Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Wolves in deep funk

Having started out as one of the preseason favourites for the NBA Championship, no less, the Minnesota Timberwolves are no looking at having to dig deep just to make the playoffs. And they can't take that for granted either, given that the rapidly improving Grizzlies and the currently underachieving Rockets are snapping at their heels. Last night's game against the Lakers typified the problems that the Wolves have had recently, when they let a 16-point lead slip away. Playing with an almost unchanged roster from last years' conference finals, the Wolves failed to beat the struggling Lakers at Target Center - one would have expected them to win the season series pretty handily given the Lakers' own problems. Instead, they managed to lose for the eigth time in the last 10 games, a period in which they have been giving up more than 101 points per game and shooting 30% from outside the perimeter. Not something one would expect from a championship contending team. The most worrying aspect is the seeming inability to defend the pick and roll or at the perimeter and opposition stats reflect that. The defensive problems seem to be only one of the various issues that the Wolves have to contend with. There is discontent brewing over within the team over the composition of the staring line up as well as contracts, in particular concerning Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Cassell and Sprewell helped Minnesota get over the playoff first round hump last year on their seventh attempt and brought their experience and savvy to a team much in need. One would like to think that as experienced as they are, these two are professional enough to go out and do their best despite the contract issues. But the team chemistry and lack of intensity right now suggest otherwise, although to be fair Sprewell has been dogged by injury and Cassell seems to getting back to his best recently. Szczerbiak's problems on the defensive side are well documented, but he's been the second most consistent player on the team for a while and hopefully all the talk about Isiah Thomas luring him away to New York are just rumours. In the midst of the turmoil around him, Kevin Garnett has been having another MVP type season, but given Minnesota's struggles, an encore looks unlikely. - NK

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