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Hot Timberwolves ready for litmus test vs. champion Warriors

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves won five straight games, five head coaches and nearly nine long years ago, Al Jefferson was the centerpiece of the team. Kevin Love was a rookie, still coming off the bench. Fifteen different players started at least one game.

Karl-Anthony Towns had just turned 13. President George W. Bush was still in the White House.

The woebegone Wolves have waited a long time for this. They will play at Golden State on Wednesday night, just one-half game behind the defending NBA champion Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference. Forget for a moment that the regular season is merely 12 percent complete. For the first time in, well, 13 years or so the Wolves will be a legitimate participant in a marquee national game on ESPN rather than a token opponent.

“You want to see where you are and how you measure up,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Everyone in the league is chasing them.”

These Wolves (7-3) have produced the franchise’s best 10-game start to the schedule since a 9-1 record in 2001 when Kevin Garnett was 25, Terrell Brandon was the point guard and Anthony Peeler was the first player the off the bench.

With only three players who’ve been on the roster longer than three years, there aren’t as many scars in the locker room as all that franchise futility would suggest. The last few seasons have been frustrating enough, though.

“It’s something that’s changing around here, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Shabazz Muhammad, who with fellow reserve Gorgui Dieng has the longest tenure in their fifth year.

The 2008-09 team finished 24-58, so the early January success was clearly not a harbinger.

The Wolves have lost 461 games between the end of that streak and now, so even three solid weeks to start a season is an accomplishment. Thibodeau was hired to take them much further than that, of course.

The hard-driving, no-nonsense coach sure won’t be satisfied with this team’s progress anytime soon, and neither will these players, from 17-year veteran Jamal Crawford to Towns, who’s still only 21.

“We just want to keep doing more of what we’re doing,” Crawford said after practice on Tuesday.

That’s continuing to better the defense, for one.

The Wolves have held three consecutive opponents under 100 points, with newcomers Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Crawford beginning to pick up the tendencies of their returning teammates and the young core of Towns and Andrew Wiggins starting to learn the principles of helping and switching under the defensive-minded Thibodeau. Chemistry is just as important when they’re guarding the basket as it is when they have the ball.

“It’s still a work in progress,’ Thibodeau said, “but I think we are moving in the right direction.”

The depth, and the versatility of that depth, is another area of vast improvement. The second team, which Thibodeau has played together as a unit for several stretches at a time, includes Tyus Jones, Crawford, Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica and Dieng. When they are in, there has not been a drop-off at all from the star-studded starting lineup.

The Wolves are shooting 3-pointers more effectively and often, too, another long-running weakness of this team going back dozens of players and a handful of head coaches. With Towns in the paint and Wiggins on the wing, the Wolves already have two of the league’s best offensive players.

“They can definitely score. They have three or four guys out there that can get 20 on any given night,” said Charlotte Hornets power forward Marvin Williams, whose team lost at Minnesota on Sunday night. “They are definitely tough to stop.”

Then there’s Butler, the alpha wolf who Thibodeau wanted so badly as a tough, experienced two-way player who would not only challenge his teammates to excel but selflessly defer to them on the court as needed.

“When I feel like it’s my time to shoot, I’ll shoot it,” Butler said. “But as of right now, my teammates are rolling. Feed them. Let them get us going.”

Butler’s attitude and perspective might be the biggest upgrade the Wolves have made among so many.

“Often times you hear people say things, and they never do the things that they say. But when you watch what they’re doing, it tells you what’s important to them,” Thibodeau said. “Jimmy has always played that way.”

 

Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor to host ‘NBA Countdown’

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Things just keep getting better for NBA fans when it comes to national TV broadcasts.

It was announced in August that TNT would be doing away with the “Players Only” broadcast that appeared on NBA TV. Those broadcast crews were roundly criticized as being meandering and uninformed when it came to the product on the floor.

Now fans are getting more of what they want in the form of Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.

According to a report from Richard Deitsch, Nichols and Taylor will be the hosts of ESPN’s pregame show, NBA Countdown.

Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups Won’t return as analysts on the pregame show next year, leaving just Jalen Rose. That means there are a couple of spots open, and we don’t yet know who ESPN will fill them with. Nichols will reportedly continue to host her regular show “The Jump”.

As the league continues to get more popular, it makes sense that broadcast partners listen to the audience. Nichols is an NBA favorite, so having her be more visible makes a lot of sense.

NBA players roast Kyle Kuzma over outfit posted to Instagram (PHOTOS)

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Kyle Kuzma is going to be expected to have a big year for the Los Angeles Lakers. He thinks he can have the impact of a third star for L.A., a team that didn’t add Kawhi Leonard to go alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis this summer.

That’s big talk from Kuzma, but perhaps that talk has boosted his confidence a little bit. In a photo posted to Instagram this week, Kuzma could be seen wearing… whatever this is.

Via Twitter:

Twitter had a great time with Kuzma outfit, which looks like something pulled straight out of an early 2000s episode of TRL.

Kuzma’s contemporaries in the NBA thought he was getting a little wild with it, too, with several hopping onto the post to roast the Lakers big man.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know what this means for the upcoming Lakers season, but I’m sure it’s something interesting.

Draymond Green says he’s ‘at a loss for words about’ DeMarcus Cousins injury

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Everyone has been upset about the recent ACL tear suffered by DeMarcus Cousins. The Los Angeles Lakers big man just can’t seem to catch a break, and has injured his Achilles, quad, and now ACL in the span of two years.

Last year was supposed to be one of retribution for Cousins with the Golden State Warriors, but the results were disappointing. Even still, the Lakers decided to take a chance on Cousins as they tried to push for supremacy in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile folks have shown their support for the former Sacramento Kings All-Star, with Draymond Green being the most recent star to offer comment. The former Warriors teammate of Cousins told ESPN how he felt about the injury this week.

Via ESPN and Marc Spears of The Undefeated:

“One of my goals coming into this season was for DeMarcus to destroy everybody and come back and show how great of a player he is and get what I think he deserves,” Green told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “I’m really at a loss for words about it. It’s one that really hurt me for sure.”

Cousins is now 29 years old, and the question is whether he will ever return to any kind of form approaching what he had in Sacramento. His injuries have been devastating, and they are the kind that few have returned from to play at an elite level in the NBA.

Cousins appears to be fast approaching a spot in NBA history with other potential greats whose careers were ruined by injury. Hopefully he can find a way to avoid that track.

Rumor: Jeremy Lin, open to playing in China, now in talks with Beijing Ducks

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Jeremy Lin does not appear to be on the radar of any NBA teams at this juncture. It has been an up-and-down summer for Lin, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors back in June but finds himself a free agent here in August.

Lin has already said that it’s been extremely tough for him to go without a contract this offseason, and it was reported that he turned down a deal with CSKA Moscow to pursue further NBA opportunities.

Now there are murmurs that Lin could be headed to China to play for the Beijing Ducks. According to Sportando, Chinese reporter Sonx Xiang is saying that Lin and the Ducks are closing in on a deal.

NBA players can go on to have lucrative careers in the CBA. Lin is still a decent enough scorer at the NBA level, and it’s most likely he would fit into the Chinese game quite well.

As a branding and personal opportunity, China could fit Lin nicely. He’s currently on his annual tour of Asia, helping kids across several countries with basketball camps and charitable concerns.

The South China Morning Post has reported that Lin said he would be willing to play in the CBA. Lin also told website Radii of his trips to China that, “When I go there, I feel the most at home.”

Make no bones about it, Lin would much rather play in the NBA this season. Looking at his numbers on Synergy, it’s sort of surprising that nobody would want him as a third point guard on a minimum deal. But in the meantime, Lin has spent a significant amount of time in China and feels a kind of purpose when he’s there.

If he’s got to be away from home — and away from the NBA — this might be the best option for Lin available right now.