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The Three-Pointer: Reality Bites

1. Jaric in freefall mode So Coach Dwane Casey tinkered with his matchups and went with Hassell on Billups, Davis on Hamilton, and Jaric on Prince to start the game. One would think that cut Jaric some slack--Prince is clearly the easiest of the three assignments--enabling him to be aggressive at both ends of the court. But Marko's either sulking or depressed or hung over or injured, because his assiduously half-assed coverage of Prince allowed the lanky forward to go off for nine points in the game's first eight minutes.

People who like Jaric say he is really hard on himself. Szczerbiak was probably his best friend on the team and the game Marcus Banks put together against Boston, plus Hassell ascendance as a scorer as well as stopper this past month, have put the screws to Jaric seemingly fragile psyche. Whatever is going on, his play is becoming easy to dislike--passive, inconsistent...scared. He had exactly one shot in 19 minutes tonight, to go with two assists, miserable defense, and a minus-14 overall. They docked him for only one turnover but it felt like at least three or four.

This is serious business because the guy is signed for large money through 2011. Between Jaric and Hudson, Glen Taylor is paying more than $11 million for a pair of point guards whose chronic dysfunctions are cementing ugly reputations that will make it very difficult to trade them. I have expressed bafflement over the big galoot for most of the past six weeks, after being an early supporter. And if he snaps out of this funk and begins to play like an above average role player, I won't be a bit surprised. But that means going to the hoop *spontaneously* instead of frequently or never, moving your feet on defense *every game* instead of two out of three and then one out of three. And it means being ready to play whatever role is required of you.

2. There is no D in the words "Ex-Boston Celtic" Since the trade it has become offhand conventional wisdom that Ricky Davis is a defensive upgrade over Wally Szczerbiak, and folks, it just isn't so. Yes, Davis is quicker, but during his final season here, Szczerbiak both tried harder to stay with his man and had more of a clue about how to do it than what we've seen from Davis over the past four games. If Ricky Davis really is supposed to be the second-best player on this ballclub, Casey needs to teach and motivate him in the basics of footwork and rotation (and yes, Brauer already said this yesterday).

Marcus Banks is better than Davis on defense, but likewise seems to get too easily clogged on pick and rolls, and lacks the dedication Anthony Carter and Trenton Hassell bring to on-ball defense out on the perimeter. Granted, Banks and the rest of the Boston crew don't know the Wolves schemes yet, and no doubt have dubious habits after playing for the Celtics laissez-faire defense. Granted, the Pistons are a smart, talented, unselfish, veteran team running one of the more innovative and sophisticated playbooks in the league. None of that means somebody as athletic as Marcus Banks shouldn't be able to stay with his man better than he did tonight.

Mark Blount's defense is better than I imagined, especially after that sorrowful performance in his debut against Houston, but nobody should mistake him for a defensive upgrade over Kandi. He hustles more and is light-years better on offense, and for that matter is probably more consistent on defense than Kandi. But mediocrity is probably his ceiling at that end of the court. Justin Reed is raw but already the best defender of this quartet of newcomers, on the basis of the (admittedly few) games we've seen thus far.

That said, Banks understands the point guard position. That only makes his 8 shots versus 2 assists all the more aggravating, but seeing his production dip dramatically after his spectacular Wolves debut actually was reassuring, because the quickness, the sure-handed dribble, and the vision are all still apparent even when he's off his rhythm. As for his decision-making and ball movement, here's some free advice--feed KG as often as possible. That's becoming somewhat forgotten during all the hoopla of the past two games.

3. Austin Peay in the house once again After signing his big contract at the beginning of last season, Trenton Hassell went through some tenuous times. Changes in the hand checking rules were robbing him of his physicality and saddling him with early fouls. Falling production from Spree and Cassell made his timidity on offense a decided liability. The fat contract looked like it might be a mistake.

But for nearly a year now, Hassell has been slowly but surely getting better, a prelude to the past week, when his skills have suddenly mushroomed. He's guarded McGrady, Parker, Pierce, and Billups the past four games and done yeoman service on every one of them, *and* been an increasingly reliable and creative offensive force, whether it is posting up or taking his man off the dribble or the old standby way he used to score, getting the pass out on the wing and launching that rainbow jumper.

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