Two from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and then two from the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Wittman rips Wolves after lopsided loss
The new head coach decried the lack of effort and signaled changes after the 10th loss in 12 games.
By Steve Aschburner, Star Tribune
Last update: February 06, 2007 – 12:07 AM
HOUSTON - One change -- from Dwane Casey to Randy Wittman as Timberwolves head coach -- obviously wasn't enough.
A half-dozen changes, at this point, might not do it, given the Wolves' limited trade assets, imbalanced roster, performance issues and suspect character, the last two of which were on full public display in a 105-77 blowout loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
But Wittman did what he could, making two changes on his own, desperation mixing with anger by the time the Wolves retreated to their locker room at halftime. With the Wolves already down 20 points, 50-30, on their way to trailing by 37, Wittman had seen enough in his seven games in charge. And it wasn't only the score. By most measurable standards and subjective impressions, the team hadn't shown any more consistency or significantly improved at either end from the lowest points of Casey's season-and-a-half tenure.
So Wittman yanked guards Ricky Davis and Mike James from the starting lineup for the second half.
The move wound up as more of a statement than a strategy when Minnesota got outscored 32-22 in the third quarter, then kicked its feet at the end of the rope for another 12 minutes.
Still, it was the most tangible evidence all season of Wolves players being held accountable for the 22-26 record and a slide of 10 losses in the past 12 games. It was the team's second-most lopsided loss of the season. They are 1-7 on the road over the past three weeks.
Afterward, Wittman made a few more statements.
"Our guard play was atrocious," he said. "We had no direction. I didn't even recognize what we were doing in the first half [offensively]. ... Now, maybe this is going to have to be a team where, you know what, we walk the ball up every possession and I have to call every play. I've got to figure that out."
Sitting down James to start the third quarter grew out of Wittman's frustration with his point guards; he had spoken earlier in the day about the need for James and rookie Randy Foye to take more responsibility for running the offense. So after Minnesota got to halftime with eight assists to nine turnovers, while missing 26 of 39 shots and getting outscored in the paint 28-6, the coach reached way down the bench for Troy Hudson. James, in 16 minutes before the break, had five points, one assist and one turnover.
Davis' funk seemed more specific to this game. He took only two shots and missed both in the half, and turned the ball over four times against two assists. Granted, Houston's Shane Battier was hounding Davis defensively, but the Wolves swingman didn't counter with much energy. So Wittman used Marko Jaric in Davis' spot as the second half began.
Things only got worse; the Wolves shot 53 percent in the third quarter and dug their hole 10 points deeper because they let Houston shoot 63 percent. Tracy McGrady scored 16 of his game-high 32 points in that period, then punched out for the night.
Wittman, meanwhile, punched out ... his words. On the lineup change, he said: "I ain't going to watch that and keep the status quo."
On the failure so far of his point guards to embrace the way he wants them to play: "Either they're not embracing it or they can't embrace it. There's a difference. ... If it's 'can't,' then we've got to play differently. If it's 'won't,' then we've got to find somebody that will."
And on the overall performance: "This loss is the whole damn team. We didn't have anybody that came out with any heart or desire to play tonight. After a day off. ... We're going to see who wants to play now. We're putting ourselves up against the wall now. All I need to do is find five -- if I have to find five guys, I'll play five guys 48 minutes. We've got to find who wants to play every night."
Davis didn't want to be interviewed afterward, and James answered a couple of questions ("It is what it is") as he walked out of the locker room. Kevin Garnett just sounded down.
"Witt got on our [butts] a little bit at halftime. It didn't take anything to look up at the score and know we were playing like crap," Garnett said. "We have no consistency going into sets. It was one of them nights, man, when it was all messed up. But we've got to get this thing right. If we're really trying to talk about making the playoffs, we have to make a more valid effort and be consistent on the road."
Steve Aschburner • email@example.com
Wittman pushing guards to improve
By Steve Aschburner, Star Tribune
Last update: February 06, 2007 – 12:04 AM
HOUSTON - If anything, Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman has higher expectations for his point guards than even Dwane Casey did, which had some season-long dissatisfaction bubbling to the surface before, during and after the 105-77 loss to the Rockets Monday.
