Phoenix Suns (11-19) at Minnesota Timberwolves (13-13)

Posted by on December 29th, 11:33 am

Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Phoenix Suns 107

Suns

Timberwolves

Remember the goodwill the Phoenix Suns temporarily built up with a four-game winning streak heading into last Friday’s showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers? Eight days later, all of the warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding Alvin Gentry’s club have slowly dissipated with four painful losses.

Now ordinarily four straight December defeats wouldn’t be that detrimental to the psyche of a team, especially given that the last three have come against teams that were in last year’s playoffs. However, the Suns have made an art form lately out of losing games due to poor late-game execution. A 25-point loss to the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers on your home floor hurts, but losing to Portland, the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers in contests where the game was in the balance with mere minutes remaining just personifies Phoenix’s glaring issue 30 games in. The Suns simply don’t have an identity in any shape or form.

Having a “go-to” scorer would be nice, but frankly it’s more of a team execution issue at this point more than anything else. As has been the case all year, the Suns proved Saturday night against the Pacers that they have no problem coming back from big deficits. However after tying the game at 81 midway through the fourth quarter, Phoenix went on to hit three field goals over the final 6:20 of play. During that same span, the Suns turned the ball over four times and took six shot attempts from 18 feet or further. For a team that is not loaded with talent, to win close games, especially on the road, that level of offensive inefficiency won’t get it done, as has been proven to be the case during 2012.

Phoenix has now lost seven straight road contests since winning at Cleveland on Nov. 27, but there are still two more opportunities for the team to notch its first road victory of the month.

Saturday’s opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves, is frankly a better team than its .500 record indicates. Before the season began, head coach Rick Adelman envisioned a backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Brandon Roy to play alongside the face of the franchise, power forward Kevin Love.

Rubio (4.2 ppg and 4.0 apg) returned to the team on Dec. 15 after being forced to sit out the first 20 games of the season (March knee surgery). In his first five games, Rubio has averaged just over 18 minutes per game off the bench.

Roy, who the team signed to a two-year deal in July worth $10.4 million, has missed the team’s last 19 games after a knee-on-knee collision in a Nov. 9 contest against the Pacers forced him to undergo right knee surgery. The injury was not all that surprising. After all Roy, a three-time All-Star, retired after five seasons in the league last year due to chronic knee problems. While Adelman and Co. had hoped to have him back for Saturday night’s contest against the Suns, his comeback seems to have hit a little bit of a snag.

And then there is Love, the team’s “go-to” guy when it comes to just about everything. After coming off an excellent showing in the London Olympics, the two-time All-Star was primed to lead Minnesota to its first postseason berth since the 2003-04 season. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, Love broke his right hand during the preseason and was projected to miss six to eight weeks. The good news is the former UCLA star returned in just four weeks and has led the team in scoring (18.8 ppg) and rebounding (13.8) over his first 15 games.

Throw in the ACL tear offseason acquisition Chase Budinger sustained in the team’s fifth game of the season, and it’s safe to say Minnesota more closely resembles a MASH unit than a playoff contender so far this season.

Nonetheless, Adelman has made the most of a team riddled with injuries and chemistry concerns (seven new faces on the roster), and he’s done it with balanced scoring (seven players averaging more than 10 points per game) and team defense (ranked No. 6 in defensive efficiency by allowing only 98.9 points per 100 possessions).

After taking a year off from the NBA, two-time All-Defensive team member Andrei Kirilenko has revived his career in the Twin Cities in 2012-13, leading the team in blocks (1.5) and steals (1.7) per game. His 13 points per game are merely a bonus at this point.

Third-year center Nikola Pekovic has quietly had one of the more underrated seasons thus far of any big man in the league, averaging 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He proved to be a big interior asset during Love’s 11-game absence earlier in the year.

Add in the consistency of point guard Luke Ridnour, the offensive firepower off the bench with Alexey Shved and Jose Juan Barea and the maturation, albeit a slow one, of former UA star Derrick Williams, and it’s easy to see how Minnesota could still be in contention for a No. 7 or No. 8 seed out West come March and April.

And 1

  •  After last night’s loss in Indianapolis, the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro reported that point guard Goran Dragic remains optimistic about returning to the Suns’ lineup against the Timberwolves Saturday. Dragic was forced out of Friday’s contest against the Pacers after suffering a left hip bruise, bruised tailbone and sprained wrist in the first half of Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. Phoenix is 0-2 this season in games without Dragic on the floor.
  • The Suns have won 10 of their last 11 games against the Timberwolves, including five straight victories at the Target Center.
  • Former T-Wolves Michael Beasley (two years) and Wesley Johnson (two years) will make their returns to Minnesota Saturday night after leaving this summer via free agency and trade, respectively.

Dave Dulberg

Dave Dulberg is a ValleyoftheSuns staff writer who recently graduated from the University of Southern California. He also works as a web content writer/editor for Arizona Sports 620 KTAR.

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Preview

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chipper10 // Dec 29, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I know the record looks bad but I truly feel the Suns are not that far away. If we had a legitimate go to guy I believe this would be a .500 or over team.

    With that said I believe with this being a back-to-back game situation, the Suns will not be able to hang with the T wolves tonight.

    Gentry cost them the game last night by riding his starters too long,particularly Sebastian Telfair. And the team will pay the price for that move again in tonight’s game.

