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Will the Wolves Ever Beat Boston?

Paul Pierce is still a potent threat for Boston

Paul Pierce is still a potent threat for Boston

Our Twolves play the Celtics tonight in Boston, my former home. I’ll be rooting for the Wolves, of course, but the Celtics are one of my favorite sideshows in the League, given not only that I lived in Boston for two years and followed the team closely, but also that they (still) have KG.

Speaking of KG: Garnett’s role remains in dispute, but still, the Celtics have beaten the Wolves pretty much ever since we dealt KG to Boston.

A bunch of tidbits below the fold:
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“Whatever I need to do, I’m gonna do it.” – [0:50]

(Unless it requires a modicum of effort.) #smh

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INBOX: The Trade Speculation Edition

An impossible dream?

 

Q: How about this: Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic for Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza? The Wolves need a shooting guard. Pek is playing out of his mind. Williams still has the reputation value of a #2 pick. Gordon is pissed about being traded to New Orleans and has only played 2 games this year, with a “knee contusion” that wasn’t really a contusion. He’s probably not even injured. Trade machine says it’d be legal. Why don’t both teams help themselves and do this deal?

- Andy G

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Pacing the Competition (Pacers 109, WOLVES 99)

So, the Wolves lost last night to the Pacers 109-99 (box score). What did we learn? For one thing, the Pacers are good. Really good. Maybe the 3rd best team in the East, depending on what you think about the Sixers, Hawks, and Magic. A lot of words have been typed about the Sixers resurgence, and while they’re playing great, I like Indiana better from top to bottom. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, they play hard, and their pieces fit together nicely. They were 14-6 coming into last night’s game, but the buzz around the game made it feel like the Wolves should be the favorite. The bad loss was a painful reality check that should  remind the Wolves that progress does not a good team make.

A few bullets:

* The Wolves throw away minutes when they start Wes and Darko. Both started; each played 18 minutes.  Wes went 2-6 with 2 turnovers and a (-12). Darko was 2-9 with 2 turnovers and a (-15).  Yes, +/- is a slippery metric for single-game performance. But look at their season stats. They’re entirely consistent with both the horrendous efforts we saw last night and what we’ve seen with our own eyes all season. Adelman must see it too, right? A combined 4 for 15 with 4 turnovers and (-27) is hardly an uncommon line for these two. Playing either of them, let alone both, is really hurting the team.

* More Wes/Darko: It’s even more frustrating and confounding that they got those minutes last night since Adelman had a fuller squad at his disposal. I get that Hibbert and Granger/George look like matchup problems for Pek/AR and Beasley/Williams, respectively. But all three of those Pacers pretty much did what they want against Darko and Wes. Why not counter with Williams and Beasley and initiate matchup problems for IND? Last night was a tactical #fail for Adelman, his first and hopefully last of the season.

* Speaking of Paul George: He MIGHT be better than Wes. PG ended up in foul trouble, but when he was out there… whoa. He did it all. For starters, he defended Rubio as well as anyone this season; he also hit an impressive variety of shots, going 4-6 on fadeaways, threes, drives, etc. You name it, it’s in George’s arsenal. But that’s not all: George rebounds and can block shots too. For the night, he was +14 in just 19 minutes of action.

* The Pacers: I don’t want this to turn into a “__________ are so good” sort of discussion that was so common the last few seasons, when every Wolves drumming left us feeling like our opponent was just THAT GOOD… but as I said at the top of the post, the Pacers are pretty damn good. Granger won’t always light it up on this scale–he went for 36–but his 9-19 shooting wasn’t way outside his norm either.  Granger made some perimeter shots, carved up the Wolves D, and drew all kinds of fouls in the process.

* The Pacers got momentum after Granger picked up a tech in the third for a pushing match with Love.  The two took it outside, 21st century style–which of course involves Twitter. Love dissed Indy in the post-game interviews, and Danny took it to Twitter. They may be questioning each other’s MASCULINITY through SMS as I write this.

