Editor's note: Four teams face elimination on Thursday in Game 6 of their respective first-round playoff series. ESPN's Dr. Jack Ramsay pays a housecall to prescribe advice for one of those teams, the ...
The Wolves trail 3-2 in their series against the Lakers and face elimination from the playoffs with another loss on Thursday. They've demonstrated the capacity to win, but must get their "A" game in place in Game 6 to stay alive.
The Wolves got inspirational wins in Games 2 and 3 and almost pulled off another victory in Game 4. They put a blistering full-court press on the Lakers that upset L.A.'s tempo. With an everything-to-gain, nothing-to-lose attitude, the Wolves shot freely and accurately in the two wins. Then, with the prospect of getting a choke-hold on the series, those same shots weren't taken with the same abandon, and the Wolves began to miss.
Kevin Garnett, as expected, has been outstanding in all phases of the game, averaging 28.8 points, 16.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.8 blocks to go with strong, all-round defense. Troy Hudson was white-hot (32 points per game) in the teams' wins, putting up incredible numbers in the first four games, but coming back to earth in Game 5 (5-for-16 shooting, 14 points). The rest of the roster has been inconsistent. That won't get it done against the Lakers, whose game tempo and execution appear to have settled down at both ends of the floor. The Lakers are "The Shaq and Kobe Show" and are virtually unstoppable when the team defense is together and the two stars get scoring input from a few supporting players.
The Wolves need to continue their pressing tactics, but they can't allow the ball to be advanced freely on either the pass or dribble. The Lakers changed their attack and now send Shaquille O'Neal long rather than bring him to halfcourt to help against the pressure. When Kobe Bryant or Derek Fisher dribbles past the press at the perimeter, Shaq has a one-on-one in the basket area that is high percentage. Hudson, Anthony Peeler and Kendall Gill are responsible for applying the pressure and keeping the ball under control. They need some steals and fastbreak scores.
On offense, the Wolves are often quick-shooting. When those shots are falling, it's a great weapon. But percentages eventually catch up with that kind of game, and they've caught up with the Wolves. The same kind of high-post, screening attack that involves O'Neal defensively will bring better shots -- even some driving lay-ups -- if a little patience is exercised.
A factor in the visiting Wolves' favor is that the Staples Center doesn't provide the same home-court advantage as many NBA arenas. Lakers fans arrive late, leave early and are relatively passive in their support, and the Wolves have won there in the regular season and postseason. Minnesota needs to crank up another high-intensity, pressure-packed defensive game and a poised but attacking offense that keeps the ball moving until a quality shot is obtained. That approach will help to spread the offensive burden among Wally Szczerbiak, Rasho Nesterovic, Rod Strickland, Marc Jackson, Gary Trent and Peeler. It'll also keep the Lakers from focusing so heavily on KG and Hudson.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, who is an NBA analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.