GameDay LIVE Blog: Wolves vs. Pistons | March 7, 2014
Final: That's your ballgame, folks. The Wolves win 114-101, jump to 31-30 on the season. A win on Sunday would match Minnesota's win total from a year ago. Love had 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. K-Mart had 24 points, Rubio had 11 points, nine assists and eight boards. More to come tonight, so stay tuned. MIN 114, DET 101
Q4 2:53: Well, the Pistons are making a game of this one. They've suddenly caught fire thanks to the play of late by Will Bynum, and it's a 13-point game with just under three to play. Detroit has the ball and just called a timeout. We'll see how they handle this next possession. MIN 108, DET 95
Q4 8:55: Lots of bench play coming up here in the fourth, I'd imagine. Minnesota will come out of this timeout with Barea, Budinger, Shabazz, Mbah a Moute and Dieng on the floor. It will be good to get the starters some rest here tonight. None of them have played more than 29 minutes tonight. MIN 99, DET 76
End Q3: The Wolves are cruising. Had it not been for a foul with 0.5 seconds left in the quarter that put Caldwell-Pope at the line, the Wolves would've held the Pistons to as many points through three as they scored at the half (66). All things considered, this looks like the Wolves are on their way toward a really nice night here at Target Center after a disappointing loss to the Knicks on Wednesday. MIN 97, DET 69
Q3 2:19: The Wolves are cruising, folks. They're up 31 again and, perhaps most impressively, they're holding the Pistons to fewer points at this juncture than Minnesota had at halftime (66-62). Love has 20, Martin has 20 and Pek has 14. They'r ea combined 18-for-36 tonight from the field. Meanwhile, J-Smoove is 4-of-14 with 13 points. He's only shot one 3-pointer, though. Jennings with 17, Monroe with 16. MIN 93, DET 62
Q3 8:55: New half, same story so far. The Wolves are leading by a game-high 26 points thanks in part to K-Mart and Love picking up where they left off. Pekovic is heating up, too. He's got four points this quarter. Minnesota is rolling right now, and the Pistons don't appear at this juncture to be in this game. MIN 77, DET 51
Halftime: Big, much-needed first half for the Wolves as they take a 21-point lead into the second half. Minnesota has 14 points each from Martin and Love, who each are shooting 5-of-8. Love also leads the Wolves with seven boards. Rubio has five points and five boards, and Budinger has seven points off 3-of-4 shooting. Brandon Jennings has 14 and Josh Smith has 11 for the Pistons. Minnesota has a 36-28 edge in the paint, an 18-9 advantage on second-chance points and an 11-8 edge on the fast break. They're shooting 50 percent and have turned the ball over just twice, leading to zero Pistons points. Overall a pretty efficient day for Minnesota at this point. MIN 66, DET 45
Q2 2:39: Really nice half for the Wolves across the board, including a good showing from the bench. Minnesota's reserves have five guys on the scoreboard, and the crew as a whole have 22 points overall. Budinger is 3-of-4 with seven points, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has six on 3-of-3 shooting and Barea has four on 2-of-4 shooting. Meanwhile, the Wolves are out-rebounding the Pistons 25-17 and have a 16-5 edge in second chance points. MIN 61, DET 38
Q2 7:51: We're tapping into the second unit here in the second as Barea, Mbah a Moute, Budinger and Shabazz check in with Pekovic and the Wolves leading by 21. It would be refreshing for the Wolves to have a wire-to-wire type game tonight. Budinger so far has seven points while Cunningham and Mbah a Moute have two off the bench. MIN 50, DET 15
End Q1: Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are making this a Kevin type of night. They're a combined 9-of-12 from the field and have 14 and 11 points, respectively. Love and Rubio each have five boards, and Rubio has five assists. Jennings has seven for the Pistons, while Smith has six. Good job picking up the defensive intensity after a tough loss against New York. The team talked pick-and-roll defense the past two days, and they're trying to get more physical in those situations. MIN 39, DET 21
Q1 3:11: Things are going fantastic for the Wolves in transition early on. They've got nine points on the break to start this game, and Corey Brewer is having quite a night getting behind Detroit's defense. The Wolves have one more miss (11-of-17) than the Pistons have makes, which is always a good sign. Detroit is shooting 29.4 percent. MIN 29, DET 11
Q1 5:33: Not the crispest of starts for either team here tonight, but the Wolves are making good on the majority of their opportunities and have opened up a 17-9 lead. They're shooting 7-of-12 from the field compared to Detroit's 4-of-13. K-Mart is 3-of-4 with six points, and Love is 2-of-2 with five and a 3-pointer. J-Smoove is living up to his name of being a volume shooter--he's 1-of-4 with two points early. His ability to heave up shots is a sight to behold. Meanwhile, with Drummond and Love on the court we've got two of the league's top 5 rebounders on the court. With Monroe and Pek added in, we have four of the top 20 rebounders in the league on the floor. Yet true to "you never know what will happen in the NBA" form, Rubio is leading all players with five boards. He actually has as many boards as the entire Pistons team at this point in the game. MIN 17, DET 9
Wolves: PG-Ricky Rubio, SG-Kevin Martin, SF-Corey Brewer, PF-Kevin Love, C-Nikola Pekovic
Pistons: PG-Brandon Jennings, SG-Kyle Singler, SF-Josh Smith, PF-Greg Monroe, C-Andre Drummond
PREGAME 6:45 PM: If you look back at the 2004 Detroit Pistons roster, or if you remember that team that upset the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in the finals that season, you understand why having Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups as veteran leadership on this current Pistons roster is kind of a cool link to the past. Those two, who were the team's power forward and point guard during that playoff run, became part of a foundation that made Detroit a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse for a little over half of the past decade.
