Simons Says...




Thursday, February 10, 2011

As days go, it’s been a very good week for the Minnesota Timberwolves and I can’t think of a more deserving bunch of ballplayers. A win to start a tough road trip in New Orleans was nice and then a big “W” in Houston the next night was even better. To some, it’s just two wins but it’s more than that. Much more.

In the long NBA season, it’s one of those validation moments along the marathon that’s a message. A note to self and team that what we’re doing is beginning to work. Remember, that back to back masterpiece isn’t something we often see and it was crafted on the road and without several Wolves in the lineup.

I’ve been smiling about it because I see how hard these guys work and how badly they want it. It’s also nice to see that kind of good vibe spill out to the team’s hard working front office staff and last but not least, the Wolves loyal fans. They have been filling up Facebook with written hi-5’s and tweeting to their hearts content.

It also shows that something’s working. When you get a team that loses as many close games as the Wolves have this season, it’s not completely the fault of the players on the court. You can’t pin all the blame on them. There have to be adjustments with schemes and plays and Wolves coaches know that. The coaches have done a remarkable job keeping these young impressionable players focused through it all and these past few games are proof.

The Wolves are also turning the page and experiencing a few things that will help them as the season and their rebuilding work continues. In New Orleans, these intangibles: Free Throw shooting, emphasis on bench play and roster management.

> The Wolves set a record with 25 for 25 from the charity stripe against the Hornets. Your basketball coach from the time you were knee high to Coach Rambis in the NBA stresses the importance of making free shots. It pays off! The Wolves work on free throw shots at every team practice and combined with the other obstacles in the way on this road trip, it was huge.

> The bench stepped up big time. With big man Darko Milicic out with injury and Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster not playing, the Wolves reserves outscored New Orleans 47-34. The team held its lead and finished at the end while getting six players in double figure scoring and despite shooting 43% for the game.

>Give it up for the coaches. I’ve been on the Wayne Ellington bandwagon since he was drafted and he’s getting some love this week for his contribution to this road success. Playing time is a fluid thing for young players and the former Tar Heel knows it. Considering he was just back from a family funeral, Ellington was instrumental in both wins. Against the Hornets, 27 minutes and 11 points then the next night in Houston, 25 minutes with 18 points via 6 for 10 shooting and clutch shots down the stretch. The coaches hands were forced with so many players out of their lineup and they responded. Rambis called his team “resilient” but so were the decision makers.

In Texas, they lost a fourth key player (Michael Beasley) and the ever shrinking roster was beginning to tie their hands a bit. It didn’t show. Even more elements of their play stood out.

>Finish and the 4th. The Wolves polished off a team that has been a sore spot for years and has been one of the NBA’s hotter teams. Minnesota outscored Houston 29-23 when it mattered to show that they can close and close on the road. This is something all of us have been talking about this season and the Wolves showed they can get it done. Outstanding finishes for sure!

> Rebounding. No matter how you slice it, you outrebound the other team 51-31, you should win and the Wolves did just that. 14 of those were from All Star Kevin Love. All Star Kevin Love. Sounds great. Well deserved!

With all those keys, the glue stick in this work in progress is the young man from UCLA. K-Love is flat out great. The most publicized portion of Love’s resume is his now 38 game streak of double-doubles. 38 straight games of double figure scoring and rebounding is now record setting and he keeps going. But even more is his nice shooting touch (burying those late game 3-pointers is magic) and his focus on the finish when he scored 11 of his 20 in the fourth quarter.

It’s great to see how the wins are pumping these guys up. Listening to Love’s various radio interviews from the road and knowing how hard these guys are working, Love makes it clear. This is the starter salad in a much bigger dinner, if you will, and they know what’s ahead. They can’t afford to take nights off, turnovers are proof they have to be better with the basketball and maybe a different lineup isn’t such a bad thing. Can’t argue with results, can you?!

With temperatures brutally cold and all of us living every day in winter’s tight grip, a little good news goes a long way. So, having said it before, I will again. Wins are nice and especially these two. It doesn’t always happen on the road so when it does, it’s worth that and some more. Bottom line, it’s a great sign that all the hard work is worth it and paying off, it allows us to shove all the negativity to the side for the time being and it keeps fans in the game.

SimonsSays 1 on 1 and MAILBAG:
Carl in Edina (via rod@gameontvmn.com):
“You rarely talk about Anthony Tolliver but he’s played a big role with the team lately”
Rod: Carl, true, sometimes my focus is a little tight and Tolliver was big. I liked his back to back effort because he did what was needed, on that night, to help the Wolves get it done. Case in point, 7 rebounds and 12 points in 28 significant minutes against N.O. and then 24 hours later at Toyota Center, 22 minutes and 10 of Minnesota’s 51 rebounds. Apologies for the slight omission but it wasn’t intentional. I could go on and on but there’s only so much space. Thanks for the note and the good point.

REMEMBER, IT COULD BE CLEVELAND:
No matter how bad a day you or I are having, just be glad you are not toiling with the Cavaliers.

Goodness, the horrible streak continues to grow as the Cav’s have now lost 26 straight games which ties the Tampa Bay Bucs terrible run back in the day.

How bad is it in Cleveland? Life without LeBron James finds the Cavs with just eight wins in 53 games and this is really amazing, as they haven’t won a game since before Christmas. The last win was on December 18th and since then, Byron Scott’s Cavs have dropped 36 of 37 games.

The James departure has really slammed this franchise. Over the past two seasons, Cleveland was an NBA dynamo with 60-wins and title hopes.

Even bigger tests await with under 500 teams coming to Cleveland against the LA Clippers and the Washington Wizards. The Wiz are still winless on the road.

Check it out:
There’s hope and cautious optimism that a Target Center redux could get approval. It’s needed and vital to the future of Minneapolis. I urge you to get all the details and see the renderings of the $155 million proposed renovation at new website, targetcenterrenovation.org. Drop me some of your thoughts at rod@gameontvmn.com. Those thoughts are starting to stack up and soon, we’ll share some of them here in SimonsSays. Again, pro or con, let’s kick it around. And thanks for taking the time to write.

Caring Continued:
Working in and helping people through non-profit work, I’m always amazed and thankful for the efforts of the Timberwolves FastBreak Foundation. An evening to remember its right around the corner when the FBF hosts its 16th annual Taste of the Timberwolves, presented by Starkey Hearing Foundation. It’s an unforgettable evening that’ll take place on Tuesday, Feb. 15 from 6-9 p.m. at Target Center.

Co-sponsored by POPPcom, The Taste will showcase a number of the best local restaurants and many top shelf food vendors. Having had the good fortune of taking in the Taste, the night begins with the traditional great fare and concludes with an exciting live auction. Best of all, you’ll see all your favorite Wolves players and they later compete against one another in Minute to Win It.

Timberwolves FastBreak Foundation provides and supports hands-on programs that positively impact Minnesota youth. The Foundation enables young people to make responsible decisions, contribute to their futures and experience lifelong memories. You can get more information here at www.timberwolves.com.

AND WATCH FOR:
Thanks for the e-mails and the uptick in communication from you out there. I very much enjoy getting those and next week, we’ll share some more of your FAN thoughts in our SimonsSays mailbag. Until then, keep your chin up and see you Sunday on GameON! I’d love to have you out to one of our live GameON! Tapings this next Tuesday at Courtside Bar and Grill in Anoka on Jackson Street. More details and guest listings on our redesigned show website (www.GameOnTvMn.com)