No More Kings
So the Timberwolves' season got going last night and, as usual, I was unprepared for the surreal, multi-sensory assault that is live professional basketball. There were "dancers" in "sexy" Halloween costumes. There were sudden, terrifying bursts of ear-splitting pyro. There was a digitally simulated American flag waving in the pixelated breeze. There was an almost vaudevillian little sketch which ended with a putative Kings fan being chased around the floor by a by a hairy fat guy in skimpy drag (I was pulling for a pie in the face). So, lets see, we've got crass, powerfully un-arousing hyper-sexuality; spectacular simulated violence, plus enforced patriotism; and the always hilarious implied homophobia. Ah, sports.
Finally, the lucky spectator was treated the purple-clad, sparingly talented Sacramento Kings and their coach, the handsome Reggie Theus: former player, major beefcake and Saturday morning sitcom star (those exist). There was also a reasonably entertaining basketball game, which the Wolves won, 98-96. Despite the nice final result, the game had its ups and downs. Here are some of them.
-For significant stretches of the game, the 33-point first quarter in particular, the Wolves' offense really hummed. They shared the ball nicely, which translated into 25 assists, 48.3% shooting and six players in double figures. They exploited mismatches. And, as one would hope, considering their small lineup, they skillfully and aggressively ran the floor.
-I, personally, really liked the idea of O.J. Mayo and got a little lump in my throat when I got news of the big draft-day trade (mostly just residual anxiety borne of previous, similar trades: sometimes to punish myself I like to imagine a young Ray Allen in a Wolves uni), but Kevin Love was pretty awesome. In only 18 minutes, Love pulled down nine rebounds (four offensive and seven in his first seven minutes), shot 5-8 and displayed the terrific passing he's known for, including a gorgeous over-the-shoulder outlet lob to a streaking Corey Brewer.
-Brewer, despite continuing to show very little touch near the rim (he, very much like me, employs the "become really frenzied and throw the ball at the basket as hard as you can" tactic when he gets to the hoop), found ways to contribute. He showed great energy in defending Kevin Martin, the Kings' best player, and in pulling down seven rebounds in 26 minutes. He attacked the basket and dunked whenever he could (he is very skinny and has a little shooting problem, but the guy is explosive). And Brewer passed the ball well, especially in pick and roll situations, finishing with four assists.
-Despite myself, I totally got suckered by the Wolves' patently promotional 20th anniversary video montage. It featured lots of clips of KG doing astounding things incredibly enthusiastically, plus a shot of Sidney Lowe leaping into Tony Campbell's arms. I couldn't help it.
Not Such Good Stuff
-The Wolves put on a great defensive effort in denying Martin an open look in the game's final seconds but, overall, the 'D' was a little spotty. The small lineup may have translated into some good transition play but it hurt them inside. Both Love and Ryan Gomes were forced to guard much taller fellas and, predictably, got taken. And Al Jefferson struggled with his two primary defensive assignments, Mikki Moore and Jason Thompson. The Kings outrebounded the Wolves 45-40 and Thompson, Moore and center Spencer Hawes combined to shoot 16-24. Realize that these dudes are not exactly Bird, McHale and Parish. I really wish Jason Collins hadn't fallen out of that golf cart.
-Somehow, the Kings John Salmons became suddenly unguardable in the second half, scoring 21 points on 8-12 and torching everybody who tried to defend him. I don't really understand why.
-At some really key moments (the last two minutes of both the third fourth quarters, for instance) the Wolves lost leads by reverting to some troubling bad habits on offense. They took quick, contested jumpers. They held the ball. They passed without authority or a sense of purpose. These stagnant periods reflected moments of particularly poor play from Randy Foye. Foye shot only 5-12 and collected just three assists in his 31 minutes (he was also -10 for the game, second worst on the team); he forced shots and often seemed tentative in initiating the offense and reading the defense.
This tendency to bog down in crucial moments of the game spoiled lots of good efforts last year. The team played some fun, fluid basketball throughout much of the game but desperately need their point guard to play aggressively and creatively when things get hot.