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BTH Preview: Game 1, Sacramento Kings


I pay homage to Timberwolves blogger Tim Allen, who passed away in August, by emulating one of his timeless “game preview” pieces.[i]

@BreakTheHuddle

Pictured: Tim Allen, aka @TimAllenOnline, Timberwolves blogger. His writing style, entertaining, informative and full of wisecracks, is one I make every effort to emulate.

I didn’t know Tim Allen. At least, not in a personal sense.

I knew of him, knew the Twitter handle (@TimAllenOnline), knew he was snarky, knew the intelligence, knew he had correspondence with other amateur bloggers, overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and sincere. But I never wrote anything to him, never knew what he did for a living, and I never knew his anguish. On August 7th, 2012, hours after tweeting about a USA-Argentina Olympic basketball game, six days after his final post, Tim Allen took his own life.

I learned about him after the fact. I learned about him digitally – first through the anguish of people I follow on Twitter, people who knew him, people who couldn’t believe what had happened. Amateur sports blogging is an insular community – if you’re serious about getting what you write to the public, familiar names and faces will pop up. As a guy interested in writing about the Wolves, Tim Allen kept popping up – and now he was gone. People said he was funny, sharp and kind. A very talented writer. A brother, son and friend.

All those things are human connections, and I wouldn’t have any of that with Tim. My connection with the man is all through the internet, via screens and mobile devices. See, once he passed away, I started reading some of what he wrote – he was the co-manager of the popular Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus – and that’s when the bond started to form.

He was a much better writer than I am – no question about that – but there was something familiar about the way he wrote. The way his brain worked, the non-sequitors, the faux-homer-ism, the painstaking attention to detail and statistics – all of it was something I try to employ in my own writing. I slowly felt as though I knew the guy, in a tiny way, knew his sense of humor, his way of seeing things. He loved hoops. He loved to play with the form and structure of writing posts. He loved being a smartass.

Forgive me if you knew him and my assumptions are way off the mark, but reading his exhaustive body of work left those impressions upon me. I admire the talent and devotion he had for writing, above all else. I am sorry to all those who lost someone they knew on a deeper level than my distant, electronic admiration.

So in honor of Tim, and because the Timberwolves begin their 2012-13 season tonight, full of promise, here is my Game 1 preview, shamelessly, earnestly imitating Tim Allen.

My first suggestion to the Wolves: fewer ‘Muskies’ throwback nights, and more ‘Early 90s’ throwback nights.

Game 1: Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0) versus Sacramento Kings (0-1) at Target Center

It’s true that some of the excitement for the Wolves’ season opener has been tempered by the fact that stars Ricky Rubio (torn ACL) and Kevin Love (broken hand) will not be in the lineup for the game. Rubio’s injury (it happened last March)has had plenty of time to sink in, and fans weren’t expecting him back until January anyway. But Love’s freak incident (which occurred while he did bare-knuckle pushups) threw a wet blanket on the anticipation for the 2012-13 campaign.

Despite the injuries to the team’s two most important players, there’s still plenty to be excited about. The roster has been upgraded, and for the first time, there is an expectation for the Wolves to contend, despite the fact they’ll have to weather the storm for awhile until Love and Rubio are healthy. If the veteran-laden team can weather the storm, there should be a playoff run to look forward to in March and April.

The Kings opened their season Wednesday night with a loss against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls at the United Center in Chicago. Tyreke Evans scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, a surprisingly efficient night for the enigmatic guard. As a team, the Kings tallied 14 assists on 34 offensive field goal – they broke down into one on ones far too often, eschewing ball movement for isolation plays. The Bulls won despite the fact that Nate Robinson gets meaningful minutes for them (20 in the opener). It’s going to be a long season in Sacramento.

Let’s break down the matchups for the Wolves’ season opener:

The dude with the best tattoo in the NBA could have one of 2012’s biggest breakout seasons.

C: Nikola Pekovic vs DeMarcus Cousins

Remember last year, when Darko Milicic opened the season as Minnesota’s starting center? Wasn’t that hilarious? Well this year, the starting big man is Nikola Pekovic, who surprised everybody by making a quantum leap his second season in the league. His per/36 minute averages: 18.5/9.9/0.9, shooting 56% from the field and 74% from the line. He showed up to camp trim, fit and ready to go. Translation: a breakout season awaits him.

