NBA

NBA Heat Check: Edwards leads T-Wolves improvement while Luka warms up

By Sports Desk March 22, 2021

This has not been a fun season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who remain at the foot of the Western Conference.

Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell have both missed extended periods and the team have a miserable 10-32 record, the worst in the entire NBA.

But three of those wins have come since the All-Star break, a period in which the T-Wolves are actually operating at .500.

They were 1-2 over the past week but faced a daunting schedule and appear to belatedly have some cause for optimism.

Rookie Anthony Edwards is finally cooking and leads our NBA Heat Check for March 15-21, powered by Stats Perform data.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns

If this young Minnesota team is to develop into a competitive NBA outfit, they need to have both guard Edwards and center Towns fit and firing. That was belatedly the case last week.

Edwards, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, hinted at what was to come at the end of the previous week when he put up 34 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, a career-best tally at that stage.

The benchmark was swiftly raised higher, though, as he followed up 29 points against the Los Angeles Lakers with 42 in a victory at the Phoenix Suns. That was a new T-Wolves rookie record and made Edwards the third-youngest NBA player ever to put up 40 points, after LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The 19-year-old was not alone in passing 40 either, with Towns contributing 41 in only the second ever Minnesota game to feature two 40-point performances.

Towns' weekly average of 31.3 points - up on his prior seasonal tally of 21.8 - provided a timely reminder of his talents, while Edwards - up from 15.6 to 27.3 - will hope he has set a new standard with Rookie of the Year honours perhaps now in his sights, the race blown open by LaMelo Ball's injury.

Luka Doncic

The ROTY chase followed the same trend as the MVP hunt, with Joel Embiid and LeBron James both facing spells on the sidelines and encouraging other contenders. Doncic is not among the frontrunners quite yet, but do not bet against the Dallas Mavericks sensation.

Doncic headed into last week having missed two of the Mavs' prior four games, scoring 22 and 21 points in two wins when he did feature. By the Slovenian's lofty standards, this was a lean spell.

The 22-year-old point guard was soon back to his best, though. He averaged 35.5 points across the subsequent four games, with 42 against the Los Angeles Clippers a clear high point.

Doncic made 5.5 threes per game from 11.5 attempts for 47.8 per cent, a mark that would across the whole season rank him fourth in the league.

Joe Ingles

One of the three players with a better three-point percentage is Utah Jazz forward Ingles, who is shooting 49 per cent from beyond the arc after a week in which that figure was boosted considerably.

Having made 2.4 threes across his first 34 games of the season, Ingles converted an outstanding 5.7 over the next three.

His weekly points per game return was a hugely impressive 22.3 - up 11 on his prior average - after a career-high 34 points against the Washington Wizards, the only game the Jazz have lost this season with Ingles in the lineup.
 

GOING COLD...

Gordon Hayward and Malik Monk

Ball's injury brought a miserable end to a tough week for the Charlotte Hornets, in which they started with a win over the Sacramento Kings before losing three straight.

And Ball will be an even bigger miss than already feared if Hayward and Monk perform as they did over those four games.

Hayward started strongly but scored seven on back-to-back nights and averaged 14 points for the week, while Monk saw his minutes cut and contributed just six points per game - including none at the Lakers - as he made only two of nine threes.

Stephen Curry

Curry is another who might not be a million miles away from the MVP race, but he is trending in the wrong direction.

The Golden State Warriors great has had 62- and 57-point games this season, yet his average for the year is down to 29 after scoring 22.5 per game in meetings with the Lakers and the Houston Rockets last week.

Curry, who made six of 18 threes, then missed consecutive games with a tailbone injury.

While a slight decline in scoring is not a huge concern for the Warriors, they certainly need their main man healthy.

Trae Young

The Atlanta Hawks are enjoying a superb eight-game winning streak, but their leading scorer actually endured a tougher week shooting the basketball.

With 34 assists across three games, Young averaged a double-double, yet he scored only 16.7 points and made 0.5 threes per game. His 9.7 points per game decline on his seasonal tally was the second-worst of the week across the NBA.

Fortunately, Danilo Gallinari and John Collins stepped up, so the Hawks will now hope they can get all their stars firing at once.

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  • The Numbers Game: Can Moyes pull off a Man Utd double for first time since Mourinho's Chelsea? The Numbers Game: Can Moyes pull off a Man Utd double for first time since Mourinho's Chelsea?

    Not many would have predicted before the season that Manchester United versus West Ham represented a key game in the battle for the top four, but that's where we are.

    The Red Devils' win over Brentford moved them to within two points of the Hammers in fourth, with a game in hand, meaning Saturday's clash at Old Trafford offers a good chance to make some headway in the race to finish behind Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

    It also gives David Moyes the chance to end a pretty rotten record at the home of his old club – and that's not including the nine months he was in charge there – as well as the chance for West Ham to avenge their defeat in the reverse fixture.

    Let's not forget they have already won away against United in 2021-22 – and not many teams manage to do that twice in a season. The last one, in fact, was managed by Jose Mourinho.


