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Game 43 Preview

A Look at the Timberwolves:

The big news is that the Timberwolves will walk into the Rose Garden tonight with a new coach, as one-time McMillan understudy Dwane Casey was given his walking papers Tuesday.  Replacing him will be former Cavaliers coach and Laker disciple Randy Wittman.  Wittman was chiefly known for never being able to get Cleveland's act together in the pre-LeBron era.  It's your guess whether that was coaching or talent.  My bet is a little of both.

Kevin Garnett is having yet another banner year, averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game.  This guy could continually be in the running for league MVP.  As usual the talent he's surrounded with is on-again, off-again.  This explains, at least in part, why Garnett's assists are down this year ("only" 4.3 a game, which is stellar for a power forward, but he's been around 6 before) and why his shooting percentage has dropped about 25 points to .475.  Don't laugh, but his main sidekick the last month (and the guy the Blazers probably ought to fear most besides KG) has been center Mark Blount.  That's right, I said Mark Blount.  Even if you're laughing right now, I hope the Trailblazers aren't.  The one-time defensive specialist is shooting 53% this season, has topped double figures in all but two of his games this month, and has scored 18 or more ten times this year.  He had a string of games at the beginning of the month of 21, 16, 28, 21, and 21 points.  He's also been in double digit rebounds a few times.  Fortunately he's cooled off a little lately but we still have to be careful of him.  Offensive-minded forward Ricky Davis has also been on a tear, dropping 32 on Utah the last game.  Despite that, a lot of the guys that the Timberwolves hoped would come through this year just haven't.  Off-season acquisition Mike James has been so on and off they should call him "Light Switch".  Rookie Randy Foye has been OK but not much more than that.  Once-reasonably-valued point guard Troy Hudson has been so awful that he doesn't see the floor many nights.  Trenton Hassell has been shooting really well (though infrequently) and can still defend.  That's about all you can say for Minnesota's bench.  Basically if a couple of players besides KG get on a roll they have a chance to win.  If not it's curtains.  And whether anybody will be on a roll seems completely random from one night to the next.  That's precisely why they're 20-20 on the season.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  This is another one of those games where the superstar, though great, will not carry them to a win on his own.  Garnett doesn't like to be selfish.  He'll involve others almost to a fault.  So let him take his shots and concentrate on throttling those others.  You know Ricky Davis will shoot even if he's doubled, so put pressure on him when he gets the ball.  Mike James doesn't know which end is up right now but if you make him worry he'll default to shooting first also.  I wouldn't mind seeing Garnett get 28 if the rest of the team shoots 33%.  Unless disaster strikes the Blazers that won't win it for the Wolves.  If the supporting cast were playing up to their capabilities maybe you'd go the other way, but as it is right now, with nobody else adding more than 16 points and most of their volume shooters happy if they hit 45% any given evening, I think this is the way to play it.
  2.  When you do play Garnett you need to stay in front of him.  He'll hit jumpers but he won't destroy you with them.  He will destroy you with his dunks.  Also you cannot foul him because he hits big time from the line.  Basically we need a prevent defense against him and a blitz against everyone else.
  3.  Other than Garnett, who is a monster, and occasionally Blount nobody else on this team rebounds worth a darn.  And you know how much I love it when Portland outrebounds the opponent (precisely because it gives them a decent chance to win).
  4.  Unlike many of the teams we've played in the past couple weeks, Minnesota's interior defense is quite good.  This means our big men are going to have to do something to get their counterparts out of the paint.  If Blount and Garnett get to camp out in the middle all day we'll see no easy shots at all (and Garnett will swat three or four back in our faces).  Maybe this means Aldridge coming in, outrunning Mark Blount, and making him drift outside to guard the jumper.  Perhaps Zach will have to establish the outside game a little too.  It also could mean relying heavily on the high pick and roll play, down screens, and double screens.  We simply cannot let their guys play straight up and unopposed on our offensively challenged big men.
  5.  Minnesota has 20 losses on the year.  In only three of them have they scored over 100.  Only 7 of their 20 wins have come when they've scored under 100.  Moral?  Slow the game down and defend hard.  They'll get frustrated, miss shots, and you'll have a chance.  If you let Davis and James free-wheel though either one can drop 20+ on you.
  6.  Minnesota will turn the ball over a fair bit.  It's a possible area for exploitation.
All in all I'd say the coaching switch is the worst news for the Blazers.  There's some kind of weird NBA rule that a team always wins the first game after a coaching change, even if the opponent is superior (which is not the case here) and even if that same team will then go on to lose 38 of 40.  I don't know why it works that way, it just does.  On paper if we do a few things right we should have a chance against this team but the juju report is strongly negative tonight.

--Dave (