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Make It, Take It: Communication Remains The Timberwolves’ Biggest Issue, On And Off The Court

Getty Image LOS ANGELES — The Minnesota Timberwolves need to talk. It’s a simple statement that is accurate at many levels, even if in some instances it’s too late for some conversations to fix things off the court. The Wolves needed their star players to talk last year to come to an understanding on how…

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Make It, Take It: Communication Remains The Timberwolves’ Biggest Issue, On And Off The Court

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LOS ANGELES — The Minnesota Timberwolves need to talk.

It’s a simple statement that is accurate at many levels, even if in some instances it’s too late for some conversations to fix things off the court. The Wolves needed their star players to talk last year to come to an understanding on how to play together. They needed Jimmy Butler to more clearly explain his desire to move on to Tom Thibodeau earlier in the offseason rather than later. They needed (and, really, still do) Thibs and Glen Taylor to talk and figure out how to get on the same page when moving Butler.

On the court, that communication breakdown is a problem as well. The Wolves have the second worst defensive rating in the NBA at 114.6, which is somehow worse than their 110.1 rating from a year ago that saw them finish 25th in the league. Part of it is personnel, as the mixture of aging veterans and young players at times still finding their way hasn’t meshed, but so many of their problems simply come down to a lack of communication, which leads to players not being on a string.

“It’s all about everybody talking and knowing everybody else’s assignments, because you never know who you’re going to guard in transition,” Butler said after the 114-110 loss. “I think the season’s still young, but we can’t use that excuse too much longer because these games come around quick.”

Against the Lakers on Wednesday night, it was painfully obvious at times that the Wolves simply weren’t talking out coverages enough. There was a pick-and-roll where Jimmy Butler went to switch and Derrick Rose fought over the top, leaving a man wide open and then, again because the communication wasn’t there, both players chased back thinking they were the one that had left their assignment. There was a baseline inbounds play late where Andrew Wiggins thought they were switching and let LeBron James dart to the corner uncovered for an uncontested jumper (that he missed), while Wiggins turned around gesturing at the frontcourt for an explanation after the fact. Throughout the game the Lakers could seemingly get a good shot provided they did the bare minimum of moving the basketball and forcing the Timberwolves defense to move and rotate, because inevitable a link in the chain would break.

And still, despite their defensive miscues and allowing the Lakers to shoot 48.4 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from three — L.A.’s second best mark of the season — Minnesota was in the game late thanks to Derrick Rose’s 7-for-9 night from three-point range and some timely Jimmy Butler buckets late. Karl-Anthony Towns, however, might as well have been absent after the first quarter. The All-Star center came out on fire, with nine points and four boards early to take advantage of what has been a mediocre at best Lakers frontcourt, and it looked like we were in for a big night from him.

And then, as has been the case all too often this season, Towns disappeared. He finished the game with 13 points and nine rebounds, going 2-of-10 from the field after the opening quarter and often settling for outside shots after getting manhandled inside by the newly acquired, 36-year-old Tyson Chandler.

With Towns rendered obsolete on offense, the Wolves leaned on Butler and Rose for their offense and it almost worked, but the lack of balance was stark and even if improved, leaning on Rose’s three-point shooting seems like an unsustainable offensive strategy. The Timberwolves need Towns active and engaged throughout the game, and when asked afterwards what the team can do and what Towns can do to have better sustained performances, coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t exactly forthcoming.

“We just gotta figure it out,” Thibodeau bristled.

That quote embodies the Timberwolves this season. The idea that at this point they’ll just “figure it out” and get the pieces to work together without communicating with each other as to why things may not be working is why this team is destined to fall back into mediocrity. At 4-8 they’re tied with the Suns and Mavs in the loss column and as Butler noted the “season is young” excuse is quickly losing its merit.

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Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em Week 11: Wide Receivers

Published: Nov. 14, 2018 at 12:26 a.m. Updated: Nov. 14, 2018 at 12:32 a.m. Senior fantasy analyst Start ‘Em & Sit ‘Em is the ultimate weekly look at NFL matchups and how they’ll affect your fantasy football team. Fantasy superstars such as Todd Gurley and Antonio Brown will not be featured. All player matchups are…

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Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em Week 11: Wide Receivers

Published:

Nov. 14, 2018 at 12:26 a.m.

Updated:

Nov. 14, 2018 at 12:32 a.m.


