How The West Was Won

On the brink of the playoffs, the Wolves' brain trust breaks down the best season in franchise history

Saunders: Sometimes when Spree doesn't think it's going for him, he won't shoot. Now you can say that's good or bad, but if a guy doesn't feel he is going to shoot and make it, then he shouldn't shoot it. So he tries to do some other things.

CP: But you leave him on the floor during those times anyway. Because of all the other things he can do?

Saunders: Not only that, but if he does hit one or two shots, he's capable of running off a 20-point quarter. We just have to make sure that Sam [Cassell] and the other guys are continuing to push the ball and getting him in good situations.

David Kern

The same thing happens with Wally [Szczerbiak]. Even when Wally isn't shooting the ball as well, him being on the outside is stretching the defense.

McHale: There is no way a coach is going to say, "We're not going to guard Szczerbiak, or Sprewell, out on the perimeter." So those guys help our spacing.

CP: Another reason Spree is important is because when he is slashing toward the basket, he gets fouled and goes to the free throw line. That's something you guys have never done very well, because of the style you play. But is it more of a concern come playoff time?

Saunders: No question, it's important to get to the line. A lot of times free throws come with a fast break situation, or off the offensive rebounds. Now we've done a better job lately getting offensive rebounds. But we have guys who don't necessarily look to put it back up right away. Our guys have to do a better job of understanding that if they have a guy on their back, go back up and try to draw more fouls with contact.

CP: You mentioned Wally before, and what I've noticed is, he seems to be playing better defensively this season.

Saunders: I told the coaches the other day that he must be playing better because I'm not screaming his name as much. When he wasn't playing, everyone told him that when he came back, he had to do other things rather than just shooting the basketball. So I think he finally understood that in order to stay on the floor, he had to do other things.

McHale: I've always said that if you can't go 2 for 10 from the field and still help your team win, you are not a basketball player; you are strictly a one-trick pony. Kevin Garnett can go 2 for 10 and help his team win. So can Spree. But Wally's worked hard.

CP: Do you have to shorten your rotation further for the playoffs?

Saunders: Not necessarily.

CP: So you think you can keep going nine or ten players deep?

Saunders: Yup. Right now, it depends what guys do. Teams go to a seven- or eight-man rotation because they don't have depth. Right now, our second unit--with Michael, Freddie, and Wally in particular--have been the ones who have gotten us leads and changed the whole tempo of the game when they come in. Then you throw in Darrick [Martin] because he's a backup point guard, and that's nine guys right there.

CP: You have a $70 million payroll. If you still don't get out of the first round, are you in the hot seat?

McHale: Sure we are. Everybody is.

Saunders: Twenty-nine teams are.

McHale: We should be. It's all about winning. You've got to step up and be able to play at the biggest of times, and that is the playoffs.

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