a handful of players including No. 12, Brazil’s Damiris Dantas out of Brazil, forward Julie Wojta (Wisconsin-Green Bay), forward Kayla Standish (Gonzaga), guard Nika Baric (Slovenia) and Jacki Gemelos (USC).
In Our House
I enjoy catching a lot of Wolves games but truly found pleasure in the buzz that was evident the other night, mid-week, when the Wolves tangled with playoff bound Memphis. I know that wins and losses are clearly the most visible indicator of a team’s success but don’t forget how important the gate is to the overall picture too. This season, with few games due to the lock-out, the Wolves have enjoyed 11 sellouts. That’s the most since they had 14 during the 2003-04 campaign and remember there was only ONE last season. The Wolves average nearly 17,700 fans a night and that’s almost 2,500 more fans per game this season, a 16.0% increase from a year ago (15,243). That is the largest gate makeover in the NBA this season. It takes two to make it work, an improved team and loyal fans, and as my KFAN Power Trip buddy and Rocket Club lead singer Chris Hawkey says, “it’s happening!!”
See you on TV
You don’t want to miss GameON! powered by SEVEN Steakhouse/Sushi/Ultralounge & Skybar this Sunday morning on FOX’s My29 at 10:30AM. Our special guest legendary baseball man Mike Veeck. All GameON! shows are broadcast in High Definition and shows with Wolves like Coach Adelman, JJ Barea, Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, Jack Sikma and Anthony Tolliver can be found on ITunes & online at www.gameontvmn.com.
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Keep your GameON! See you soon!