Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Game #52, Home Game #27: Philadelphia 88, Minnesota 104
Season record: 11-41
1. Spread the Credit
It’s been a habit of these three-pointers to isolate players for individual praise or criticism, rearranging members of the roster like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that someday will yield a different and more pleasing picture than the one who entered the All Star break losing more than four games for every one it won. But tonight’s convincing triumph over a Philadelphia 76ers team that had won five straight is most accurately seen as a blended team effort, the type of performance that most satisfies coaches and front office personnel.
The Wolves’ outscored Philly in all four quarters, beating back a series of runs and challenges in the process. Seven of the nine players who participated–and all seven of those who logged over 20 minutes of playing time–scored in double figures. Only Antoine Walker, who played but 8:05, failed to record a positive in the plus/minus figures. Especially in the first half, the Wolves both moved the ball and moved without the ball, generating offense that was generous, dynamic, and visually pleasing. They were far better mentally and physically prepared than their opponent for their first game in nearly a week, roaring out to a 17-8 lead in the first 6:14 mostly by grabbing 12 of the game’s first 14 rebounds and proving themselves to be the more alert and energetic team.
Within this team game, two early matchups deserve special mention. Perhaps no foe has frustrated Jefferson more than Samuel Dalembert the first time these teams played, with Big Al suffering five blocks, including a game-tying attempt in the final seconds. This time, Jefferson wasn’t lunched once en route to 9-14 FG. And at the other end, Jefferson totally stymied his taller but more listless opponent. At the half, Dalembert had two points and a rebound in 13:13 versus Jefferson’s 10 and 8 in 16:22. Jefferson’s shot wasn’t falling, but four offensive board produced a pair of putbacks that boosted his percentage (he was 5-9 FG in the first half). He added three more offensive rebounds in the second half and grabbed 14 overall versus 9 for Dalembert. Best of all, weaknesses in his game are slowly but fairly surely being caulked. His "show" on the pick and roll actually had some resonance for the dribbler, and he wasn’t as casual about getting back either.
But the real eye-opener was a trio of interior passes down toward the hoop from a spot in the middle of the post. Because Jefferson has expanded his range enough to hit that 12-15 footer, the double-team–or at least an opponent’s attention–will be drawn. Tonight he shoveled one pass that Craig Smith finished, went over the top to find Rashad McCants in traffic beneath the hoop, and had another nifty feed come to naught due to a missed layup. His total of 3 assists could have been double that had his teammates converted, or if he needed to log more than just 2:22 in the 4th quarter.
The other honorable mention goes to Corey Brewer’s defense on Philly’s leading scorer, Andre Iguodala. The 6-6 swingman was clearly bothered by Brewer’s length and tenacity, missing all four of his shots before Brewer picked up his second foul with 3:01 to play in the first and headed for the bench. On the other side of the ball, Brewer remains a disaster–his lone basket in 8 attempts came on a transition layup off a steal. Yes, he takes "good shots," and I suppose one should applaud his confidence in continuing to try and keep opposing defenses honest. But they simply don’t fall–long in the first half, woefully short on his first attempt of the 3rd period–and defenses cheat dishonestly away from him anyway, and will until his finds the range.
But here’s why Brewer deserves kudos instead of brickbats for this game: While scoring just that lone bucket on five attempts in the first period, the rook also grabbed six rebounds, dished for two dimes, and sank a pair of free throws. Meanwhile, he held Iguodala to a pair of free throw attempts (one made), no baskets, two rebounds and an assist in that first period. When your rookie is getting the better of your opponent’s top point producer, the chances of winning skyrocket. Brewer wasn’t flashy about it–his blanket on Iguodala was most apparent after he sat and Iguodala suddenly was shooting jumpers without a hand in his face (McCants and Ryan Gomes were his other defenders). He *was* flashy coming out of nowhere to foul fellow rook Thaddeus Young in mid-slam well above the hoop in the third quarter, however. Bottom line, if Brewer is one of the top two (or perhaps even three) guys in your pecking order, your team isn’t likely to go far in the playoffs. On the other hand, most playoff-caliber teams have a Brewer-like presence in their lineup: An energy guy with glue-like attributes. And he’s going to get better.
