The Three-Pointer: Mystery and Malaise
What is Coach Dwane Casey up to? I'm dead serious about this. What is the plan? After last night's game, Casey said it was to develop into an uptempo, transition-oriented team. Well, tonight Minnesota outrebounded the Hornets 54-35, including 36-6 on the defensive boards, the first crucial step when you want to run. With Marko Jaric joining Troy Hudson on the injured and inactive list (as if a bum knee was the major impediment to Jaric's playing time), the Wolves played quick-tempo point guards Carter or Banks the entire game. Quick tempo guard Ricky Davis logged a team-high 45 minutes. Quick tempo front court players Justin Reed and Mark Madsen were both over 20 minutes. And the Wolves had exactly nine fast break points.
The Wolves are no more an uptempo team than they are a defensive oriented team. Remember that one, how Casey was going to emphasize defense? Tell it to New Orelans's starting backcourt of Speedy Claxton and Kirk Snyder. While slightly better than Utah's Milt Palacio and Keith McLeod, it's not regarded among the league's elite, even when rookie of the year candidate Chris Paul is healthy enough to play the point. Well, fifth-year veteran Claxton had 28, one off his career high. Snyder likewise had 28, which *was* his career high. It so happens that the Wolves best perimeter defender, Trenton Hassell, didn't play in the 4th quarter. When asked why he didn't use both Hassell and Reed in order to slow down the high-scoring backcourt, Casey said he wanted to keep Ricky Davis in for offense. Ricky Davis, for those of you who don't watch the Wolves and just listen to inaccurate descriptions from the VP of Basketball Operations, can't play defense.
I didn't even bother to ask Casey why Eddie Griffin wasn't playing. The time for that query may have been when Casey was describing how Marcus Banks and "the big man" were blowing the assignments on pick and rolls involving Claxton down the stretch. With the Wolves up by 2, 90-88, with 2:11 left, everybody knew Claxton--who finished with 21 points and 4 assists in the second half alone--would trigger the offense. Sure enough, in the space of 72.5 seconds, he hit two long jumpers and fed Snyder for a trey. 90-95 with less than a minute left. 27 seconds later he hit another long jumper. Ballgame. Mark Blount played the entire 4th quarter and was usually the "big man" miscommunicating with Banks on those pick and rolls. Eddie Griffin is the guy ranked among the top 10 in the league in blocks, the one who never got off the bench. Tell me again how this is a defensive oriented ballclub?
If you say you are an uptempo ballclub, you should be able to score more than 9 points in transition off of 36 defensive rebounds. If you say you are a defensive ballclub, you shouldn't demonstrate the coaching equivalent of contempt for guys like Eddie Griffin and Marko Jaric, who, if used properly, can be defensive weapons. And you do not become enamored of Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, who will ruin your defensive schemes five times for every time they bolster it.
Every game brings a new mystery as to what Dwane Casey is doing. If he has a plan, it is not only not working, it is not apparent. Except for 27 missing seconds for Reed, all four guys acquired from the Celtics played the entire 4th quarter tonight. Here is what Casey said about the game: "We had a quality game...the guys came to win except the execution closing out the game...I like the way we came together down the stretch." By "the stretch" I presume he meant the 15-2 run in the first 6 minutes of the 4th quarter and not the 12-20 implosion in the last 6 minutes of the 4th quarter.
2. The malaise
Over the past 32 games, Minnesota has the worst record of any team in the Western Conference, at 10-22. The last time this franchise was 6 games below .500, Kevin Garnett was a teenager. The one-year anniversary of Flip Saunders' firing is upon us.
3. Not the same page
It is very hard to believe that Kevin McHale and Dwane Casey would have much affection for each other right now. Those in a position to know within the organization confirm that McHale's guy was PJ Carlissimo. When he was coaching, McHale expressed a preference for "smashmouth basketball," especially by pounding the ball down in the paint. Tonight, Kevin Garnett hit his first shot, a little six-foot turnaround jumper. The rest of the game he went 5-17 from the field (1-9 in the second half), with his nearest make coming from 18 feet out. Kevin McHale traded Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric--after getting the Clips to lock him in on a six-year sign-and-trade deal-- and a first round pick. While Cassell leads the Clips to the playoffs, Jaric is an emotional wreck, questioning Casey's treatment of him, and in the doghouse beside Griffin. The best games we have seen from Ricky Davis and Marcus Banks were the first ones they played for this team. Any more tutelage and they'll have to be sent down to the instructional league.
This was a very good time to take the pulse of the Timberwolves. They have home games against a trio of opponents--Utah, NO/OC, and upcoming against Seattle--that figure in with the Lakers and Golden State as their primary competition for that final playoff spot. They have now lost two of those games.
The break for the all star game weekend is usually a time when struggling franchises assess what is going wrong and come up with a plan to address it, either by trades or firings or resignations or substitution changes. It will be interesting to see what owner Glen Taylor thinks of all this.