Monday, Nov. 19, 2018

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NBA Champs to Test Timberwolves


A Tuesday notes column including a look ahead to the Timberwolves game Wednesday evening against Golden State:

Tom Thibodeau told Sports Headliners yesterday his team’s game in Oakland tomorrow night against the defending champion NBA champions will be a “test,” but win or lose he won’t make too much out of the early season result.

The Wolves, 7-3, are on a five-game win streak—a franchise best since 2009. Optimism about making the playoffs for the first time since 2004 is growing with new starters Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. They join two of the NBA’s better younger starters in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—and Thibodeau, in his joint role as the franchise’s president of basketball operations and coach, has strengthened the bench this season.

Butler is a top 10 to 15 NBA player who at 6-7, 231 pounds, can guard all five positions. Some NBA authorities might include Towns in a top 15 listing of league players, and Wiggins could potentially be a top 25 player soon.

The Warriors, though, have two players who could be included among the NBA’s five best. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are in the conversation when the elite players are talked about, and two more Warriors starters, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, are stars, too.

The two teams split a pair of exhibition games in China in September. Thibodeau said those games will help preparations for Wednesday night in California against a Warriors team that is 8-3 so far, and has won four consecutive games.

Fans are dazzled with the playmaking and shooting of the Warriors, but they excel on defense, too. They have won two of the last three NBA titles and are so young and so good that even an NBA All-Star team might not win in a seven-game series against them.

No wonder Thibodeau sees Wednesday night’s game as a test. The two teams play twice more this season—again in Oakland on January 25 and March 11 in Minneapolis.

Rochester John Marshall power forward Mathew Hurt watched Sunday’s Minnesota-Green Bay game at Maturi Pavilion. Hurt is ranked by recruiting authorities in the top five nationally among high school players in the class of 2019.

Ryan James

Minnesota writer and recruiting authority Ryan James told Sports Headliners Hurt could end his prep career as the highest ranked Minnesota boys high school basketball player ever. Hurt’s brother Michael is a sophomore reserve for the Gophers, and James believes that if the older Hurt’s experience  continues to be positive it will help Minnesota’s chances in landing Matthew.

A winning season in the Big Ten and success in the NCAA Tournament will be factors too in the race to influence the younger Hurt. James said Hurt is far from a decision on his college choice, with the Gophers in the mix with some of college basketball’s blue bloods.

Power programs Duke, Kansas and North Carolina have extended scholarship offers. “I think they’re right there (the Gophers) having the same chance as everybody else,” James said.

Ryan said Hurt and his family haven’t announced a timeline for choosing a school. “He can take his time with his decision because every one of those schools is going to wait for him because he is that level of player.”

Ticket proceeds and a portion of the concessions and merchandise revenues from the Green Bay game are to be donated to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The Gophers provided hotel rooms for the Green Bay staff and players on Saturday night but the Phoenix didn’t receive a fee for participating in the exhibition game.

The NCAA has allowed teams two exhibition games in the past but added a third this fall because of the disaster in Puerto Rico. Gophers coach Richard Pitino thinks it’s a “no- brainer” for future years regarding a third exhibition game with proceeds dedicated to a good cause.

The Gophers were impressive in a 115-86 win over the Phoenix but defense on both sides was sometimes lackadaisical. Gophers sophomore forward Amir Coffey showed his versatility, including scoring 26 points. He could be Minnesota’s best player in 2017-2018.

Freshman guard Isaiah Washington scored 24, and had a game-high six assists. His flashy style gave notice he could become the most electrifying playmaker ever at Minnesota.

Senior center Reggie Lynch picked up his third personal foul with 19:06 to play in the second half. Lynch, who fouled out eight times in 33 games last season, ranks near the top of the program’s best shot blockers ever but he has to avoid so many fouls in 2017-2018.

Pitino said Lynch understands he has to use better judgment. “We’re working on it,” Pitino said.

Former Apple Valley star Gary Trent Jr. is a freshman at Duke and Sports Illustrated’s basketball issue that came out last week predicts the shooting guard will average 10.8 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.

Ric Flair, the legendary professional wrestler who spent part of his youth in Edina, is the subject of ESPN’s documentary “Nature Boy” airing tonight as part of the network’s highly regarded “30-for-30” series. The program begins at 9 p.m.

In the prior hour, ESPN will air a show announcing MLB’s Gold Glove winners with Twins center fielder Byron Buxton expected to be among those honored.

The Gophers won Big Ten baseball championships in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Players and others associated with the program back then will hold a reunion next May. During that era Stew Thornley was a batboy with the Gophers, while Gregg Wong was an official scorer and public address announcer. Both are now Twins official scorers.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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