Neither starter Mike James nor backup Randy Foye has run the point to Wittman's liking, at least not on a consistent basis, in the two weeks since Wittman took over for Casey as head coach. It's not so much that there's been a dropoff; there just hasn't been the improvement, the assertiveness and the confidence that the Wolves expected by now.
After the team's morning shootaround, it even sounded -- despite talks Wittman has had with the two -- as if there's a disconnect between what he wants and what the players think they're giving.
"I can't call every play and I don't want to call every play," the coach said, about 10 hours before the situation got worse. "I don't want us to be a team that walks it up the floor and they look at me for every call. I give them a couple of things I want them to concentrate on from time to time. They've got to show to me that, when we're not in anything, 'Here's two things that Coach wants us to look at,' and get us into that.
"We're not doing that right now. We have too many possessions where we're coming down, we're just kind of ... playing."
James, signed with the idea that he might be a Sam Cassell-like player (part scorer, part playmaker), said moments later that he and Foye have been doing what Wittman wants. He admitted that, like a driver behind the wheel of a new car, it took some time to learn the controls, but he insisted that he's now fine.
"I know where my buttons are," James said. "I know where my all-wheel drive, windshield wipers, wiper fluid are. ... It took a lot of time. But it's cool."
What's the best option on the Wolves' "car?"Hydraulics," James said.
Foye, the rookie from Villanova, still is learning NBA point guard duties. His refusal to get rattled while he learns on the job has kept his confidence high. It showed in his reaction to Wittman's comments.
"I've been running the plays since October, so I know what they want," Foye said. "I look at it like this: If the plays that we do call out there, the guys were making shots ... it wouldn't be a problem. Me and Mike would probably be looked at as running the offense real good. Since we're struggling right now, he told us from the beginning that a lot of pressure would be on the point guards. So everybody's looking at us now, because me and Mike, we're out there, controlling the tempo of the game and bringing the ball up."
Wittman said that, if one or the other gave more of what he wants, that guard would earn the playing time. James averages 28.5 minutes, Foye 20.8.
• The Wolves managed six offensive rebounds -- or fewer -- in three of the four meetings with Houston.
• Minnesota's 30 points at halftime was a season-worst, as was its 15-point first quarter.
Steve Aschburner • firstname.lastname@example.org
Wolves at their worst
Wittman rips his team's heart, desire after blowout
BY RICK ALONZO
HOUSTON — Randy Wittman looked stunned. Ricky Davis shook his head at reporters and walked out of the locker room. Kevin Garnett said the team would do some soul searching today.
More than anything the rest of the season, the Timberwolves need to establish an identity for something other than inconsistent play.
It's difficult to know what to expect from the Wolves, especially after a 105-77 debacle Monday night in which the Houston Rockets led by as many as 37 points.
The Wolves often play high-caliber opponents close (see Saturday night's one-point loss at Dallas) and appear to have turned a corner, but then they turn in putrid performances (see Monday night).
The one consistent outcome of their games recently has been losses. They have lost 10 of their past 12 games and all three on this road trip, which began in Oklahoma City, continued in Dallas and ended in Houston.
Wittman said after the game that he would consider all options to fix the team, including possibly changing the starting lineup.
"We're going to see who wants to play now," Wittman said. "We're putting ourselves up against the wall now. If I have to play five guys, I'll play five guys 48 minutes. We've got to find who wants to play every night, not Dallas and Phoenix — every night."
Wittman singled out the point guard play as "atrocious" in this game. Starter Mike James responded by saying, "Somebody's got to be the scapegoat in anything."
After pointing out his disappointment with the point guards, Wittman widened his aim.
"This loss was the whole (darn) team," he said. "We didn't have anybody that came out with any kind of heart or desire, after a day off (Sunday)."
Wittman's leadership doesn't make the Wolves impervious to blowouts. The 28-point loss was Minnesota's second worst of the season, close to the 29-point blowout at Phoenix on Jan. 21. The first five losses under Wittman (2-6) were by 15 points combined, but there would be no narrow defeat this time.
