By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Q: Since eliminating Denver Friday night, why have the Wolves players talked almost gleefully about engaging Sacramento in a fast-paced, up-and-down series?
A: I don't know, but Minnesota should be careful what it wishes for. The Kings transition offense has been among the most potent in the NBA for at least the past four or five years. And in holding the run-and-gun Dallas Mavericks below 40 percent from the field during their five-game, first-round series triumph, Sacramento proved it can hustle back and effectively defend against an opponent's quick-strike capability.
Q: So the Wolves shouldn't run or otherwise push the pace?
A: A better way to say it is they should be aggressive in taking whatever scoring opportunities are easily available, but smart in knowing when to pull back and regroup. Minnesota figures to enjoy an advantage in rebounding, particularly on the defensive glass, so there'll be some chances to deploy the fast break. But if and when the Kings recover in time, the Wolves should be patient and settle into their crisp half-court passing attack. That's something they've gotten away from in the past month--their assist-to-turnover ratio has significantly declined. If they continue to prematurely jack up shots and move the ball slowly and sloppily, their chances of winning the series are severely diminished. But if they swing the ball and make the extra pass, they'll get a lot of open looks because the Kings simply aren't that quick and athletic on the defensive end.
Q: What is the single most compelling reason why the Wolves should win this series?
A: Sacramento doesn't have anyone who can match up effectively with Kevin Garnett. Even when both of his legs were strong, Chris Webber had trouble containing KG, and injuries have significantly limited C-Webb's mobility this season, especially on defense. Neither Vlade Divac nor Brad Miller is even remotely quick enough to hang with KG. Sacramento's best bet might be rookie Darius Songaila, who's long and sturdy and has six fouls to give--don't be surprised if bad blood develops between Songaila and Garnett during the series.
The Kings will probably try to take away the Wolves' high-post pick-and-roll by using defensive specialist Doug Christie to guard Sam Cassell. Minnesota should respond by running most of their offense through KG, varying where he sets up between the high and low post. If the Kings don't double down on Garnett, he can draw plenty of fouls going strong to the hoop. When the double-team does come, most likely from the person ostensibly guarding Trenton Hassell, KG will rack up a plethora of assists feeding the perimeter and the wings. Add in the monster rebounding totals Garnett usually compiles against the Kings and you can anticipate KG going off for at least one or two triple-doubles during this series. The first quarters will be crucial, because in big games KG's adrenaline often screws up his shooting rhythm early in the proceedings. A hot hand from Cassell or Sprewell out of the gate--or shrewd ball movement that creates easy buckets for the role players--will probably be necessary to take up the slack.
Q: What is the single most compelling reason why the Kings should win this series?
A: While this is without question the best Wolves' defense in franchise history, their personnel doesn't match up well with Sacramento's multi-faceted arsenal. Ervin Johnson is a splendidly savvy and staunch low-post defender, but is far less effective against centers like Divac and Miller, who can step out and hit short-to-midrange jumpers. Even in the low post, Divac is perhaps the only pivot man with more guile than EJ, and if he gets the better of their slow-motion chess match it will compound Johnson's frustration and inefficiency.
Johnson is normally Cassell's safety blanket on defense, and if EJ is too preoccupied or otherwise unavailable to bail Sammy out, the Wolves' D can break down in a hurry. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Cassell is too small and slow to guard Christie, meaning he'll be matched up with Mike Bibby, who has earned his reputation as the Kings' most explosive offensive force in the playoffs, especially at crunch time. We haven't even mentioned Peja Stojakovic, the NBA's second-leading scorer. While the dogged D of Trenton Hassell will cut into Peja's point total, Hassell's forte is clamping down on opponents who can create their own shot off the dribble. When the Kings run Stojakovic around a pick or two, he's so quick and accurate in a catch-and-shoot rhythm that Hassell won't be able to shut him down as completely as he did Denver's Carmelo Anthony.
The Kings excel at setting both of their big men up on either side of the high post and who then feed their guards on pick-and-rolls and back-door cuts to the hoop. Less capable and competent offenses have made backup center Michael Olowokandi dizzy, and the Wolves would be wise to consider any contribution from Kandi as a bonus in this series, if only because there seems to be an inverse ratio between the quality of his performance and the level of expectation placed upon him. It's possible that Mark Madsen will get more minutes at center than either EJ or Kandi because he's quicker than one and smarter than the other, and you can't be slow on your feet or between your ears when you play Sacramento.