What the Timberwolves should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the third installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves. You can also read up on the Lakers and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

It was a rough year for the Timberwolves last season. The team was awful on both ends of the floor, and finished with the league’s worst record. But even though the T-Wolves were the league’s worst team last year, there are some positive things happening in Kahn’s kingdom. Kevin Love had an All-Star breakout season. Ricky Rubio is finally coming over from Spain to join the team, and he’ll be joined by #2 pick Derrick Williams. Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph actually showed signs of life.

There is talent on Minnesota’s roster — if they can make a few things work, they may finally be ready to crawl out of the NBA’s basement. Here are a few suggestions for the Timberwolves:

1. Find a way to hide Kevin Love on defense

Kevin Love’s breakout year last season wasn’t merely a case of someone putting up good numbers on a bad team because there was nobody around him talented enough to stop him from taking shots or grabbing rebounds. (Love’s teammate Michael Beasley actually fits that bill fairly well.)

Love’s scoring and rebounding are the real thing. We’ve never seen a player who combines rebounding prowess with deadly three-point accuracy the way Love does, and the UCLA product can score on the inside and pass as well. Love’s 47% field-goal percentage last season may seem pedestrian, but his prowess from beyond the arc and 85% free-throw stroke actually made him one of the most efficient scorers in the league last season.

Love’s rebounding is also special. Even though Love can barely get off the floor, he has an incredible knack for tracking down caroms off the rim, and he averaged 15.2 points per game while the Timberwolves were actually one of the better rebounding teams in the league. There isn’t a single offense or rebounding unit in the league that wouldn’t greatly benefit from the addition of Kevin Love.

Love’s defense, however, was and is a serious issue if Minnesota ever wants to be a serious playoff team. Minnesota was a horrible defensive team last year, and both advanced statistics and the eye test say that Love was a major part of that problem. Having athletic forwards and centers who can change or block shots at the rim or jump out to the perimeter to shut down the pick-and-roll while recovering back to their man has never been more important than it is in today’s NBA, and the slow, undersized Love can do neither of those things.

Whoever Minnesota’s next coach is, his first priority should be to draw up a defensive scheme that can hide Love effectively, and the Wolves should be actively looking for players who can pick up the slack for Love defensively.

2. Find a way to effectively use Ricky Rubio

Rubio’s size, athleticism, court vision, creativity, and defense are still worth getting excited about, but a few miserable statistical seasons in Spain have dampened the excitement surrounding him somewhat. In Rubio’s defense, he was forced to play in a slow-it-down system that isn’t at all suited for his open-floor gifts, and some would say that he sacrificed his own numbers in order to fit in with a very successful FC Barcelona club.

Still, Rubio’s jarringly low field goal numbers are a red flag, and there’s no getting around the fact that the 20-year old simply has no outside shot right now. (This makes any comparisons of Rubio to floppy-haired creators like Pistol Pete Maravitch or Steve Nash completely ludicrous, by the way.) Most guards who can’t shoot know their limitations from a young age. Rajon Rondo, who was stuck in a slow-it-down system before getting to the NBA, still knew what shots not to take in college, and he shot 51% and 48% from the field during his two years at Kentucky.

Jason Kidd, who has the same kind of size and passing ability as Rubio and has a 40.1% career field goal percentage, is a more hopeful comparison, but he’s always offset that by shooting a LOT of threes — conventional wisdom is that Kidd didn’t find the three-point shot until late in his career, but he actually made 133 of the 396 (33.6%) of the threes he took his second year in the league. Rubio hasn’t been shy about taking threes in Spain, and has had mixed success with the shot, but the bottom line is that he’ll either have to seriously overhaul his jump shot or have Rondo-like penetration ability and shot selection in order to become an efficient scorer in the NBA.

For their part, the Timberwolves must make sure that Rubio is given the chance to get out in the open floor and create for his teammates as much as possible, and keep him from having to try and be a one-on-one scorer. Using Rubio correctly will be a challenge, but the potential rewards are worth the challenge.

3. Figure out what to do with all of those wings and forwards

Michael Beasley. Derrick Williams. Martell Webster. Wesley Johnson. Anthony Randolph. Anthony Tolliver. The Wolves’ roster is absolutely packed with young wings and bigs, and all of them (with the exception of Williams), had their ups and downs last season. Williams is a talented scorer, but he’s a natural four offensively. Johnson is a great perimeter defender, but he struggled on offense. Randolph is up-and-down incarnate. Beasley is a volume shooter and can have big scoring nights, but he struggles at everything except for heaving the ball towards the basket with great regularity.

The Timberwolves need to figure out which wings should be getting the lion’s share of the minutes, and which ones will work best next to the Rubio/Williams/Love core the team should be building around. If they can do that while getting effective seasons from Williams and Rubio and hiding Love on defense, the Timberwolves might actually begin their return to post-Garnett respectability in earnest this season — if this season happens.

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.

 

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.