GH And Petey's Timberwolves Blog

Friday, December 24, 2004

What the Hell Was That?

I was going to post this as a comment on Petey's last post. However, once I got going, it took on a life of it's own (as my pieces have a tendency to do) so I decided to make it a new post. I recommend reading his blog first, then reading mine. Anyway, here it is:

The Wolves loss tonight was truly one of the more depressing losses of the season. They played very well during the first half, despite a lackluster performance by Garnett. Then, they came out in the second half and completely collapsed. They were outscored 8-0 to start the half-completely nullifying the lead they had worked so hard to gain. Things just went downhill from there.

Kandi's presence in the starting lineup was confusing to say the least. Everybody knew that Madson was nothing more than a temporary solution, but I had assumed that Eddie would eventually get it. Of course that was all based on the assumption that he would keep up his high level of play.

Since going 7-15 from three-point range against Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, he has shot a minuscule 8-34 (and just 4-20 in his last five games).

During the game, Steve Kerr made the astute point (and Petey touched on this briefly) that right now the Wolves have so much talent that people are having trouble adjusting to their new roles. In other words, many of the players don't have any idea what they're supposed to be doing. All of out players are finally healthy, which leaves us with a logjam for playing time.

Putting Kandi in the starting spot tonight was likely done for two reasons. First, we wanted a low-post presence to counter Duncan and Kandi is the only person capable of providing this. Second, it may have been Flip's attempt to address the above issue. At the start of the season, everybody thought Kandi would end up starting, so Flip wants to give him that role. This would likely mean that Griffin would come off the bench but play extended minutes, especially in the second half. Madson would be a third option and Ervin Johnson would only play when people got into serious foul trouble. I don't think horse-face had any business getting a single minute in tonight's game.

On the other hand, if we start Griffin, what are we going to do with Kandi? He's really only useful at the beginning of games when the Wolves need to establish some sort of inside presence. Come crunch time, he's more or less useless. He doesn't bring any energy either, so bringing him off the bench doesn't give him any added bonus. One option would be to just bring him in when the other team rests its star big men, to try and abuse some match-ups at the low-post.

After the game, the superior Ervin Johnson made a comment about needing to get Trenton Hassell back into the starting lineup. After giving it much thought, I've decided that he's probably right. Although Wally has been playing quite well, and despite the fact that his D is much improved, I think it might be time to sit him down on the bench again. Starting Hassell would serve two main purposes.

First, his defense is outstanding, so putting him into the game at the start might help to keep the oppositions 2-guard or small forward from getting into any sort of offensive flow. Keeping the likes of a Kobe Bryant or LaBron James off his game early may keep him off for a longer portion of the game. On the other hand, if Wally is giving them easy shots early, they can get a feel for their shot, and went Hassell plays his tight D later on, it may not matter as much.

Then, once the tone has been set, we can bring in Wally and he can spark us with some instant offense. It would be a perfect one-two punch, with the two players complementing each other extremely well. An added bonus of doing things this way is that it will allow Wally to both guard and be guarded by second-string players. This will allow him more open shots, and his D has improved to the point where he can quite adequately guard someone who's not a top tier player.

I feel like tonight's loss is a big crossroads for the Wolves. If they can react well, it could completely turn the season around. They probably have more talent than any other team in the league, so getting on a roll could carry them all the way to an NBA championship. If they don't, they might be doomed to a season of mediocrity and leave us all wondering what went wrong.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I Root for The Second Best Team in the League

Well, I was able to get off work a bit early today and watch almost the whole T-wolves game (it started 5pm PST). I enjoyed getting to see them but have to say I was disappointed at the result. Even though KG was having a really bad day, the Wolves shot over 50% in the first half to take an eight point lead. However, the tides turned rapidly and I think Flip put it best after the game:
"We lost the game in the first two minutes of the second half. Instead of controlling the tempo, we let them take control of the game and get back in it and they made it difficult to play them."
The Spurs put the defensive clamps on the Wolves and there was really no response. KG continued to flounder and no one else on the Wolves could really make much of a stand against the Spurs' suddenly methodical grind of solid play. Of course, that is the very reason why the Spurs are probably the best team in the league if the playoffs started today. I think the Wolves have (as Hubie Brown would say) more upside but frankly they seemed to still lack a team identity (I almost posted a rather lengthy team identity post a while back before I got sidetracked with my new job).