The two, teamed with Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, put together quite a run in the Motor City.
Now, Wallace is an assistant coach and Billups is a back-up point guard who, as he battles a knee injury, is out indefinitely and hasn't been able to contribute on the court physically. Instead, they're helping in the leadership and experience department.
"Rasheed has done a great job with our big guys, you know, he’s got their respect because he played the position," Pistons coach Jon Loyer said. "Sheed as a player was a communicator, so why wouldn’t he be a communicator as a coach? And Chauncey’s done things for this organization and played at an All-Star, championship caliber. Chauncey knows, Chauncey shows them little things here and there, especially our guards, little tricks of the trade that can help. So they’ve both been huge parts of our process."
Pistons power forward Greg Monroe was 14 years old growing up in Louisiana when the Pistons won that 2004 championship, and he said he remembers that group vividly. Having Wallace and Billups on board helps, he said, regardless of their positions on the team. They've been through it all before and help bring advice here and there that can be beneficial in technique or in gaining an edge over the opposing team.
"They have that championship experience," Monroe said. "They know what it takes to reach the highest point in this game, and they’ve been trying to instill as much information as they can. They’ve been a great help for everyone, and they’ve been a big part as far as giving us that knowledge that we need."
Billups, who understands his career is winding down, said it's tough not being able to help on the court because of the injuries. You try to share as many experiences as you can, but it's not the same when you can't be out there leading by example.
Loyer said he understands what Billups means.
"Chauncey was a very good fourth quarter player, so I’m sure it really hurts him to see us have some deficiencies in the fourth quarter," Loyer said. "But Chauncey’s a teacher. He’s a teacher as a player, and now that he’s sidelined he’s trying to help from the coaching standpoint."
Regardless, the Pistons' best days since the Bad Boys era came during Billups' and Wallace's reign in the mid-2000s. And even if the team is struggling and they aren't able to contribute as much on the court as they once did, it's still special to be back in Detroit wearing that blue and red.
"It’s good being back here period. I feel like I’m a Piston for life," Billups said. "The time and the success that I had here. Sure man, it’s great. That’s the reason why I came back. I wanted to pretty much end my career here in Detroit."
PREGAME 6:20 PM: There's no getting around the fact that tonight's game has heightened importance. Both the Wolves and Pistons are in positions where they could still very well make it into the playoffs, but neither can afford many losses down the stretch. And funny enough, the Pistons at 13 games under .500 are actually in better shape than the Wolves. Detroit is just three games out of eight, while the Wolves are five back in the West despite being at .500.
That's just the way it is this year in the NBA. The Wolves simply must control their own situation each night.
"We talked about it--They're going to come out and give us their best effort," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "A team like that who's got a young team, but they're talented. If they get on a roll, they can move into a playoff spot. We've got to understand, I've said this all year long, though. I don't know what we're thinking. We have to come with it all the time. We don't have much margin for error, and it showed the other night. We got back on our heels, and they took it to us. And if we let that happen tonight, it will happen tonight, too."
Adelman joked the league doesn't seem receptive to moving some of the points from Minnesota's 20-point wins over to some of the close losses, but the team is "exploring all options."
All kidding aside, the Wolves know they haven't afforded themselves a lot of wiggle room in this playoff race.
"We let some games get away early that puts our backs to the wall," Adelman said. "We can't afford to stumble too many times. It's a challenge we have to take."
For Pistons coach John Loyer, it's a similar situation. He said for any team fighting for a playoff spot, it's got to be do or die every night. One win can completely change things in the standings, especially in the East.
"If you win one it feels like you've won a couple," Loyer said. "Every night you've got to go out and play your best and let the chips fall where they can."
PREGAME 4:00 PM: If you walk through the Target Center skyway and look at the collage of pictures on the walls--which currently represent the Timberwolves' franchise celebrating 25 seasons this winter—you might notice a photo (pictured above) from about 12 years ago with a young Flip Saunders walking the sideline with a young Chauncey Billups.
