Blaming the refs usually is the last vestige of the clueless and a certain indicator of denial, but I have to say it. The Wolves was robbed. When Gary Neal kicks his leg out during follow through and clips Wesley Johnson, it shouldn’t be chalked up as a “rookie mistake” by Wes, but a bad call. It can’t be taken back, but it should at least be acknowledged.Right?
We all know that the NBA rule book is little more than a series of suggestions and those rules vary wildly dependent on the circumstance. Amongst others, there’s star calls, rookie calls and most notably last second calls (or non-calls). A rookie rewarded with three free throws after a desperate heave (on the road, no less) is unquestionably a deviation from the norm. Neal missed and the game should’ve essentially been over, along with San Antonio’s 11 game winning streak.
Instead, we got overtime and ten seconds into that, the Wolves was robbed again.
I can’t believe I’m even saying this given his play over the past few weeks-not to say anything of his play over the past several years-but if Darko Milicic doesn’t foul out of that game, Minnesota wins. Crazy, right? But don’t believe me, or your own lyin’ eyes, take it from a pro. I asked Greg Poppovich about Darko’s latest shocker postgame.
“Not just tonight, he’s been playing…One of our guys said after the game ‘Jesus, was that Kareem out there or what?’ It’s the truth. One of the coaches said that walking in here. He played with with confidence, he shot good shots, he had patience, he waited for cutters, looked at the spacing, he just looks like he’s playing much smarter. Obviously it helped for his team big time.”
And with that, we are officially treading on what may be the most unstable ground there is: more responsibility for Darko Milicic. Of course we’re working with a relatively small sample size, but considering his most recent opponents (Lakers, Thunder & Spurs) we have more than enough to get all giddy. For it seems our young man has found a comfort zone. Earlier in the season he struggled with everything; two steps slow on defense, woefully unaware on offense and virtual impotence when stationed further than a foot from the basket. Now? We’re seeing it all; blocked shots, intuitive help defense, running hooks, behind the back passes, a sound knowledge of the offense and even the occasional killer crossover.
What was a liability two weeks ago is now a necessity: get the ball to Darko. He’s established himself as a scoring threat who deserves the defense’s attention and his passing is proving to be the manna that our GM was roundly mocked for suggesting. And it’s not just the flash and flare of these assists, but the timing and awareness that makes the entire team more dangerous. Admittedly none of this is to say that he’s completely eradicated all of his deficiencies; he held the ball too low and was stripped by weakside defenders a number of times and he clearly wasn’t aware of the play call which sent Luke Ridnour crashing to the floor after a mismatch with Antonio McDyess, but he’s growing. The only question left is whether he can maintain confidence amidst these heightened expectations.
Which brings us to our old friend Beas, who was all but cool last night. Plainly put, he was a mess. What some of us may have feared appears to be coming to pass: Beasley’s breakout games gave him the impression that things would be easier than they are. He seemed confounded by increased defensive attention, responding with questionable shots, more clueless defense and a series of painfully inaccurate passes. Now currently these should be regarded as nothing more than the growing pains of a budding star, but it’s vital that we see him through this rough patch with his confidence intact.
Kurt Rambis benched Beasley for a significant portion of the second half and upon his return we saw the all too familiar (for Heat fans, at least) alter ego, Super Tenative Beas. This version is reluctant to shoot and a bit too eager to distribute, sometimes without even looking. Which is understandable considering that much like Darko, Michael’s confidence means means more to his game than the average player. It must give him great trepidation to feel that bad reputation he’d presumably escaped creeping up behind him. Hopefully Saturday’s matchup with the Leeless Warriors will get things back on track.
As for Kevin Love? Just another 32 & 22. Yawn.
This was Love’s fourth 20/20 game of the season and barring an absolute tragedy, he will shatter the old Wolves season record of six. We all know who it belongs to. The same guy who owns the team record for consecutive 25 point games which Beasley recently threatened. And yes, the only other guy to go for 20/15/5&5 besides Darko.
We’ve seen some dark days since he left and there have been more than a few games that should’ve been played in the dark, but despite the latest character building loss, our moribund franchise appears to be turning a corner. We’re not looking back longingly anymore, just ready to move forward. For that, I am quite thankful, as I hope the rest of you are.