  • 2 azbballfan // Dec 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    If Telfair gents in foul trouble early, Gentry might be forced to play Kendall Marshall

    I am assuming the Suns play it safe and leave the dragon on the bench for the OKC game

    if Boston cant get Demarcus Cousins from Sacto, i would endorse a Gortat to Boston deal where we get Avery Bradley and Fab Melo

    Gortat doesnt seem to be as happy this season and declined a contract extension to might as well get something for him while you can

  • 3 Serek // Dec 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I agree that lack of a go-to scorer is not the biggest problem here. The team has shown many times this season that it can play to win. The problem is lack of consistency, focus on defense and a recipe for how to play the offense.

    I don’t know if it can be ironed out just by practice and familiarity, but if it were possible, this team would actually be worth a playoff spot.

  • 4 Forever is2long // Dec 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    This team is every bit as bad as its record. They NEVER EVER should have drafted Marshall and I yelled that hours and minutes before they drafted him. Gortat is a shell of himself without Nash. They should have traded Gortat this past summer and kept Lopez who is younger and cheaper with a bigger upside. Lopez is really starting to develop for those who have not seen much of him this season. I love the Suns but they are a mess.

  • 5 Polish_fan // Dec 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    bla bla bla …. Everyone would play crap without a passes. specially center from a pg. check gortat – telfair screen and roll to get an answer how they should play though….
    and yes… trade Gortat to Boston ! Ya’ll stay with JO who had been injured often as far as i know…and he isnt younger than MG4

  • 6 Ty-Sun // Dec 29, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Lol, Gortat is a very good PNR player but the is IT as far as his offensive game goes. As I said, he’s very good but not great at it and if the Suns started concentrating on that as their offensive bread and butter then other teams would concentrate on stopping it. They couldn’t do it when it was Nash and Amare running the PNR because they were great players and you couldn’t ignore either of them. Gortat benefited in the PNR with Nash because everyone knew they couldn’t ignore Nash and concentrate on defending Gortat. Gentry isn’t using Gortat correctly but Gortat is far from being an all-star and can only marginally blame his lack of production this year on anyone else.

  • 7 Sillmarillion // Dec 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Where is O’Neal?

  • 8 Ty-Sun // Dec 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    And as an afterthought, Jermaine O’Neal once was a better center than Gortat will ever be… and he was never a “great” center.

    Give it up Polish_fan.

    Gortat is very good but not great as far as NBA standards go. The Suns should run more PNR plays with Gortat than they have but trying to make Gortat their go-to guy through that will only make them more predictable and defensible.

    The Suns need more structure in their offense. When Dragic brings the ball down court he should look for the PNR with Gortat but if that isn’t there then he should have more options than just passing the ball around until someone has an open shot… which seems like a fair summary of the Suns’ offense so far… unless someone decides to be a ball stopper and try to create themselves. Sometimes that works, mostly it doesn’t.

    Dragic isn’t Nash and he never will be but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good PG. Nash could (and still can) create something out of nothing. He made chaos seem orderly but that was his gift. Dragic doesn’t have that gift but neither do 99% of any other PGs in the NBA.

    Add it all up and the Suns have quite a few good building blocks to make a good team but no one to pull it all together that they can rally around. That doesn’t mean they need a “go-to” scorer, just a real leader… which they don’t seem to have now.

  • 9 Sillmarillion // Dec 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    And who’s gonna tell me why O’Neal isn’t playing tonight?

  • 10 bill.thomas // Dec 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I still never got an answer as to whether a ‘Sillmarillion” is a protected species.

  • 11 bill.thomas // Dec 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Pekovic really had his way with Gortat tonight. Did anyone get the plate on that Mack truck?

  • 12 bill.thomas // Dec 29, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    For all you Scola haters, subtract his point total from the team’s total tonight and see where that leaves you–if indeed you are capable of subtraction.

  • 13 bill.thomas // Dec 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Now we know what Gentry really thinks of Marshall.

  • 14 Penny Hardaway // Dec 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    This is getting ridiculous. I think Suns need to fire Gentry. There isn’t much improvement, everything else is the same. When it all comes down to it, why not try another? PGs are really important in this game and sometimes sound and fundamentals work. I say give Marshall a shot. Gentry won’t even give Marshall a complete game.

    As if Telfair & Dragic are doing any better. If you say well Marshall don’t have D? Screw you, Marshall’s D is his offensive facilitation. I liked how e verything was smooth ans fast paced when Marshall played against Pacers in the 2nd quarter. it has potential that Gentry cannot see.

    If Dudley gets traded somehow, it’s official. Suns loves to collect dumb players and throw away the ones with low to no IQ of the game.

  • 15 Penny Hardaway // Dec 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    *I meant throw away the ones with high IQ for the game.

    trading Marshall & Dudz would be a big mistake. It’s time to get rid of Brown & Gortat, both are costing us game by not using their heads.

  • 16 Scott // Dec 29, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I’m surprised that so much of the starting offense runs though Brown. Last year that would have been total folly.

    If Gentry needs distribution from the #2 spot, shouldn’t he pair Telfair and Dragic? That would put Dragic in position to be the go-to scorer at the end of games.

    Gentry could rotate the 3 guards he’s using now, at 32 min apiece, or he could use one of the 2 rookie PGs with the 2nd unit for a few minutes, pairing them with Brown.

    Also … is Johnson really playing so poorly that Beasley can get on the floor but he can’t?

    Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

  • 17 DBreezy // Dec 30, 2012 at 1:10 am

    @Foreveris,

    Who is this Lopez fellow you speak of????

  • 18 bill.thomas // Dec 30, 2012 at 6:34 am

    @Penny, what do you think of my proposed trade, Beasley for 2000 pounds of high grade pot.

  • 19 foreveris2long // Dec 30, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Dbreezy, Robin Lopez. I have seen him play most of his games this season. However since most fans have not seen his games at least look at his stats, especially over the past 5 or 6 games.

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