Billups spent his fifth and sixth years in the NBA with Minnesota, but in more of a backup capacity. He wasn't known as "Mr. Big Shot" back then, hadn't carved his name in NBA playoff history into stone and wasn't yet a leader in the same capacity he would later become.
Much of his notoriety would happen in Detroit, where he'd lead the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title, one other NBA Finals appearance and a collection of Eastern Conference Finals. But if you look at that photo, you'll see what could be interpreted as Billups making strides toward all of those future accolades. He's walking in stride with Saunders, both looking in the same direction and pointing toward the same scene on the court.
It looks like Billups is absorbing his coach's words and preparing to share with his teammates. That could very well be the case. If you ask Billups today, a lot of those leadership traits that became synonymous with his name with the Pistons actually grew and developed with the Wolves.
"A lot of people think that the big change in my career and me taking off happened in Detroit. That's not actually true," Billups said. "It happened in Minneapolis. In my time [here], Flip was great. I think the presence of Sam Mitchell and Terrell Brandon in my career and my life at the time changed the trajectory of my career. It really did. And so it was here where my career really turned for the better."
Billups would go on to seven All-Star Selections, the 2004 title and an NBA Finals MVP award. Today, he's in his 17th season. He's been with seven different franchises, and he's currently in his second stint with the Pistons. He's injured—a knee injury has him out indefinitely—and he's aware that he's in the tail-end of his career.
It was during his first tenure in Detroit that he became a household name. Billups became one of the top leaders at the point guard position during his years with the Pistons, and in 2005-06 he finished fifth in the league MVP voting as the Pistons won 64 games—with Saunders as head coach.
That's an interesting part of Billups' career track. He spent two years under Saunders in Minnesota and three more in Detroit. All five of those teams went to the postseason, and the three teams in Detroit made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. He attributes a lot of who he became as an NBA player to what he learned from Saunders and the type of system Saunders played.
It was tailored for a scoring point guard, Billups said, and that's exactly the type of game he brought during the prime of his career.
"I couldn't have been in a better situation," Billups said. "I did a good job here, but when he came to Detroit, that [first] year we won 64 games and I was [fifth] in the MVP voting that year. You know what I'm saying? That's solely really because of Flip and his system."
The two have kept in touch since, talking from time to time. Billups said he congratulated Saunders when he became the Timberwolves' President of Basketball Operations in May 2013. It's a deserving spot for Saunders, Billups said, because he knows the game so well.
"I'm one of his biggest believers," Billups said.
But Saunders isn't the only connection to Minnesota still in Billups' life. He met with old friends last night when the team got into town. He's a "Piston for life," he said, and he made his name league-wide in Detroit. But it began in Minnesota, where he learned the lessons necessary to become an elite player in the NBA.
"I tell you what, I really enjoyed my time here," Billups said. "Really, really did. It was great. I didn't want to leave. I loved it here. My family loved it here—my wife and kids. We loved it here."
PREGAME 3:10 PM: Welcome to Target Center for tonight’s Timberwolves game against the Detroit Pistons. This game is equally important for both teams involved, because for the most part they’re in very similar positions. The Wolves are 30-30, five games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference with 22 games to play. The Pistons are 24-37, three games out of eighth in the East with 21 games to go.
As odd as it is to believe, a team 13 games under .500 is still very much in the thick of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference. And despite struggling as of late, the Pistons are a legitimate threat as they enter in against the Wolves.
You see, the Pistons have lost five of six, but that one win came against the New York Knicks on Monday. The Knicks bounced back from that 96-85 loss to the Pistons and beat the Wolves 118-106 on Wednesday here at Target Center.
Both teams are in need of a win tonight, and both have a lot to play for.
“We’re trying to make a push just like them,” Pistons forward Greg Monroe said. “And especially going down the stretch, every game counts. You know, right now this game is the most important game.”
The Pistons are 4-19 against the Western Conference this year, which bodes well for Minnesota. But they’re also 10-17 on the road, which doesn’t designate much disparity from their home performance. Minnesota is coming off a 4-1 road trip but lost their most recent game at home against the Knicks. For Minnesota, the key is to get off to a fast start like they did away from home and find a way to sustain that energy throughout the game.
Minnesota went back to work on Thursday, watched film and broke down some of their defensive inefficiencies. And even as early as postgame on Wednesday they’ve stressed moving on.
“It’s just one game, coach talked about it,” Kevin Love said. “But any loss at this point is going to be tough for us.”
Minnesota did win its first matchup with Detroit this year, and they’re looking for a clean sweep tonight. If they do, it will considerably help the Wolves rebound from the Knicks loss and get back on track for the remainder of this four-game home stand. A Pistons win would help them try and leave this rough patch behind them as they try to catch the Hawks.
“We’re both a few games out of it,” Pistons center Andre Drummond said. “So you know, it comes down to who wants it more.”
Here are a few game notes before tonight's matchup: