AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Timberwolves owner says playoffs priority this year

1 Comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the All-Star break in 13th place in the muddled Western Conference, seemingly faced with two options.

They can try to chase down the eighth seed and make the playoffs, with the Denver Nuggets just 3 1/2 games ahead of them. Or they could turn their eyes toward the lottery, either using a higher draft pick to add another talented young player or as an asset to move this summer in a quest for an accomplished veteran to complement a promising trio of young stars.

For Wolves owner Glen Taylor, president and coach Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, there is no debate.

“We’re all of the same mind, to get in, get the experience,” Taylor told The Associated Press. “Just the winning of games to try to get there is worth it. Our guys can’t see anything positive about losing games. They must win games, and then if we can win enough to get into the playoffs, that in and of itself would be a major step for our young players.”

The Timberwolves (22-35) have shrugged off a lousy start to show signs of improvement over the last 30 games, but there is an awful lot of work to do. Five teams are ahead of them in the race for a likely first-round date with the Golden State Warriors, and the young Wolves are still trying to get a firm grasp on Thibodeau’s defensive system.

Making it more daunting, Zach LaVine had surgery on a torn ACL on Tuesday and will miss the next nine months. That leaves 21-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns and 22-year-old Andrew Wiggins to carry the load, barring a trade before the Feb. 23 deadline.

In the last two games before the break – a loss to Cleveland and a win at Denver – Wiggins became the second player in franchise history to score at least 40 points in back-to-back games. Towns has solidified himself as one of the best young big men in the game, averaging 28.4 points and 11.4 rebounds in the seven games since LaVine was injured.

“We’re on the right path,” Wiggins said after the loss to the Cavs. “We’ve done a lot of good things. There’s still some stuff everyone needs to work on, but we’ve done some good things.”

The Timberwolves are 11th in the league in offensive rating, but 23rd in defensive rating, a point of consternation for Thibodeau, who is known as one of the best defensive tacticians in the league. And a 6-18 start to the season put them in a deep hole. The Wolves are 11-9 in their last 20 games, but still on pace for about 31 wins, which would be just a two-win increase over last year’s team coached by Sam Mitchell.

“I thought with (Thibodeau’s) experience and his mentoring, it would push it along a little faster,” Taylor said. “And it hasn’t gone as fast as we hoped. But I appreciate that he’s looking at the long run. He came here to be the coach for the long run. We hired him for the long run. And we’ve got players that we anticipate will be here for a long time.”

While disappointed in the win total, Taylor said he was bullish on the direction of the franchise.

“I’m happy with my coach. I’m happy with the general manager. They’re being very patient working through this,” Taylor said. “On the other side, I was hopeful that we would have more wins.”

The one thing that appears to be missing is a strong, veteran, defensive-minded presence to hold things together when the young guys either get too excited or lose focus.

“I know the guys will look at other alternatives, but I also know them well enough that they aren’t going to do something foolish,” Taylor said of the looming trade deadline. “They aren’t going to do something that would hurt the team in the long run just to make us look good in the short run. This is a long-run game for all of us.”

Taylor has thrown millions into a new practice facility that opened two years ago and a renovation to Target Center that began before the season started. He has also added two minority owners to strengthen his financial position, hired a new CEO in Ethan Casson and has been pleased with the developments on the business side of his operations.

“They can see I’m committed for the long run and we’re making investments back into the team and building for the long run,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve done all of those things. The only thing that hasn’t lived up to our expectations is the number of wins I would’ve hoped we’d have to this point.”

Orlando Magic will no longer host summer league

Getty Images
1 Comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Orlando Magic has decided to end their annual summer league.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said Sunday the trend of NBA teams playing in the Las Vegas Summer League led to the decision end Orlando Pro Summer League. Orlando’s Summer League, which showcased rookies and young players, began in 2002.

Las Vegas will host all 30 teams for the summer league beginning in the summer of 2018. The Orlando Pro Summer League began as a 10-team tournament but there were just eight participating teams this past summer.

The summer league in Orlando, which is played in the Magic’s practice gym, was the only one of three summer leagues that did not allow fans to come in to watch.

Kevin Durant misses game vs. Nets with sprained ankle, status vs. Thunder in doubt

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not that the Warriors needed him with Stephen Curry going off again, but Golden State was without Kevin Durant on Sunday in Brooklyn due to a sprained ankle.

Durant is officially day-to-day, but that brings up the question of whether he will be ready to go Wednesday night when the Warriors travel to Oklahoma City to take on his former team. Chris Haynes of ESPN asked Durant about it.

While some blowhards will talk about him dodging the Thunder, the Warriors course here is obvious — they do not want to rush him back for any game in November. Even one against Russell Westbrook. Ankles with stretched ligaments are easy to re-injure if not fully healed, and the Warriors don’t want this to be chronic and last through more of the season.

Durant is averaging 24.9 points per game, 7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists, and — with all due respect to fellow former MVP Curry — he is the best player on the Warriors. Maybe the best player in the world right now, period. Durant can score at will, and he had become a key part of the Warriors’ fifth-ranked defense blocking 2.2 shots per game (their offense is No. 1 in the league).

Three Things to Know: Aggressive Lonzo Ball is what Lakers need from him

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while creating Arya Stark memes to mock the iPhoneX.

