The Three Pointer: Crushing the Hornets

1. Another flash of McCants The slooooow nurturing of Rashad McCants took another baby step forward Wednesday night when the rook went off for 10 points (eventually tying his career high with 14) and four rebounds in the second quarter alone as the Wolves thumped the Hornets 88-69.

Best of all from coach Dwane Casey's standpoint, the Hornets scored only 14 points in the period, with McCants on the floor for every second of it. Fans will remember the alley oop dunk Marko Jaric threw McCants out of a timeout (a play called by Casey), and a vintage left-handed jam by the rookie driving the left baseline and, typically, getting past his surprised opponent with a sudden burst off the dribble. But Casey's tough love is all about the defense, and even though Rashad didn't know who he was supposed to be guarding, allowing Speedy Claxton an open look (which he clanked, like everything New Orleans threw up Wednesday) at the end of the first quarter, McCants wasn't abused on D and, after three horrendous games, finally seemed to let the pace of play come to him.

For an upcoming Hang Time, I'm going to contrast the patience the Wolves have shown toward Michael Olowokandi on the court versus the quick hook the rookie receives. Kandi is on the last year of his deal, and unless he can be had for a million or two, the Wolves would be crazy to re-up him. Meanwhile, McCants is here for at least three years, and is a dynamic scorer off the bench who can create his own shot as well as anyone on the team already--exactly what the Wolves need, now and in the near future. As Kevin Garnett said in the locker room tonight, "I'll tell you, that kid is going to be something special."

2.Lessons from the first meeting Back on November 23, the Wolves blew a 16-point lead to the Hornets, who were led by point guard Chris Paul and power forward David West. Paul made Marko Jaric look so foolish that Jaric was benched for the rest of the game just a few minutes into the second half, and West pretty much held his own in the matchup with KG.

On Wednesday, the Wolves seemed to play the pick and roll so that Paul was directed toward the big men on penetration. The result was just five buckets in 16 shots, versus three assists. Contrast that to the 21 points (19 in the second half) and 8 assists he had in the first meeting.

None of the Hornets starters shot 50 percent. Trenton Hassell totally shut down Desmond Mason (1-9 FG) while dishing for three assists himself in the first quarter. Wally Szczerbiak and Hassell held J.R. Smith to one basket in 6 attempts, and backup point guard Speedy Claxton, who likewise bedevilled Troy Hudson and company in the first meeting, managed just a pair of hoops in ten shots. Like Paul, Claxton was generally allowed to penetrate but not finish. Much of that was the play of Kandi, KG, and Eddie Griffin (4 more blocks, in just 21:31 of play), but the team played the scheme as a unit and didn't suffer the breakdowns that happened last time.

At the other end of the floor, the Wolves pulled Hornets' bigs PJ Brown and West away from the basket and let the little guys go to work on the smaller remainder of New Orlenas' lineup. Wally led all scorers with 21, with Jaric, McCants and KG also in double figures. In addition to his strong pick-and-roll defense, Kandi had what I regard as the ideal apportionment of duties, attempting just three shots (and making two) while pulling in a game-high 10 rebounds. And as for the KG-West rematch, Garnett racked up 9 assists (to go with 17 points and 7 rebounds)in a mere 29:44, while West scored 11, rebounded 5 and dished a single dime. It was a pretty thorough thrashing, with New Orleans down 68-39 with less than two minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, causing some media folks to start researching the all-time NBA low for points scored in a game.

3.Big man substitution patterns One of you smart readers has noticed how well Eddie Griffin and KG play together. There has been a synergy there ever since the first month of last season, when Eddie's then-accurate and plentiful treys pulled opponents away from Garnett in the low block. Now that Griffin has thankfully curbed (but not eliminated) his increasingly wayward long-range bombs, the pair click mostly in the paint, where Garnett's dogged on-ball defense and superb peripheral vision and defensive rotations neatly cover for Griffin's weakside ambush on blocked shots, and his desire and proclivity to create chaos, for better and worse, to deter drives to the hoop and when fighting for rebounds.

But here's another point that I can't really prove yet. I think Kandi and Mark Madsen also have good chemistry. Like KG, Mad Dog is crisp and, well, dogged in his rotations and body-up D, while Kandi is a little more inconsistent but better at standing up shooters as they come into the lane. The problem, of course, is that both are subpar scorers, which is why Szczerbiak or Hudson needs to be in the mix if Kandi and Madsen were paired more often. The point is, Griffin and Garnett are the future front line for this ballclub. The problem is, Kandi's fragile ego probably can't handle being bumped from the starting lineup, especially in a contract year. Besides, Casey seems to think Griffin deserves the same tough love he's doling out to McCants. What I want to know is, where's the tough love on Kandi and Frahm?

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