Open Thread: Nets and Raptors Losses

Okay folks, I just finished a Three Pointer (entitled "Point Drought"), clicked on to my "node hierarchy" and promptly lost all the copy. If you have any impressions of the past two losses, feel free to put them down. I’ll add comments when I wake up in the morning.

The computer system extends its apologies.


Update: First of all, thanks to the loyal bunch of you who have thoughtfully filled the breach with comments early this morning. In answer to some of your disbelief, yes, I really am that computer illiterate–it’s amazing that this tubes things works as often as it does.

Anyway, here is an abridged version of what I wrote and somehow erased last night. I’ll post them a point at a time so something is up as soon as possible, and try to make the third point be responses to comments already posted. Thanks again.

1, Missing McCants

It’s already been a strange February for Shaddy. I was one of the very few media folks to notice (or at least report on) the temper tantrum he threw during the Houston game; and apparently one of the few who didn’t notice that ESPN highlighted the friction between Wittman and McCants during its telecast of the Celtic game. Whether you think either of those things was underplayed or overhyped–and I’m honestly just trying to play straight man here–it didn’t look good for Shaddy’s long term status with the ballclub.

But since he sprained his ankle late in the second quarter versus Toronto, McCants has demonstrated his enormous value to the ballclub. Last night against the Nets it was especially obvious why you need at least two scoring threats to win most NBA games. Notice I didn’t say two scorers. Bassy Telfair led the Wolves in scoring last night, tying his second best point production (24) and field-goal attempts and makes (8-17 FG) of the season. But the Nets never seriously regarded him as a threat; not enough to prevent them from doubling down on Jefferson with Jason Kidd whenever Big Al had the ball in the low block. Often a third person, a big man, would likewise come at Jefferson from the side. He finished 5-18 FG, with 11 rebounds, after torching New Jersey for 40 points and 19 boards the previous time the two teams hooked up.

Whatever you think of him–and my bar graph on the guy rises and falls like an amusement park ride–McCants get his own shot better than anyone on the squad, leads the team not only in three-pointers made but three point percentage (40.9%), and, after falling in love with the long bomb earlier in the season, mixes that trey threat in with deft drives to the hoop. He is the only Timberwolves player who can burn an opponent for a bushel of points in a big hurry should they decide to play Ring Around the Rosey on Jefferson and dare Minnesota to beat them elsewhere.

Consider the other possibilities.

Randy Foye was supposed to be the #2, or even #1A guy beside Jefferson this season, but that’s clearly a long ways off. Foye’s line last night was typical of his 2008: 2-7 FG (although he did hit 2-3 from outside), 2 assists and 3 turnovers. And Foye’s lack of lateral movement and quickness on defense is worrisome. Is he really that far off from NBA game shape, both physically and mentally, or is that knee still balky?

Ryan Gomes is the #3 scorer on the ballclub behind Jeff and Shaddy. But Gomes works best moving without, rather than with, the ball. He needs smart, unselfish teammates in order to be truly effective. It was revealing, however, that when Gomes snapped out of his slight slump by canning his last three shots in the 4th quarter last night (taking 1-6 FG to 4-9), the Wolves not only scored more than 21 points for the first time in six quarters since McCants went down, they jumped up to 32 points. Simply put, if Gomes is your second scoring threat, you are going to struggle to get 90–a figure the Wolves haven’t hit in their current 4-game losing streak.

Antoine Walker is probably second to Gomes in court intelligence, and second to McCants in three-pointers made, which is why Wittman had him out there plenty last night, especially to combat New Jersey’s fairly effective zone in the second half. But age and/or rust have clogged ‘Toine’s wheels and it was a changing-of-the-guard moment in the third period last night when he faked the trey, twinkle-toed down the lane and tried to offer up his floater only to have rook Sean Williams smack it away. A short term solution at best for second scoring option and even then not a particularly reliable one.