* Roy Hibbert: He’s really good. Hibbert scored easily on Darko (6-9 for 15 points) and showed off a variety of nice moves with his back to the basket. For a 7’2″ player, Hibbert has good footwork and surprising athleticism.  In a league largely devoid of star post players, Hibbert could make an All-Star team before he’s done.

What were your takeaways from this one?

Wolves record: 10-12

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by | February 2, 2012 · 11:56 AM

Spurred to Victory (WOLVES 87, Spurs 79)

The Wolves continued their strong play against Texas this season (*ahem*, Houston–I know) with an 87-79 victory over the San Antonio at Target Center. Love had a workman-like 18 & 16, while Rubio put up 18 & 10 on 7-12 from the floor.

The Wolves were the better team tonight. It showed. They owned it. It was the first game this season against against an upper-tier team where the players knew it was theirs to lose. And they won.

Andy G captured it best in a POST-GAME TWEET.

Yes, there was sloppy play, unforced errors, and plenty of potentially costly mistakes, but the Wolves finally looked and played like they were vets who had been there before, like they knew they had the situation handled. Their calm, cool, confidence, combined with execution when they needed it, that put Duncan & co. away and sealed the deal for the Pups.

***

A few quick thoughts:

  • CORRELATION OR CAUSATION: Darko was out, Pek played like the legit NBA big we were expecting when we drafted him, and the Love/Pek duo gave Duncan/Splitter/Blair fits on the glass. Seriously, Pek has been showing signs recently–signs of doing things we’d all written off. Small sample, for sure, but is this guy finally coming around? What should the rotations look like if he is?
  • It was great to see Mike Beasley back on the court. I’m an unapologetic Beasley fan who really believes Mike will help this team once he settles into Adelman’s system. That wasn’t happening from the bench. Beasley only shot 3-11 and definitely showed some rust, but he looked healthy and attacked the basket hard. We can’t get enough of that from him and Derrick Williams, both of whom will start getting more calls as the team wins more and begins to earn respect around the league.
  • It was great to see Martell Webster back on the court. I wish I could be as optimistic about Webster as I am about Beasley, but he just doesn’t look healthy. Back injuries tend to linger, and they really hinder lateral mobility. Case in point, Martell’s gimpy jog around the perimeter didn’t inspire confidence. He has, er, unique hair and he stuck a nice trey with a hand in his face during his brief run tonight, but I’ll be surprised if he’ll be healthy enough to take Wes Johnson’s minutes at any point this season. Here’s hoping I’m wrong on this one.

That’s all for now folks. It’s Friday night and I’m gonna go get my fun on.

Season Record: 9-10

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The Sixty Million Dollar Man (Wolves 105, MAVERICKS 90)

After penning his name on a gigantic four-year contract extension (approximately $62 Million over 4 years, with player option after third year) Kevin Love went out and played a near-perfect game of basketball against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.  Spearheading a dominant second half for his team (53-36) Love posted 31 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks without any of the disruptive, gimmicky tactics that I whined so much about the other night.  Love shot 6 treys and hit 4 of them, he played hard defense all over the floor (not his type of matchup when Yi draws him outside the paint) and provided the uber-efficient productivity that makes him special.  One game in, Love looks well-worth the dough.

Beating Dallas at its home court is a bit less (okay, WAY LESS) impressive when Dirk is on the sidelines with a knee injury.  The Mavs started this game with some red-hot shooting, particularly from Jasons Kidd and Terry, Yi Jianlian, and Rodrique Beaubois.  I wondered whether the Wolves (shorthanded themselves without Ridnour, Barea, Beasley, Webster, Miller, and Lee) would have enough legs to ramp up the defensive pressure and hang in this game.

They did.  Rubio in particular was relentless in attacking the defense, staving off defensive pressure, and constantly seeking out steal opportunities (4 times successfully) for 46 crucial minutes of point guard play.  Only for a short two-minute stint of Wayne at the point did Ricky get a breather.

My one problem with Rubio’s game (no, not his 7 turnovers; those are part of the package for this type of playmaker) is that he shot too much.  His jumper is quickly molding into its Euro League form, with his field goal percentage now plummeted to 38.6.  He shot 4 of 16 from the floor, tonight.  On too many possessions, Rubio’s first decision was to penetrate the lane and look for his own shot.  It wasn’t working for him tonight.  His overall efficiency (17 points on 16 shots) was partially saved by an ability to draw fouls (8-9 FT’s) that is second only to Love on this team.  Ricky stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals.  Triple doubles are in this kid’s future.

