Cassell looking out for No. 1

Updated: March 3, 2004, 2:29 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Sam Cassell made it to the All-Star Game for the first time. The Minnesota Timberwolves are probably going to win their division for the first time. The guy who pulls it all together is a heavy favorite to win the league's MVP award for the first time.

That's three impressive firsts for Kevin Garnett's crew.

Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell
Sam Cassell, left, and Latrell Sprewell have the Wolves headed toward a favorable first-round matchup.
You know where we're going, don't you?

"People are talking about getting out of the first round," Cassell says with a sneer, sensing exactly where this going.

"But that's irrelevant. We're trying to go farther than that."

I have to agree with Sam I Am's tone. The Timberwolves' season is already a smashing success because of all of the firsts mentioned above, but his point is well-taken.

Assuming the Wolves win the mighty Midwest, chances are they'll play one of the following five teams in the first round: Memphis, Houston, Denver, Utah or Portland.

So for the first time in franchise history, they'll be favored in a playoff series.

Thus ...

No matter which of those five teams they beat in the first round, the Wolves will be subjected to some wise guy like me writing that they still have to beat one of the other four West heavyweights in the second round -- Kings, Mavericks, Spurs or Lakers -- to truly validate the season.

Sounds like Sam shares that opinion, as the Wolves prepare for a game Wednesday night -- against Steve Nash-less Dallas -- that can inch Minny closer to a No. 1 or 2 seed.

"I hear people saying, 'They've finally got enough to get out of the first round,' " Sam shares. "We want to be playing at 9 o'clock Eastern time. That's when the big boys play."

That's right. For the first time, we have a Timberwolves player speaking openly about the NBA Finals.

In March.


They're not just a dangerous team now, with everyone healthy. The Wolves are a quotable team, too.

Sam's stuff is usually good, as evidenced above, but KG probably clinched Speak O' The Season back in October, when I cornered him in Moline, Ill., in the tiny home locker room of an arena that used to house the CBA's Quad City Thunder.

Said the MVP-to-be: "I'm not a star, man. If a guy came in here and shot you and shot me, we'd both be two dead people. You understand?"

Sorry, Kev. If a guy came in there and shot us, you'd have millions of people worldwide mourning the death of a superstar ... and millions of readers celebrating the fact that they'd have to get someone new to do the NBA Power Rankings.


Miami was the favorite to land Vin Baker before the league stepped in and threw another road block in the Vin Man's comeback, but there's a reason why the Knicks are so interested in signing Baker even after all the changes Isiah Thomas has already made.

That reason: Mark Aguirre and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Knicks' recently hired assistant coaches, have better post-up games now in their 40s and 50s than any of the current Knicks.


Maybe no team better illustrates the gap between Least and West than the Toronto Raptors. West teams can survive the loss of a star player, sometimes even two. Look what's happened to the Raps without Vince Carter and Jalen Rose.


Greg Anthony
Don't even try to compare St. Joe's to Greg Anthony's '91 Runnin' Rebs.
Congrats to St. Joe's on its undefeated season so far, which also serves to deflect attention from the latest Allen Iverson saga.

My only problem with all the St. Joe's hubbub: Let's hold off on those comparisons to the 1991 UNLV squad, which featured our own Greg Anthony and stands as the last college team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten.

Not only could those Rebels have won some NBA games, they were winning all of those games in a real conference.


Whenever a guy complains that a defender is "dirty," it usually tells you that the defender is in the player's head.

The Sonics visit the Spurs on Wednesday night, but sources tell ESPN.com that Bruce Bowen will be leaving Ray Allen's cranium in plenty of time to rejoin the Spurs for the playoffs.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics