at Trail Blazers
Radio: KFAN-AM 1130
Minnesota - 1-4, Portland -2-3
In a contest matched in its ability to rankle Wolves fans only by yearly trips to Memphis (Rudy Gay) and Boston (KG), the Wolves head to Portland tonight to face the better 1/2 of the Randy Foye draft sandwich, Mr. Brandon Roy--who is hot off of one of the best game-ending shots you will see all year.
Tonight's game also marks Kevin Love's first return to Oregon since last year's regrettable mess between the Ducks and UCLA.
Will the Wolves stick with their new starting lineup? Will we see a Shaddy/Telfair backcourt at some point during the game? Will Al Jefferson, Mike Miller, and Randy Foye attempt to play defense at any point during the contest? Will Sebastian Telfair continue to impress? Will Witt continue to roll out 1:45-2:30 rotations?
The answers to all these questions and more tonight at 9.
Blazer's Edge has an interesting preview of the game. Dave correctly identifies the 3 players that should represent Minny's "Big Three" (Jefferson, Miller, and Foye), but he takes a slight turn with his take on the rest of the roster:
The other major
players are almost all forwards. Kevin Love is the shiny, new draft pick who’s only shooting 43% so far. Ryan Gomes is a solid forward and one of Minnesota ’s only decent shooters but is starting to lose time to Love. Craig Smith is a journeyman who is now buried in the power forward shuffle. Small forward Corey Brewer is turning into a decent defender and rebounder but still struggles to shoot and score. Athletic shooting guard Rashad McCants, burdened by past injuries and the lack of a perimeter game, has never lived up to his draft hype. The ‘Wolves are thin in the backcourt and overstocked in the frontcourt. Like an unbalanced plan they’re struggling to stay aloft. At 1-4 with losses to the Thunder and Kings that ground is getting mighty close. Minnesota
It's always interesting to read non-Wolves fan perspectives on the squad. Gomes is decidedly not one of the team's only decent shooters. The Rhino isn't a journeyman and McCants is a complex enigma that doesn't translate well to quick bullet points. Their problem hasn't been that they're unbalanced; rather, that their coaches and the front office want to have it multiple ways with their system and personnel. One would think that a team with three 40+% 3 point shooters and 2 guys who can operate in the paint would be focused a bit more on a spread offense geared around high/low and inside/out. However, Witt has them focused on slowing down the pace and making defensive stands. Dave does have some very interesting things to say about the Blazers' keys to the game:
1. If you either slow down Al Jefferson’s scoring or match him point for point you should be able to beat the ‘Wolves.
2. This is one game where
should dominate on the boards. If they rebound like they did against the Rockets on Thursday they will squash Portland flat. Minnesota
3. Deny the middle and make the Timberwolves score from the perimeter sidelines.
4. Offensively the Blazers need to go hard into the heart of the
defense. Post-up play is one way to do that but it allows the defense to get set. Even better: get past your initial defender and take the ball down deep. You’re guaranteed to have an easy scoring attempt or a pass to someone else for an easy scoring attempt. Minnesota
5. Speaking of passes: two decent ones in any possession and you’ll have whatever shot you like.
I'll again point to the ridiculous nature of the Wolves' approach so far this season. With Mike Miller, Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, and Kevin Love, there is no way on God's green earth that opposing teams should be wanting to see the Wolves score from the perimeter sidelines. Miller, McCants, and Foye are all outstanding spot up shooters, and Love is deadly from mid-range (his lower FG% comes mostly from a single bad shooting game in which he went 4-13 from the field; he's 15-24 outside of that).
The keys for the Wolves are simple:
Sensible rotations: The Wolves have been burned all year by mind-bending rotations that continually put the team between a rock and a hard place. Last night's 3rd quarter (and the 1st 2 minutes of the 4th) was as questionable of a period of substitution I have seen in a long time. Players are getting yanked before they play 3 minutes at a time. Ostensibly, this is because Witt wants to send a message to his players about defense. Pragmatically, it's kneecapping the team's chances of winning.
Free throw neutrality: The Wolves have made an effort to get to the line at a greater rate this year. So far, they are making and attempting about 1.5 more free throws than their opponent.
Taking the open shot: Mike Miller and Randy Foye need to take their open shots. Both players have repeatedly passed up open looks at the basket in the past 2 games. Catch and shoot fellas, catch and shoot.
Team D: The Wolves do not have to be world beaters on the defensive end. They simply need to play solid team d with heady rotations. With players like Foye, Miller, and McCants on the perimeter, Jefferson needs to show that he can rotate into help when an opposing guard gets in the lane. Love and Bassy seem to be the only players on the team to understand the concept of help defense.
More 3s: They are only attempting 15.4 per game. This number needs to go up, up, up.
Also, increased pace, more gambling perimeter defense, and some attempts at transition play are desperately needed by Our Beloved Puppies. Here's hoping for the best tonight in Portland.