Game Notes: Hornets at Timberwolves
Insert bug joke here.
by Myles Brown
The 2009 All Star reserves will be named Thursday night and I expect to learn the only differences between fans and coaches votes are their rationalizations for choosing by name recognition. Fans love high flyers and quick crossovers, coaches love winners and established players. So it won’t be surprising to me if Shaq and Steve Nash join Amare Stoudemire in this years extravaganza. (If they pick Shaq, I really can’t believe they’d leave Nash at home.) It would hardly move me if one of them were the games MVP, which is practically reserved for the host. And being left out in the cold won’t be an unfamiliar feeling for Al Jefferson, but it will be undeserved.
Snubbed last year with averages of 21 & 11, Big Al’s game has grown and so has his teams reputation in the Western Conference. He’s hoping there’s room for him in Phoenix. ” I think the coaches thought I didn’t deserve to be in last year because that was my first time ever averaging those kind of points. I think the consistency has been a big part, but I think that I deserve it for the fact that now I’m not only putting up those type of numbers, but we’re also winning way more games than last year.”
Of course winning twice as many games than the previous year usually means more than 15, but the Wolves are still one of the leagues best teams this month, boasting a 9-2 record. (The Suns are 5-6 and only 5 games over .500, but again, that might still be enough to send three players. As if two weren’t a bit unreasonable.) The two reserved forward spots will probably go to Dirk and Pau Gasol, as they should, leaving an alternate center and two players of any position. Just as strong an argument could be made for Jefferson as for Shaq, Melo or Tony Parker. Al has played every game this season and though many have been losses, he has improved. And he has improved despite the fact that opposing defenses have been trying harder to stop him. Unlike everyone else, he isn’t accompanied by another All Star to relieve the pressure. Sure, his defense isn’t making any highlight packages, but since when has that factored into anyones decision making about an All Star Game? ( If it is, then we need to rethink damn near everyone.)
Kevin Garnett played for a sub .500 franchise during his last two years in Minnesota (33-49 & 32-50). He was an All Star both years. No one ever said that it was easier for him to get his numbers because he was on a bad team. Why is it that a young star on a struggling team is never given a chance, but an older star on a struggling team is never failed by the coaches vote? Presumably the difference is that the older player has establised himself as a winner at some point, but the fact of the matter is that neither were winning when the decision is made.
I don’t get it. Neither does Al.
“I just think ‘Work hard’ and continue to get better. But if I don’t make it this time I would really love to know why”
A shift in attitude and effort was to be expected from the Wolves upon Randy Wittman’s departure, however the difference has been so pronounced that you have to wonder. If Wittman should’ve been let go even sooner and if McHales contrasting style would be as refreshing to this young team had Wittman never coached it.
Randy was a true taskmaster. He knew what he wanted and he wasn’t afraid to sit players who didn’t deliver. Or scold them. His philosophies were incongruous with his roster, but he still bemoaned the lack of progress and I’m sure things didn’t get better behind closed doors. This became a negative motivation that had players playing not to win, but to stay in the game. This team already has to face the fact that most nights theyre outmached, they shouldn’t have to be looking over their shoulders too. So McHales encouragement-and a softened schedule-came at just the right time.
Though their recent win streak was padded by patsies, the lessons of that run resonate just the same and the team has built upon that confidence to overcome doubt sporadic effort. Before, Minnesota would come out of the locker room full of energy only to dejectedly slink back into it. Big leads were built and blown or teams would toy with them and pull away in the second half. No matter how much the game seemed in hand, a collective foreboding still lingered. Now the Wolves are the agressor and the more confident team, as shown in their gritty win this weekend against a hobbled New Orleans. Chris Paul herked and jerked his way to 23 & 12, giving the home team fits with his vision and ball control. They trailed by 12 in the first half but never panicked. Neither did the fans. Both knew this team was better their faith was rewarded. I discussed this with forward Ryan Gomes on Friday. ” I think we all just believe in each other a little bit more. I think before we were all tense and all wanted to be the home run hitter and make big plays, but now we’re just waiting to see what happens. We know Al’s our go to guy, but sometimes other guys step in. Randy’s been tremendous for us, especially in the fourth quarter and Rodney and Mike Miller have been great for us. “
That patience stems from McHales, who stuck with players who would have been buried under Wittman’s doghouse in similar circumstances. Randy Foye was 5 of 16 after three quarters against New Orleans, but once again rose to the occasion in the fourth with an impressive sequence to seal the win. Leading 103-101 with less than two minutes left, Foye confidently rose from the left wing and stroked a twenty five footer to push the lead to five. Finding himself defending Peja Stojakovic after a switched screen roll , Randy refuses to fall for any fakes , matches Peja step for step and blocks his attempted fadeaway. Thirteen seconds later, Foye sank another three pointer and any hopes of a Hornets rally.
Before that second three pointer reached its apex the assisting Al Jefferson triumphantly raised both hands to assure the crowd they shouldn’t worry. Gomes says it’s no coincidence that Foye was shooting from his favorite spot on the floor. “Now we’re running sets for guys where they’re in a comfortable position. McHale has been pretty loose with that, asking us ‘Do you like it here? Do you like it there?’ and then we go off of that. Winning these games gives us more confidence because we’ve seen the results. After winning those five in a row, we’ve seen what we can do. So now when we go up against these teams, no matter what their record is or what they did last year or who they have, they’ve still got to go out there any play us. That’s how we’ve been thinking and that’s how we’ve got to keep thinking.”