Wednesday Sports Notebook

Tonight on TV

7 p.m. — Pro Hockey: Phoenix at Minnesota Wild, Fox Sports North
7 p.m. — Pro Basketball: Washington at Milwaukee Bucks, Fox Sports Wisconsin
7:30 p.m. — Pro Basketball: Denver at Minnesota Timberwolves, Fox Sports North Plus

. . .

Tuesday Night Scoreboard

Boys Hockey

Phil Beaulieu, 2012-13 pix. Howie / HowieBlog.com
Phil Beaulieu, 2012-13 pix. Howie / HowieBlog.com
Duluth Marshall 2, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 1 — Alex Murray had 22 saves and Luke Pavelich and Anthony Miller scored third-period goals for the Hilltoppers, who improved to 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the Lake Superior Conference. Kyle Klatt scored for the Lumberjacks (0-1-1).

Duluth East 3, Cambridge-Isanti 2 — Howie Blog 2013-14 High School Boy’s Hockey Preseason Player of the Year Phil Beaulieu scored two goals — including the game-winner in overtime — to power the Greyhounds past host Cambridge-Isanti. Gunnar Howg and Lucas Hedin combined for 19 saves for the Greyhounds, who out-shot their Section 7AA opponent 52-21.

Boy’s Basketball

Hermantown 55, Duluth Denfeld 44 — Kole Zuldmulder scored a game-high 20 points to power the Hawks to the Lake Superior Conference home victory. Jack Monson had nine points to lead the Hunters (0-1), who led 25-24 at the half.

Esko 82, Moose Lake-Willow River 65

Cloquet 88, International Falls 24

Tim Bouvine: Minnesota nice turns out bad for Flip and NBA draft

Tim Bouvine
Tim Bouvine
The National Basketball Association’s Minnesota Timberwolves have had more than their share of just plain bad luck in the ping-pong ball derby known as the NBA Draft lottery process. But they have also contributed to their own franchise pain by just plain screwing up.

New President of Basketball Operations (which seems to be just a fancy title for general manager) Flip Saunders was brought back to the Twin Cities to provide expertise from a long time NBA participant as a head coach, including many years coaching the T-Wolves. Flip has been around the Minnesota scene since 1974 when he signed to play basketball for the University of Minnesota Gophers out of the state of Ohio.

Anybody that is called Flip around these parts knows it is in reference to Saunders. He has become as Minnesotan as his “close personal friend” Sid Hartman, the legendary Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist.

Flip may not have all the qualities that define a “true” Minnesotan, but he certainly is right up there in most traits that are associated with state’s self-proclaimed select status. The “Minnesota nice” moniker can be taken several different ways. It can be just plain old congenial, callously stereotypical, excessively passive or just too darn honest.

In Flip’s case, the too darn honest part just came back to haunt him in his first year in charge of the NBA draft.

He should have followed the path taken by that slick general manager of the state’s professional football team, Minnesota Viking executive Rick Spielman. He appears to be among the professions best at talking out of both sides of his mouth and can also be a master of deception regarding his true intentions leading up to crucial personnel decisions.

In 2012, Spielman had many convinced that he was going to draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon instead of the highly touted and eventual Viking first-round pick offensive tackle Matt Kalil. He even fabricated his way into a trade with the Cleveland Browns by feigning interest in trading the Vikings third overall to a suitor other than the Browns, who seemed convinced the Vikings were going to trade that third overall pick to Tampa Bay.

Spielman undoubtedly leaked his “possible intention” to the media, giving the Browns trepidation that the Buccaneers could then select running back Trent Richardson of Alabama, who the Browns coveted as well.

The deception game might be nothing more than a sport’s version of liar’s poker, but it is a shady tactic that is used simply because it’s effective in playing on others fears and jitters of being manipulated.

The Timberwolves and Saunders were naively straightforward in their NBA draft intents. Perhaps it was because they were fairly far down the list at the ninth selection that caused Flip to be just too plain honest indicating to the whole NBA world they were going to draft a desperately needed shooting guard.

This position is generally not highly coveted and Flipper naively assumed he could get his man at number nine. This strategy looked pretty safe after a number of early surprise developments left a surplus of guards available.

However, one by one the top shooting guards came off the available list and lo and behold, the team that picked right before the Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons surprisingly selected Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to wipe the ‘Wolves preferred list bare. Detroit had let the NBA world know that they were only interested in acquiring a point guard, not a shooting guard with their pick.

The Pistons played the deception game to perfection and the Timberwolves had nobody left worthy of a ninth overall position on their draft board. Saunders and Company, in their own infinite wisdom, decided to trade that pick to Utah for the Jazz number 14 and number 21 selections in the first round.

