Kevin Love

NBA season preview: Minnesota Timberwovles

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Last season: What could have been. This was a team playoff bound (or at least in the mix for it) until injuries wiped out those hopes. First was the biggie, Ricky Rubio’s ACL, but then both Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic went down and the whole thing fell apart. The Timberwolves finished 26-40 and back in the all to familiar lottery.

Key Departures: There’s been changes, but coach Rick Adelman isn’t shedding any tears over them. Gone is Michael Beasley, who got a lot of run early until Adelman grew weary of him (then again late out of necessity). Also gone is Darko Milicic.

Actually, a team may be shed over Brad Miller, he was the kind of solid, professional guy every team needs (and teammates really liked him).

Key Additions: Minnesota had a fantastic offseason. They needed help on the wing and they got Andrei Kirilenko, who can help where desperately needed at the three and slide over and play a little at the four spot. They also brought in Chase Budinger who is very athletic and can give them minutes at the three, plus Rubio is going to love him in transition. They brought in Russian Alexey Shved, who looked impressive in the Olympics for Russia at the guard spot and should play both at the point and some two. They have Greg Stiemsma as a big man off the bench now, giving them real depth up front.

Then Minnesota took a smart gamble on Brandon Roy. We don’t know how his knees — the ones without cartridge the forced him to walk away from the game — will deal with the long grind of the season. And he may never be his old All-Star self again. But even the Roy we saw near the end in Portland would be an upgrade on the wing for Minnesota, where they need it.

Three keys to the Timberwolves season:

1) When does Ricky Rubio get back and how well does he play? The Timberwolves have a lot of talent now — Love, Kirilenko, Pekovic, Roy, Derrick Williams — but Rubio is the key. He is the gifted point guard who can make it all fit together, keep the ball moving, challenge the defense and get the ball to the right guy at the right time. Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and if needed  Shved will man the point (as he has in preseason), but none of them have Rubio’s vision or creative flair.

Minnesota would be a lock playoff team if Rubio were going to be there all season and not get back around Christmas. Without him in a deep West, it will be tight. The sooner he returns and returns to form the better for this season, but Minnesota really needs to think long term here.

2) Can Derrick Williams take a step forward? Coming out of college as the No. 2 overall pick, Williams was considered a guy who could score but the questions were about him rounding out his game. But mostly he looked like a rookie — there were impressive moments but he shot just 41.2 percent over all on his way to 8.8 points a game. His jumpshot was dreadful — he shot 28.6 percent from 10 to 15 feet, 29 percent from 16 feet out to the arc, and 26 percent on threes. He can finish around the rim, especially when Ricky Rubio throws the ally-oop, but he needs to broaden his game.

If Williams takes a step forward the Timberwolves become more dangerous.

3) Okay Kevin Love, you got your help, no you must lead. Kevin Love complained to management, complained to the media — he said they needed more veterans and more talent in Minnesota. He got it. Love said there were some less-than-professional personalities in the Minnesota locker room last year. They are gone.

Love, it’s on you to lead now. This is your team, you have the gold medal, you need to keep putting up numbers on the court and keep the team professional off it. That’s what leaders do.

What Timberwolves fans should fear: That another string of injuries slows the team. Rubio is coming back from an ACL and that can be slow going. Brandon Roy could fade as the season wears on and his knees wear down. Kirilenko has had plenty of injuries over the course of his career. This team’s margin for error is too small for them to deal with a lot of injuries.

Prediction: 46-36 and they get the seven (maybe eight) seed in the West. They make the playoffs. That is a big step and this will be an entertaining team to watch once Rubio gets back. They are a team on the rise but if they are the seven seed and get the Lakers/Thunder in the first round, well, there is an entire new level of learning that comes with the playoffs.

Draymond Green picks up flagrant foul for shoulder hit to LeBron (VIDEO)

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors fouls LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If this were the NFL, that would be a clean tackle — led with his shoulder, not his helmet.

Turns out in the NBA, that’s not allowed.

Draymond Green picked up a Flagrant 1 foul for the hit above on LeBron James. It was a transition play, and Green came in looking for a steal and maybe to send a little message, and in doing so dropped LeBron with a shoulder. You can see the video above.

The refs got this right (sorry Chris Webber). Did LeBron sell that call a little? Sure. But that was unnecessary contact, the exact definition of a Fragrant 1. Sorry Cavs fans, but that was not excessive and deserving of an ejection.

The Warriors torched the Cavaliers in the first half putting up 34 fast break points, racking up 26 assists, and leading 78-49. You read that score right. That’s at the half.