One of the biggest weapons the Wovles have is that if KG is having an off night offensively, they have many players who should be able to step in and fill the void. However, no one seemed willing to do so today. Players were getting open shots but I didn't sense any confidence in their decisions or fluidity in their offensive schemes once the Spurs stopped giving them easy buckets (like the Wolves got in the first half). Apparently Sam was barking at KG to take over the game but even great players (yes, this includes Jordan) can't always get it going on an off night. Frankly, because KG is so talented at doing just about everything, I think the Wolves need to just keep looking to feed off of his defense/rebounding/passing and never count on him taking over the game. Since KG is so selfless and plays so efficiently (always looks for the best team opportunity), the rest of the Wolves need to stay agressive and confident. One of the reasons I don't think the team has meshed yet (troubling to say the least since quite a bit of the season is gone).

Frankly, I think putting Kandi in the first, starting unit, was a big mistake. They got away with it in the first half but it ultimately screwed up the Wolves' continuity (I believe Madsen has been starting the last dozen games or so). Yes, he should be used as a defensive weapon and body vs. Tim Duncan but if I were Flip I'd go with Eddie -- ESPECIALLY since KG (their only other big man scorer) was struggling so much. I was glad to see Flip quickly ditch Kandi for Eddie early in the 3rd quarter when the Spurs started surging but I really think Flip should have left Eddie in for an extended period of time (he instead brought in horse face and then brought back Eddie a couple minutes later (and he had a cold shot at this point, go figure). While I love having Eddie's offensive punch in the second rotation, I think it really is time for Flip to insert him in as a starter and provide him with more consistent opportunities and time. I'm not worried that any pressure will get to him -- he knows that it's all on KG, Sam, and Spree anyway.

In other news, I decided when watching TNTs next game between the Kings and Heat that Dwyane Wade is even more of a pimp than the last time I saw him. It wasn't just the Pistons who screwed up in the draft a couple years ago but everyone who picked above Miami who passed on Wade -- he's now *clearly* #2 from that draft behind LeBron. Dwyane's quick rise to dominance reminds me of how Paul Pierce (after his stabbing) all of a sudden became a superstar. However, Dwyane has the more dynamic game and clearly a more level head on his shoulders -- and a mentor in Shaq rather than Antoine 'Hail Mary' Walker.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Sprewell out a week

From the Star Tribune(12/22):

Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell often stays in street clothes before games long after teammates are changed and warming up. But this time, Sprewell wasn't changing.

Sprewell did not play Tuesday at Cleveland, failing to participate for the first time since joining the Wolves prior to 2003-04 and missing a game due to injury for the first time, period, since Nov. 12, 2002. He suffered a sprained left foot and injured his left big toe barely two minutes into the game Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Sprewell said he was continuing to receive treatment and would test the foot in practice today in San Antonio. But coach Flip Saunders sounded as if Sprewell would be sidelined right through the Christmas weekend.

"He's making progress. I'd say [he could play] probably in about a week," Saunders said. "Right now, everything with him is on feel. I doubt he'll do anything [Wednesday]. We'll wait till it's pretty much pain-free."

This is quite good news. We'll certainly miss him tomorrow at San Antonio, but it doesn't sound like the injury is that serious. The Wolves should let him take his time and be sure he's close to 100% before coming back. The last thing they would want to do is force him back too quickly, especially since it doesn't look like he'll be gone for long anyway.

Missing Spree

The Wolves went down again tonight, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In my mind, there were two primary contributing factors to the loss.

The first, and less important one, is that the Wolves were a bit rusty. They hadn't played since Friday, and due to the snow, they weren't able to practice yesterday. The rust showed early on as the Wolves could find no shooting rhythm whatsoever. It's not like they were missing tough shots either. At one point, I counted 5 offensive boards in one possession (hey, at least we could rebound, right?). A couple of the shots were long jumpers, but some of them were layups and tip shots that the Wolves normally make.

So while the Wolves were busy missing everything, the Cavs were out there making everything. At one point, they had a 17 point lead in the first half.

I think the larger factor here was the absence of Latrell Sprewell and his defense. For much of the game, we had Wally guarding LaBron James. (Guh!) Now, I just praised Wally's D in my last post, but with that said, he'll never be capable of guarding the likes of King James.

