The Three-Pointer: Wolves as Dogs

1. Did Somebody Say Inconsistent? How embarrassing is it to fire a coach because the team is playing inconsistently, then watch his replacement lose twice to sub-.500 teams, improbably beat the Clippers on the road, hand the Phoenix Suns their first beating in 18 games over a month's time...and then go so flaccid against the 17-26 Sacramento Kings that you're down 13 at halftime and lose by bucket on a pair of costly, late-game turnovers by your rookie point guard?

The first half sucked all the positive joy accumulated in thrilling triumph over the Suns, and actually had some crowd-members booing in the second quarter. Sacramento had an assist/turnover ration of 10/1, nearly matched the Wolves rebounding total off their own missed shots (15-11) and dominated the defensive glass (19-5) for a rebounding edge of 30-20. They more than doubled Minnesota's points in the paint (34-16) led in fast break points (13-0) and took 19 free throws to Minnesota's 4. This is a team nine games below .500.

New coach Randy Wittman knows why he was hired, and why the man who did it, Kevin McHale is embarrassed and looking foolish right now, because the team is if anything more inconsistent than it was under Dwane Casey. The good news is that Wittman isn't afraid of giving previous privileged players a spot on the pine. Specifically, Ricky Davis was lifted twice in the first half for more of that criminally indifferent D we've come to know and hate. He threw in four dreadful first half turnovers for good measure.

Perhaps the only reason Mike James wasn't yanked to the sideline as rapidly as Davis is because Wittman and the rest of us simply expect less of him--pointed messages are bounced back, stamped Return to Sender on James's blank forehead. For two games in a row now, James has been the weakest link on D--amid heavy competition in tonight's lackluster stinker--and isn't exactly a ball of fire at the other end of the court either.

Wittman's postgame analysis featured the sort of outraged tongue-lashing we never heard from the ever-circumspect Casey. I'm sure the major media will have all the choice quotes, but here's a sampling: "We didn't deserve to win that game...The effort tonight was unacceptable...I've got to figure out why it happened. I don't know why it happened. If I did, it wouldn't happen."

Wittman also called out Kevin Garnett, saying he missed a lot of very makeable shots and didn't have one of his better games--all true. Whenever anybody tried to change the subject, say, to how Mark Madsen's fouls forced him to play Garnett more than he'd like, or Randy Foye getting stripped on a layup and dribbling the ball out of bounds on the final two Wolves possessions, the coach would chuckle ruefully and say that none of that really mattered, that it was all about the lack of effort in the first half. Again, it is true.

But the truest thing was probably that if he knew how to fix it, he would. And right now, at least, he doesn't. "I'm going to try something," he vowed. "I'm not going to sit here and say, `It was one of those things.'"

2. A Short Honeymoon for Marko? After Monday's euphoric win over Phoenix, Marko Jaric was quoted as saying he no longer wanted to be traded. This is good news if only because you never want anybody on your roster clamoring to get out, but I can't see how Jaric's contentment can be anything but short-lived. He told the Strib's Kent Youngblood that he's happy with the way Wittman is treating him and using him and that if he continues to improve and justify his minutes he knows he'll get more time. But I'm not so sure that last part is true. Trenton Hassell is playing exceptionally well right now; Ricky Davis has already had his minutes cut back some recently, and Rashad McCants is coming back, having logged his first five minutes of the season in tonight's second quarter (Wittman nailed the fact that he best thing about Rashad's brief stint is that he didn't try and do too much right away). Out of whose minutes does an improved Jaric steal more time? Disillusionment allmay be on the horizon for Marko.

3. The Yeoman Like nearly everyone on the Wolves, Trenton Hassell got burned by some baseline cuts and his own lethargic foot movement in the first half. But aside from McCants's brief, uneventful cameo, Hassell's all-around play was practically the only bright spot tonight. He shot 9-12 FG, had 5 rebounds and 5 assists, mixed it up in the paint and on the perimeter, and did a bevy of little things in terms of help defense, keeping balls alive jousting for rebounds, and executing good ball movement. He was...consistent.

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