A road win is a good win, especially with the Spurs and Lakers on the horizon.  Additional jottings:

* I lobbied for Anthony Randolph to take the center minutes from Darko and Pekovic.  Rick Adelman disagrees, obviously, because Randolph played 9 minutes tonight, while Darko and Pek combined for 44.  Darko had an efficient 8 points, 7 rebounds and a whopping 7 blocks in 24 minutes.  Pekovic shot 4 for 5, for 13 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes.  Randolph?  The only Wolf in the minus column (-5) with a 1 for 4 shooting night.  Perhaps Coach knows what he’s doing.

* Lamar Odom looks horrible.  He is notoriously inconsistent, but tonight looked cranky, out of shape, and not at all ready for an NBA basketball game.  As he has done throughout his career, he took the bait on jump shot opportunities, and put together a 2 for 14 shooting performance in just 16 minutes of action.  Mavs fans must miss them some Tyson Chandler.

* Solid game for Derrick Williams.  He is not a small forward–that much should be obvious by now–but on plays when Rubio was cycling the half court with the ball, D-Thrill found opportunities to dive in the paint.  He was rewarded with Rubio passes and easy hoops were had.  On one instance, it was Rubio-to-Williams-to-Darko without the ball touching the floor.  On another, Williams finished it off himself.  10 points (4-7 shooting), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 0 turnovers in 25 minutes is good work for a rookie playing out of position.

Season Record: 8-10

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Revenge of the Iron Ranger (Rockets 107, WOLVES 92)

Kevin McHale (Photo: The Chronicle, Thomas B. Shea)

For a recap of tonight’s one-sided loss to the Houston Rockets, click here.

For even more detail, click on any number of the excellent blogs in the right column.

For some observations, questions, and ramblings from a frustrated fan who sat through the entire game, see the following.

***

McHale’s Rockets

Kevin McHale’s Rockets are now 10-7. If the season ended as I write this, they’d be the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

One season ago, the Rockets were not a playoff team under the Wolves’ heralded coach, Rick Adelman.

No knock on Adelman. But Kevin McHale might be a decent coach.

McHale’s squad oozes confidence like his Wolves teams did in that middle part of the 2008-09 season, post-Wittman, pre-Jefferson injury.  For an entire month, Mac led that talentless group to the best record in the NBA–not too shabby.

Kyle Lowry is playing particularly well under McHale. Kyle messed around and got a triple-double against the Wolves, dropping 16, 10, and 10 and giving Ricky Rubio fits in the process. You could say he had a Good Day (NSFW depending on where you W).

Kevin Martin versus Wayne Ellington

Did I ever think I’d miss Wesley Johnson?

No. I’ve spent most of the season wondering how much better the Wolves would be without him.

I’m trying to square that with what happened tonight, when dream became reality.

Wayne had an EMBARRASSING night. Martin ran him off of screens, spun him in circles, drew fouls, and buried jump shots. All. Night. Long.

K-Mart had 21 at the half and made it look oh-so-easy.  Parents with aspiring ballplayer kids should have them watch Martin move without the ball.  Just don’t let them watch him shoot–that unconventional and ugly stroke works for one guy and one guy only.

Kevin Love (the good)

K-Love was 5 for 5 from downtown tonight.  He had 39 points. He shot 13 for 19.  Love should shoot as many threes as he possibly can.

In fact, Love should emulate the one PF in the league who gives him matchup problems–Ryan Anderson.  Anderson is shooting 9.1 3PA’s per 36 minutes (compared to Love’s 4.7), and rocks a 24.9 PER.  Not bad for the 21st Pick in the 2008 Draft.  Love’s foul-drawing and rebounding are huge parts of his game, but he is noticeably-hesitant to pull the trigger on 3s. Not as much in tonight’s game, and 39 points later, I hope he builds on a great scoring night.

