The Three-Pointer: Tough Transition or Simply A Shambles?
1. Upping the tempo I don't understand Coach Dwane Casey's substitution patterns, and haven't for weeks and weeks now. The massive movement of personnel arising from the Boston deal has only muddled things further. But to his credit, after tonight's confused and confusing loss to a Utah squad that is less talented but much better self-identified than the collection of individuals on the Wolves, Casey gave me a clear and succinct answer when I asked him what this team is trying to do and where it is trying to go.
In fact the coach seemed eager and pleased to be able to reveal that it was in the midst of transforming from a primarily half-court team to one that is much more uptempo and transition-oriented. That explains the insertion of AC and Mad Dog in the starting lineup (two-thirds of the much dreamed-of, little realized "go go trio" of Carter, Madsen and Szczerbiak that I'd wished Flip and then McHale and then Casey would play as a pace-changer over the past year and a half). But, as Casey explained, there were growing pains involved in this transition and you couldn't get away with it by playing foolishly and turning over the basketball. I frankly didn't have the heart to press the coach on why, of all four ex-Celts, he didn't then play Justin Reed, who is born to rumble in an uptempo back-and-forth tussle where cleaning up missed layups and laying out flying penetrators is the name of the game. Casey has at least announced an intention--to play more uptempo and get away from the traditional half-court mentality that has defined this team's offense for a decade or more. Guys who cover Casey on a regular basis say that he's been talking uptempo all season, but I think the athletes he got from the Celts and the expanded roles of AC and Madsen indicate that this is a fresh, more concerted push in that direction. And with this clearer communication we can now see whether the coach has the courage of his convictions to complete this identity transformation, or whether he's scrambling to come up with something amidst a total shambles. Rather than rant, rip, and second-guess in the face of a truly dreadful loss, then, I'm going to keep the powder dry and merely make two quick observations before letting you guys take over.
2. Blount as albatross For the second game in a row, bringing in Mark Blount was a recipe for doom. He fouled out in 18 minutes of play. He was minus-5 in nine and half minutes of the first half, then was substituted at exactly the wrong moment in the 3rd quarter, after the Wolves had struggled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to be down 3, 53-56, with 5:41 to go in the third. Boom! Over the next four minutes, Utah outscored Minnesota 5 to 14 to pump the lead back to 58-70. Game essentially over. Blount's stints are depressingly reminiscent of Rashad McCants's horrible second quarters in December, when his time on the court invariably put Minnesota in a hole they couldn't ever escape. The difference is that McCants is a rook making relative peanuts for a relatively short period of time and Blount is an established vet who will be making a king's ransom in 2011.
3. Davis manhandled by Harpring Let's all repeat this once again: Ricky Davis is not a better defender than Wally Szczerbiak, especially when he has to match up with larger, bruising small forwards. Harpring laid Davis and pretty much everyone else to waste in the second quarter, when Utah seized control of the game, scoring 14 points (en route to 25 overall) in the second period alone while Davis was 0-5 from the field. Again, it would have been nice to see Lenin emerge from the sidelines. But I'm holding my tongue for awhile.
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