This trading down strategy often works in the NFL because of the depth of talent available. In the NBA, it just means that you will likely get a very defined role player that might stay in the league for several seasons, or as one television draft expert described it, a “one in ten chance” that this player will be a starter for years to come.

The ‘Wolves took troubled UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, who likely will play the #2 position or shooting guard in the NBA. The talented, but enigmatic Shabazz is more known for not celebrating a last second win for his UCLA team this past season because he did not get the ball for the winning shot. While his teammates celebrated together, Shabazz was off to the side pouting. Oh and did I forget, the youngster got caught lying about his true age this past year.

With the 21st pick, the Timberwolves selected Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, a very good shot blocker and decent rebounder that obviously will play a limited role as well.

The initial test for Flipper didn’t seem to go too well Thursday night in Brooklyn, the home of this year’s draft. Perhaps a training lesson from Spielman could be in order. No more Mister Nice Guy Flipper. Take a quickie course in lying effectively from Spielman and come back next year with a devilish game plan. This Minnesota nice thing sucks in sports.

Note: Tim Bouvine is a senior contributing blogger for the Howie Blog

Tim Bouvine: Rubio, Rubio, where art thou old Rubio?

Tim Bouvine
Tim Bouvine
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio thrilled friend and foe alike last season with his enthusiasm, creativity and star-studded highlight reel plays before a knee injury put a sudden halt to the new-found excitement at Target Center, the normally docile home of the franchise.

Rubio tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee last March when he attempted to draw a charging foul against Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, resulting in a collision and subsequent injury that ended his 2011-2012 NBA rookie season and delayed the start of his 2012-2013 basketball year until mid-December.

Ricky’s initial performance in December could not have gone any better for Rubio as he flashed the form that all enjoyed last season and displayed the kind of enthusiasm that lit up the Target Center crowd in a 114-106 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks. The Spanish point guard dished out nine assists and eight points in a mere eighteen minutes as playing time was limited due to the sensitive nature of his recovery.

Adventure100Perhaps the land of 10,000 lakes had some sort of miracle potion that somehow allowed rapid healing like Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson accomplished in his triumphant return from ACL and MCL tears in less than a year to win the NFL’s MVP Award in the just finished 2012 season?

Unfortunately for Timberwolves fans, the same miraculous recovery has not extended to Rubio as he has struggled after that impressive initial outburst. It should not surprise that he can’t maintain his play for an extended period of playing time coming back from such a serious injury. The less than stellar performances by Rubio of late reflect the difficulty of keeping his strength and quickness intact as his lack of first step burst has hampered his playmaking ability.

Playing with a less than one hundred percent Rubio and without fellow standout Kevin Love, who is mending his own injury, the T’Wolves have struggled to an 18-26 overall record and a measly 2-8 performance over the last ten games as the squad has fallen out of the playoff race.

Although injury has contributed significantly to Rubio’s decline, there is also a defensive strategy in place that shuts off his passing lanes while virtually ignoring his lackluster shooting skills. Opposing teams are realizing that Rubio can’t finish off his drives with a loss of quickness and explosiveness. Teams are daring him to shoot while concentrating on limiting his passing options and so far, Rubio and his teammates have not been able to adapt to the current limitations of its premier point guard.

As Rubio nears the one year anniversary of his injury in March, it is expected that he will regain most of his basketball ability. The average timeline for complete recovery of this type of injury is commonly set at one year, but recovery doesn’t necessarily mean a return to his electric form.

With a pedestrian 5.5 PPG and 5.4 APG so far in 2012-13, albeit in a reduced 23.6 minutes per game average due to precautionary measures, Rubio’s performance looks very mediocre to date from a player whose expectations have been set at a much higher level. The 22 year-old Rubio has been playing professional basketball since the age of 14 and it would be a shame if he doesn’t return to pre-injury form.

Timberwolves fans in Minneapolis will get another opportunity to see if the old, electric Ricky will take over the court tonight when the Portland Trailblazers come to town. It is a show worth watching when Rubio is at his finest dishing out behind the back and through the legs passes while controlling the basketball like a magician.

Please come back, Ricky. Admirers like this soon to be 53 year-old that wants to enjoy NBA basketball like he did in his 20’s doesn’t want this act to end like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Monday Sports Schedule

Adventure100

High School Boy’s Hockey

Duluth East at Cloquet, 7:30 p.m. (Note: Duluth East defeated Cloquet 5-2 earlier this season at Duluth Heritage Sports Center)

High School Girl’s Hockey

Moose Lake at Proctor-Hermantown, 7:30 p.m.

High School Girl’s Basketball

Esko at Superior, 7:15 p.m.

National Basketball Association

Portland at Timberwolves, 7 p.m. (Fox Sports North)

National Hockey League

Wild at Phoenix, 8 p.m.