    BEDEVILLED

    United have won 20 of their 25 home games against West Ham in the Premier League, their last defeat coming in May 2007, when soon-to-be Red Devil Carlos Tevez secured a 1-0 win for the visitors.

    Yet their record when London clubs come calling hasn't been so strong of late: they have lost three of the previous eight home games against teams from the capital, as many such defeats as they suffered in 38 matches at Old Trafford between 2013-14 and 2019-20.

    West Ham, of course, boast the rare feat of being above United in the table: while they sit fourth, United are seventh. Only four times previously in the Premier League era have the Hammers faced them while being placed higher in the standings; interestingly, they failed to win any of them, losing 2-1 in August 1995 and September 2014, drawing 0-0 in August 1998 and losing 3-1 in December 2020.

    'PLAY LIKE FERGIE'S BOYS...'

    Moyes has done a quite brilliant job at West Ham since being parachuted in to rescue them in December 2019. Since the start of 2020-21, he has managed 30 wins from 60 league matches, accruing 102 points in that time. The only sides with more victories and more points are United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

    Old Trafford, though, is not a happy hunting ground for the former United boss. He has drawn four and lost 10 of his away games at the stadium as a Premier League manager; only Harry Redknapp (15 games) has visited more often in the competition without a single win.

    That being said, Moyes did lead West Ham to victory on this ground in the EFL Cup back in September, and they could become just the fourth team to beat United away twice in the same season after Aston Villa (1919-20), Tottenham (1989-90) and Chelsea (2004-05).

    BOWEN'S ROAD RAGE, HAMMER TIME FOR RONALDO

    Cristiano Ronaldo scored in United's dramatic 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in September, in which he was also denied a couple of pretty strong penalty shouts before Mark Noble's injury-time spot-kick was saved by David de Gea.

    The Portugal great has always quite enjoyed facing the Hammers, with six goals and one assist in his five league appearances against them. He was directly involved in seven of the 10 United goals in those matches, in fact, so you wouldn't bet against him keeping up that record – assuming, of course, he isn't having a strop on the bench instead.

    Jarrod Bowen, arguably West Ham's most in-form player, is another who will be hoping to make an impact.

    He has scored six and assisted seven goals in his past 18 league appearances, including goals in his most recent two, but the former Hull City man has only scored three times in 43 top-flight matches on the road, converting a meagre four per cent of his shots (3/69).

    Bowen has played seven times against United from the start, but he's never scored, and only twice has he even lasted the whole game.

    SATURDAY SLUMP

    It's a minor novelty in itself that United are playing a match at 15:00 local time on a Saturday. Such is their global appeal that broadcasters are usually quick to shift them to a more viewer-friendly kick-off time.

    Ralf Rangnick might actually have preferred a different slot. United have lost their most recent two games to start at this time on a Saturday, both of which were this season: 4-2 at Leicester City, and 4-1 at Watford, a result that ended the reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Never before have they lost three in a row when playing at this time.

    United's opening league game of 2022 ended in a 1-0 loss to Wolves at Old Trafford. They have not lost their first two home league matches in a year since 1985, when Ron Atkinson's side were beaten by Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City. They did go on to finish fourth, though...

  • 'The team is more important than whoever' – Rangnick reiterates stance after Ronaldo tantrum at Brentford 'The team is more important than whoever' – Rangnick reiterates stance after Ronaldo tantrum at Brentford

    Ralf Rangnick insisted that his priority will always be with the Manchester United team and not certain individuals amid ongoing questions over Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour at Brentford.

    United sit seventh in the Premier League but are two points behind fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand after defeating Brentford 3-1 on Wednesday.

    Ronaldo played a part in Mason Greenwood's goal, the second for United, at the Brentford Community Stadium but was removed nine minutes later, seemingly much to the Portugal captain's disgust.

    The 36-year-old appeared annoyed as he wandered towards the dugout, where he sat on the steps as he continued to gesture as if he was asking why he had been substituted.

    Rangnick, who could be seen having a word in Ronaldo's ear minutes later in an attempt to defuse the situation, said post-match that the commotion did not concern him, a stance he once again reiterated on Friday.

    "I think we shouldn't make too much of a fuss out of it," Rangnick responded when asked about Ronaldo at a pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday's clash with West Ham.

    "I can only speak for myself and my coaching staff. I explained that to him during the game, we had a little conversation after we scored the third goal. In fact, I told him the same as what I said in our press conference. 

    "The job of a football manager is to help the team win the game and it was clear from our experience at Villa Park that this time we have to do things better. 

    "We did it better and the only question was, who do we take off? Of course, Cristiano is a prolific goalscorer and he's a player that will always want to play and score goals. 

    "The team is more important than whoever – Cristiano, Edinson [Cavani], Bruno [Fernandes].

    "He was also asking why me 'why didn't you take off one of the younger players?'. The answer came five minutes later when one of the younger players scored the third goal. 

