The Three-Pointer: Embarrassed At Home by 26
1. The latest ugly
First Mark Blount got his shot blocked by Dirk Nowitzki. Then five straight turnovers, two apiece by Blount and Ricky Davis and one by Kevin Garnett. It was 8-0 Dallas by the time Blount hit a jumper nearly four minutes into the game. By the end of the first quarter, not a single Timberwolf had made half his field goal attempts, with the team as a whole shooting 31.8%. Then it got worse. When it was over, Minnesota had set a franchise record for lowest team FG percentage, 29.6%, and scored the fewest points at home in its history while losing 65-91.
Yes, Dallas plays team defense as well as their Texas brethren in Houston and San Antonio, and probably rotates more efficiently than any team in the league, with once-derided defenders such as Nowitzki and Jason Terry doggedly doing their share, setting the tone demanded by coach Avery Johnson. But the Mavs, on the second end of a home-road back-to-back, didn't play that well in winning their 48th game in 53 tries. Minnesota had open looks and clanged them. When the Mavs turned it over (11 in the first half) the Wolves couldn't convert (only 7 points off those 11 miscues). Coach Randy Wittman, who occasionally swore a blue streak on the sideline, and, if nothing else, gives much better postgame than his predecessor Dwane Casey, neatly summarized the low points.
"I thought we were a step behind right from the opening tap," Wittman said. "The game just kind of spiraled." He noted the slew of early turnovers and described the ensuing offense as "one-pass or no-pass and then a shot. This was a totally different feel than sharing the ball against Washington [last Sunday]." He added that if he calls a play now, his team will exhaust the play rather than reacting to what the defense has done. The key word was probably "react," since movement away from the ball was atrocious. Rebounding was another factor. Although Dallas missed 12 fewer shots than the Wolves, they grabbed four more offensive rebounds, and owned the glass 54-39 overall. Wittman called out his front court for being soft. "We don't have toughness from any of our bigs to go and get a rebound. They had Dampier, Diop, even Nowitzki, and we just got pushed under the boards."
2. Blount and KG come up small
Almost exactly since Mark Madsen sprained his ankle and thinned the ranks of Minnesota big men, Mark Blount has made it a bad habit to get in early foul trouble. Tonight Blount was a real pip, committing more fouls and turnovers (five apiece) than he grabbed rebounds (4) in a measly, foul-addled 23:34 minutes of play. Since the All Star break, he's scoring less than 11 points per game on sub-40% shooting, and is grabbing less than 5 boards per game. Unless Madsen comes back soon, it is time to consider signing a minor-league big to a 10-day contract.
One game after my staunch defense of Garnett, he turned in another woeful performance. His interior defense was slipshod and his stamina just wasn't there as he played more than 20 straight minutes of the second half before finally ambling to the bench with 3:41 to play and the Mavs up by 21. A few times in the 4th quarter, he barely crossed the half court line as his team went down the court. It seemed to be punishment, or tough love, or something, that compelled Wittman to leave him in. Bottom line, and with all due respect, KG is beginning to erode some of the bright luster that he has created through more than a decade of hustle and polish in this town. If tonight's second half is the best he can do, he needs to be spelled for a few minutes once or twice. And if it isn't the best he can do, he needs to be pulled those same few minutes to send a message that sterling reputations and classy off-court behavior don't win ballgames.
3. Silver linings and a note of thanks
Of the dozen players who saw time tonight, only two, Trenton Hassell and Craig Smith, earned their pay with a complete effort. Not coincidentally, they are also the two players with the clearest idea of what their respective roles are and how best to fulfill them. Hassell had twice as many assists (6) as anyone on the team, committed just one turnover, and played relatively solid D (even getting a pair of rare steals). His -11 in 30:02 minutes was probably the best plus/minus ratio of anyone on the squad. Smith was most active among the dwindling Minnesota big men, grabbling 8 boards in 29:18 (in fairness to Garnett, he corralled 13 in 39:27) and actually sinking half his eight field goal attempts. He's too small to play center against most teams in this league, and, probably because he's a rookie, only earns about a third of the charges he takes. But, like Hassell, he demonstrated grit of the sort that would please Avery Johnson.
Back in October 1991, I wrote a cover story for City Pages entitled "Born to Run." The entire region was enthralled with the Twins, who were about to embark on their second successful World Series, and here CP was emblazoned with a photo showing then-new Wolves coach Jimmy Rodgers in freeze-framed animation moving down the sideline. That was the beginning of my beat writing on this franchise, during which time, the honchos at the paper rarely wavered in their support of my coverage, even as the team personified dysfunction—"the gulag on the frozen tundra" was my favorite description—and never won so much as 30 games under a revolving door of coaches and comical personnel decisions. I will always be grateful to former editor Steve Perry, who first proposed the idea of a basketball column after hearing me talk pro hoops with then-music editor Jim Walsh over a lunch to determine if I was going to jump to CP from the Twin Cities Reader.
Now Perry and Walsh are gone from City Pages, and with this paragraph, so am I. Whatever philosophical differences I've had with the new regime, they have graciously allowed me to continue this blog right up until the time of my March 1 departure, and for that I want to publicly thank them. Some of you have inquired where I am headed. Rest assured that I will be continuing to cover the team in much the same manner, particularly with respect to these post-game treys. I think it would be bad form to mention where I will be posting, but will try and spread the word to the other basketball blogs and anyone else who has linked or otherwise helped disseminate my stuff in the past year or two. I will say that there is some symmetry involved, in that the person who owns the publication where I will be blogging beginning Sunday night, is the person who owned City Pages when I first started doing hoops more than 15 years ago. I shouldn't be too hard to find and hope you'll come along. Because I continue to cherish the conversation and the shared passion you bring to the table.