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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor expecting big jump next season


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau is meeting with his staff to put together an aggressive game plan for the summer in hopes of adding some defensive tenacity to a young team that never quite got it on that end of the floor in his first season on the job.

Owner Glen Taylor hopes the stability of having the same coach for two straight seasons for the first time since 2013 will help the team move past yet another disappointing season.

Thibodeau is the Wolves’ fourth coach in the last four seasons. Flip Saunders died of lymphoma in October 2015, and the team decided to move on from interim coach Sam Mitchell last April after he went 29-53 in his one season. Thibodeau was given a five-year deal last summer to take over and instill his attention to detail and defensive focus to an impressionable young team, but they won just two more games this season than last with little discernible improvement on defense.

“I’m of a belief that if they say that’s one of the factors, of course I’m going to say that my expectations are pretty high for next year because we have the same coach and he’s coming back,” Taylor told The Associated Press on Friday. “If you really believe that’s (the problem), then we’ve solved our problem. I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy. I wish it was that easy.”

Thibodeau held his season-ending press conference Friday, two days after they finished the year with a sixth straight loss. The Wolves went 3-13 in their final 16 games and finished the year ranked 26th in the league in defensive efficiency. He said they will head into this summer prioritizing adding shot-blocking, wing defense and shooting after the team finished last in 3-pointers made and attempted.

“I think every person in our organization has to ask what can we do different to change what has happened here over the last 13 years?” Thibodeau said. “That’s from top to bottom, there has to be a determination and a will to change it.”

That’s exactly what Taylor wants to hear. He hired the hard-driving Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden with an aim to expedite the learning process for a team with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. While all three young players and point guard Ricky Rubio exhibited significant improvement on offense under Thibodeau, the poor finish to the season and lack of improvement on defense concerned an owner that sits courtside nearly every night.

After starting the season 6-18, the Wolves seemed to find themselves around the All-Star break. They won six times in eight games, beating Denver, Dallas, Golden State, Utah and the Clippers to creep back into playoff contention. Then the defense took a nose dive and the Wolves faded.

“I’m a little bit concerned because it’s not logical to me what happened, that we just went along and we were playing good and we fell back into maybe old habits or old style of play,” Taylor said. “I have no explanation for that. I think it’s my job to make sure that I sit down with the coaches, Scott, everybody and ask them what do they think went wrong there.”

Thibodeau attributed the struggles to the team’s youth, injuries to LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica and his focus on immersing Towns and Wiggins in his system to prioritize laying the foundation for long-term success over winning games in the short term.

“It has to start with Karl and Wigg in that they have to make the commitment,” Thibodeau said. “In order to get all the things that they want to achieve, it has to start with them.”

Now if the Wolves are going to end a 13-year playoff drought that is the longest active skid in the NBA, they are likely going to have to make at least a 10-victory jump to do it, and probably more.

“It’s not like I’m upset and not like I’m mad,” he said. “I’m concerned because I know our task is going to be a little bit more difficult next year.”

Taylor and Thibodeau were both encouraged by Towns blossoming into an unstoppable offensive force and Rubio’s career year from a shooting standpoint that gave the pass-first point guard another dimension. Now the Wolves need to add some veteran help and it’s always been difficult to lure free agents to cold and snowy Minnesota, especially when the Wolves have not made the playoffs since 2004.

“I think guys will come here because they want to play with these guys that can win,” Taylor said. “But I sure wish we would’ve done better because we could’ve said `see we are on the right track.”‘

Referees misattribute comment to Dwane Casey, incorrectly eject Raptors coach (VIDEO)

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Things sort of fell apart at the end of Sunday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It all started with about a minute left in the game when Serge Ibaka tackled Steven Adams.

No, really.

As Paul George finished the second of two free throws, Ibaka and Adams began to battle for the possible rebound. Adams gave Ibaka the slip off the lane line, and as a recovery move Ibaka tackled his former teammate on the baseline.

Via Twitter:

Then, with 30 seconds left and a chance to tie, DeMar DeRozan drove the lane and missed a shot near the rim while being defended by Corey Brewer.

DeRozan felt he was fouled, and quickly let the officials know about it. The Raptors star could be seen going after ref Marc Davis. Shortly thereafter, DeRozan was given a technical foul.

Via Twitter:

But it didn’t stop there.

A few seconds later, as the game wound down, DeRozan went after the referees again. He was given a second technical, and ejected along with teammate Serge Ibaka.

Then came Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

With fans in the Air Canada Centre chanting at referees, and with tensions high, the officiating crew mistakenly attributed a comment made by a fan or someone else on the Toronto bench to Casey. They decided to eject Casey with just eight seconds left, despite the coach not being the person who actually spoke to the referees.

Kyle Lowry couldn’t believe it, and even Brewer had a good laugh about that one.

The NBA is going to have some explaining to do on that one. Officiating is still under fire in the NBA, with New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry being the most recent coach to go off about the grey shirts.

I’m going to set a few alarms for when they release the L2M report Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the Thunder beat the Raptors, 132-125.

Oh, and the referees had to leave the floor in Toronto with a security detail.

Alvin Gentry on refs after controversial James Harden foul: “You can’t guess on plays”

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Alvin Gentry was heated after the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, all thanks to a late foul on James Harden. Oh boy.

Gentry was given a technical foul after speaking with officials with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter in a tight matchup between the two Western Conference playoff teams. The Pelicans coach was heated about a foul called on Jrue Holiday after Harden swung through the defender’s area to get free throws on a 3-point attempt.

That didn’t sit right with Gentry, who went after referee David Guthrie. After complaining for some time, Gentry got a handle on himself and went back to his seat on the bench. That’s when he was called for a technical foul.

Here’s the play in question, and Gentry’s response after the game:

Gentry does have a general point, and sounds like just about any non-Houston fan you overhear at games or in bars regarding Harden’s wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man style. Nevermind his driving — which consistently gets players to legitimately hack away at his arms — the question on the play in New Orleans is whether the defender has a right to that space, and whether Holiday made a move.

Pelicans broadcaster David Wesley pointed out that if a defender is in his own defensive space and not moving, it shouldn’t be a foul if the offensive player jams his way into the defender’s arms. That’s part of why the idea of verticality works for modern NBA big men defending the rim.

Offensive players are getting more astute at drawing contact, then finding a way to immediately get fouled after the contact. It’s something that will need to be addressed by the NBA in coming seasons, as there are quite a few instances of contact specifically being drawn by an offender by moving into the defender’s space and drawing contact with their arms.

However, on the play in question, if you rewind it enough times you can barely see Holiday’s arm and elbow flex reactively before Harden moves the ball up. Thus, in the purview of instant replay, it was probably a foul.

Here it is in super slo-mo:

Gentry is likely to get a nice big fine as others have this season for criticizing officials. It seems that even after the All-Star Break meeting to sort out some issues between the NBPA and NBRA not everyone is happy.

Expect a bigger overhaul and more announcements regarding NBA refereeing in the offseason.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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