Kevin Love (the bad)

I won’t lie: I hate the way Kevin Love tries to draw most of his fouls.  He isn’t making basketball plays. He’s wrestling–sometimes without any hope for a real play–and he gasps in disbelief when refs DARE not to call a foul. Meanwhile, the other team is often running out for a secondary or primary break.

There are good ways to draw fouls.  LeBron James ATTACKS when he draws fouls. If a foul isn’t called, a shot goes up that might actually go in.  He might dunk over somebody.  He might find a shooter for three.

But when Love’s antics don’t work, at best he retains his balance and finds a playmaker like Anthony Tolliver or Wayne Ellington with 4 on the shot clock.

Good luck. With that.

Love is already getting star treatment from the stripes at an early age, and this is good for the team in the broader scheme of things. But this is my subjective pet peeve about how the game should be played.  It isn’t fun to watch and it should be increasingly ineffective if rule changes are enforced.

Derrick Williams Starts! (At the wrong position…)

Wes Johnson was sick, so D-Thrill started.  Thrill got 37 minutes, but went long stretches in the 3rd without touching the ball.  He played outside the three point line for much of the night. His 11-point, 7-rebound, 4-turnover performance (3-9 shooting, 5-8 FT’s) was not a success.  He was fouled at least twice (making real basketball plays while going extremely STRONG to the cup) without a whistle.  Thrill’s a scoring power forward. Where does he fit? (NOT rhetorical.)

A couple other thoughts on Williams:

*His free-throw shooting has been problematic–65 percent is unsatisfactory for a player as skilled as Williams.

*Adelman should work to incorporate Thrill’s interior game with Love’s perimeter game. It’s obvious that this is where each guy has the most to offer offensively.

Auditioning for Centers

Adelman stuck Anthony Randolph out there, after an extended, non-injury-related leave of absence the previous two games.  In 11 minutes, AR15 chipped in 9 points (4-8 FG, 1-1 FT) and 5 rebounds.

For various reasons, most notably that he fits in better with Rubio’s passing skills, I’d like to see Randolph take ALL of the Darko and Pekovic minutes.

Sure, those guys are heavier and will defend certain players better than Randolph.  But Randolph will finish plays that should be finished, he can get his shot against anybody, and he is an aggressive rebounder.

Heading into tonight’s game, he was third on the team in points per 36 minutes (17.2) and second in FG% (52.0) (to be fair, Pek leads at a mighty 60.7).

Randolph will have his moments when he self-combusts and needs a break. But so do Darko and Pek. Randolph is the least-bad option at center right now and the harm in giving the most-talented of the three more minutes is unknown to me.

Let’s hope for a better one on Wednesday at Dallas.  The champs are playing better than they were early in the season when the Wolves thumped them at Target Center.

Season Record: 7-10

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Love-Griffin I (Wolves 101, CLIPPERS 98)

K-Love after the game winner

The Game

Darko Milicic opened this contest with a jump hook that gave his Wolves a 2-0 lead over the Clips. (Darko played great the whole contest, by the way.)  But this lead would be the only one the Wolves enjoyed until Kevin Love sank an open 28-footer as the buzzer sounded.  Narrowly edging out his friend and rival, Blake Griffin, Love capped a rather-amazing comeback for his team on a night when baskets were all-too-difficult to come by.  Ricky Rubio in particular (1-11 FGM-A, 9 points) couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and looked as rattled as we have seen him in an NBA uniform.  But as everyone noted after the game, his competitive fire never waned and his playmaking and free-throw shooting were crucial to the victory.  Immediately before Love’s heroics, Ricky tied the game with a corner trey.  After missing all ten of his field goals to that point, he didn’t hesitate for a second in taking and making the big shot.  For all of his struggles, Rubio was a (+2) for the game; the only starter in the positives.

