April 19, 2004

Trees falling in front of no one and jumpers raining on everyone

I am finding it increasingly difficult to comment on the Twins. The most obvious factor is that I am unable to watch their games on TV, as the Victory Sports saga continues. In addition to that, the fact that I am able to watch just about every other team whenever I want has caused me to, in some way, lose interest in the Twins.

I am still obsessed with them, don't get me wrong. But if you can watch the Giants and the A's and the Red Sox and the Yankees and whatever other teams you feel like watching, and you can watch them whenever the heck you want to, doesn't it just stand to reason that you'd find yourself less and less interested in the one team you can't watch?

Of course, despite not being seen by me or anyone else, the Twins are playing very well. They swept the Royals and are currently tied for first place with the White Sox. But really, how much can I say about them if I didn't see the games?

It appears as though Johan Santana pitched better (and more like himself) than he did in his first two starts of the year, but it was far from a good performance. He gave up three homers and a total of six runs. I'm only slightly less worried about Santana than I was last week.

Doug Mientkiewicz returned from his ankle sprain and continued right where he left off offensively. Luis Rivas, as he always does, hit like a real, live, major league-caliber player against Kansas City. Lew Ford is doing extremely well in place of Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones is hot, and Shannon Stewart is getting on base like crazy. Actually, the entire offense has been pretty incredible thus far.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, is pretty much a mess, aside from Radke's good performance last week. Instead of trying to discuss the Twins by looking at their boxscores though, I'd like to talk a little about a team I was able to watch -- the Timberwolves.

Last night's win over Denver may not seem like a big one, but it was. For the first time in the franchise's history, the Wolves won the opening game of a playoff series. They had been 0-for-7 coming into the game.

The game was an example of how easy winning can be in the NBA if you play the right way and execute offensively. The Wolves essentially were a two-man team last night (as they have been for much of the season), similar to what the Utah Jazz were with Stockton and Malone in their primes.

They ran pick-and-roll the whole night with Sam Cassell and Kevin Garnett. The Nuggets, for the most part, left Cassell open and he was absolutely amazing, scoring 40 points on 16-for-24 shooting. Garnett wasn't too bad himself, chipping in 30 points and 20 rebounds, along with four assists.

Aside from the opening of the first quarter and a stretch at the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth, the Wolves played extremely good defense and did a great job rebounding the basketball. They finished the game +13 on the boards and had an amazing 18 offensive rebounds.

The Wolves were far from perfect, of course. Still, the formula for last night's success is one that I think can work throughout the post-season. Cassell obviously won't be going for 40 every night, but they should also be able to count on some better offense from Latrell Sprewell (2-for-11 last night) and/or Wally Szczerbiak (3-for-8) at various points along the way.

As for Garnett, his numbers were gaudy, but he didn't play particularly well, at least not by his standards. He's quite capable of duplicating last night's performance throughout the post-season, which is why he's the MVP of the league, obviously. He is one of the best defensive rebounders in NBA history and, while his jumper wasn't falling a whole lot last night, he was far more aggressive than usual inside.

The Wolves currently have the best player in the league and, arguably, the best point guard in the league. Or at least the best scoring point guard in the league. They also have an offensive system that relies upon the pick-and-roll a ton, which makes Garnett and Cassell a deadly combination.

It's almost exactly the same attack Utah had so much success with for so many years, except Cassell is far more deadly than Stockton when it comes to looking for his own shot. The man just does not miss when he's open. And I'm not talking about spot-up-shooter-in-the-corner open either. If you literally hesitate to step out on him for one second, he'll bury the jumper on you every single time.

I've never seen a better, more consistent mid-range, off-the-dribble jump shooter than Sam Cassell and, as he showed last night, he's quite capable of extending that touch to beyond the three-point line.

Everyone has been talking about Minnesota's "Big Three" this entire season, but that's simply a lie. Latrell Sprewell has been incredibly inconsistent all year and his overall performance isn't even in the same universe as Cassell's or Garnett's.

Check out just how dominant Minnesota's "Big Two" was last night:

                  FGM     FGA      FG%     PTS     REB

KG & Sam 29 54 53.7 70 23
Everyone Else 11 33 33.3 36 25

The basic idea behind this team is quite simple.

Ervin Johnson and Trenton Hassell play tough defense and don't take any bad shots. Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi come off the bench and play offense. Latrell Sprewell tries to find shots for himself while providing a huge spark offensively once every third game or so. And Garnett and Cassell simply kill you with pick-and-rolls, while raining mid-range jumpers all night long.

For the first time ever, I feel like the Timberwolves should win a series. It's an interesting feeling, and one I expect to continue to have throughout their playoff run.

New article at The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (April 19, 2004)

Today's picks:

Montreal (Ohka) +150 over New York (Yates)

Oakland (Redman) +130 over Seattle (Garcia)

Total to date: $485

W/L record: 16-16 (1-3 on Friday for -235. Ouch.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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