The Three-Pointer: Sweeping L.A. teams at home
1) A.C. Ascendant. So far coach Dwane Casey seems to be a man of his word, albeit grudgingly. Casey said defense would be the priority this year, but to live up to that pledge he needs to play Anthony Carter when it matters, which is at odds with his efforts to pare his rotation and massage more tender and/or expensive egos.
After Carter was again the best point guard on the court (stifling defense and 5 of 6 from the field versus the Clips) Monday night, Casey said he did "a magnificent job" and was "like an old blanket; I feel comfortable with him." But against the Lakers Wednesday night, the coach waited until late in the second period, after substantial minutes for both Marko Jaric and Troy Hudson at the point, to insert A.C. in the game. In a span of 3:25, the Wolves promptly went on an 11-3 run, flipping a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead. But when the Lakers went large, Casey substituted Hassell for Carter instead of Hudson. Uh oh.
T-Hud had a pretty good game, but he simply can't guard people with A.C.'s cunning and athleticism. Casey held off until the 9:49 mark of the 4th quarter with the Wolves up 69-63. Nearly five minutes later, with the clock winding down, Carter rose up and blocked Smush Parker's jumper from the corner to compel a 24-second clock violation that was a crucial nail in L.A.'s coffin. He stayed in for the rest of the game, logging an overall game total of 13:14. During that period, the Wolves were plus-16; for the other 34:46, they were minus-2. And Casey had to give it up.
"Anthony Carter is a pitbull," the coach said with open admiration after the game, adding that he'd said before the Lakers tilt that he wanted to cut back on his player rotation and get a core group into a groove. But A.C. refuses to be excised, and to Casey's credit, he recognizes that fact. "He's a gutsy veteran, a tough guy, an acquired taste," the coach said. "Going into the season, I didn't think he'd be our defensive stopper."
2. Ditto Eddie Griffin.
Eddie G. likewise has become a crunch-time stalwart. It is just a matter of time before Casey recognizes that Griffin is a better option than Kandi in both the short-term and long-term. He probably already knows it, but Kandi needs the ongoing confidence boost and right now he's not hurting the team too badly.
Like Carter, Griffin is not seizing time by default, however; he's earning it in his own right. Dude now has a dozen blocks in a mere 109 minutes, and has an uncanny ability to get up on a second jump (usually after being faked into the air) so quickly he at least surprises and intimidates shooters who think he's out of the play. He's more disciplined in terms of his shot selection and his pick-and-roll defense. And he's signed at a bargain rate for the next three years.
3. The rook gets a clue.
I was rightfully rough on Rashad McCants' matador D and narcissistic offense in Monday's Hang Time column. Since then, he's put together two quality outings, including contentious defense on Kobe Wednesday that indicates he may yet give a shit about guarding people well enough to stay on the floor. And he had a crossover dribble against the Clips that broke at least three ankles. The guy's enormous raw talent is just one of many reasons why the recently ballyhooed triple-point-guard lineup will (or at least should) be a passing fad.
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