The Other Side: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves' season can be divided into three parts -- the really awful Randy Wittman era, the pretty good Kevin McHale era and the really awful McHale era. The Timberwolves started the season as one of the dregs of the Western Conference, losing 23 of their first 27 games with a performance so miserable that, before Wittman was fired, Al Jefferson said divine intervention wouldn't have been able to rescue them.
Fortunately, all the Timberwolves needed was for McHale to stop making terrible draft picks and start coaching the team. Minnesota won 12 of its next 16 games, including victories over Phoenix and New Orleans. But that success was short-lived, and the Timberwolves have reverted to form. The team has lost seven of its past eight games, including the past four. Making matters worse, the Timberwolves lost Jefferson for the remainder of the season on Feb. 8 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Jefferson joins Corey Brewer, who went out with the same injury in December.
This is the first time the Timberwolves (17-34) have faced the Wizards this season and they have lost four straight games in Washington. Minnesota is 8-11 this season against Eastern Conference teams. Here's what else you need to know about the Timberwolves before they play the Wizards tonight at Verizon Center:
1. Al Jefferson Was Having a Monster Season
Jefferson, the key piece of the Kevin Garnett deal with Boston, was sidelined in the fourth quarter of a 101-97 loss to New Orleans. He had scored at least 30 points in four of his last nine games, averaging 27.2 points and 12.3 rebounds over that stretch. Jefferson (23 points, 11 rebounds) was one of just three players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season.
Despite the Timberwolves' terrible record, Jefferson had been making a strong push for the Western Conference all-star team. In his last full game of the season, Jefferson had 36 points, a career-high 22 rebounds with four assists, four steals and two blocks in a 107-90 loss to Houston. Since 1986-87, only eight players have had a game with at least 35 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. The others? Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Joe Barry Carroll. After dealing with a coaching change in December, the Timberwolves are forced to adjust again.
2. It's Kevin Love Time
In two of the past three NBA drafts, Kevin McHale selected a player then had a change of heart before hitting the pillow that night. The first time, he chose Brandon Roy then swapped him for Randy Foye, a move that likely has him saying, "Whoops!" -- especially since Roy has made two trips to the all-star game while Foye is beginning to look like a serviceable player. Last summer, McHale selected O.J. Mayo, then shipped him to Memphis for Kevin Love and Mike Miller. Mayo leads all rookies in scoring, and might lead to a double whoops, since Miller hasn't helped Minnesota much -- and could be traded at the deadline on Thursday. But Love is getting more consistent minutes under McHale and he leads all rookies in rebounding at 8.7 per game. He has had 13 double-doubles, with all but four coming under McHale. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first start in place of Jefferson last Tuesday.
3. Kevin McHale May Have Missed His Calling
McHale's blunders as an executive have been well-documented. Before this recent rough patch of poor play, McHale appeared to have the Timberwolves headed in the right direction as the team's coach. He was named Western Conference coach of the month for January after leading the team to a 10-4 record, which marked the first time Minnesota had won at least 10 games in a month since March 2005. Since taking over for Wittman, McHale has gone 13-19. He went 19-12 when he replaced Flip Saunders in 2005. McHale hates the travel involved with coaching, and while the Jefferson injury has given him an easy escape from the bench, he won't speculate about his future with the organization he has led since 1995.
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