Adam Silver refutes George Karl: No reason to believe NBA has steroid issue

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  NBA commissioner, Adam Silver speaks during a press conference prior to the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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George Karl alleged the NBA has a steroid issue.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via USA Today:

I’ll just say our testing is state of the art. I have no reason to believe whatsoever that we have an issue, either as the result of testing or as the result of other information that comes to the league office.

“I’d say that in most sports where there are issues, even when players do not test positive, usually there is some chatter that there is something going on. Other than what George Karl wrote in his book, there is no chatter whatsoever in the league. Obviously, many reporters are in this room who cover the NBA; presumably if they thought there was an issue, they would be writing about it.

“Having said that, we take allegations of performance-enhancing drugs or drug abuse of any kind incredibly seriously. I’m sure we will go through George Karl’s book, others, not me, in the league office, word by word, suggestion by suggestion, and ferret out whether there’s anything to it.

“For us, it doesn’t matter what the source is. If somebody is — especially if it’s a Hall of Fame-caliber coach registering those sort of allegations against the league, we will take them seriously. But standing here today, I have absolutely no reason to believe there’s any truth to those allegations.”

The NBA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and those tests have produced few positive results, especially by stars. If the league believes in its process, that should say everything as far as Silver is concerned.

But drug-testing is a never-ending game of cat and mouse. Drug developers will find ways to beat testers, who will adjust with new tests, which will prompt the other side to create new drugs and masking agents, which…

Is the NBA ahead of the curve right now? Silver says it is.

He better be right. He’ll look mighty foolish if he’s not.

John Wall breaks out Shammgod in highlight, Wizards beat Trail Blazers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined not to give the Portland Trail Blazers’ elite guards any feel-good shots, the Washington Wizards knocked down a few of their own and got rolling.

Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Wizards took a page out of the Trail Blazers’ playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

Washington, which relies on the 3-point shot less than almost any other NBA team, made 9 of 13 3-pointers in a 75-point first half and was 13 of 23 in the game.

“When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams (have) to collapse when I’m penetrating,” said Wall, who was 10 of 17 from the floor. “We moved the ball very well, and guys were knocking down shots and shooting with confidence.”

Confidence came from a 4 of 5 start and a 10-0 lead as Beal was hot early. He and Wall outplayed Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who Wizards coach Scott Brooks said combined to be as good as any backcourt in the league.

Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

“Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league,” said Wizards guard Kelly Oubre, whose 18 points were one shy of his career high.

The Wizards led by as many as 30 on the way to their 12th consecutive home victory and their fourth win in five games. They limited the Blazers to 8 of 26 shooting from beyond the arc, part of which was self-inflicted.

“I thought our whole team struggled offensively,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t pass and move. We didn’t do things that make us a good offensive basketball team.”

Washington did plenty of things to look like a good offensive basketball team, and Brooks was particularly proud of his team’s ball movement that helped put the game out of reach.

“I think early in the game when guys get good looks and they see the ball go in, they get confident, they start believing,” Lillard said. “Later in the game when we started to contest shots and have more of a presence, it didn’t really impact them because they had already seen the ball go in three or four times on the perimeter.”

THE HOOK

When Marcin Gortat‘s layup with 4:24 left in the third quarter made it 95-65, Stotts had enough and pulled his starting five because he didn’t think the game was going anywhere.

“He’s the coach,” Lillard said. “He took us out of the game, and that was it.”

STREAK OVER

McCollum’s streak of consecutive games with 25-plus points ended at eight. Beal tried to take McCollum off his game early by being physical, and foul pressure mounted.

“We were getting our heads beat in, we didn’t execute our offense, I got some fouls early (and) the game got out of hand,” McCollum said.

MLK DAY

Wearing a shirt with the message: “His dream inspired the world. Never stop dreaming,” Beal took the microphone to address the crowd of 17,395 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Brooks said he always stops by the MLK Memorial during his walks around the National Mall, and Stotts said about half the team went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture after practice Monday.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: McCollum became the eighth player to score 1,000 points this season, joining Russell Westbrook, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Isaiah Thomas. … F Maurice Harkless, who was questionable with a left calf injury, was 0 of 5 with no points.

Wizards: Improved to 10-2 when F Otto Porter has at least three 3-pointers.. … Their last 12-game home winning streak came in 1989 as the Bullets. … F Markieff Morris had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

 

Joel Embiid was dunking, blocking, leading Sixers past Bucks (VIDEOS)

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Joel Embiid is making his case to be in the All-Star Game in more places than Twitter.

He made it on the court Monday with a dominant second half — 18 points on six shots — to lead the Sixers to a 113-104 win over the Bucks. The Sixers are 5-2 in 2017, and this gives them a couple of quality wins.

Embiid was both throwing it down with authority — as you can see above — and he was racking up blocked shots as well. He was also showing Jabari Parker you need to go strong to the rim against him, or you get sent home without lunch.

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