Pro basketball's Timberwolves showing early lifeJanuary 03, 2012 3:05 AM by Ted Sevransky
We’ve got a full week of NBA action in the books, and every team except Milwaukee has at least four games under their belts.
Let’s take a look around the league, concentrating on key notes and quotes, the type of information that has the potential to make us some money in the weeks to come.
The Bulls suffered through a bit of a sluggish start to the season. They had to rally from behind late to earn a non-covering one point win against the Lakers in their opener, followed by an embarrassing loss the next night at Golden State. Since that time, Tom Thibodeau’s squad has won and covered three straight, all by double digit margins, playing championship caliber basketball on both ends of the floor.
Center Joakim Noah: "I think we’re the deepest team in the NBA. I think Omer [Asik] has been playing great for us. Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver – all these guys I feel could be starters. I feel like it definitely takes our team to another level when you bring in the second unit and they’re very good."
In a frenetic 66 games in less than four months season where depth is going to matter as much as talent, a team like Chicago that has both depth and talent has the potential to be a real moneymaker.
Everything went wrong for the Pacers as they traveled to Detroit for their New Year’s Eve game against the Pistons. What was supposed to be a 40 minute "puddle-jumper" flight turned into a three hour marathon after they were unable to land due to poor visibility thanks to a dense fog. The Pacers then had to wait for nearly an hour for their bus to arrive, followed by a long bus ride to the hotel. They didn’t get into their rooms until after 4 AM.
Once they got to the Palace of Auburn Hills, later that day, the Pacers looked tired and lethargic in their first back-2-back. Their first "three games in four nights" stretch of the campaign, comes off a draining OT win at Cleveland the night before.
Forward Tyler Hansbrough: "You can make excuses about playing three games in four nights or whatever, but we just didn’t show up. Right from the start, we were sluggish and slow." That’s one game worth an asterisk when you’re evaluating results to adjust your power ratings.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The "other LA" entered Sunday’s game against Portland with the NBA’s most efficient offense, proving that the addition of All Star point guard Chris Paul is having an immediate impact. But the Clips were just 1-2 in their first three games thanks to a shoddy defensive effort that wasn’t stopping opposing offenses very often.
In fact, LA ranked dead last among NBA defenses coming into the game, allowing a whopping 113.3 points per 100 possessions. Blake Griffin, prior to the game against the Blazers: "We’ve got to get better defensively." LA certainly showed signs of defensive improvement in their five point win over previously undefeated Portland.
The Clips shut down the Blazers for three full quarters, putting pressure on the ball throughout and holding Nate McMillan’s squad to 52 points during that span. Even a fourth quarter offensive explosion from the Blazers wasn’t enough to get Portland over the hump. LA head coach Vinny Del Negro: "I thought we did a good job limiting their easy baskets as much as possible."
Blake Griffin was pleased with their defensive effort following the win. "We were on top of them, getting loose balls, getting steals, deflections."
Clippers games now draw Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather to LA.
After one week of play, there’s only one team in the NBA that is perfect against the spread – Rick Adelman’s Timberwolves. Long considered a perennial bottom feeder, it’s surely worth noting that Minnesota is also 3-0-1 to the UNDER.
The Timberwolves are playing a notch or two slower and better defensively than the betting markets have expected. How has this bottom tier ballclub found a way to cover numbers so efficiently thus far? Well, they’ve stepped up in class rather well, taking advantage of opposing teams looking past them after so much futility in the post-Kevin Garnett era.
Minnesota has played its best in the fourth quarter, outscoring Dallas 25-13, Miami 26-21, Milwaukee 27-19 and Oklahoma City 28-26. As any experienced NBA bettor will tell you, winning fourth quarters goes a long, long way towards covering point spreads.
The long awaited addition of rookie point guard Ricky Rubio has legitimately made a difference for the T-wolves. Rubio has played all 12 minutes of all four fourth quarters. His stats in those periods have been downright impressive: 7-10 shooting for 21 points, while dishing 14 assists and snaring nine rebounds.
Rubio was quick to defer to his teammates: "That’s why I have a lot of assists – because of him (Kevin Love) not because of me." Love following their first SU win of the year against Dallas: "We’re the best team in 2012 right now. We feel good. We’ve got the monkey off our back."
NEW JERSEY NETS
On opening night, the Nets came out of the gate looking awful, trailing at Washington 37-16 midway through the second quarter. By the end of the third quarter, they were leading and they held on for the victory. Avery Johnson’s team might be capable of rallying from behind on the road against another bottom feeder like the Wizards, but they haven’t been able to hang tough with anybody else on any floor.
Sunday’s 16 point loss at Cleveland was New Jersey’s fourth straight defeat, by an average of nearly 19 points per game. Their biggest issue is on the offensive end of the floor, averaging less than 84 points per game on just 38.8% shooting. The Nets rank 29 out of 30 NBA teams in both categories.
Kris Humphries is the only Nets player shooting better than 50% from the floor. Ten of the 13 Nets who have received playing time this year are shooting 41% or worse. That’s very bad news for a team that came into the week allowing an NBA worst 45.6% shooting from three point range, suffering from defensive issues as well!
It all starts with struggling point guard Deron Williams, who has committed at least six turnovers in three of the Nets last four losses. He’s shooting a career worst 35.4% from the floor and his 5.6 assists per game is his lowest figure – by far – since his rookie year. Williams: "It’s definitely frustrating. I’m not helping the team at all. Hopefully, I can turn it around and we can get some wins."
DeMarcus Cousins was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and enjoyed a promising rookie season for the 24-58 Kings. Maturity issues have been a problem for Cousins dating all the way back to high school, when he got into a fistfight on a team bus with a faculty member and was kicked off the team.
In his lone collegiate season at Kentucky, Cousins earned a reputation as a player whose temper controlled him, instead of vice versa. In his rookie season with Sacramento last year, Cousins was removed from the team plane and suspended following an altercation with teammate Donte Green.
At the All Star Game the following week, superstar Kobe Bryant pulled Cousins aside for a few minutes to give him some advice: "He has too much talent to be doing all of that (stuff). Just play, man." Apparently, Cousins hasn’t been able to heed that advice. Through the first three games of the 2012 campaign, Cousins was a low post force: 13 points and 11 boards per game while averaging only 27 minutes of playing time.
But his mercurial nature has led to another suspension, this time after a heated discussion with head coach Paul Westphal. In a statement released to the press, Westphal insinuated that Cousins has been involved in numerous internal incidents since the start of training camp. "When a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely."
As of press time, it was not clear whether Cousins had demanded a trade (Westphal says he did, his agent says he didn’t) or when he’ll suit up again in a Kings uniform. It’s surely worth noting, however, that with Cousins benched against New Orleans on Sunday Night, the Kings came through with one of their best efforts, notching a 16 point win to snap a three game skid.
The NFC East has been largely unpredictable the past three seasons, with the team carrying the longest division odds at midsummer finishing first. In 2012 it was Washington at 10 to 1, in 2013 Philadelphia at 5-1 and last year Dallas at 4-1.