Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A sneak preview

Annually I can only stand to watch one NBA preseason game. Actually one preseason game of any sport typically is my limit. I want to see the players in game situations; any subtle changes in their reactions, whatever. I chose not to get overly optimistic or downcast at this time.

After all, these games don't count. I am an advocate of a couple of preseason contests, one home and one away, and not charge fans. After all, there are nothing more than glorified practice games.

With this said, I attended Tuesday's Minnesota Timberwolves-Indiana Pacers preseason game. It was the team's first home practice game of the 2007 preseason. The team has been world weary, beginning training camp for the first time overseas, then playing a couple of contests on foreign soil. Then a few more practice contests back in the States.

Like watching those movie trailers, which often times you are really seeing the best scenes because the rest of the flick is junk, this is what Tuesday's Minnesota Timberwolves - Indiana Pacers preseason game was like for me. I got a glimpse of what the upcoming 2007-08 regular season will be like in the post-Kevin Garnett era. (For full disclosure, I am one of two reporters -- Jerry Zgoda is the other, who witnessed the team's first ever practice, long before KG started playing high school ball.)

Like watching an over hyped film, the 2007-08 Wolves' slogan: See What They Can Do, fails to live up to its silly billing.

"We're not a very good team," says Wolves Coach Randy Wittman during his post-game comments, stating the obvious. "We still quite not knowing what to do."

This is sad but true. Wittman has a squad with so many new faces -- he still hasn't made his final cuts yet. He still hasn't settled on a starting lineup or rotation.

Oh, he has some pieces to work with:

Al Jefferson showed the home fans what he is capable of, grabbing a mess of rebounds (I don't get into preseason stats because they don't carry over into the regular season). "Al have to continue to do the other things," says Wittman, which includes being able to effectively play interchangeably at the '4' and '5.'

Corey Brewer has some hops along with his defense, but he has only six practice games on his yet-to-begin rookie season. He got schooled a couple of times by Indiana. Goodbye Florida, hello prime time. "They call it the NBA for a reason," notes Brewer's first NBA coach. "You better respect your opponent, whether you know him or not."

Brewer's college teammate, Chris Richard, is a legitimate beast inside, something Minnesota has lacked for years.

I also like Ryan Gomes, who in my opinion, is the steal of the multi-player, one-sided deal that sent Garnett to Boston this summer. He has some athletic ability and if he can show more consistency, he can be a keeper.

But no point guard: Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair both are out with injuries, which doesn't help Wittman getting his offensive schemes fine tuned. "We still need a little bit more direction," admits the coach. "We need those guys back but they must get healthy first."

Theo Ratliff, supposedly a deal throw-in for salary cap reasons, will be the Wolves' starting center. "Some people are surprised about Theo but I'm not," Wittman concurs. The veteran center reminds me of Ervin Johnson, a big man who will do his job underneath and won't get in the way. Johnson was the last good pivot the Wolves has had.

"He can rebound, score and block shots," says Wittman on Ratliff. After missing the entire 2006-07 campaign, save for a couple of games, because of his back, Ratliff "is healthy -- he's a great weapon for us," proclaim the coach. "He covers up a lot of (defensive) sins" with his shot blocking.

Regarding the game itself -- the Wolves got down early, came back and got close a couple of times, only to see Indiana, who never trailed, maintain their distance en route to a practice win.

Afterwards, I was asked my opinion: Much of what I saw was like watching a sneak preview of a B-movie.

Mostly bad.

"We've got 10 days left," concludes Wittman on the amount of time the Wolves has before its Nov. 2 regular season opener. That is not nearly enough time to right a multitude of wrongs with this team.

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