The Three-Pointer: Seven in a row
1. Planning to lose
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Timberwolves played with energy and cohesion, especially on offense, in the first period of Thursday game with Golden State, racing out to a 32-25 lead. They held the advantage for nearly the entire first half, only to fold up against an opponent who was practically begging to be defeated, scoring a measly 14 points in the third and then playing cat-and-mouse in a determined but inevitably fruitless game of catch-up to make it close in the fourth quarter. Nearly every game on this road trip to hell has followed a roughly similar pattern. You want a silver lining? Minnesota didn't blow a double-digit lead this time; their largest margin (in the first period, natch) was nine points.
Every game brings a different goat. Tonight it was Eddie Griffin, the man I have been clamoring to get more minutes because of his defense. EG was even more badly roasted by backup center Ike Diogu as Mark Blount was by starter Adonal Foyle. The pair had 23 points by halftime. By the end of the third period, the Warriors, who are renowned for living and dying with the three-point shot, had 44 points in the paint.
Put some horns on Marko Jaric as well, who decided this would be one of those games where he didn't stay in front of his man on defense. In less than 14 minutes of play, Jaric was minus-15.
And once again Kevin Garnett stuffed the stat sheet but became overly deferential in the second half. I have long defended KG playing the "right way" and keeping everyone involved, but how many times are we going to watch Ricky Davis turn the ball over trying to make something happen at crunchtime? Or watch Marcus Banks loft an airball, which is the way the loss to the Lakers' ended on Wednesday night? Times used to be that when the Wolves were on the brink, it was money that Garnett would get the ball on the left block and try that patented turnaround jumper spinning off his baseline shoulder. At the very least it was enough of a weapon to compel double and triple teams. Where has that shot gone? Are we so concerned with running that we have totally abandoned our half-court bread-and-butter?
So Mark Blount racks up a few high-scoring games with a string of accurate shooting performances and various media want to give him high-fives. Before the Lakers game, Jim Peterson interviewed Blount on his scoring success, and Steve Aschburner, who usually doesn't stoop to this, lauded Blount in a story earlier this week.
Now I understand that Pete is paid by the Wolves and Asch has to get quotes from these guys every day at home and on the road. I also noticed that Pete was careful only to praise Blount's offensive contributions. But now casual fans who don't pay attention are getting an erronous impression and folks who follow the team are having their intelligence insulted. Because anyone with two eyes can see that Blount doesn't get in people's way on defense. That's why, despite his gaudy shooting stats, he was a whopping minus-118 heading into Thursday's game, the worst mark on the team, despite playing just 637 minutes for the Wolves. That works out to nearly nine negative points per 48 minutes.
Asch actually led his piece with this sentence: "If the Timberwolves' current streak was for winning rather than losing, center Mark Blount would be a sensation at the moment in the Twin Cities." Justin Reed, his teammate in Boston and Minnesota, is quoted as saying Blount is "just out there enjoying himself, doing what he does." That howler is topped by none other than Dwane Casey, who is quoted as saying, "Mark has done super, as far as doing everything we've asked him to do." Referring to Monday's loss to the Clippers, Casey added, "He battled Kamen as much as possible. Just a little bit more on the boards would have been the only negative, but he gave us everything else."
This is a coach who said he would emphasize defense. Chris Kamen scored 24 points and racked up a career high 23 rebounds Monday, and Casey is praising Blount for doing everything asked of him, except a few more boards? Say Blount had wrested five rebounds away from Kamen. Adding five to Blount's total and taking them from Kamen's would still give Kamen an 18-11 rebounding advantage! Mark Blount got his ass kicked Monday, and he's getting props from television, newspapers, his teammates, and his coach? And we're supposed to wonder why this team has no starch at crunchtime.
As long as I'm ripping people for sugar-coating, when it comes to television commentary, Reggie Miller is a wonderful shooting guard. Miller began the broadcast--pre-empted for a few minutes while the Heat beat the Celts in the first TNT game despite 30 points from Wally Szczerbiak--by saying that he "liked the job [Dwane Casey] has done in Minnesota," and also "like what they are trying to do" since the Boston trade. It was left to Dick Stockton to point out that the Wolves are 7-17 since the trade (now 7-18) after being 19-21 when the deal was made.
Then, later in the game, the TNT viewer text-messaging interactivity had them answer the question about whether KG will be traded this summer. When Miller was asked his opinion, he said that KG wanted to stay in Minnesota but that a trade might have to happen. Stockton appropriately asked what would be in it for the Wolves. "Oh, you're not going to get equal value," Miller replied. I applaud Stockton's restraint for not then grabbing Miller around the neck and hollaring, "then why would they make the deal?!"
Miller also hadn't done his homework, claiming that Marcus Banks needs to develop an outside shot. Actually Banks has been shooting extremely well since his arrival; Miller was basing his opinion on Banks' airball to end the Laker game and Banks' career shooting percentage. But if Miller had studied more than the highlights of one game, he might have noticed that Banks' primary weaknesses are on-ball defense and offensive decision-making. Although he had one of his better games against the Warriors Thursday, Derek Fisher still went off for a career-high 13 assists. Banks needs to pick and choose when to go for the steal, and he needs to figure out when to drive and when to set-up, when to shoot and when to dish.
3. The Yeoman
Trenton Hassell did not start the second half because he was getting stitches in his cut lip. He also recently revealed that he has chronic asthma, a condition that has been exacerbated by his move north to Minnesota. The popcornmachine.net website indicates that Hassell was plus-9 in Thursday's eight-point loss. The only other Timberwolves in the plus column were Banks at plus-3 and Ricky Davis at plus-1.