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Forget the play-in, Timberwolves have wide open path to top-six seed

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Forget the play-in, Timberwolves have wide open path to top-six seed

A play-in tournament appearance seemed like a reasonable goal for the Timberwolves at the season’s outset.

The Western Conference is often deep and talented, with eight-plus good teams in any given season. But finishing among the top 10 given the team’s talent level was a fair expectation. If the Wolves could make the jump to win approximately half their games, that would equal a successful season they could build off of moving forward.

But as seasons progress, so too do circumstances. The Timberwolves are about where many pegged them to be at this point, just a breath below .500 and competitive on a nightly basis. But so much of the Western Conference has folded around them.

Minnesota’s 21-22 mark would’ve placed it 12th in the Eastern Conference as of Monday afternoon, yet it stood in seventh place in the West. Suddenly, a top-six seed that would allow the Wolves to bypass the play-in tournament and move directly into the playoffs looks not only feasible, but likely?

Currently in sixth is a Denver team that’s missing two of its top three players. The Nuggets still have reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, but Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are likely out until at least April.

Minnesota entered Monday tied with a Lakers team that could be without Anthony Davis for two more weeks.

The Clippers have fallen to ninth in the conference without Paul George, whose elbow injury situation appears rather ominous with a still to-be-determined return date. That’s not to mention Kawhi Leonard, who still has yet to play this season after having surgery in July to repair his torn ACL.

The middle of the Western Conference pack is bruised and battered, with the exception of Minnesota. The Timberwolves, to this point, have avoided major injuries. Sure, Patrick Beverley and D’Angelo Russell missed a few games here and there with bumps, bruises and soreness, and Minnesota, like many teams, endured its own COVID crisis.

But sans reserve guard Jordan McLaughlin, who is currently in health and safety protocols, the Timberwolves are otherwise at full strength, with all traditional rotation players available. All hands are on deck. After the healthy Wolves routed short-handed Golden State on Sunday, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch noted now is the time for Minnesota to make a charge.

“This is the time for us to start putting it together and start stacking some really good performances on top of each other and avoid the slip ups that we’ve had,” Finch said. “Through the last couple weeks, we’ve talked about getting everyone back healthy and what that could look like, and now it’s time to go, make a push between here and the all-star break. It’s always a tough time in the season, but we’ve got a lot more games piling up, most of them on the road, so we have to be ready to go.”

The runway has cleared for Minnesota to make an expedited push up the Western Conference ladder, now it’s up to the Wolves to prove they’re serious about doing so. The next two road games in consecutive days against middling Eastern Conference opponents in New York and Atlanta provide the perfect opportunity for the Wolves to establish themselves as playoff-worthy.

“We don’t just want be in the play-in game, we want to be set in the playoffs,” Malik Beasley said. “We’re trying to figure out how to get a nice little win streak to get us above the hump and take us to where we need to go.”

Jaylen Nowell was asked about Minnesota’s potential after Sunday’s win. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question. For years, potential has been the word used to describe this roster — which, yes, does still feature a number of “young” players.

Potential is usually a word used to discuss those who have yet to achieve.

Now is the time to ditch the inconsistencies that have plagued Minnesota all season and left it swimming just under the .500 mark for much of the season. There are no excuses present at the moment to do anything other than win.

“Potential — I’ve always heard that the longer you do something, you actually want to hear that word less, and you actually want to start doing,” Nowell said. “I mean, we’re gonna get to that point where we’re doing this consistently. Once that happens, it’s gonna be great.”

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

Kevin O’Connell was an NFL quarterback and an offensive assistant in the league for seven years before being named head coach of the Vikings. But he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.

“( want to) be visible to the defense, let them know that I’m learning their side of the ball just as much as they are,” the first-year head coach said Wednesday during the first week of organized team activities. ”I can complement them on detailed things they can do within our coverages, within a pressure, how we stop the run, and they can look at me as not just an offensive head coach.”

O’Connell replaced Mike Zimmer, who came from the defensive side of the ball and in eight seasons gave his offensive coordinator lots of leeway. O’Connell, who turns 37 next Wednesday, said it’s “really important” to him for defensive players and those on special teams to know he’s also invested in those aspects of the game.

With that in mind, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was asked if he thinks of O’Connell as more than just an offensive coach.