DeMarcus Cousins is a crazy person. At the tender age of 22, he has already got a coach’s blood on his hands (figuratively, of course. He didn’t murder Paul Westphal. Yet.) He’s got immense talent, averaging a double-double (18.1/10.9/1.6) on 44.8% shooting a season ago. At 6’11, 270 pounds, he is about as gifted athletically as they come; problem is, he’s a lunatic. And don’t even suggest this “lunacy” talk is all just latent jealousy over the fact that the Wolves took the affable, though terrible, Wes Johnson ahead of him in the 2010 NBA Draft. Don’t. Even. Suggest it.

Winner: Pekovic

If he can be 75% of what he once was, and keep his hair a defensible length and style, Kirilenko’s signing will look like a steal.

PF: Andrei Kirilenko vs Jason Thompson

AK-47 makes his triumphant return to the NBA following a year playing for a pro team in Moscow. While he won’t be the guy who averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals and 3.6 blocks as a 23-year-old way back in 2004-05, he will still be a nice role player, filling up the stat sheet at power forward in Kevin Love’s absence.

Jason Thompson sucks. I’ve never even heard of him. Ha, I am kidding, I’ll tell you something about him. I won’t just leave it at “he sucks”, I’ll give you a reason for it. His per/36 minute averages have been stagnant or declining every year he’s been in the league. This is the start of his fifth season, and the Kings drafted a guy at his position (Thomas Robinson) fifth overall. Writing’s on the wall, Jason. Update your resume.

Winner: Kirilenko

SF: Chase Budinger vs James Johnson

Remember a paragraph ago when I said Jason Thompson’s numbers were “stagnant”? It would be a mistake to look at Budinger’s per/36 history and call those statistics “stagnant.” I prefer “consistent.” As a guy familiar with Rick Adelman’s system (he played for Adelman for two years in Houston) he’ll know what to expect, and play well within the offense. His 3-point percentage soared from 32.5% to 40.2%, more than 5 points ahead of league average.

James Johnson sucks. He’s sort of like Jason Thompson – I mean, who needs ‘em, right? Just another dude with a nondescript name on a stupidly constructed team from the most boring city in the NBA. The Googles tell me he’s a small forward who doesn’t shoot threes well (30% career) and was below average in Win Shares per 48 minutes in 2011-12. What does that mean? He’s not as good as Chase Budinger, that’s what it means.

Winner: Budinger

SG: Brandon Roy vs Tyreke Evans

Roy will get the start, and despite the fact that he “retired” before last season because he had zero cartilage left in his knees, Rick Adelman plans on playing him 30-32 minutes per night. His health will be a key component to the Wolves’ season.

Tyreke Evans is a freakish athlete without a position. Is he a point guard? His rookie season suggests, “no.” Is he a shooting guard? That’s probably right, although he doesn’t play well enough without the ball in his hands to be effective. Is he a small forward? His size (6’6) and shooting ability (20.2% from deep in 2011-12) don’t translate to that position. So what is he? An enigma, much like DeMarcus Cousins. If you’re keeping track, the Kings are starting two super-athletic head cases and two nondescript nobodies.

Winner: Roy

Hopefully, Rubio took some tips from Adrian Peterson, who returned to prime physical form less than ten months after tearing his ACL. The physical similarities between the two guys begin and end right there.

PG: Luke Ridnour vs Isaiah Thomas

Ridnour performed well last year as the team’s starting point guard after the Rubio injury, averaging nearly 14 points and 7 assists in 11 games before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. He’s the perfect guy to perform as a stop-gap at the point – a consummate professional who understands his role, and will cede the starting spot once the Spanish Messiah’s knee allows him to play.

The only difference between THIS Isaiah Thomas and THAT Isiah Thomas is an extra letter ‘a’, as well as nine playoff appearances, two NBA championships, twelve All-Star appearances, two assist titles, two head coaching gigs, one accidental overdose of Lunesta, one submarined basketball franchise (the Knicks), one torpedoed basketball league (the CBA) and one hilariously frightening sexual harassment lawsuit. Other than that, they’re exactly the same.

All kidding aside, THIS Isaiah Thomas went from being the final pick of the 2011 draft to a starter, posting averages of 11 points and 4 assists to go along with 37.9% shooting from 3-point range. It seems like he was an overlooked steal of the draft; it’s too bad he’s been punished by playing for a team with so many ‘me-first’ scorers (Evans, Marcus Thornton, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia). We might not find out how good Thomas can actually be as a distributor for a long, long time.

Winner: Ridnour

Oh, lest I forget, there’s also a ruined college hoops program in THAT Isiah’s path of destruction.

MY PREDICTION:

Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Sacramento Kings 87

Timberwolves record: 1-0

 ————————————————————————————–

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

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