Gerald Green periodically gets the sob story treatment in the dailies about how he wants to play more and is such a great athlete. What those stories never seem to mention is that Green is now 47-143 FG for the season, which is less than 33%. And putting the ball in the basket is supposed to be his forte.

I presume I don’t have to make the cases for why Marko Jaric and Corey Brewer–who both bring some tough defense and nice intangibles to the court–aren’t your #2 scorer.

2. Small Is Not Beautiful

As someone who has harshed on the Wolves’ small lineup, I give Coach Wittman and the front office (and, as a previous commenter noted,┬áthe selflessness of Jefferson for agreeing to play out of position without complaint) credit for making it work better than I imagined it could against a variety of opponents.

But last night wasn’t one of those times. The Nets were able to run out the seven-foot Nenad Krstic alongside 6-10 Josh Boone, then bring 6-9 leaper Sean Williams, 6-10 Stromile Swift, 6-10 Malik Allen and 6-9 Bostjan Nachbar off the bench. Their ability to own the boards kept them in the game during the first half (when the rebounding edge was 33-19) and then made the difference in the game-deciding third quarter. Consider that aside from two jumpers by the seven-footer Krstic, all of New Jersey’s 28 points came on free throws, layups and slam dunks. Combined with the ability to surround and frustrate Jefferson with a variety of bigs and littles, New Jersey won the points in the paint 40-26 (the gap was 32-14 early in the fourth period), and the Wolves lost despite getting more free throws (28 attempts to NJ’s 22) and despite ringing up 43% from outside the arc (6-14 3pt FG).

3. "Viewer Mail"

First of all, thanks for hanging with me through the gremlin snafus.

A few of you are carping on Jason Kidd, named game MVP by the Strib and the lead personage in most of the game accounts I’ve seen elsewhere. That’s why I love my independent-minded readership (even when they train their contrarian focus on me). I think the Kidd-Shaq comparisons are apt, in that both bring something to the table that, while fading fast, is pretty unique and potent when it can still be uncorked. For Kidd it is the jack of all trades aspect, the abilty to rebound, dish and defend in a manner that enhances the ability of his teammates on the court. And I think the trey he hit in the 4th quarter last night was a back-breaker (on a nice feed from Vince Carter, another target of yours and mine). Jim Petersen kept talking about how dangerous the Nets would be as a distantly seeded playoff team, but I don’t buy it. They have no answer for Dwight Howard, KG, or Sheed. And it is truly Vinsanity imagining Carter trying to guard Rip Hamilton or Ray Allen. I whole-heartedly agree with Stop and Pop that Sean Williams is a great prospect–he has impressed me more than any rook I’ve seen this season–and that is Krstic can get a little more mobility, that will be an intriguing front line to go with the sporadic Big Three.

Wim and Andy G want to know if I think there is a death watch (occupationally speaking, of course) on Wittman. No, I don’t. Not only that, but I think Wittman wins a power struggle with Shaddy if it ever comes down to a one-or-the-other showdown. I yo-yo in my regard for Wittman nearly as much as I do McCants. It is to his credit that he has fostered a very tight ballclub in terms of players pulli
ng for each other and mostly getting along–Jefferson, as tops on the pecking order, also deserves kudos for this. I can second-guess as well as the next sideline observer, and think he should play a legit center much more frequently beside Jefferson, and that he should give McCants much more rope in terms of playing time to either hang himself or make like Tarzan and swing to a fat new contract. This would be at the expense of Marko, through no fault of his own. Jaric has been a good soldier this season, but starting and getting 30-35 minutes a night is not a good fix for this club in the short run or the long term. As much as I enjoy what he and Brewer are bringing to the table on defense, has anyone else noticed that the Raptors and the Nets have put up back-to-back 30-assist games on Minnesota (Toronto had 31, actually)?

Finally, I’ll throw out this topic for conversation: Who does Corey Brewer guard tonight? The matchups on smallball would dictate Brewer on Vlad Radmanovic, with Jaric on Kobe and Gomes on Odom, but that removes our second (or first) best on-ball defender against the Lakers’ two potent swingmen.