Coachís Corner: Butch Beard on Timberwolves vs. Blazers
By Butch Beard (As told to Andrew Pearson)
For Minnesota to benefit from the trade that sent Wally Szczerbiak to Boston, Ricky Davis is going to have to continue to play the way he has been playing. The other night, he and Mark Blount played extremely well against their former team, the Boston Celtics. They played with a lot of energy and that is one of the things that the Timberwolves are looking for. They canít continue to put Kevin Garnett in a situation where he has to get 25 points and 15-18 rebounds a night and expect to win ballgames. He is going to need help, so Ricky is going to have to be that No. 2 guy and Mark hopefully will play big like he did against Boston, when he went for 16 points and 10 boards.
By dealing away Szczerbiak, the Wolves are losing a scorer and a shooter, but he isnít as athletic as Davis. When you look at the Timberwolves, theyíre trying to get a little more athletic and are trying to make that push for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. They need someone athletic to play the two or three in that conference. Ricky certainly helps the Timberwolves in that respect.
Despite their 88-82 loss to San Antonio the other night, the Blazers feel like theyíre heading in the right direction. Why? Because of their guard play. With Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, two Maryland players who took the Terps to a championship and know each other extremely well, the Blazers have played a lot better, winning six of their last 10. Zach Randolph is a key to them with the way the roster is put together. He has to be consistent every night and give them numbers. I am pretty sure that Nate McMillan is looking for one guy out of his roster that he can count on night in and night out to lead his ballclub or go to for big plays.
When you look at the roster, they have four young guards in Dixon, Sebastian Telfair, Jarrett Jack and Blake. You have 48 minutes to split with each one of those guys and theyíre all unique in their own little way. I would dare say that because Telfair is so young, and the fact that he scored a lot in high school, that he is learning to be a point guard. You have Jack, who did a tremendous job at Georgia Tech running that ballclub down there, but is learning the NBA game. On the other side you have Dixon who is really a two guard, but a small two guard who can score. With that said, he is always a defensive threat and is in the passing lanes all the time. Then you have Blake, who is a point guard and a fairly decent defensive player that can really push the ball. So you have four different, distinct young players that I am pretty sure Nate is trying to give minutes to while also evaluating which two play the best together.
For the Blazers, it has to be those four young guards. They have to set a tempo that is comfortable for the ballclub and make sure that Randolph gets the ball where he can score. Playing with a lot of passion and energy is key for this ballclub. At home they sometimes play with energy, but on the road they donít always bring the same level of intensity. When youíre young you have your days when you are filled with energy and others when you arenít. They must have energy in order to stay in games from here on in through the second half of the season. The growth of the guards is very important to the future of the Blazers.
For Minnesota, itís very simple. They have to give Kevin Garnett help. Ricky has to come and be the No. 2 scorer. When you look at their roster, I donít know about their guard play night in and night out. I donít know how they are going to get a point guard who can get them into their offense, which is always a big key. Kevin canít do it all. The Big Ticket is still the Big Ticket, but he canít stamp every ticket if you know what I mean. With that in mind, they are still looking for a No. 2 and 3 scorer. They had a No. 2 scorer in Szczerbiak, but he wasnít happy, and I think they want to be a little more athletic. Weíll see more as the season goes along how athletic Coach Dwane Casey wants to be with this ballclub.
Itís a big game for both teams. No. 1, it is a big game for the Wolves to try to inch closer to that .500 mark. Itís a big game for the Blazers when you look at their standing in the conference. At 16-28, theyíre five games behind Minnesota in the standings. It is going to be a two-game swing one way or the other in their division. It is more important to Minnesota to get to .500 and try to get as close to that eighth spot before the All-Star break and then go from there. Every game the rest of the season for Minnesota becomes almost like a playoff game. Garnett and the Wolves hope that the NBA will be punching their ticket to the postseason come April.
-- Butch Beard appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association.