Senior fantasy analyst

Start ‘Em & Sit ‘Em is the ultimate weekly look at NFL matchups and how they’ll affect your fantasy football team. Fantasy superstars such as Todd Gurley and Antonio Brown will not be featured. All player matchups are based on PPR scoring system. NFL researchers Matt Frederick and Michael Florio have contributed to the column. For your final starting lineup decisions, check our weekly fantasy football lineup rankings.

Byes: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers

Start ‘Em

Start of the Week – Robert Woods vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Woods has posted 70 or more yards in every game since Week 1, so he has a very safe floor in the world of fantasy football. He should be on the No. 1 wide receiver radar this week against the Chiefs in what should be a very high-scoring game in Los Angeles. The USC product should also see more targets with Cooper Kupp out.

Alshon Jeffery vs. New Orleans Saints

Jeffery has failed to score double-digit fantasy points in each of his last two games, but an upcoming tilt in New Orleans makes him a virtual must start. The Saints have surrendered the most receiving yards (247.5 YPG), seven touchdowns, and the second-most PPR points (50.3 PPG) to opposing wide receivers on their home field.

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Oakland Raiders

Fitzgerald was a bit of a disappointment last week, but he’s still an attractive fantasy option as the Raiders come to town up next. Their defense has surrendered seven touchdowns to slot receivers, which is where Fitz runs 77 percent of his routes. Oakland has coughed up the ninth-most fantasy points to home wideouts overall.

Sterling Shepard vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shepard had just nine receiving yards a week ago, but he did find the end zone in a win over the Niners. I like him to put up a much bigger line against the Buccaneers, who have allowed the most yards and touchdowns to slot receivers. Quarterbacks also have a massive 137.1 passer rating when targeting slot men against the Bucs.

Amari Cooper vs. Atlanta Falcons

Cooper has seen his target, catch, yardage and fantasy point totals all rise in two games since joining the Cowboys, and an upcoming matchup in Atlanta makes him a solid starter. The Falcons have surrendered almost 31 points per game at home, and enemy wideouts have scored nine times and put up the most fantasy points against them.

Start ‘Em: John Brown vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Tyler Lockett vs. Green Bay Packers (Thursday)

Sleepers: Dede Westbrook vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Tre’Quan Smith vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Sit ‘Em

Sit of the Week – Allen Robinson vs. Minnesota Vikings

Robinson is coming off his best stat line of the season, posting 31.3 fantasy points in a win over the Lions. While that performance might make it tough to sit him, keep in mind that the veteran will now have to face CB Xavier Rhodes and a Vikings defense that’s allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers since Week 7.

Devin Funchess vs. Detroit Lions

Funchess has been held under 50 yards in two straight games, during which time he’s scored a combined 14.1 fantasy points. He’s also failed to clear five targets in each of the last three weeks, so Funchess is now trending in the wrong direction. The return of Lions CB Darius Slay would make Funchess even less attractive in fantasy.

Calvin Ridley vs. Dallas Cowboys

Ridley’s stats have been uneven in recent weeks, and this week’s matchup against the Cowboys makes him a risk-reward flex starter. While this could turn into a high-scoring affair, Dallas’ defense has surrendered just three touchdowns and the seventh-fewest fantasy points to enemy receivers who are split out wide in 2018.

Demaryius Thomas vs. Washington Redskins

Thomas is coming off a bye week and should have a slightly better grasp of the Texans playbook, but I still see him as no more than a risk-reward flex starter against the Redskins. The veteran hasn’t cleared 10 fantasy points in three straight games, and this contest is not projected to be a very high-scoring affair.

Michael Crabtree vs. Cincinnati Bengals

This week’s matchup against the Bengals looks good on paper, but Crabtree’s lack of production puts him on the sit ’em list nonetheless. He’s failed to post more than 66 yards in all but one game, and the former red-zone star has scored just one touchdown in his last eight games. Baltimore figures to go run-heavy with Lamar Jackson under center since Joe Flacco (hip) is not healthy.

Sit ‘Em: Courtland Sutton at Los Angles Chargers, John Ross at Baltimore Ravens

Busts: DeSean Jackson at New York Giants, Doug Baldwin vs. Green Bay Packers (Thursday)


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for all of the latest fantasy football news, notes and in-depth analysis!

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After Draymond Green-Kevin Durant spat, Steve Kerr’s demeanor speaks volumes about state of Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. — There were no Rubik’s Cubes. No coy smiles. No sarcastic jokes — well, one sarcastic joke. But for the most part Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, normally gregarious and infinitely patient with the media, was in no mood for nonsense before Tuesday’s game against the Hawks.Kerr was bombarded with question after…

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After Draymond Green-Kevin Durant spat, Steve Kerr’s demeanor speaks volumes about state of Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. — There were no Rubik’s Cubes. No coy smiles. No sarcastic jokes — well, one sarcastic joke. But for the most part Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, normally gregarious and infinitely patient with the media, was in no mood for nonsense before Tuesday’s game against the Hawks.

