Timberwolves taste sweet, sweet victory

Basketball people like to use terms like "tempo" and "rhythm" to describe the ideally functioning offense but, I'll tell you, nothing creates rhythm like the ball going in the basket. Coming into Friday's game against the Knicks, the Wolves had been mystically bad offensively, shooting only 43% from the floor--and even worse than that during their dreadful losing streak. But, helped largely by the game's open, fast-paced style, the Wolves finally, finally got hot. I know defense is really important and everything but the game really is a lot more fun when you can actually score.

The Air Up There

This year's Knicks aren't  exactly the greatest exemplars of their coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced system. They've been hampered by injuries; they've traded away, for salary reasons, their two best scorers (and have banished the third) and they're allowing opposing teams to shoot over 48% from the floor. Still, even when executed by a team of role players, there's something extraordinarily pleasing and right about basketball played this way--attacking the basket, spacing the floor, running up and down the court, decisively taking open shots. And the Wolves seemed invigorated by breathing this heady air, not to mention that soft D.  Catalyzed by Randy Foye's early aggressive play and freaky second quarter three-point shooting by Rodney Carney and Rashad McCants (McCants went 7-9 from three in his first really good game in...seems like years) the team looked more assertive and confident on offense then they had since their win in Detroit, more than a month ago.  They shot 51.4% from the field; they moved the ball; they played with pace and intention. It was sweet.

Much of the team's success was confidence and good luck and the game's fast pace. But much of it should also be attributed to the fact that, against the undersized Knicks, the Wolves were not, for once, at a size disadvantage. Al Jefferson made it plain early that he could be guarded one-on-one by neither Al Harrington nor David Lee. The Knicks were forced to double- and triple-team Big Al; he was able to see over the defense to find open teammates, creating ball movement and open looks. On one particularly sweet play, Jefferson caught the ball on the left block. As the Knicks sent a second defender his way, he whipped the ball to a cutting Sebastian Telfair who dropped a no-look, one-touch pass to Craig Smith on the weakside for an easy layup and foul. This is the way the Wolves' offense was supposed to work and, again for once, they were able to sustain it for an entire game.

Shaddy Reborn

Certainly, many Wolves have underperformed during this losing streak (Mike Miller and Ryan Gomes come to mind) but McCants's pouty behavior and adolescently fragile confidence, his awful, selfish shot selection and mercurial defensive effort, not to mention the ball's stubborn refusal to go in the hoop after leaving his hands have all made him sort of a placeholder for everything that's been wrong with the team.  Even McCants's own teammates, normally unwilling to cast blame, could be heard quite audibly and publicly venting their frustration at McCants's rotten play and bratty attitude. It had become more and more apparent that McCants's tenure with the team was coming to a close and that a trade was eminent. But things had gotten so bad that the Wolves would probably have had to package Shaddy with other players to get anything of value in return (or worse, allow him to leave as a free agent after the season, admitting defeat and taking the cap room).

So for all of these reasons it was nice to see McCants get loose on Friday.   We can't know whether this was a sign of things to come or just an anomalous moment in Shaddy's harsh decline. But, even if Wolves intend to trade him, he's probably their most talented perimeter scorer and they desperately need him to improve. Even if he did write the words "Swagger is Everything" on his sneakers (which he did).

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