GH And Petey's Timberwolves Blog

Friday, December 31, 2004

Thoughts from Mexico


Last night I was able to squeeze in a couple of hours watching basketball in between trips to the steakhouse and beach (I've been on vacation in Phoenix and now Puerto Vallarta). After seeing the Spurs a few times now this year I have to say they are a juggernaut and definitely are the prohibitive favorites to win the 'ship -- frankly, it's not very close at the moment. They ground the Suns a few nights ago, handled the Wolves (which both the House and I discussed previously), and are playing better than I've ever seen them play (scary, isn't it?). They just completely demoralized and killed the poor Blazers. I'd feel sorry for the Blazers except that I'm sure their late night bong session after the game probably eased the pain.

If anyone watched the game last night they surely saw that the Spurs took a very quick lead as Portland couldn't find a decent shot and couldn't hit any ill-advised ones either. The score was something like 14-2 when the Blazers rebounded a miss by the Spurs and quickly took the ball downcourt for a fast break where they easily scored through a couple of Spurs defenders. So, why is this very interesting? Well, Popovich called a timeout up something like 14-4! Both Brent Barry and Kenny 'the Jet' Smith mentioned this at halftime and it was a very telling occurance for a couple of reasons. Popovich is like Larry Brown in that he demands his team play basketball 'the right way' and always comes down hard on lapses (especially defensive) no matter the situation. Furthermore Popovich knows, as Kenny pointed out, that championship teams run lesser teams into the ground -- they don't let their guard down for a moment (notice how the Lakers did this the last few years and needed much more luck to win their rings than they should have). It is not that the Spurs necessarily have the most talent in the league (as the Lakers have in the past few years) but that they grind other teams down playing a cohesive team game (ala last years Pistons) AND they possess a clear go-to-clutch-superstar (Timmy Dunca-lot).

I still don't think too much of the Suns and Sonics -- every sports analyst keeps touting Nash as the MVP so far. Well, I guess by pure record, sure, the Suns wouldn't have such a good record without him. However, vast improvement could have been made with *any* run and gun point. Sure, Nash runs a fastbreak offense only second to Kidd but the Suns will soon realize that Nash cannot play defense. He doesn't try and frankly, I don't think he really can anyway. Teams with any quickish point guard will attack him (such as the Spurs did a few nights ago) and run him ragged. While the Sonics are still very gritty and still playing great team ball, they will hit an inevitable downswing due to some bad breaks or cold shooting and I'm curious to see how they dig themselves out of it. Shooting teams are notoriously streaky (remember Allen's former Milwaukee team with all those gunners? They'd go on huge runs and then completely fall apart).

Also during the TNT halftime segment Charles (I think anyway) said that the Spurs were the clear number 1 followed by the Wolves and then the Heat. Now, every top 10 list I look at has the Wolves way down the list but I definitely agree with Sir Charles on this one. I believe the Wolves have tons of talent, a very good coach and a superstar who brings a team together and demands performance. No team other than the Spurs scare me much.


I've been saying (not in this blog however) most of the year that Hassell should start over Wally (but not necessarily play more minutes). There are at least 5 strong reasons (the House has mentioned a couple) this switch is a good one:

1. Wally does better in a second unit where he can get more touches to shoot the ball and is less of a defensive liability.
2. This will allow the Wolves to insert Eddie into the starting lineup and still have scoring punch off of their bench. As has been stated numerous times on this blog, Eddie starting HAS to happen at some point.
3. Wally has been trying to play defense this year at least but frankly, he cannot guard starting shooting guards. Most teams rely on their 2 guards for quite a bit of scoring. Hassell can lock them down early and never let them get in a groove (as the House mentioned).
4. There are already too many players in the starting lineup who need to have the ball in their hands to score -- KG, Cassell, and Spree (yeah he gets some points slashing, but he is still more comfortable being a focal point of the offense and having the ball in his hand to take it to the hoop). There simply aren't enough touches to go around.
5. Wally is an underrated fast break player (b/c everyone thinks he's just a shooter) and with Hudson running the second unit, Wally should get more chances for easy buckets to get himself going.

I also think Olowokandi should generally just be brought in for spot defense when Eddie seems overmatched and they need a bigger body. This basically has been the role Ervin has played and frankly at this point I'm fine with having two Ervins even if one of them should be a lot more than just that. I bet McHale is kicking himself for not holding on to Nesterovic when he had the chance. Sure Nesterovic doesn't have the body or athleticism Kandi does, but he's about 10 times the player and he at least pays attention during huddles. I'm sick of Kandi just gawking at cheerleaders or spacing out with a glazed over look at the jumbotron during the kissing game (Simmons and Toey know what I'm talkin' about).

The good news is that while the Spurs are deeper this year than ever before, the Twolves still have more depth and more uppppppside if they can only start gelling it together.