Timberwolves floor it, then run on fumes

Rutger Hauer with Josh Smith

Rutger Hauer with Josh Smith

Unfortunately for the T-Wolves, the mustache sported on Tuesday by the Pacers' Mikey Dunleavey was not the least attractive thing they encountered this week. Now let's not get things twisted: Dunleavey's delicately groomed 'stache did indeed make him look like a futuristic, coked-up, yuppie Clark Gable--kind of like if "Bright Lights, Big City"-era Michael J. Fox remade "It Happened One Night". The problem was that the Wolves' game against Atlanta on Wednesday was even less appealing. It was a strange and disorienting back-to-back for the Pups: an outburst of pure, manic zeal in the first game, followed by a total hump-day dud. All that, plus: Rashad McCants returns. 

Possibly the strangest non-facial hair-related detail about Tuesday's game in Indiana was the fact that Randy Foye was named player of the game by the FSN crew. It's true that Foye hit two clutch baskets in the waning minutes of the Wolves' comeback. And it's true that he came up with a majestic, out-of-thin-air rejection of Danny Granger's layup with 1:46 left that might've saved the game (remember Danny Granger? That spidery ABA throwback who we probably should've drafted a few years back? He was 10-19 with 28 points). But still, the player of the game turned the ball over nine times. Nine times. Only in a game this hilarious would such a thing even be possible.

All Power to the Imagination!

Now, in one very literal sense, the Pacers are the whitest team in the NBA. And while a crisp, clean shooting stroke, like the ones modeled by Dunleavy and his buddies Troy Murphy and Travis Diener certainly is wholesomely midwestern, rampant, breakneck gunning isn't usually part of that mythology. And yet, spurred on, perhaps, by their paucity of big men (Roy "Dr." Hibbert and our friend Rasho most definitely do not count) and a surplus of shooters, the Pacers have chosen to wild out and shoot the ball just about as fast and as often as possible.  Indeed, they're third in the league in pace of play, barely lagging behind the Knicks and the Warriors, the league's most notorious citizens of the glorious future. Conventional wisdom tells us that its foolish to try to beat such teams at their own game. But the Wolves happily (and understandably, considering Indiana's rather nonchalant transition D--Bobby Knight would not approve) succumbed to temptation and expanded the scope of their McHale-era pace-pushing.

In the hands of transcendentally talented teams like the mid-'80's Lakers (or, just a notch or two below, the  '04-'05 Suns) this kind of game can approach pure, sublime performance: simple and graceful and electric; its the way we all would move, if we could. Enacted by lesser folks like the Pacers and our T-Wolves however, its closer to a barely contained chaos, which is also awesome. (Enacted by much lesser folks, like you and me, it looks more like kind of wobbly, increasingly gray-complexioned short people airballing layups and wanting to sit down).

And immensely, entertainingly chaotic it was. Both teams seemed to be playing at a pace just above their abilities and kicked the ball around with abandon. Each breathless fast-break and transition three seemed to be coupled with an out-of-control turnover or a wild miss. Wild, erratic games like this enable team's to go on manic runs with hardly a second thought; though they were down for most of the game, the Wolves were able to pull off a brisk little comeback, culminating in a furious, 38-point fourth quarter. Seemed exhausting.

Boredom is Counter-Revolutionary

It seemed particularly exhausting the next day, when the Wolves stunk it up against Atlanta. This game was ragged, horribly officiated, riddled with turnovers and missed shots (mostly by the Wolves), and unimaginative play. After the recent loss to the Pistons, Kevin McHale remarked that in the NBA, "it's all quickness and length these days," which is not news to anyone who has been watching the league this decade. The irony here being, of course, that the Woves are, seemingly by design, woefully short of both, a fact that has been seriously exploited by the opponent in three recent losses (would've been four had KG played on Sunday).

Relying on the, you guessed it, length and athletic ability of big men Marvin Williams, Al Horford and Josh Smith, Atlanta went to a number of creative defenses--zones, aggressive fronts, myriad double-downs--in the hopes of limiting Al Jefferson's low-post opportunities. Well, limit him they did. The Wolves had difficulty entering the ball in to Big Al and when they did, a sea of long arms always seemed to swallow him up. The Wolves responded with, as McHale called it, "a dribble fest." They were unable to attack, unable to generate player or ball movement, unable to hit a shot; starters Foye, Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes shot an utterly craptastic 5-38 on the night.

There were some lifts in the fog. Rashad McCants saw his first floor time in nearly a month and proceeded to clock some of his best minutes of the season. He played aggressive defense, he hit a three, he attacked the rim (although the fact that he was begging for the ball after just one make suggests that his relentless ball-stopping and self-martyrdom can't be far off.) And, trailing by 11 in the fourth, after weeks or months of cold shooting and passing up eminently makable shots in favor of less makable ones by less accurate teammates, Mike Miller finally started gunning, stepping back to hit consecutive 25-footers. With Foye regressing back to the mean, lets hope this newfound gumption is a trend.

Unexpected surprises and comebacks notwithstanding, this thing was pretty unwatchable. In contrast to the retro-'80's feel of the Indiana game--the flash, the glamor, the leg-warmers--the Hawks game often recalled the dreary inexorability of those mid-'90's Knicks-Heat sludgefests; lots of standing around, lots of fouls, no fun.