But enough about Rubio for now. This game was built up by the talking heads as a matchup of the league’s best power forwards–LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki may have things to say about this, but whatever, we’re going with it–who thrive even though they could hardly differ more in terms of their length and athleticism. In the early going, Blake struggled to score against his bigger defender, Darko. He resorted to jump shots, clanking almost every time.  As the game progressed, Blake showed some smarts, challenging Darko with spin moves and up fakes. He finished the game with a respectable 21 & 11, but his 5 turnovers were excessive and his missed pair of free throws with a minute to go (Darko fouled out respectably, corralling Blake to prevent the basket and putting the lid on his most-productive performance of the year – 22 points and 7 rebounds) proved to be fatal. Love had an equally-mediocre game by his own high standards, until of course, the buzzer-beating dagger.  He shot 5-16 from the floor, but grinded out a 17-point, 14-rebound, 3-assist, and 0-turnover stat sheet.  I would call the individual matchup (even though they didn’t guard one another, we’re calling this a matchup) a wash, except that Blake choked at the line, and Love was the hero in the end.  Love wins this one.

The Bench

Look at the box score, and you’ll notice that the bench has the big pluses in the +/- column.  Derrick Williams in particular stands out, as he chipped in 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 14 minutes of action.  The Wolves were a whopping (+17) in that short bit of time while D-Thrill was wreaking havoc.  He showed off the move I’ve been clamoring for more of: that 15-17 foot jab step dribble drive.  Amar’e and Bosh use that all the time and Williams has that type of athleticism and dribbling ability. He did it in college and it worked for him tonight and I hope to see more of this in the future.  Given that the Wolves are searching for offensive proficiency in Michael Beasley’s absence, I have been disappointed to see Williams’ minutes cut.

Wayne Ellington continues to bury jumpers at a nice rate (6-9 FG; 1-2 3PT).  Wellington comes off a pick and fires like Rex Chapman or Eddie House.  Is this a sustainable way to produce?  Maybe; maybe not.  But as a limited reserve, there are worse things than a quality chucker.  Thirteen games in, Wayne’s field goal percentage is up from his career average (41.8 percent career; 46.3 percent this season).  Some of that is attributable to Rubio setting him up better than Flynn (ya think?) or Ridnour could in seasons past.

Anthony Tolliver didn’t play his best game, and here’s why: he forgot what his role is.  I think Hubie Brown (who was awesome, by the way–who doesn’t like color commentary in the second-person?) pointed this out, but Tolliver needs to shoot the ball when he’s open.  (So does Wes Johnson, but I’ve given up hope, there.)  Tolliver has seemed to understand his role in the offense better than most players and has hit huge treys off of Rubio dimes.  In this game, he put it on the floor too much and, as often happens for him, he turned the ball over.  A player of this type should not have 3 turnovers in an entire game’s work, let alone 19 minutes.  He was the only bench player in the minus column, with a (-4).

The Clips

The elephant in the room is that the Clippers were without Chris Paul (and Caron Butler, but Gomes did just fine replacing Tuff Juice).  Chauncey Billups thinks it’s 2004 and this is a problem for Lob City.  As Mo Williams showed the world last night (25 points), he is actually a good basketball player.  Billups relies almost exclusively on trying to draw fouls and doesn’t pose the same threat that he used to as a playmaker.  When Williams was ejected (two separate technical fouls, almost-definitely swung the game’s outcome) Billups put on his hero cape and came up short with turnovers and missed shots.  In my opinion, the Clippers would benefit from ditching Billups and running with Paul and Williams for the bulk of minutes, and some Randy Foye mixed in as a change-of-pace reserve.

Oh, DeAndre Jordan.  It was almost comical watching the little Wolves trying to shoot over this guy.  Ridnour hit a floater that must have gone 15 feet in the air, and DJ damn-near got a hand on it at its peak.  Jordan is worthless offensively, but his defensive impact is obvious on a single viewing.  In case you forgot how bad Kevin McHale was at drafting players, he passed on Jordan with the 31st (Pekovic) and 34th (Mario Chalmers, traded to Heat) picks in the 2008 Draft.  Can you imagine walking away from that draft with Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan?  I digress.

