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The Three-Pointer: Clippered

1. Maggette Over Szczerbiak. They didn't guard each other all the time, and Wally played ten fewer minutes (31:33 to 41:28) than Corey Maggette, but this is the matchup that doomed the Wolves to their second loss in three games against the L.A. Clippers last night. Maggette went 11-18 from the field, 8-9 from the line, and had 10 boards to go with his 30 points. Szczerbiak was 3-9 from the floor, 3-4 from the line, and had three rebounds to go along with 10 points. Wally did register three steals and Maggette had a game-high four turnovers, but the bottom line is Maggette made his shots when it mattered and Wally never got off.

Maggette-Szczerbiak is a legitimate comparison. Their physical dimensions are similar. Both have played the 2 and the 3, both were drafted in the first round of the 1999 draft (Wally with the 6th pick, Maggette the 13th), and their career minutes entering this season are very comparable: 13,160 for Wally, 11,514 for Maggette. And right now Szczerbiak is averaging exactly 15 points per game for his career, compared to 14.9 for Maggette. Szczerbiak is making $10 million this season, and $36 million more through the 2008-09 season. Maggette is making $6.7 million this year and a smidgen over $30 million between now and 2008-09.

As I've said before, this is a pivotal season for Szczerbiak, who needs to step up and handle the role of number two scorer if Minnesota is to have a realistic hope of contending for the playoffs. And right now he is a below-average NBA shooter, making just slightly more than 43 percent of his attempts and averaging less than 14 points per game.

Maggette and Wally both don't defend very well. Before this season, I'd have said that Wally is the superior outside shooter and that Maggette is a slightly better scorer, due to his ability to get to the line. Both of them are apt to be overrated because they don't do enough of the "little things," the so-called "intangibles," which is another way of saying they aren't especially smart or coachable. But even before this season started, and even if the salaries were the same, I'd rather have Maggette.

It might have been revealing or simply a tired response when I asked KG after the game tonight what he thought of the number two scorer only getting nine shots. He thought I was talking about Troy Hudson. Huddy went 1-7, and throw in Richie Frahm's oh-for-3, two of them wide-open looks, and your outside gunners clanked for a combined 4-19. Minnesota odds of winning when that happens are about one in six.

2. McCants gets some crunch time. Largely because all the other shooters came up empty, Casey threw McCants on to the court to begin the fourth quarter for what may have been the first time this year. It became the rook's first crunch-time when, with the help of a rarely-deployed zone defense by the Wolves, some inside misses by Clips' center Chris Kamen, and a sense of scrambling desperation that Casey considered one of the rare moments of team-wide energy all night, the Wolves sliced a 16-point deficit (12 to begin the quarter) down to two with four and a half minutes left.

McCants was not an overtly influential part of the comeback. He missed an open jumper from the baseline with the Wolves down 72-78, and a wide-open trey from the top of the arc at 74-78. He did nail a three early in the period, and chipped in a nice left-handed finger-roll on a drive through traffic. And he played decent defense, including the zone that encouraged passes inside to Kamen, who went 0-6 for the period (the rest of the Clips were 9-18, led by Maggette's 4-5 with Wally out of the game).

More to the point, the kid got a taste of playing when it matters, and it crippled him somewhat, especially on his final shot, a short-armed, nine-foot floater that barely grazed the front iron. Inserting him into the game was clearly a default move for the coach, the result of all his other scorers abandoning KG (who went 29 [11-18 FG] and 13 but had one measly assist when he earned about 7). I'd like to see it happen more often.

In response to a question from the Strib's Jim Souhan about whether he'd like to see McCants on the floor with him more often, KG provided his usual mix of sagacity and corporate correctness. "I think what Case is doing is a good thing," Garnett said, about "making him earn the minutes." He added that McCants was young and doesn't understand that it's an 82-game season, and that playing 25-30 minutes a night is a lot under those circumstances.

Of course McCants isn't averaging that much, has barely sniffed that amount of time just once, in fact. But the sagacity came earlier, when KG was explaining the link between the Wolves run and McCants being in the game. "McCants can hit the outside shot but he can also go to the basket," KG said, adding that that gave the team "a little versatility." Yeah, like what Corey Maggette brings to the Clips.

3. Odds and Ends. For all you "Thud" haters (and you know I cop to it as often as not), Huddy didn't play all that badly, except for the small fact that his shot wasn't going down. He scrapped for a steal, blocked a layup attempt by Cassell backing him down in the post that you know he'd seen about 3000 times in practice the past two years, and dished the ball more than is his custom, in part because he missed a couple of early open looks. I'd say that's progress. But I'd still like to see A.C. get some love. And while it has worked very well the previous two games versus Cleveland and Milwaukee, I'm not sure about the Hudson-Jaric backcourt combo at the expense of Trenton Hassell at crunch time. Maybe some of the time. For those of you who like Hassell's post game, I'd agree, as far as it goes. But let it become enough of a weapon that opponents are looking for it and then see how effective it is. For that matter, the same could be said of Hassell's entire offense. That's doesn't mean I don't want him to explore it (provided it doesn't cramp his focus on D), only that the exploration may not yield such dazzling vistas in the long run.

Eddie Griffin hauled in 14 more rebounds. Maybe Yao and Shaq and three or four others are beyond his ability to guard in the low block, but otherwise, he's the man. It is time for Casey to realize that Mad Dog belongs with Kandi and EG belongs with KG, not vice versa.

Casey keeps talking about watching Richie Frahm shoot and how reliable he is. Frahm must have had some monster games versus Seattle in previous years. But let's all repeat again, despite his heroic plus/minus totals, that Richie Frahm is not Fred Hoiberg, the man who loves The Simpsons, whose favorite movie is Dumb and Dumber, whose favorite place to vacation is Ames, Iowa, and who moves on the court with as much intelligence as any role player I've ever witnessed. Who can explain that juxtaposition? Sometimes you get the impression Freddie is sand-bagging people with an exaggerated hick routine.

Finally, a chuckle before we go. In the latest Sports Illustrated, NBA writer Ian Thomsen actually put his name over this lead: "Combine Allen Iverson's speed with Steve Nash's brain and you have T.J. Ford..." Shit like this ought to be blurbed in big bold quotes, like the movie reviewers who claim five or six different films are "the best of the year!" until their credibility is nil. Keep the kleig lights on the stupid stuff until it melts away. As Steve Colbert would say, "Ian Thomsen, I'm putting you on notice."

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