infiltrate, verb: enter or gain access to (an organization, place, etc.) surreptitiously and gradually, especially in order to acquire secret information.
Wednesday night’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks brought the Timberwolves back to .500, at 35-35, with 12 games to go. I’ve recapped approximately a third of those games, and so far, I’ve resisted the urge to do any meta-writing, or writing about writing, and also I’ve refrained from submitting a game recap that’s about ancillary things (like the curiosities of venturing into an NBA locker room, or missing out on halftime refreshments because some local media members are no-account gluttons). Instead, I like to focus on the games, themselves, diving into their intricacies, (hopefully) illuminating something about it you might have missed, attempting to put the events into their proper context.
Tonight, I’m going to do something a little different. This late in the season, it’s time to try new things. It might go well, like a late-season audition that garners a pay bump, or it might go poorly, like Mark Madsen jacking up three-pointers. NBA seasons are incredibly long; strange things begin to happen as they wind down. People start doing things they aren’t supposed to do; they infiltrate areas of the arena or the court no one expected them to.
Infiltration #1: The Post-game Press Conference
From a writer’s standpoint, I’m thankful that Rick Adelman has handled himself gracefully at his postgame pressers. After most losses, he can be a little short and surly, but is always willing to talk. When the Wolves win, he’s usually in a good mood, and when Rick Adelman is in a good mood, he’ll turn simple questions into long answers full of basketball knowledge, tossing in quips and clever anecdotes along the way.
Lately, as you might expect, happy Adelman’s been a tough guy to track down, as the weight of the season’s expectations (and repeated failures) have taken their toll on him. But when you thrash a team by 24, as the Wolves did to the Hawks, you tend to loosen up a little bit. Wednesday, he offered insight into Gorgui Dieng’s surprising success since he entered the starting lineup, discussed the team’s mentality as the season winds to a close, and was just beginning a funny response to a question about the play that caused Rubio’s stitches when a random person in the back of the room said
“Cold start to the first quarter”
apropos of nothing that was currently being discussed. Adelman asked to hear the comment again; he heard it again, offered a polite, throw-away answer, and the press conference was abruptly concluded. It wasn’t a question, and it didn’t come from a local media member. A season-ticket holder had infiltrated the press conference, and failed to keep quiet. The assembled ink-stained wretches and poorly-paid bloggers shook their heads in disbelief, a quality question-and-answer session killed by someone who didn’t know their place.
Infiltration #2: Dieng in the Starting Lineup
“Infiltrate” doesn’t strictly apply to Gorgui’s ascension into the starting lineup – he was forced into it out of necessity – but the key term to focus on in the definition above is “gradually.” Teammates (and coaches) have spoken highly of Dieng’s practice habits and work ethic all season long; his recent string of success is proof that they weren’t just paying the rookie lip service.
The first-year man out of Louisville had 15 points, 15 rebounds and 2 assists in 41 minutes against Atlanta. In the 6 games since he was inserted into the starting lineup, he’s averaging 12.7 points, 14 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, making 72% of his free throws (18-of-25) and 59.1% of his field goals, compared to 44% (12-of-27) and 42.6%, respectively, as a reserve. An underrated improvement he’s made is in the personal fouls department; from the beginning of the season through March 14th, Dieng committed 56 personal fouls in 273 minutes, or one every 4:52 of floor time. Since then, he’s been whistled for 19 fouls in 201 minutes, or one every 10:34 he spends on the court.
“He’s awesome,” said J.J. Barea, after the game. “(I’m) so proud of him. He’s been working all year, and when the time came, he took advantage.” “I like the rook. He’s got game,” said Corey Brewer, immediately cracking a big grin when asked about Dieng. “We thought he was going to be able to do it, now he’s proven that he can.” Kevin Love compared Gorgui’s situation this year to his own rookie season. “He’s a lot like me, in the sense that, when I was a rookie, I kept thinking, ‘Man, I should be out there playing,’ but I continued to get myself ready, and I got my opportunity later on in my rookie year. That’s what he’s been able to do, and he’s really taken advantage of it.”
There is no guarantee that Nikola Pekovic will suit up at any point before the season is over; by the time all is said and done, Gorgui Dieng could have 18 starts under his belt during his. His continued improvement is the shiniest silver lining the Wolves can look forward to the rest of the way.
Infiltration #3: Zach and Steve Were on Press Row, Without Credentials**
The following tale is mostly true, except for the many embellishments and lies I have sprinkled in.
The evening’s most intense melodrama began with a tweet from our own Steve McPherson, poking fun at the snazzy outfit the Timberwolves’ PR coordinator, Aaron Seehusen, was rocking.
Naturally, such a provocative statement captivated the assembled media, but there was one person who was not amused: Mr. Seehusen himself. Once he caught wind of the tweet, he made his way to the Wolf Among Wolves section of press row, and when he arrived, he confiscated the press passes of both Zach and Steve. (I’m not sure why Zach was lumped in with Steve, but to keep myself safe from going down, too, I hid under the table as soon as I saw him approaching us.*) In my opinion, the black-on-black look, paired with the popping, electric blue tie, totally worked.*
A short while later, a team security official (I think) stopped by and noticed two individuals who were not displaying their credentials, per arena policy. I proudly displayed mine, claiming not to know the two strange gentlemen sitting to my left. The team official, citing their lack of accreditation, kindly asked Zach and Steve to get out; Zach scoffed, repeating, “do you know who I am?”*, and Steve claimed the Wolves were discriminating against media members in funny hats, threatening litigation.* Wanting to avoid the most trivial lawsuit in the history of Western Civilization, the press passes were returned to their rightful owners.
It’s been a long season for everyone: fans, players, the coach, team employees, and even media members. A little bit of levity helps pass the time. The Wolves’ goal of reaching the playoffs isn’t mathematically dead, but the coach and the players are no longer bothering to speak of it as a legitimate possibility. Steve put a nice bow on the season in his recap of the Wolves’ listless loss to Memphis; during the remaining 12 games, instead of re-hashing the year’s disappointments, turning each contest into a pseudo-eulogy, perhaps it’s better to lighten up and enjoy whatever remains. Laugh a little. Enjoy watching Gorgui Dieng (and hopefully Shabazz Muhammad) get extended minutes to cap their rookie seasons… Find out if Robbie Hummel’s worth a roster spot in 2014-15… See if Alexey Shved can be a backup ball handler… You know, try new, crazy things.
Just don’t make stupid statements at random moments during postgame press conferences. Or make fun of Aaron Seehusen’s suit game.
*Editor’s note: statements denoted with asterisks are outright lies.
** Additional note: in case it isn’t abundantly clear from my tone, this section is entirely tongue-in-cheek. The entire Wolves PR staff is terrific.