Wolves little more than speed bump to L.A.

Updated: May 20, 2004, 1:14 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

After witnessing what must be indisputably classified as the flat-out Greatest Second Round Ever, this is what we know: For the first time since 1993, neither Robert Horry nor Steve Kerr will be winning a championship ring this spring.

After watching Kevin Garnett's finest hour and Chris Webber's latest torment, this is still a very safe guess: The Los Angeles Lakers will extend the streak they share with San Antonio -- L.A. or S.A. has won every NBA crown since 1999 -- by beating the Wolves in six games or fewer and then proceeding to the Finals.

The way the Lakers are rolling now, Minnesota will have to hope that five quiet off days dull the edge L.A. summoned so suddenly in the San Antonio series. The only advantage Minny takes into the series, besides home-court advantage, is the fact that they're not the Kings, which means the Lakers might sleep on them for a game or two, until they feel desperate again.

It's hardly a stretch to suggest that a reunion with the hated Kings in the conference finals would have made it easier for the Lakers to maintain the intensity they generated against the Spurs. Even though San Antonio has supplanted Sacramento as the Lakers' No. 1 steel-cage rival, L.A. still detests the Kings that much. It would have been a tasty, testy reunion.

Lakers vs.Timberwolves
If you look at the Wolves objectively, even after Garnett gave us the Game 7 -- and fourth quarter -- that should hush the haters once and for all, they're going to have problems matching up with L.A even if the Lakers decided not to play their A defense until Game 3. Again.

Sam Cassell is hobbling and Laker-killer Troy Hudson is out, which gives L.A. an unforseen boost at the point. Trenton Hassell can't be feeling too good about his chances of containing Kobe Bryant after Kobe's many detonations against Bruce Bowen. KG, meanwhile, is going to have to deal with Karl Malone, who just produced four straight sterling defensive efforts against Tim Duncan.

You know what that means? Instead of contesting Brad Miller's jumpers or Vlade Divac's flops, Shaquille O'Neal gets to toy with Ervin Johnson and Michael Olowokandi.

Then there's this: Shaq told me that he doesn't need to see a team he hates to bring it like he brought it against the Spurs.

"I'll admit I wasn't hungry last year," Shaq said. "But I am now."

If that sentiment holds, make it five or fewer.

  • Wednesday's big winner? Besides Mike Montgomery?

    Duh.

    The Big Ticket, of course.

    After those seven straight first-round exits, KG can now crow about how he's undefeated in Game 7s. He was simply brilliant on his 28th birthday, especially in the final period, after all those years when his fourth-quarter presence had been questioned. He heaped tons of expectation upon himself by winning the MVP trophy and then making those controversial war analogies before the deciding game. Then he promptly submitted the response of his life.

    "There's a lot of pressure on him," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said, "and he rose to the occasion."

  • Wednesday's big loser? Besides Eric Musselman?

    It's not as obvious, maybe, because it's not Chris Webber, no matter what the anti-Webb faction says.

    It's Rick Adelman.

    Webber will have to live with the 3-pointer at the buzzer that bounced in and out -- and the crunch-time layup he missed all alone underneath that was far worse -- but he shouldn't be drowning in regret. Again we say: Webber has been trying to get by on one leg for more than two months, because he knew the Kings had no chance without him. Especially without the injured Bobby Jackson. In these playoffs, I'm not quite sure what more Webber could have done.

    The same goes for Adelman, who withstood every Kings injury yet again this season. He didn't flinch in Game 7 even though Anthony Peeler was suspended, meaning that the coach would have only six of the eight players from his preferred rotation in uniform.

    However ...

    There have been repeated rumblings around the league in recent weeks that Adelman had to get the Kings to the NBA Finals, in spite of the injuries, to continue his reign in Sacramento. That seems awfully harsh -- especially considering Adelman hasn't won less than 55 games in each of the past four seasons -- but by now you're aware of the security coaches have these days.

    With former Kings assistant Byron Scott still on the market, and Sacramento well aware that it has to move quickly if it wants Scott to take over -- given the Lakers' certain interest if Phil Jackson departs -- we should learn rather quickly if the rumblings are real.

    The strike against Adelman is that, in spite of the injuries, Sacramento lost two heartbreakers in the Minnesota series before Game 7. In spite of Jackson's absence and Webber's limited mobility, Sacto gave away a huge Game 2 lead in Minny that would have killed off the Wolves immediately ... and then lost again after a heroic comeback to force overtime in Game 3.

    As we covered here some 10 days ago, there is bound to be a scapegoat in Sacramento in the wake of another disappointing postseason. Given the big contracts possessed by Webber, Miller and Mike Bibby, the easiest major change for the Kings to make is a coaching change.

  • It doesn't help Adelman's case that Wednesday dropped his record to 0-7 in playoff elimination games on the road. The last four of those losses came with the Kings: Game 5s against the Jazz and Lakers in 1999 and 2000, and Game 7s against Dallas and Minnesota the past two seasons.

    Adelman is the only coach in NBA history to have faced elimination in a road playoff game at least six times without winning any of those games.

  • My advice to the Wolves against the franchise that bolted Minneapolis back in 1959?

    Relax.

    The First Round Gorilla is a memory. The threat of becoming one of the few home teams in history to lose a Game 7 has been sidestepped.

    So relax. Play loose. No one will be picking the Wolves to beat L.A., so chalk that up as one more advantage to go with the home-court advantage and the (remote) possibility of a Lakers backslide.

    Expect the Wolves to throw many zones at the Lakers, because they'll do better in zone coverages than they will in man-to-man schemes, but watch Minny's mood more closely. If the Wolves can play freely -- if KG can glide around like he did Wednesday night -- maybe they give us a better series than many of us expect.

    Assuming you'll still listen to some guy who predicted a Spurs-Kings conference finals in late February.

    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
  • ALSO SEE