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We Talkin' About Practice?

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Despite the pixelation, I swear that this is not a still from NBA2K11.

Thoughts From a Minnesota Timberwolves' Practice

The Minnesota Timberwolves offer a number of incentives for people who choose to renew their season tickets. Depending on how expensive your seats are, how many years you've been a season ticket holder and other factors, you are eligible for a variety of prizes that range from a Timberwolves key chain (500 points) to a 12-person executive suite (16,000 points).

As one of my incentives, I chose to attend a team practice. This afternoon, a group of forty or so folks sat courtside at the Target Center while the team ran through drills and talked about the Los Angeles Lakers. They also provided a boxed lunch (I had the turkey).

I thought I would share my thoughts below:

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Part One: Warming Up

As I walked in and took my seat, only one player - Nikola Pekovic - was on the floor. He was working on some post moves. One-by-one, the rest of the team filed in and started taking jumpers, stretching and joking around with one another. It seems like a very light-hearted group. Of course, a win the night before never hurts.

Pekovic and Darko Milicic camped out on one hoop, while the rest of the team shot around on the other one. Eventually, Sebastian Telfair went down to the hoop with Pek and Darko. He told Darko to post him up. Darko proceeded to back Telfair down and miss a (what else) left handed hook shot. Telfair gloated. Pek laughed. Hilarious.

Jonny Flynn was doing some extra stretching - I assume for his hip - with the trainers. It was clear that the stuff they were having him do was not much fun but it looked like Flynn was working hard through it. I have to give him credit for that.

Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Lazar Hayward joked about the movie 'Hall Pass' and recounted some of its "finer moments" while shooting around. I saw the movie on Saturday and also thought it was pretty funny. Forget Roger Ebert. Listen to the four of us for your movie recommendations.

Finally, Kurt Rambis came onto the court wearing some short blue shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. Dave Wohl got everyone to quiet down and they started doing some drills.

 

Drills

The team started running through some basic drills. A wing/guard would dump it into a big in the post and then run by for a hand-off and a layup/dunk. Pick-and-rolls. Pick-and-pops. Basic NBA sets. Some guys ran through them more intensely as others. Jonny Flynn kept trying to throw alley-oops to Anthony Randolph, but Randolph kept coming down with the ball and laying them in, which prompted Flynn to get on him.

I always thought Michael Beasley was the loudest one of the group. And he certainly wasn't quiet today. But Anthony Tolliver was definitely the most vocal on the team. His favorite catch phrase for the day was, "I'm not just an athlete. I'm an ath-a-lete", making sure to over-enunciate the word every time.

Anyhow, Darko started dunking the ball during the drills, which prompted assistant coach Darrick Martin to cheer. Whenever Darko would lay it in, Martin would ask him why he didn't throw it down. I'm guessing the coaches are as frustrated with Darko's "dunking" as the fans.

Another funny part: Martell Webster, halfway through the drills, declared that he was in a "passing frenzy". He encouraged everyone to keep passing out of shots and pretty much everyone complied. Except Michael Beasley. Beasley said he was passing to the net. And when Martell decided to freeze him out and pass to Lazar Hayward instead, Beasley protested, "if its passing frenzy, how come you ain't pass me the ball?"

Occasionally, Wohl, Rambis or one of the other assistants would stop them and point out how to make a cut better or how to look for a different angle on a pass.

 

Conditioning

The training guys came onto the court and led the Wolves through some conditioning. They stretched. They ran down the court. They ran backwards down the court. Pretty basic stuff like you would expect. Some guys took it more seriously than others. Luke seems to be the most serious one in the group, at least relative to the others, and Kevin Love seemed to take it the least serious out of everyone.

I've read stories about Pat Riley's difficult practices and this was definitely not one of those. The conditioning portion probably lasted for ten minutes at most. No killers. Nothing that even you or I would've found difficult. They do have a back-to-back coming up, so maybe that's normal stuff for every team.

 

The Los Angeles Lakers

Since we play the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow night, the team went through some stuff about guarding the Lakers. To do this, Dave Wohl had five Wolves stand in for the Laker starting five and another five defend them. Playing the role of the Lakers were:

Darko Milicic - Andrew Bynum (guarded by Kevin Love)

Anthony Randolph - Pau Gasol (guarded by Nikola Pekovic)

Martell Webster - Ron Artest (guarded by Michael Beasley)

Wayne Ellington - Kobe Bryant (guarded by Wesley Johnson)

Jonny Flynn - Derek Fisher (guarded by Luke Ridnour)

Martell Webster kept telling Ellington that his Kobe impression was not believable because he only took 3 seconds to shoot his jump shot. He said Ellington needed to "shimmy more". Martell and Tolliver then began to imitate Kobe's "shimmy".

Anyhow, here were some of Wohl's major instructions for the Lakers:

(EDITORS NOTE: Practice sessions are typically closed to the press until the last 15 minutes because the team runs through strategy against upcoming opponents during the majority of the action.  I am editing out the part about how they want to guard Kobe.  I am doing so for the following two reasons:  First, the team wants to be able to invite fans to these practices as a reward for their loyalty and I want to guard the site and its readers from being precluded from these in the future because they might write something about the team's on-court strategy before the game.  Second, the team has a reasonable expectation to be able to run through its game plan for a specific opponent without it being published before the game and I think that if we do get information like this, we should save it for the game wrap.)

After giving out these instructions, Wohl had the players run through some simulations of these plays. For the most part, the guys ran them well. Michael Beasley kept instinctively staying with "Artest", even when the ball was in the opposite corner, and Wohl would tell him to "stick with the big down low" and leave "Artest" open. Wesley Johnson has a bad habit of gambling for steals, which led to some Wayne "Kobe" Ellington made jumpers. Love had trouble denying the ball to Darko in the high post. Rambis also got on Pek for not trapping hard enough in the corner.

 

Big-Man/Wing Drills

The last part of practice saw the team split up into two groups: the wings/guards and the big men. Reggie Theus coached the first group, Bill Laimbeer coached the second. To be honest, I was more interested in the wings, so I watched that part of practice a lot closer. The big men were doing some post up drills and working on elbow jumpers.

The wings did some layup drills. "floater" drills and shooting drills. J.B. Bickerstaff and Darrick Martin acted as defenders. Bickerstaff and Martin are no slouches when it comes to trash talk. They kept calling Luke Ridnour, "Pac-10" and telling him that he would've never made it in the Big Ten. J.B. asked, "Luke, what was it like to play with trees on the court?"

Towards the end, things devolved into some one-on-one drills. Beasley and Bickerstaff started playing one another. With Rambis watching, J.B. kept saying, "Yeah, Beas, you're okay. You're okay. You're nothing special. You can't really score that well." Then, after J.B. got a couple of stops in a row, he turned to Rambis and said, "Coach, he ain't that good."

Beasley beat J.B. more often than not, but it was a pretty fun match-up to watch.

 

Wrapping Up

Players started leaving the court after these drills ended. Kevin Love was the first one back to the locker room. A few guys stayed around to either do more stretching/conditioning or to do more shooting, including Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic and Wayne Ellington. Some reporters gathered around Kurt Rambis and started asking him questions. That's when I left.

It was a fun experience. I'd never been to an NBA practice before, but I was surprised by how remarkably similar it was to my own practices back in high school. At one point, Kurt Rambis even had to say, "I think you guys are talking too much and need to focus on playing basketball," reminding me of my  high school coach.

Hopefully, the team's perceived looseness today will be a positive tomorrow on the court.

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