The gauntlet begins tonight, a 6 game road trip starting in Brooklyn and moving all across the Atlantic side of the continent, including to Mexico, and ending with a SEGABABA in Dallas, the town in which I currently reside and a game I will attend. It will be a very difficult stretch that could make or break the momentum of the remainder of the calendar year or longer. Will the Wolves over-achieve, under-achieve, or properly achieve? The answer to that question will be easier to discern following this tough trip. We have
The game against Brooklyn, and the road trip itself for that matter, ranks as a solid 10 out of 10 in the sub plot category for several reasons. Here are a few of the nostalgic bits to keep in mind tonight and over the next several games:
-It will be Flip’s first time coaching against Kevin Garnett as coach of the Timberwolves. Will they interact? Will Garnett give it one more year on a minimum deal next season? I realize this is irrational and not a smart basketball idea, but part of you knows it would be enjoyable.
-It will be Sam Mitchell’s first time coaching against Garnett since returning to the Wolves as well. Sam played a big role in the development of Garnett, acting as veteran mentor nearly 20 years ago.
-It will mark the two year anniversary to the day of the Wolves trip to Brooklyn in 2012 where the Wolves rallied from 22 points down to give the Nets their first home loss in Barclay’s Center history. In that game, Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger all contributed to the rally. Brandon Roy had just two games left in his career following this game, as it was one of his five games as a Wolf. This seems like a long time ago. “Knuckle Pushups” remain the biggest watershed moment of the post-KG era. Would Kahn still be here?
-Kirilenko vs. Flip. Another marquee matchup. Flip, of course, declined to adhere to a hefty contract extension Kahn allegedly promised him after he opted out in 2012. Andrei then went to Brooklyn for a suspicious $3 million per year (which undoubtedly included under the table payments). Consider this another what-if. While Andrei has his back troubles, having him starting at the 3 last season alongside the others would likely have been the ticket for a playoff berth. Alas.
-The Rambis buyout-a-thon will be on full display. The dreaded 2011 draft. A night of embarrassment for Minnesota which involved five trades, all five of the players ultimately being clear NBA contributors. Kahn would later swear on his son’s life that he wasn’t selling all of those picks to pay Kurt’s buyout, confirming once and for all that he is an awful human. During this draft the Wolves held the rights at one point to the following players: Donatas Montiejunas, Nikola Mirotic, Norris Cole, Bojan Bogdanovic and Chandler Parsons. Unbelievable. The Wolves already got a taste of Mirotic last Saturday, and he appeared as if he will be an NBA starting quality forward in little time. The rest of the bunch are all starting for NBA playoff teams with the exception of Montiejunas (though he started last night). Over the course of this road trip, starting tonight in Brooklyn (Bogdanovic), the Wolves will get a taste of the other four players.
Lastly, Flip vs. McHale. McHale, of course, fired Flip Saunders after he lost the ears of his players in 2005. This troubling trend would follow Saunders to two other stops in Washington and Detroit. McHale would then take over as coach for Flip to end the season. Now Flip is back with Minnesota and coaching against McHale and his Rockets, who run a shining example of a modern NBA offense. I fully expect there to be a stretch or two in this game where the Rockets score 9 points in 3 possessions, and the Wolves score 4 points in 4 possessions. McHale and Houston value the three. Flip does not. If Flip’s highly questionable preference of a college 3 pointer (a long 2 for the slower types) over an NBA 3 pointer has not irked you yet, this is the game where it will. There is a very real chance the Wolves average fewer three point attempts than Rockets three point makes this season. It is concerning and remains a significant flaw in his otherwise solid offense. Unfortunately, Flip has shown no signs of implementing more 3 point attempts into his offense.
Tonight against Brooklyn is a winnable road game. Hopefully the Wolves can start this tough stretch off on the right foot. Should be a fun game.