    "Maybe Cristiano could have also scored the third goal, but football is not about maybe, it is about taking a decision in the right moment."

    Asked for further clarification on his decision to send on centre-back Harry Maguire for Ronaldo, Rangnick added: "In a way in football it's a bit like chess, things can change so quickly during the game. 

    "If you watched last night's semi-final [between Arsenal and Liverpool] in the EFL Cup things can change from one minute to another.

    "In some parts of the game, you are dominating the game, pinning the other team back, and all of sudden it can be different. 

    "Therefore it is important to be able to react to what the game needs now, to what the team needs and we had exactly the same decision at Brentford as at Villa, 70 minutes played, 2-0 up against a team who does not give up. 

    "For me, it was logical with the negative experience we had at Villa Park to do it differently this time and it was clear we bring on Harry [Maguire] and then defend this 2-0 result and in the end we even scored a third one on the counter-attack and it was clear we were going to win the game."

    Ronaldo will likely lead the line again at home to David Moyes' Champions League-chasing Hammers, who the striker has scored seven goals in his last five top-flight appearances against.

    West Ham, however, have already won away at Old Trafford this season, winning 1-0 in the EFL Cup. Only three teams have ever won twice away against the Red Devils in the same season – Aston Villa (1919-20), Tottenham Hotspur (1989-90) and Chelsea (2004-05).

    Rangnick appreciates he has to take a game at a time at the United helm as he refused to look to far ahead in terms of rebuilding at the club.

    "My full focus as I have indicated is to win games with this team, in order to win games as a team we need to develop as a team," he continued.

    "We need to improve in some areas, we have done so in the last couple of weeks, but there is still more space for that in vast areas of our game and this is where my focus is. 

    "I'm not dealing with what might happen in four or five months, that is not on top of my list.

    "It's about how we can win the game against West Ham, then the cup against Middlesbrough and then Burnley, playing Southampton and Brighton [and Hove Albion] at home, this is where my focus is."

  • Nagelsmann hails 'outstanding' Neuer amid ongoing contract discussions Nagelsmann hails 'outstanding' Neuer amid ongoing contract discussions

    Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann remains unsure on the progress of Manuel Neuer's contract negotiations but heaped praise on the "outstanding" goalkeeper.

    Neuer has made 300 appearances in the Bundesliga for Bayern since moving from Schalke and holds the record for the most clean sheets in the German top flight (209), having surpassed Oliver Kahn (196) in 2021.

    But the Germany international's current contract in Munich expires at the end of the next season, when he will be aged 37, leading to questions over his future.

    While Nagelsmann was unable to provide an update on the situation, he insisted that the 35-year-old can continue performing for many years to come.

    "I don't know [about negotiations] but I know that he still has a contract and is an outstanding goalkeeper," he told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference ahead of a trip to Hertha Berlin on Sunday.

    "You could see right away that he played an outstanding game against Cologne. He will keep this quality for a few more years."

    Asked about the competition, or lack of, between Neuer and Alexander Nubel, the Bayern head coach responded: "As long as he's playing at this level, it's difficult for any player to get past him. 

    "Manuel is still the best goalkeeper because he plays every part of the goalkeeping game very consistently.

    "I can't imagine it stopping abruptly at 36. We can analyse the situation when the time comes. Both are currently playing and are satisfied."

     

    The reigning Bundesliga champions head to Berlin six points clear of Borussia Dortmund at the top after a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick inspired them to a 4-0 win over Cologne.

    Hertha have won just one of their last 21 league meetings with the Bavarian side, while Nagelsmann has not lost any of his 12 top-flight clashes with them as a coach.

    Only Christoph Daum, against Bochum, has faced an opponent more often (20) without losing a single time but Nagelsmann downplayed the importance of his record against Sunday's opponents.

    "It's more of a coincidence," he added on his success against Hertha. "We didn't always play exceptionally well in Berlin. If you have a positive record, you should make sure that it's like that remains.

    "They play significantly more football than before, more flat balls, but still a lot of chip balls to [Ishak] Belfodil, who is one of the most under-rated strikers in the league.

    "He works well with his body, it's incredibly difficult to defend. 

    "With [Marco] Richter and [Suat] Serdar, there are good footballers on the outside. It's more the footballing, courageous approach that [Tayfun] Korkut also demands. 

    "The rest of the defence will be very important for us. In the end, you saw against Wolfsburg that there are a lot of spaces you can attack from, but they also defend much more actively and aggressively."

    Despite Bayern's recent dominance, Nagelsmann insisted there is still potential for much improvement, though he feels their progress in Europe could depend on coronavirus.

    "I'm satisfied, but we still have a lot of potential," he added. "The processes haven't worked consistently for several weeks. Me and the players take a critical look. 

    "It's the case that the coronavirus issue is the season will affect how the teams get through. 

    "There are no longer the extreme quarantine rules. Corona is a thing that you cannot influence very well. If you want to go far in the Champions League, you also have to be a little lucky with Corona quarantines."

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