The Three-Pointer: An Embarrassing Win

1. 4th Quarter Follies How do you cough up all but two points of a 25-point lead against a team that is 30 games below .500? By building that lead against a collection of very talented, overpaid, attitudinally cancerous players who hate their coach and are practically staring at their watches rather than the hoop while waiting for the season to end.

Minnesota outscored the Knicks 30-14 in the first quarter when New York had a quartet of sorry-ass vets--Marbury, Francis, and the Rose boys, Malik and Jalen--alongside Eddy Curry. It was a thorough dissection--all five Minnesota starters scored two field goals, and the Wolves enjoyed a 15-8 edge on the boards. With Coach Casey substituting freely (ten players loggied minutes, eight of them at least eight minutes), Minnesota coasted to a 55-30 advantage with two minutes left in the half before settling for 55-35 at the break.

With less than a minute left to play in the third period, it was still 80-57 Wolves. But during the last two minutes of the quarter, Larry Brown decided to dump the vets, subbing in rookie David Lee for Mo Taylor, Jamaal Crawford for Jalen Rose, and rookie Nate Robinson for Marbury. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, little used center Jackie Butler, who toiled admirably for the Wolves in their summer league two years ago, also was inserted. Suddenly the Knicks had some folks who actually *wanted* to play this afternoon comprising a critical mass on the court. The Wolves? Incredibly enough, they thought they had the game in the bag. Instead, they got outhustled and slowly began to choke.

When the lead dipped to 16, Casey brought KG back in for Eddie Griffin. When it was 13, Ricky Davis replaced Rashad McCants. That seemed to stablize things for awhile, but then Justin Reed fouled out and was replaced by Mark Blount, with the Wolves up 12 with 4:49 to go. Uh oh. Led by Crawford and Marbury (who replaced Francis with six and half minutes left) on the perimeter and Lee and Butler underneath, New York made it a one-possession game with 45 seconds left. They could very well have forced overtime if the refs had bothered to call KG's foul on Butler during the game's final eight seconds. Instead, the Wolves hit enough of their free throws (barely, at 7-12 for the quarter) to come away with a 98-94 victory that is best viewed as a "moral defeat."

"In any NBA game, all teams are going to make a run. New York is an NBA team and they made their run..." Casey said after the game, eventually finding a way to praise his squad because "We didn't give in." No, you just had the Knicks (record after today's loss, 19-50) down by 23 with 13 minutes to play and you white-knuckled it home. Congratulations.

2. Dreaming Marbury The Strib's Steve Aschburner made a thinly veiled plea for Marbury to return to Minnesota and resume the dynamic duo he once shared with KG. And despite Marbury's shockingly uninspired performance today, I agree with the sentiment. First, let it be said that even when Marbury wasn't helping Phoenix or New Jersey get into the playoffs, the guy was incredibly dynamic, remaining one of the best in the league at dishing off penetration, or getting up the shot in traffic utilizing that tuck-the-baby move with the ball that he patented. He had sported a fearsome long-range jumper and exerted leadership on the court. Only slight vestiges of that remained this afternoon.

I don't know how much Larry Brown or Marbury himself is to blame--I'd say both--but heading into the off-season, the Wolves have only two real options. One is to tear apart the team down to the nub--and yes, that means trading Garnett, if he and Taylor mutually decide it should come to that. The other is, as Peter Weinhold has pointed out, to spend big money for a luxury tax-paying team salary. It would be difficult to do this unless you assume problematic, risky players with large upsides who might be inspired by Garnett's example (and in turn reinvigorate KG). Ron Artest would have been Exhibit A in this scenario (and if there was *ever* any chance of getting Artest in a package for Szczerbiak and another piece like Griffin or Hassell, I rue it didn't work out, especially in the wake of the Boston deal), but Marbury is another enticing possibility. He and Garnett are very complementary in terms of their skill sets, much more than Francis, in my opinion, who continually chokes when the game is on the line.

I'd play Marbury at the point, deal Jaric and Larry Brown's choice of Hassell or Davis and....who? Stephon will make $20 million per year for the next three years, and Jaric and Davis (who is more expensive than Hassell) combine for only about $13 million. Blount's $7 mil would slide in nicely there, but with Curry and Jerome James, the Knicks hardly need him.

Anyone who thinks Garnett is overrated--and they have a stronger argument after his miserable fourth quarter today--might want to consider that he could swapped for Stephon, even up. Imagine that. I guess that makes Marbury--who no one in their right mind would put on a par with Garnett--supremely overrated. But I'd spend $60 million of someone else's money on his return.

3. The Dirty Little Secret Let me be the first to admit that his has been one of my more lackluster treys. In closing, let me just note that Eddie Griffin had four blocks in 17 minutes, including a couple that were spectacular and crowd-rousing. He also hit a three from the baseline after being set up by Garnett, and cast a covetous glance toward the hoop almost every time he touched the ball after that. Finally, isn't it ironic that, now the the Wolves should be totally focused on grooming next year's talent, that Casey is slowly but surely going to Anthony Carter off the bench over the past five games, especially when it looks as if the squad's perimeter defense is going to totally fly off the rails? With T-Hud out, Jaric discredited at the point, and Banks more defensively challenged than we'd all like to admit, it seems the dirty little secret is that Casey needs AC's clamp-down prowess to have any hope of closing out games. That's what many of us were saying back when winning games was a good thing for the future of this franchise. Now that every defeat gets the Wolves closer to an upgrade in personnel, isn't it time for opponents to be schooling Banks and McCants on a fairly regular basis?

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