Kerr was bombarded with question after question about the news that made the media presence much larger than it normally would be for a matchup with a team tied for the worst record in the NBADraymond Green was suspended for the game following a shouting match with Kevin Durant which reportedly carried over into the locker room over the final possession of regulation during Monday’s 121-116 overtime road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Normally tolerant of even the most trying of questions, Kerr was short and direct with the media, showing no interest in his usual expansive, flowery answers.

He said from the beginning that he wasn’t going to go into any detail about the incident that led to Green’s suspension, saying that it will remain within the team — the expected party line answer from an organization that has, for the most part, kept its issues internal over its past four seasons of unparalleled success.

Did you speak with Draymond?

“I have talked to him, and that’s private.”

How would you describe Durant and Green’s relationship, even before the incident?

“They have won championships together, they have been teammates now for three seasons and they were teammates on the Olympic team. You can draw your own conclusions.”

Even when asked a basketball-related question about Tuesday night’s starting lineup, Kerr refused to reveal the starting power forward — as he usually does — but added, “I’m not in a very good mood tonight.” The only time Kerr smiled during the entire press conference was when he was asked about the now-famous incident in which Michael Jordan wound up punching him during practice.

“By the way,” Kerr said, “I kicked MJ’s ass.”

So it was telling that the one question Kerr went in-depth on — the one where he got most animated — was regarding Durant’s impending free agency. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Green brought up KD’s contract situation as the argument carried into the locker room after Monday’s game, but Kerr went to great lengths to deny it ever happened, saying that nobody on the team has ever brought up the possibility of their two-time NBA Finals MVP fleeing the Bay Area after this season.

“Not the slightest bit,” Kerr said when asked if Durant’s potential free agency has affected the locker room. “Nobody ever talks about Kevin’s free agency. It doesn’t bother any of us. This is the NBA. There are guys that are either under contract or are upcoming free agents. It’s the business. We are focused on this year. I didn’t think anybody in our locker room or anyone on our coaching staff thinks twice about Kevin’s free agency this summer. That’s next summer. We are coaching this year and we are playing this year.”

It was a calculated point of emphasis from Kerr, flying directly in the face of a sourced report, and it did have an air of Kerr protesting a bit too much. Durant’s choice to sign another one-year contract with a one-year option is the darkest shadow hanging over the Warriors’ pursuit of history — a fourth title in five straight Finals appearances, maybe more.

And that’s why an incident like this stands out so vividly. Durant and Green have had arguments in the past, but it’s always been chalked up to the heat of the moment — two ultimate competitors clashing in pursuit of greatness. They hug it out and move on.

“I think they have a lot in common,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said of Durant and Green before the game. “They both want to win. They both love to play. I think they would play basketball for free. It’s a relationship that wants to do great things together, and they will, and they have. So I think they’ve got a sound relationship. But, you know, in this game, in this sport, one of the best things about sports is it’s emotional. Sometimes, you know, it becomes too emotional.”

The Warriors knew suspending Green would put a giant spotlight not only on his relationship with Durant, but also on the ripple effect it would have on whether or not Durant will break up potentially one of the best dynasties in NBA history.

They knew all this, and still made the decision to suspend Green.

We’d love to know what was said, and how personal Green got — Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reports that Green repeatedly called Durant “bitch” — but whatever insults were hurled were enough for Kerr and Myers to deprive Green of a game check and a night of doing what he loves. It sent a message that Green had crossed the line on which he has so precariously teetered over the past several seasons.

Whereas Kerr eschewed his normal demeanor for a more stoic one, the Warriors locker room seemed, well, normal. Durant laced up his sneakers in silence as he prepared for pregame shooting drills. Stephen Curry, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s game, laughed to himself about how many media members were present. Andre Iguodala cracked a joke and laughed loudly as he walked away. 

As Kerr and Myers both continually reiterated, adversity like this arises every season. “We’ll get past it and move on,” they kept saying. And they might be right.

But no dynasty lasts forever, and a combination of conflicting star personalities has been a factor in derailing great teams of the past. Sure, the Warriors could immediately rattle off 20 straight wins and cruise to another championship. But if they don’t — if there are any cracks in their seemingly impenetrable armor as the season goes on, and a playoff loss precedes Durant changing teams — we’ll look back at this incident as more than just a heated argument between teammates.

