On the opening night of March Madness the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings played a game of their own. The game was not televised which in this rare case worked out better for me. Despite not being able to hear the great Jim Petersen call the game, I could watch the Wolves on my laptop while simultaneously watching UNLV complete the destruction of my bracket that Oklahoma State began a few hours earlier. (NOTE TO SELF: Never again use “Which teams have projected lottery picks?” as the only deciding factor when picking teams.)
In the dregs of a lottery-bound season it’s tough to get analytical about a 3-point loss at Sacramento. Pekovic dominated the opening minutes of the game, and slowed down after that. He finished with a respectable 18 and 12. D-Thrill had 12 points, but on 16 shots. Ricky had 9 assists to just 1 turnover, with many of those assists coming from pick-and-rolls where he’d do that patented look-away before finding Pek right under the rim for an easy two. Ricky struggled with his shot last night, going just 4 for 13 from the floor and looking pretty shaky on the 3 treys he put up. Oh, and speaking of poor shooting: The Wolves outdid themselves last night going a mind-blowing 1 for 19 from downtown. The only make? Chase Budinger who returned from his extended absence following knee surgery. Perhaps one thing we can expect in the season’s final weeks is Budinger catching kickout passes and converting treys.
Three Kings (!) turned in nice performances to seal their win. Isaiah Thomas had 24 points and 6 assists, and bothered the Wolves with his quickness and speed in transition. DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 14 boards. And Tyreke Evans looked like his Rookie of the Year self, carving up the lane to the tune of 21 points (on 8-11 shooting) and 5 assists. On a night when the Wolves couldn’t make a jump shot, these performances carried the day.
A few bullets:
* The downside to losing these games is obvious and noted. But there is the improved draft position that’s worth paying some attention to, too. Last night’s loss bumped the Wolves from the 9 spot to the projected 7th Pick in the upcoming draft. Numbers 3 through 11 are separated by just 4 games. The Wolves could fall anywhere in that range.
* Speaking of the draft, I enjoyed this Grantland post by Mark Titus about NBA fans watching the NCAA Tournament for draft scouting. I’ve talked myself into hopping aboard the Anthony Bennett Bandwagon (unfortunately that ride ruined my brackets) but it’s probably not likely the Wolves draft and keep him, what with Love, Williams and Cunningham having that position filled 3 times over. Tonight, the sad Gopher fans among us will get a look at Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA. Given the Wolves’ dearth of quality wings, Shabazz is one to keep an eye on.
* Also speaking of the draft and college basketball, this time of year in NBA circles inevitably leads to discussions of the Evil NCAA, unpaid labor and what we think is best for talented teens. As part of my “Breaks” Running Diary, I have to share one about former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell’s recruiting of Moses Malone (who of course was the first player to jump directly to the pros). According to Halberstam, Driesell had developed a reputation for successfully recruiting talent with a used car salesman style, focused on pitching the sanctity of the college experience to recruits’ mothers. Moses Malone had committed to Maryland before the Utah Stars ABA franchise stepped in with the outrageous idea that he could play professionally and (gulp) skip college. Malone took the idea seriously, which stressed out Driesell to no end and the heat was on.
In all of this [ABA scout] Morris Buckwalter kept a close eye on Moses Malone. Then he had a sudden epiphany: all the visitors in the room were white and believed that Moses, because he was young, black and silent, was dumb. But Moses, Buckwalter was convinced, was not dumb; he understood more clearly than anyone else what was happening. He had at so precocious an age broken the commercial code of America in general and basketball in particular. The code was simple: the more that all these white strangers said they were going to do for you, the more, in fact, you were expected to do for them. This meant they could be made to do even more for you. Moses understood this, Buckwalter believed, and was enjoying it. That made it easier for him, for Moses clearly knew the rules, and the battle was fairer.
The best comes after Malone told Driesell that he was going to the pros and not the University of Maryland:
[Driesell was] distraught, [quoting] at length from the Bible and told Malone, “The Good Lord won’t mind you waiting for a year or two.” He talked more about the Bible and Moses’s responsibility. “Stop jivin’ me, Coach.” Malone said, and the battle was over.
* In case you missed it, I fielded some Wolves and NBA questions yesterday on Wolves Live Weekly. Go check it out, and just ignore the part where I named UNLV as a good sleeper pick for this year’s tourney.
Season Record: 23-43