“He definitely knows what’s going on, but I don’t think he can fairly say that,” Kendricks said with a laugh. “He’s definitely an offensive coach. He definitely wants to light us up on defense, but that’s only going to get us better on defense.”

Kendricks said O’Connell can be valuable working with the defense.

“I notice from him watching film and him going over film on the defensive side of things, he kind of goes over what the offense’s mindset or mind frame is as he’s talking about the defense,” Kendricks said.

DIVERSITY SUMMIT

From Wednesday through Friday, the Vikings are hosting a diversity coaching summit at the TCO Performance Center. It is being attended by 12 young coaches, 11 from colleges, with the intention being to groom them for possible future NFL jobs.

“It’s really a chance for us to get exposed to them from the standpoint of how do they carry themselves?” said Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine, who is heading the summit. “We’re going to do mock interviews, film everything and give them feedback on it. They get a chance to be in our meetings. We’ll talk to them as well (about) the NFL culture and expectations.”

Pettine wanted to have such a summit when he Green Bay’s defensive coordinator from 2019-2020 but the coronavirus pandemic hit and then he was fired from his job.

Among the 12 invitees is one woman, Roseanna Smith, director of football operations/running backs coach at Division III Oberlin (Ohio) College.

BRIEFLY

— The Vikings’ top three draft picks all could end up starting but O’Connell is not rushing anything. First-round selection Lewis Cine has been working behind Camryn Bynum at safety, second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. has been sidelined as the cornerback recovers from groin surgery and second-rounder Ed Ingram is getting reserve snaps at guard. O’Connell said the Vikings have a “teaching progression” for rookies but they “can earn” spots for sure.

— O’Connell has been impressed with how second-quarterback Kellen Mond has looked during offseason drills. “Kellen’s having a good spring so far, working hard, digesting the system,” O’Connell said. During Tuesday’s second session of OTAs,  O’Connell said Mond “made a couple of checks at the line of scrimmage that he wasn’t prepared play-by-play for” but that he “instinctively” adjusted.

— Tight end Irv Smith Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, did some work on the field Tuesday but O’Connell said the Vikings will continue to bring him back slowly. “He’s going to be a major part of what we do,” O’Connell said. “It’s just making sure that we’re doing it in a really responsible way.”

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

Family members of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota say his widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who is running to replace her husband in Congress, hasn’t come through on a promise to pay them back medical expenses related to his cancer treatments.

Carnahan calls it a political stunt.

Two lawsuits filed Monday by Hagedorn’s mother, stepfather and sister allege they helped pay for cancer treatments he received at Envita Medical Centers in Arizona. Carnahan made a “clear and definite promise” to use inheritance she was to receive after his death to reimburse his family members, according to the complaints.

Carnahan said Hagedorn’s estate is required to go through the probate process in the courts to determine how to divide up his assets and there is nothing more she can do at this time.

“Grief affects everyone differently. Handling the affairs of my husband’s estate should be a private matter,” Carnahan said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate a very simple process has been turned into a political stunt.”

Hagedorn died after a long battle with kidney cancer on Feb. 17. He was told in January that there were no more treatments available for him at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which is his congressional district, so he sought additional treatments at the facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Star Tribune reported.

A suit filed by Hagedorn’s mother, Kathleen Kreklau, and stepfather said they used $10,000 of a $25,000 home equity loan to help cover medical costs. In a separate complaint, Hagedorn’s sister, Tricia Lucas, said she charged $10,000 on a credit card to help cover the costs of his treatment and was promised repayment by Carnahan.

Both lawsuits allege Carnahan was to receive a $174,000 death benefit from the United States government after Hagedorn died, as well $174,000 from his life insurance policy.

Carnahan closed her statement by saying she wishes “Jim’s family well and know this time has been very difficult for all of us.”

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Explainer: Why is Wall Street close to a bear market?

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Explainer: Why is Wall Street close to a bear market?

NEW YORK — The bears are rumbling toward Wall Street.

The stock market’s skid this year has pulled the S&P 500 close to what’s known as a bear market. Rising interest rates, high inflation, the war in Ukraine and a slowdown in China’s economy have caused investors to reconsider the prices they’re willing to pay for a wide range of stocks, from high-flying tech companies to traditional automakers.

The last bear market happened just two years ago, but this would still be a first for those investors that got their start trading on their phones during the pandemic. For years, thanks in large part to extraordinary actions by the Federal Reserve, stocks often seemed to go in only one direction: up. Now, the familiar rallying cry to “buy the dip” after every market wobble is giving way fear that the dip is turning into a crater.

