Game 3 Preview: Wolves vs. Blazers

No rest for the wicked...the Minnesota preview:

A Look at Minnesota

Any four-year old could tell you that Minnesota is all about the Big Ticket.  Stop me if you've heard this before:  25.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2.5 assists, and a bunch of intimidating defense that doesn't show up in the box score.  That, my friends, is the sound of your team losing.  (It's also why all of this buzz about the Wolves trading Garnett strikes me in the same way as would speculation about the United States trading away...oh...NEW YORK.)  But that's been Garnett's stat line for years.  The difference this year is he's getting some help...wide ranging help.  Nobody has emerged as the clear second banana, but the Wolves are sharing the ball and getting their shots.  Ricky Davis, Troy Hudson, Mike James, Craig Smith, and Trenton Hassell are all averaging double figures, and most have decent assist totals too.  (Witness Davis' eye-popping 6.5 assists per game.)  All six of those guys are averaging 45% shooting or better, and four of the six are above 50%.  Stopping the Wolves right now is like trying to handcuff an octopus.  You can't corral KG and whoever else you shut down somebody else will just take their place.  That's exactly how the team is built:  defense at the 4 and 5, multi-faceted offense at every other position.  They're averaging 102 a game so far and holding their opponents to 96.

That said, there are still a couple of exploitable weak spots.  The first is team rebounding.  KG is a monster, but nobody else even measures on the scale.  With concerted effort you should easily be able to win that battle.  Second with all the new faces and all of the passing they're turning the ball over a ton.  An alert, opportunistic team might be able to get some easy buckets on the fly.  Finally, despite how well they're working together, most all of these guys besides Garnett are still one-sided players.  Their big guys (Blount, Griffin) probably aren't going to hurt you on offense.  Their small guys (other than Hassell) won't hurt you on defense.  Between driving in and sagging off you should be able to create good opportunities for you and stop some of theirs.

Things I'd like to see:

1.  I think we'll be playing more zone defense against the Wolves than we have in the last two games for a number of reasons:

--It allows you to sag a couple guys on Garnett.
--It disrupts their cutting and ball movement, which is the key to stopping their offense
--It invites them to take deeper shots.  Despite their scoring ability and high percentage, they're still not a good deep shooting team.

  1. I want to see Jack-Jack, Socks, Ime, and Outlaw with busy hands and feet out there.  If and when the Wolves do cough it up, run it hard.  They won't get back and stop you.  (Even if they do get back they won't be able to stop you, unless it's KG, and then maybe you can draw a foul or two on him.)  We have the small-position defense to do this!
  2.  Every shot must be contested.  Our trademark (when things go well, anyway) is smart, high percentage shooting but we cannot outshoot this team.  We must find a way to bother them at least a little.  Since we'll likely have to help on KG, everybody else must be alert and quick in their rotations.  Similarly, do we have to get brushed by every pick somebody throws and do we have to fall for every backdoor cut?  Time to start learning kiddies.
  3. We ought to be able to win the battle of the boards if we try.  It should be as easy as throwing a body on Garnett and then having someone else get the ball.  They're a poor offensive rebounding team so no second chances for them!
  4. I expect not only Zach, but Joel, Magloire, and maybe even Outlaw to get some time against Garnett.  None of them will be able to stop him.  The key is to play credible defense on him without putting him on the line.  If our big guys are sitting on the pines with four fouls apiece in the second quarter it's going to be a long night.
If Minnesota is shooting deep jumpers while we create a few easy buckets off of turnovers and otherwise rebound well enough to not allow them second shots we should be OK.  If they're moving the ball easily, cutting and scoring at the hoop, shooting uncontested mid-range shots because we're not rotating, and they're parading to the foul line on top of that, we're going to get hammered no matter how much we score.

I'll be interested in the following storylines:

--How will the "new" Zach fare against legitimate competition?  In past years this would be about the time he'd throw up a 10-12 point effort (following a couple of good ones).

--Is Joel going to play, or what?  Granted this may not be the prime game for big centers, as their lack of scoring/rebounding big men may allow us to slip a scorer in that slot, but to the extent big centers are played will Magloire keep getting three times Joel's minutes?

--Can Roy keep his near-20 streak going?  Can Jack continue to fill the box score?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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