"We've got to get this thing right," Garnett said. "If we're really trying to talk about making the playoffs, we've got to make a more valid effort. (Playing) on the road is part of the league. We've got to win some games."
The Wolves lacked any discernable plan early, falling behind 50-30 by halftime. They relied on jump shots and didn't seem to know what they wanted to do from possession to possession.
"We had no direction," Wittman said about the point guards. "I didn't even recognize what we were doing in the first half."
To open the second half, Wittman started Troy Hudson and Marko Jaric in place of James and Ricky Davis. Hudson hadn't appeared in the Wolves' previous seven games, dating to Jan. 22 at Utah.
Wittman was looking for a spark after his players shot 33.3 percent in the first half and committed nine turnovers (four by Davis). Garnett said after the game that there was more ball movement with Jaric and Hudson, but it didn't make a noticeable difference on the scoreboard.
The Wolves never made a run in the third quarter, and eventually Davis and James returned to the game. Minnesota went into the fourth quarter trailing 82-52.
Davis declined an interview after the game.
The Wolves didn't have success establishing much of anything against the Rockets, including an inside game, continuing a recent trend. Despite playing without injured Yao Ming, the Rockets outscored Minnesota 28-6 in the lane in the first half.
The Wolves set season lows for points in the first quarter (15) and points in the first half (30). They also attempted only 11 free throws, another sign of their lack of aggression.
"Some nights, we come out clicking," Hudson said. "The ball is moving, the players are playing with a lot of energy, and everything's clicking. Then some nights, we come out and it's totally the opposite. It's one of those things you can't tell before shootaround. You can't tell until you get out there."
Rick Alonzo can be reached at email@example.com
Point guards failing to impress
Wittman wants James, Foye to be more assertive
BY RICK ALONZO
HOUSTON — Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman didn't hesitate when asked what happened after Monday night's 105-77 blowout loss to Houston.
"Our guard play was atrocious," he said. "We had no direction."
It doesn't make sense to Wittman, who has emphasized to his point guards that they need to take more initiative calling plays and setting up the offense. But he didn't get what he wanted from starter Mike James or reserve Randy Foye against Houston.
Wittman estimated the Wolves committed seven turnovers in their first 12 or 13 possessions to start the game. Officially, the Wolves were credited with five turnovers in the first quarter, all in the first seven minutes.
"My belief is in this league, in high school, in college, I don't care what level, if you've got good guard play, you've got a shot," Wittman said. "We're not getting any (good point guard) play right now. No direction. Maybe this is going to have to be a team where we walk the ball up every possession and I have to call every play. Maybe that's what I'm going to have to do. I've got to figure that out."
James apparently didn't agree after the game that this loss should be pinned on the point guards.
"You know what, somebody's got to be the scapegoat in anything," he said. "It is what it is. That's how he feels."
The Wolves play a two-point guard system in which the two split playing time fairly evenly. It wouldn't necessarily be that way if Wittman received what he's looking for from either point guard more consistently.
Wittman said the opportunity is there for James or Foye to assert himself and garner more playing time. But the issue is that neither has run the offense as well as Wittman would like since he became coach last month.
It's up to them to take more initiative and to always have two or three plays in their heads that the Wolves can execute according to the situation, Wittman said.
Said Kevin Garnett following the Rockets loss: "We've got to get in the sets, man. That's what I'm talking about. We have no consistency running the sets. It was one of those nights when it was just all messed up."
James and Foye said earlier in the day that they understand what Wittman wants of them. Foye said Wittman's expectations are a bit higher than under the previous regime.
"A lot of times, he'll get caught up in calling plays and I just follow his commands," James said. "So if that's what he wants, that's what we do. That's an even better situation."
James said he feels comfortable running the offense.
"I know where my buttons are, my four-wheel drive, my all-wheel drive, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, everything," he said.
Foye is a rookie, and although he's more than halfway through his first season, his adjustment might be more understandable.
"He just wants us to get into sets a little quicker and distribute the ball," Foye said of Wittman.