Here are some common questions asked about bear markets:

WHY IS IT CALLED A BEAR MARKET?

A bear market is a term used by Wall Street when an index like the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or even an individual stock, has fallen 20% or more from a recent high for a sustained period of time.

The S&P 500 index slid 165.17 points Wednesday to 3,923.68 It’s now down 18.2% from its high of 4,796.56 on Jan. 3. The Nasdaq is already in a bear market, down 29% from its peak of 16,057.44 on Nov. 19. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 14.4% below its most recent peak.

The most recent bear market for the S&P 500 ran from February 19, 2020 through March 23, 2020. The index fell 34% in that one-month period. It’s the shortest bear market ever.

WHAT’S BOTHERING INVESTORS?

Market enemy No. 1 is interest rates, which are rising quickly as a result of the high inflation battering the economy. Low rates act like steroids for stocks and other investments, and Wall Street is now going through withdrawal.

The Federal Reserve has made an aggressive pivot away from propping up financial markets and the economy with record-low rates and is focused on fighting inflation. The central bank has already raised its key short-term interest rate from its record low near zero, which had encouraged investors to move their money into riskier assets like stocks or cryptocurrencies to get better returns.

Last week, the Fed signaled additional rate increases of double the usual amount are likely in upcoming months. Consumer prices are at the highest level in four decades, and rose 8.3% in April compared with a year ago.

The moves by design will slow the economy by making it more expensive to borrow. The risk is the Fed could cause a recession if it raises rates too high or too quickly.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has also put upward pressure on inflation by pushing up commodities prices. And worries about China’s economy, the world’s second largest, have added to the gloom.

SO, WE JUST NEED TO AVOID A RECESSION?

Even if the Fed can pull off the delicate task of tamping down inflation without triggering a downturn, higher interest rates still put downward pressure on stocks.

If customers are paying more to borrow money, they can’t buy as much stuff, so less revenue flows to a company’s bottom line. Stocks tend to track profits over time. Higher rates also make investors less willing to pay elevated prices for stocks, which are riskier than bonds, when bonds are suddenly paying more in interest thanks to the Fed.

Critics said the overall stock market came into the year looking pricey versus history. Big technology stocks and other winners of the pandemic were seen as the most expensive, and those stocks have been the most punished as rates have risen.

Stocks have declined almost 35% on average when a bear market coincides with a recession, compared with a nearly 24% drop when the economy avoids a recession, according to Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial.

SO I SHOULD SELL EVERYTHING NOW, RIGHT?

If you need the money now or want to lock in the losses, yes. Otherwise, many advisers suggest riding through the ups and downs while remembering the swings are the price of admission for the stronger returns that stocks have provided over the long term.

While dumping stocks would stop the bleeding, it would also prevent any potential gains. Many of the best days for Wall Street have occurred either during a bear market or just after the end of one. That includes two separate days in the middle of the 2007-2009 bear market where the S&P 500 surged roughly 11%, as well as leaps of better than 9% during and shortly after the roughly monthlong 2020 bear market.

Advisers suggest putting money into stocks only if it won’t be needed for several years. The S&P 500 has come back from every one of its prior bear markets to eventually rise to another all-time high. The down decade for the stock market following the 2000 bursting of the dot-com bubble was a notoriously brutal stretch, but stocks have often been able to regain their highs within a few years.

HOW LONG DO BEAR MARKETS LAST AND HOW DEEP DO THEY GO?

On average, bear markets have taken 13 months to go from peak to trough and 27 months to get back to breakeven since World War II. The S&P 500 index has fallen an average of 33% during bear markets in that time. The biggest decline since 1945 occurred in the 2007-2009 bear market when the S&P 500 fell 57%.

History shows that the faster an index enters into a bear market, the shallower they tend to be. Historically, stocks have taken 251 days (8.3 months) to fall into a bear market. When the S&P 500 has fallen 20% at a faster clip, the index has averaged a loss of 28%.

The longest bear market lasted 61 months and ended in March 1942 and cut the index by 60%.

HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN A BEAR MARKET HAS ENDED?

Generally, investors look for a 20% gain from a low point as well as sustained gains over at least a six-month period. It took less than three weeks for stocks to rise 20% from their low in March 2020.

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Veiga reported from Los Angeles.

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