2. Bassy Hangs In
Randy Foye finally received his first start of the season tonight, but in a bit of an upset, it was at the shooting guard slot. This move is a victory for common sense over face-saving draft politics. If Foye isn’t a point guard, then the Wolves likely erred in swapping him for Brandon Roy (certainly the injury history argument hasn’t panned out thus far for Foye’s defenders). Well, Foye *isn’t* a point guard–they are sent from God, as Stephon Marbury once said, and isn’t that ironic in retrospect–but force-feeding him at that spot to make sure was the kind of butt-covering logic I anticipated. Instead, Wittman and company are properly impressed with Bassy’s gaudy assist to turnover ratio; after preaching the value of reducing turnovers with numbing frequency, Wittman would have demonstrated blatant hypocrisy by lifting him for a unbalanced combo guy whose miscues outnumber his dimes.
Fifty-two games into this season, Telfair is the Wolves player who has most aggressively seized this campaign by the throat, not so much surpassing the low expectations his previous play had engendered as lapping them, stoking his energy and intelligence in the process. In the past 30 games or so, Telfair has finally learned how to do more than simply turn the key in the offense and try to steer the wheel. He’s discovered how to regulate pace with the throttle and the brake, how to draw and kick, how to make opponents cover him because of his dribble penetration or initial probes in the modified fast break where the Wolves may or may not have the numbers. He’s still small, of course, and despite tonight’s 3-4 FG, his shooting continues to be a relatively wretched adventure. But when he’s paired with Jaric or Foye or McCants in the backcourt, there’s no longer much doubt that he’s the floor general.
By the numbers, Foye had perhaps his best game thus far: 13 points, five assists and one lone turnover. But he did jack up 15 shots (making six), including a half-dosen treys (converting one), and he’s been a sub-mediocre defender all year. Tonight, Andre Miller posted him up a couple of times for easy baskets on the way to a 15-point half that kept Philly in the game (Miller didn’t score in the second half, however.) Of even greater concern, Philly was the second straight opponent to deploy a full-court press when Foye was the primary point guard, and Wittman quickly had Telfair up and ready to go back in after the court-length disruption cut into the Wolves lead.
Foye’s confidence, like Brewer’s, remainsa little higher than reality might warrant. Asked about his defense tonight, he boasted about clamping down on Willie Green (who *was* held to 6 points on 3-10 FG) instead of Miller’s early post-ups or some garbage time matador maneuvers. It is reminiscent of his claim about being best suited for the point. And maybe after he regains full range of
that knee and fills his head with another thousand or so minutes at the point, he’ll become more of a savior than a sabatoeur at the position. But Wittman revealed after tonight’s game that he’ll continue to experiment with the Telfair-Foye backcourt allignment for a while longer to see how well they stir up sparks.
3. Cuban’s Kidd
About three weeks ago when I was catching a Mavs game on League Pass, a television poll showed Dallas fans believing that Devin Harris was the team MVP at that time. Now not only Harris but the Mavs’ best legit big man in Dasanga Diop are heading to New Jersey to finally trigger the trade for Jason Kidd. It’s a bad deal for Dallas on a number of levels: The fans clearly appreciated Harris, who destroyed the Wolves with dribble penetration the first two times the teams met in Dallas earlier this year. Kidd has slipped defensively, and will have difficulty with the Nash-Williams-Paul-Parker quartet, who figure to be among his opposing matchups in the playoffs. Losing Diop means Erick Dampier will be the default man in the pivot when the Mavs need to match up with lengthy ballclubs. Then there is the small matter of two first round draft picks. And three million bucks.
I’ll be shocked if both Dallas and Phoenix make it out of the first round of this year’s playoffs.