The Cavs hot shooting was no accident. They were getting all sorts of open layups and dunks during the first half. Had Spree been in there, things probably would have been different. The Wolves are now 0-2 without Spree, and without his presence on the court, the Wolves D goes down a notch. To quote Petey's comment from last post:

The T-wolves have KG who DEMANDS defensive intensity. Frankly, if it wasn't for him only Hassell and Spree would even bother playing defense at all.

People like Wally and Sam have their D improved by the presence of Garnett, but they're still not great defenders. Spree, however is a great defender and no amount of leadership or intensity can make up for that.

I haven't heard anything yet about when he's expected back, but hopefully it will be soon. At 15-9, the Wolves have exactly the same record that they had last year after 24 games. Unfortunately, at this time last year they were out of their early season slump, and were starting to play really well. Watching this year's team, you don't get the impression that they've really figured it out yet and aren't really starting to gel. Hopefully, Spree won't be out long, because without him, it might take the Wolves a while to get it together.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Suns vs. Sonics

First off, I promised my thoughts on the Vince Carter trade. Altogether, I thought it was a solid deal for the Raptors. I mean, they didn't get all that much, but what are you going to get for Vince these days anyway? They got a couple of solid role players, Alonzo Mourning, and best of all--two first round draft picks. Since the Raptors are in rebuilding mode anyway, these draft picks could make a huge difference to them. They can use these picks to draft players to help complement their up and coming star Chris Bosh, who made quite an impression against the Wolves last week.

On the other hand, I've lost all faith in VC. He's been pretty lackluster for quite a few years now. On top of that, he's currently nursing a sprained achilles tendon. One of the things I learned during my ACL rehabilitation a couple years ago is that the achilles tendon is the primary determining factor of how high you can jump (and of general quickness for that matter). Vince is the type of player that relies on his tremendous athleticism. With an injury to his achilles tendon, this puts a big question as to ho good he'll actually be when he comes back. On the other hand, if this is something that's been bothering him for years, he could come back and be amazing again. He claims that this has been bothering him for years, but that just seems really weird to me. Something like this should have enough time to heal during the off-season.


As I mentioned last time, I was busy studying during this game, but I just couldn't turn down the opportunity to watch the two teams in the league with the best records (notice I didn't say the league's two best teams) go head to head. It looked to be a shoot out, and it didn't disappoint. The Sonics came out and scored 37 first quarter points. Watching it brought back memories of the game that Petey and I attended, as they just kept making shot after shot. Of course there were a lot more layups this time than against the Wolves. Unlike the Wolves game, they somehow found a way to blow this one.

Before moving on, I just have to say--Reggie Evans is the new Vlade Divac. Fighting his way through a screen, the 180-pound Steve Nash put his hand on Reggie's chest, and Reggie went flying to the ground. There's no way Nash could do that, Reggie is a big dude! I can only assume he's been hanging out with Derek Fisher during the off-season.

I will now acknowledge that Seattle is for real. Even after seeing them live, I still had my doubts about them. Part of the reason is that they just shot the ball so well, especially from three point range, that I just had trouble believing that they could keep it up. With that said, I still have trouble believing that they'll keep it up. I think they're a very solid team, but still a very flawed team.

I also think the Suns are a good team, but also very flawed. They have a lot of talent, but were somewhat underrated before the season mostly due to the fact that they over paid for that talent. Any time you offer somebody a contract and Mark Cuban says "There's no way I can ever possibly match that", you know that you've really offered them too much. Ok, maybe I paraphrased a bit there.

If I had to pick one of those two teams to win the NBA championship, I think I'd have to go with the Sonics. The reason is simply. They can actually play a little bit of defense. The Suns are full of guys who are incredibly talented offensively, but deficient defensively. There's no greater example of this than Steve Nash. Despite what Eric Neel says, Steve Nash is not the league's MVP. He's averaging a solid 16 points a game and an amazing 11 assists, but when it comes to playing D, you may as well put a monkey out there. Just watch him sometime, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

As for the Sonics, they have two major flaws (which are inherently related). First, they have no inside presence to speak of. Second, they rely very heavily on jump shooting to score their points. I had started to write a piece about 3-point shooting and why it's not all that, but I got busy and never finished it. I'll start over from scratch soon, and get that one out there in the next couple of weeks.

Can you name me an NBA champion in recent history that had either of these flaws?