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NFL must learn from Rams vs. Chiefs blunder in Mexico City for future international games

Considering all the logistical challenges, the NFL’s International Series has gone off pretty well since its inception in 2007.Until this week, at least.The NFL had to move Monday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game from Mexico City back to Los Angeles due to substandard turf issues at Estadio Azteca. An October Shakira concert, a slew…

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Considering all the logistical challenges, the NFL’s International Series has gone off pretty well since its inception in 2007.

Until this week, at least.

NFL had to move Monday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game from Mexico City back to Los Angeles due to substandard turf issues at Estadio Azteca. An October Shakira concert, a slew of soccer games and the general problems associated with new grass that was installed last spring did the game in. The playing surface just wasn’t safe to play on.” data-reactid=”18″ type=”text”>The NFL had to move Monday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game from Mexico City back to Los Angeles due to substandard turf issues at Estadio Azteca. An October Shakira concert, a slew of soccer games and the general problems associated with new grass that was installed last spring did the game in. The playing surface just wasn’t safe to play on.

It’s certainly an embarrassment for the league. More importantly though, it should serve as a warning shot, or at least a reminder, that as much as the NFL wants to market its game around the globe, it needs to be diligent to assure conditions elsewhere match those here in the States.

“Until very recently, we had no major concerns,” Mark Waller, NFL executive vice president of International, said in a statement. “But, the combination of a difficult rainy season and a heavy multi-event calendar of events at the stadium, have resulted in significant damage to the field that presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game.”

It can happen and there was no other choice. The field wasn’t up to NFL standards. The players were balking. And so, with that, a dozen years into this the International Series, there was disappointment (certainly for the 90,000 fans in Mexico City who bought tickets).

Of course in Los Angeles, Rams fans get a bonus game. So, it’s not all bad for the NFL.

“Moving the game is the right decision,” Waller said. “And one that we needed to announce now in order to allow our teams and fans to make alternate arrangements.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell and his league have a chance to learn from the Rams-Chiefs Mexico City embarrassment. (Getty)

The NFL has not had a problem in London, where 24 games have been staged, 21 of them at Wembley Stadium. Locker rooms are cramped and can spill out into walkways, but the games have been fine. In an effort to deal with that, the soon-to-be-finished Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was designed to include locker rooms that can accommodate large NFL rosters and dedicated areas for medical treatment. The league has two games scheduled there annually starting next year.

The NFL could only wish Estadio Azteca, originally constructed for the 1968 Olympics (although renovated four times since, including 2016) could be as plush.

The NFL wants to play games in the Mexican capital. (There’s another scheduled for 2019.) Mexico City has a metropolitan population of 22.2 million. Unlike London, there are no time zone constraints, which means the city is rich with fans of all NFL teams. The game isn’t a curiosity there, the way it especially was when the NFL first went to London.

As such, the league was pleased with the chance to give Mexican fans not just a regular-season game, but one of the marquee matchups of the season – the 9-1 Rams v. 9-1 Chiefs, in what could be a Super Bowl preview.

“It definitely adds to the excitement,” Waller told Yahoo Sports last month of exporting such a big game. “It shows fans how committed we are to the agenda. Teams are willing to give home dates for games of that caliber. Fans know that it matters.”

The NFL wants to play games in lots of places. There was a proposed 2018 season opener between the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers in China. That was cancelled before the season, with an eye toward having it played in 2019 as part of the league’s 100-year anniversary celebration. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been bullish on China.

Meanwhile, the league has discussed putting a game in Berlin as a way to gain a foothold in mainland Europe. It’s a matter of either expanding the International Series or taking a date out of London. Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also been cited as potential game locations. So too has a second date in Mexico or even a game in Brazil, where the NFL enjoys considerable popularity.

And then there are the London games, four of them scheduled for next year alone.

It all sounds great in a boardroom. New markets. New fans. Huge cities. Huge potential.

Not everything works though. The NFL is blessed (mostly due to U.S. taxpayers) to play its games in plush facilities. With the exception of Oakland, the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, each of the league’s stadiums was built primarily for the NFL. And all three teams will play in new, state-of-the-art stadiums by 2020.

That can’t be assured internationally. What in America can stand up to Shakira and soccer might not elsewhere.

That’s always been the potential pratfall of taking the show on the road. It finally blew up on the league.

Tough break for Mexico City, a late boon for L.A. And for the NFL, a lesson to be learned once the humiliation wears off.

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49ers cheerleader takes a knee for 2nd time
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