1) Aggressive Lonzo Ball racks up triple-double, pushes Lakers to win in wild game. This is the Lonzo Ball the Lakers need. This is the Lonzo Ball Lakers’ coach Luke Walton wants to see when he says he needs him to be aggressive.

Ball picked up his second triple double in just more than a week Sunday night against Denver, with 11 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists. He still wasn’t efficient as a shooter — 5-of-13 overall, and a decent but not great finisher going 4-of-6 at the rim and 4-of-8 total in the paint — but he pushed the pace (a very fast 106 possessions) and got teammates involved with a good mix of throw ahead passes and pushing the ball by the dribble up the court. It kept Denver on its heels all night.

Ball put his mark on this game — and that’s what the Lakers need from him. I’m not going to overreact to this positively the same way I was not going to overreact negatively to his rough start — he’s a 19-year-old NBA rookie. It’s a process, one that takes time. After Summer League the hype machine — thanks to his father and a zealous fan base — spun out of control. Summer League is a far cry from the NBA and Ball is a reminder of that, it’s still a big step up. Ball needs to work on his conditioning, his handles, his shot, and his decision making at pace will improve with practice (Sunday was a step in that direction). Just be patient and we’ll see how good a player he develops into.

Ball pushed the Lakers to a 127-109 win (thanks in part to Julius Randle‘s 24 points), but Los Angeles got a lot of help from Denver — specifically coach Mike Malone and leading scorer/playmaker Nikola Jokic getting ejected in the second quarter. Malone was hot, feeling fouls were being committed on Jokic and not being called, and after Kyle Kuzma put an arm in Jokic’s back and pushed him down on a rebound (subtlety, it was a veteran-style move) Malone stormed onto the court during play and got in the path of referee Rodney Mott and challenged him. Mott immediately ejected Malone and then Jokic when he said something.

Malone can get out the checkbook now, he’s going to get a healthy fine for that one.

2) Joel Embiid with the Tweet of the Day (plus some Markelle Fultz news). The Sixers’ big man Joel Embiid wrote maybe the most perfect Tweet on Sunday: He owned up to an ugly come-from-ahead loss to Golden State while still managing to throw shade at the Warriors. Plus he got in a Draymond Green reference.

Embiid is just magic with social media.

The other news out of the Sixers camp Sunday was an update on Markelle Fultz — which the team had leaked the day before would be a positive one. The update: Fultz is progressing but will be out another 2-3 weeks, then he will be re-evaluated. I guess that’s what passes for positive with the Sixers and injury updates.

Also, to the people out there on Twitter throwing dirt on the career of Fultz or calling him a bust — stop it. You are close to what Dean Wormer said about Flounder. We are a month into Fultz’s NBA career, and we have 0.0 percent knowledge of how that career will go. But if you think he can’t come back from an extended layoff and succeed, please look at Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, go talk to Blake Griffin while you’re at it, then get back to me.

3) The Orlando Summer League is no more. This is big news for basketball junkies and hoops nerds: The late June/early July Orlando Summer League that has run for 14 years is no more. The Orlando Magic, which operated the league and ran it before the big NBA Summer League in Vegas, killed it, a story broken by Josh Robbins at the Orlando Sentinel. Eight teams played there last year — Orlando, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Indiana, Miami, New York, and Oklahoma City — but the NBA League Office wants all teams playing in Las Vegas. That is now closer to reality. Also, the Magic didn’t make any money off the tournament, so that limited incentive to keep it.

Some coaches preferred Orlando — Stan Van Gundy lamented the demise of the Orlando league (in part because he lives in the city in the off-season and throws a party for the coaches at his house). The Vegas Summer League has big crowds and all the distractions of Las Vegas, while the Orlando league was not open to the public (although games were shown on NBA TV) and that led to more focused development. Some coaches and GMs preferred that. (The flip side of that argument: I’ve been told by team executives they like the distractions in Vegas, because it shows them which players are focused on the game, and which ones are easily pulled off track.)

There still is the Rocky Mountain Review that the Utah Jazz relaunched a couple of years ago, which draws a handful of teams. But the NBA is finding Summer League a money-making success and wants its teams concentrated there in July.

Wild night in L.A.: Lonzo Ball has triple-double; Nuggets coach, Nikola Jokic ejected

1 Comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lonzo Ball had his second career triple-double and Julius Randle scored 24 points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 127-109 victory over the short-handed Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Ball had 11 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and 11 assists in the 20-year-old rookie’s first triple-double in front of his hometown fans at Staples Center.

Brook Lopez scored 21 points and Jordan Clarkson added 18 for the Lakers, who surged to a 24-point lead in the first half and easily won for just the second time in seven games.

Denver coach Mike Malone and top scorer Nikola Jokic were ejected in the second quarter after Malone stepped onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach and his best player when Jokic joined in the argument.

Forward Paul Millsap also left with a sprained left wrist in the second quarter of a miserable night at Staples Center for the Nuggets, who lost for just the second time in six games.

Ball and Magic Johnson are the only Lakers with multiple triple-doubles in their rookie seasons. Johnson had seven, and his new point guard has two in his first 17 games.

Randle added seven points and five assists in a stellar game off the bench.