Growing Up

Wolves 83, Bulls 67 Season Record: 9-36

Wednesday’s Timberwolves game against the Bulls started off as brutally as any in recent memory. Simply put, neither team could find the basket. After numerous missed jumpers, layups, and even a blown dunk by Al Jefferson, the Wolves found themselves down by a score of 3-2 with 5:45 remaining in the first. At the time, the teams were shooting a combined 1-22 from the floor.

Then, just as the sorry first quarter was coming to an end with the Wolves down 14-8, Coach Randy Wittman, in a moment of evident lucidity, put in Michael Doleac. With Chris Richard designated to the D-league to make room for Randy Foye, with Theo Ratliff still weeks from any sort of return to action, and with Mark Madsen more of a feel-good Mormon benchwarmer than a force in the paint, it would seem only natural that Doleac would get his share of minutes. And yet, even as the Wolves have improved these last games (and improve they have!), and even as Jefferson has demonstrably done better when at Power Forward than at Center, Wittman has had a strange aversion to throwing the white guy with the shooter’s touch out there. Before the previous game, in which Doleac registed 2:19 on the floor, he’d sat out seven straight.

Last night, it took both the abysmal start and the Bulls playing fellow tall white dude Aaron Gray to get Doleac in the mix. And the blond bomber responded by igniting the Wolves’ offense in the second quarter, silkily hitting two outside jumpers in a manner most reassuring at a point in the game when the team was shooting a combined 3-21.

“That’s one good thing about having a vet around,” Big Al would remark after the game. “He’s always ready. Always ready.”

The game, ugly though it was, was won at the end of the third quarter. After the horrendous start and brief lift offered by Doleac (who was pulled midway through the second and didn’t get back in until fourth quarter garbage time), Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson led the team to a 52-52 tie with three minutes left in the third. Then the Wolves took over.

Randy Foye started things with a three from the corner. After a Bulls timeout, Foye hit another deep jumper to increase the lead to five. Ryan Gomes stole the ball on the next possession, tipping it ahead to Telfair. Bassie missed the layup but was fouled, and hit both shots.

After a terrible pass by Bulls’ forward Thabo Sefolosha (who may be the first Swiss national ever to play in the NBA) to a dude seated in the first row, the Wolves got the ball back again. Foye missed a jumper, but Gomes, who has a knack for getting in position for offensive rebounds (four of his 10 boards in the game were off the offensive glass), put back the miss.

And as time was expiring in the third quarter, Bassie Telfair, as petrified of missing open jumpers as he is lighting quick, hesitated for only a few seconds before shooting an 18-footer and draining it. Quarter over. Wolves up 63-52. And game, for all intents and purposes, over. The Bulls would never get closer than seven the rest of the way.

A few thoughts: Corey Brewer works hard, and cannot shoot the ball to save his life. And it is tearing us in two. While it is nice to see the young man continue to take his shots (when he does take them) with seeming confidence, the team has improved to the point where even his hustle, enthusiasm, and quickness on defense cannot make up for the terrible liability that he is on the offensive end.

Randy Foye has come back at an opportune time, when the team is playing its best ball of the season, and figures to contribute right away. It’ll be interesting to see whose minutes he winds up taking. The bet here is that Marko will be the biggest minutes loser.

Telfair, despite a crippling shyness for outside shots, has proved to be a mostly solid point guard. He’s quick, he gets the ball to the open man, and he takes the ball to the hole fairly effectively. Rashad McCants, who missed last night’s game with the flu, has been a little less mercurial of late, hitting more shots within the flow of the offense and providing at least the potential of another scorer in the game. Ryan Gomes, who is playing out of position at the 4 a fair bit lately, has established himself as the second best player on the team the last several games, and he’ll continue to get his minutes.

Which leaves Marko. Another point against him: He’s older than the rest, and everyone already pretty much knows what he’s apt to deliver.

Locker Room Notes Gerald Green, as you probably know, has been invited back to the All-Star weekend to defend his prestigious slam dunk title. We asked young Gerald what he had in store.

“It’s a secret," he said, with an actual wink. "I got something I don’t think even the video game can do. Quote that.”

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