Looking Ahead (a few hours)

Wolves travel to Salt Lake tonight where they’ll face a seemingly-improved Jazz team (9-5, but against a relatively-easy schedule so far) led by an old favorite of my own, Al Jefferson.  Big Al is leading the Jazz in points (18.3) and rebounds (9.2) per game, but is hardly the focal point that he once was on some terrible Wolves teams.  EnergySolutions Arena (the Delta Center was so much easier to say) is a tough place to leave victorious.  The Jazz rested last night and the Wolves will have their hands full.  In the interest of getting way ahead of ourselves, if the Wolves want that eighth playoff spot in the West, Utah would probably be the team they’d displace.

Season Record: 7-8

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Pistons Preview

Photo by Getty Images

The Wolves should win easily tonight against the Pistons, but Monday’s ugly win over SAC illustrates that you can’t take anything for granted.

What I’m most interested in about tonight’s game is Adelman’s rotations. What adjustments should he make?

Here’s what I think we’ll see:

Wes Johnson: For the first time this season, Adelman was praised Monday for giving Wes extended minutes against SAC, mostly because he did an effective job against Kings hired scorer John Salmons. With Webster still out and the Wolves facing Tayshaun Prince, another long three, look for Wes to get over 30 minutes no matter how bad he shoots.

Darko: The Wolves will need Good Darko to come out tonight, at least on the defensive end of the floor, because Pistons big man Greg Monroe is their best player and is emerging rapidly as a BIG headache for opposing defenses. Monroe’s finesse game and footwork would get Pekovic into foul trouble in a hurry, so look for Darko to play a lot of minutes tonight–closer to 30-35 minutes than 21-22, which he tends to get against smaller teams.

J.J. Barea: J.J. is due back from injury tonight, and it’s a good game to have him return for: Pistons SG Ben Gordon is ridiculously strong and won’t be the easier cover for Ridnour. With Rubio presumably committed to guarding Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, J.J.’s strength could be a huge factor in keeping Gordon from getting the looks he wants.

What else? K-Love should own Jerebko. Love has been logging a lot of long minutes, so if the Wolves get ahead, maybe Adelman can get Anthony Randolph or Derrick Williams some time tonight.

Enjoy the tilt.

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Buzz Kill (Wolves 87, Hornets 80)

An ugly win


The Wolves eked out an 87-80 win Friday night over the Hornets. There were no two ways about this one: it was either going to be a much-needed win or a bad loss against an already sub-par Hornets team whose best player, Eric Gordon, was out with an injury.

The Wolves were shorthanded. J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley stayed in Minneapolis. Martell Webster won’t be available for a few weeks. Or a few months. Or maybe never. Any could be true. Martell might not even know. Adelman leaned heavily on Ridnour at the two (not ideal), Johnson at the three (bad), and Rubio at the point (good). Rubio started (good) and played 44 minutes (good). Johnson played 34 minutes and Tolliver and Williams only 16 apiece (bad)

The victory was ugly. No one could get shots. Rubio served them on a silver platter. Teammates sometimes converted, often didn’t. His 9 assists should’ve been closer to 20. Johnson shot 1-8 from distance. Darko couldn’t catch. The Wolves won’t win many playing like this.

Love got to the line 18 times–the same number of attempts as the entire Nola squad. He made 17. His final line read 34 & 17. Yawn.

Love’s production is appreciated, don’t get me wrong. But against the Hornets, his numb#rs were lower-quality than in his other big games earlier in the season. He looked tired. He wasn’t closing out on D. He won’t get 18 throws every game.

Adelman needs to keep him fresh. Incorporating Williams and Tolliver and Randolph more would be a starting place. They play power forward too.

The takeaway is simple: no Rubio, no win. Love would’ve had about the same line with or without him. But no one else would’ve been able to get buckets. Like last season, after Beasley hurt his ankle. Adelman not only played Ricky a lot, he started him. That’s progress.

Let’s hope he tries to build on that progress tonight in Atlanta. Take baby steps.

Distributing Johnson’s minutes between Tolliver and Williams would be a start.

Or get really wild and crazy. Give 12 or 13 of Darko’s minutes to Randolph. He’s way better.

It’s staggering how much better we are when Randolph and Tolliver are on the floor and how much worse we are when Darko and Johnson are on the floor.

Hit us up in the comments.

Until next time.

Season Record: 4-7

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