The Three-Pointer: Success in Cali
1. One-third empty or two-thirds full?
You can't complain about two straight road wins, one an offensive shootout in which the Wolves racked up 39 4th quarter points en route to 113 for the night, the other a tilt in which they held the previously (and still potentially) explosive Sac Kings to less than 80.
Or can you?
The Lakers (Friday night's opponent) and the Kings are both terrible teams. There is reason to believe that the Wolves would have been (and will be, if they don't substantially improve) waxed both nights by a playoff-caliber foe. Minnesota garnered just eight rebounds in the entire first half against a Laker team whose best big man, Kwame Brown, was injured. And on Sunday night, they committed 14 turnovers in the first half, including nine in the first quarter, the most that the Kings, who are hardly ball hawks or anything resembling a defensive team, had generated in a period all season.
The victory over the Lakers in particular seemed out of sync with what the Wolves are trying to accomplish this season (aside from the W, of course). Smush Parker was consistently beating Marko Jaric off the dribble, Brian Cook was having a field day hitting a little bunny jumper on the baseline, and the Lakers, with Chris Mihm as their signature big man, outrebounded the Wolves 37-22 (including 27-8 in the first half), outscored them in the paint 56-26, and shot 54 percent from the field.
The Wolves won because a couple of microwaves--Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson, got hot at the same time, teaming with KG to hit ten straight 4th quarter shots. It was a lot of fun to watch, if totally at odds with Dwane Casey's vision of a disciplined, defensive-oriented team. No point in being a killjoy--the Wolves bagged a game they really had no business winning. But to have no business winning against the 2005-06 Lakers is a sobering thought.
2. Props to Wally, Kandi and T-Hud
The three guys of whom I've been most critical thus far this season played crucial roles in the two wins. It's becoming increasingly apparent that Szczerbiak's performance is a significant barometer of how the team as a whole is going to fare. When he's on it opens up the paint for KG and enables the team to swing the ball so much more freely.
As hot as Wally was in the second half of the Laker contest (11 points in the 3rd quarter, 17 in the 4th), I thought last night against Sac was his best all-around game of the year thus far. Although he knew he was hot from outside, he drove to the hoop at least three times in the first half, picking up fouls and keeping defenders on their heels so he could have room for those mid-range bombs. Like everyone else, I cringe when Szczerbiak starts to dribble, but when an opponent gives him the open lane that the Kings were providing for much of the night, it is a pleasure to see him seize the advantage.
What's more, he chipped in nine rebounds and played credible defense on Bonzie Wells (the size of Corliss Williamson gave him problems in the 4th quarter, but that's to be expected). For the night, he was 9-10 from inside the arc (missing his only two treys), registering a game-high 18 points on only 12 shots. When the Wolves were in a 4th quarter funk, not sinking a basket for six minutes, it would have been nice if they decided to look for their red-hot number 2 scorer. But Wally never bitched. Getting schooled by Corey Maggette the other night may have been a necessary wake-up call. If so, that's very good news for the Wolves.
Troy Hudson drives me crazy. Sunday night, KG set up shots for Huddy with high-post picks twice in a row (he made one and missed one). The third time down the floor, same thing, only the Wolves' superstar was wide open rolling off the high-post pick. Hudson kept dribbling toward the foul line, and, seeing that his own jumper wasn't possible (in part because the defense had left KG to guard him), he dished out on the wing to another teammate, who in turn fed KG for a much more difficult shot (and miss) in the low block. It was a glaring example of Hudson either lacking court vision or being selfishly on getting his own shot, and it happens all the time, albeit usually more subtly.
Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, Hudson was the sparkplug that triggered the second half outburst against the Lakers. His ability to get to the line in the 4th quarter rescued a stagnant Wolves offense against Sacramento. He has been exactly what you want from a sixth man--a change of pace via a jolt of energy. He is playing with a great deal of confidence right now, has learned (along with Szczerbiak) how to draw charges, and deserves the minutes he has received over the past week or two. If he can keep this up against good defenses, the praise sent his way will be less qualified. Until then, however, let's please all keep in mind (and this means you, Dwane Casey) that, while the thing Huddy is known for first, second, and always is his ability to score, the guy had a .404 career shooting percentage after 438 NBA games heading into this season.
If Casey could spot Huddy the way he has Kandi the past three weeks, it would be a marvelous thing. Yeah, Olowokandi has disappeared in more than a few games thus far this season, as is his wont. But recently it hasn't really hurt the Wolves because Casey is understanding Kandi's inconsistency, and simply considering his contribution to be a bonus, particularly in the second half.
Sunday night against Sacramento, Kandi had a very nice game, and I've got to think Casey and the coaching staff had a lot to do with it. First of all, they got Kandi off by calling his number early and often in the first quarter (much the way Flip used to try to engage Rasho Nesterovic early), and the big guy responded by going 4-6 from the field and leading his team with 8 points in the first quarter. But even more important was the way Kandi and KG frequently traded off defensive assignments, with Kandi frustrating low-block scorer Shareef Abdur-Rahim (6 points, 9 shots in 31 minutes) while Garnett totally snuffed out Brad Miller's mid-range jumper and high post passes (0 points, 1 assist in 26 minutes). The inability to get either Abdur-Rahim or Miller off keyed the Kings' frustration, and Kandi's ability to provide on-ball defense in the low post (still his biggest advantage over Eddie Griffin) was crucial to the cause.
3. Odds and ends
What made the Kings think they could win with Bonzie and Abdur-Rahim, a couple of coach-killer if I've ever seen them. Rick Adelman, you have been sabotaged by your general manager, and your days are numbered.
Another smackdown of Rashad McCants, benched for the game for taking the wrong bus. Either there has got to be more drama behind the scenes that we're not privvy to regarding McCants' attitude (and there are rumors to that effect) or this rookie hazing is getting ridiculous.
Marko Jaric also drives me crazy. His occasional indifference (there really is no other word for it) both passing and defending is infuriating, and yet the guy has a habit of making big shots and generating steals (he had four on Sunday). And Anthony Carter drives me crazy...by sitting on the bench the entire game.
The Dupree experiment, like the Frahm experiment, is not Casey's finest gambit. If you're going to deploy a single-dimension guy, why not make it Carter as your stopgap defender (I swear he could defend 6-6 athletes as well, or at least with the same propensity for fouling them as Dupree), and McCants (who hopefully, if he isn't disciplined to distraction, will be an all star when Frahm nailing treys in Europe) as your designated points producer from the weak side?