Game #78, Home Game #40: New Orleans 122, Minnesota 90
Season Record: 19-59
1. Trying to Trade Baskets
The Minnesota Timberwolves shot 73.3% in the third quarter last night, 11-15 FG, including 3-4 from beyond the 3pt arc. The worst shooting performances were Ryan Gomes and Chris Smith at 1-2 FG; Al Jeffeson was 2-3 FG, Rashad McCants was 3-4 FG, and Marko Jaric and Kirk Snyder were each a perfect 2-2 FG. Eight of those eleven baskets were assisted, led by Gomes with three dimes.
The Wolves were outscored 41-27.
The front line of the New Orleans Hornets annihilated Minnesota’s frontcourt, shooting a collective 14-18 FG, including a trio of treys by Peja Stojakovic, for a collective 31 points. Chris Paul chipped in 8 points on 3-4 FG and 1-1 FT and dropped five dimes with nary a turnover. Morris Peterson went 2-3 from the free throw line to complete the scoring.
In the fourth quarter, the Hornets cooled down a tad, shooting only 57.1% (12-21) after the blistering 77.3% of the third. Alas, Minnesota could only muster 5-20 FG, making the final a blowout 32-point loss after being a bucket down at the half.
Asked how tough it was going up against MVP candidate Chris Paul, Randy Foye was begrudging. A lot of it is the people around him–they have great finishers," said Foye, adding, "we were stopping him."
The operative word in that last sentence is "were." Yes, Paul failed to register a field goal in the field half, arriving with just two points (2-2 FT) and one rebound at the break. Foye, meanwhile, had exploded for 16 points in the first period, including 4-4 from three point range in his 6-7 FG overall. But Paul also had 8 assists in the first half, compared to Foye’s 2. So if we compared the two *point guards,*, Paul generated only four fewer points–his 2 points and the 16 from his eight assists–than Foye’s 22 generated points (18 scored plus 2 assists).
And that was the first half. In the second half, Paul shot 6-7 FG, added 3-4 FT, grabbed four rebounds and again dropped 8 dimes in the half, to finish with 16 assists versus one turnover. Foye went 0-6 FG and 2-2 FT in the second half, with three assists and zero turnovers. Final line: Foye outscored Paul 20-19 but got out-assisted, 16-5. Asked about what happened in that second half, he was still begrudging, noting that "I got in a little bit of foul trouble, picked up some cheap fouls."
Paul’s teammates may be great finishers anyway, but it helps that the frontcourt towered over Minnesota’s front line by 3, 4 and 2 inches, respectively at the center, small forward and power forward positions. That explains how five of Paul’s assists were alley oop dunks.
2. It’s The Meat (Size) and the Motion (Penetration)
After the game, coach Randy Wittman bemoaned the fact that his team went with the jump shot as the default position. "We need that guy who will put it on the floor," he said. "We have struggled all year getting free throws–we had 9 tonight–and we’re settling for jump shots." When Foye’s first quarter scoring explosion was mentioned, Wittman re-emphasized, "Yeah he made some jump shots but then he kind of fell in love with that…We moved the ball pretty good but we have got to look for people who will put the ball on the floor and get to the rim."
Asked if that is the team’s biggest need, Wittman gave an answer that should be applauded for folks who are sick and tired of smallball. "No, we need to get bigger. What is prefereable?" he asked rhetorically, the penetrator or the larger bodies? "Whatever presents itself. We also need outside shooters. Al is a willing passer."
3. McCants and Brewer
Whatever drama may have existed between Wittman and McCants is again on the back burner, as Shaddy played 30:09 off the bench and was his usual self, leading the team in points and field goals and tying Foye for the high in FGA. Foye and McCants combined for a gaudy 9-17 in three-point shooting and yet the ballclub still got pasted by 32 points. Not coincidentally, defense has been an achilles heel for both Foye and McCants this season.
On the other side of the ledger, Corey Brewer continues the out-of-body experience of watching his season disappear down the rabbit hole. As happens enough to be something of a pattern this season, Brewer came out and stuck his first two jumpers, including a nifty dribble-drive left, put on the brakes and nail a fade-away sequence early in the second period. But then he came down and chucked up a heat-check J on the very next possession that clanked, leading to five more misses that were lucky if they clanked. Also in the second period, Marko Jaric drove beneath the hoop and fed the rook on the baseline for about a 10-footer that he flat-out airballed, a shot so inept that the 12,000 or so people in the stands were murmuring about it for the next 15 seconds. Then there was the four footer he was gift-wrapped in the second half that barely grazed the front iron. In all seriousness, I’m not certain giving Brewer any more burn in these final four games is a good idea. Better just to let him keep practing and then proscribe an off-season diet of milkshakes, bench presses, squats and cheeseburgers along with a daily diet of about 10,000 jump shots. The boll weavils have infested his confidence and it will take a few months to clean them away.