NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, November 2nd (All times eastern)
Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) at Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0), 8 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves try to rebound from a disappointing performance last season, as they open the 2005-06 campaign against the Portland Trail Blazers tonight at the Target Center.
The Timberwolves were the most disappointing team in the NBA during the 2004-05 campaign. Minnesota went from making it to the 2004 Western Conference finals to not qualifying for the playoffs.
Garnett needed some new faces to work with for the new campaign. Garnett, who was the 2003-04 MVP, led Minnesota in scoring (22.2 ppg), rebounds (13.5 rpg) and assists (5.7 apg) in 2004-05. The All-star forward came to play every night last season, which could not be said about the rest of his teammates. The Timberwolves have a franchise player in Garnett, but he can't do it all by himself.
Veterans Sam Cassell, who averaged 13.5 points and 5.1 assists in 51 games last season, and Latrell Sprewell were not happy and will not be wearing Minnesota uniforms this season. Cassell was traded to the Clippers for guards Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers, while the 35-year-old Sprewell, who netted 12.8 per game in 80 contests in 2004-05, was an unrestricted free agent and did not re-sign with the team.
Minnesota drafted North Carolina guard Rashad McCants with the 14th overall pick in the draft, and selected Indiana guard Bracey Wright in round two, 47th overall. The team also added undrafted rookie free agent Dwayne Jones and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who spent last season with the Nuggets and Warriors.
Forward Wally Szczerbiak played 81 games and averaged 15.5 points and 3.7 assists, while guard Troy Hudson netted 8.7 and handed out 3.6 assists per game in 79 contests last season. Eddie Griffin, who re-signed with the club, showed some promise at forward and center Michael Olowokandi was a huge disappointment.
The Timberwolves, who relieved head coach Flip Saunders of his duties during last season, hired Dwane Casey as the new general of the club. Casey landed in Minnesota after spending 11 years on the coaching staff of the Seattle SuperSonics, including the last four as associate head coach. Prior to joining Seattle for the 1994-95 campaign, he served as a head coach in Japan for five years.
Casey is a fresh voice. He should be able to inject life into the Timberwolves and get the most out of his roster. Minnesota's new leader will stress defense, but will have the big challenge of getting his team to play as one.
On the injury front, Garnett (ankle) and guard Troy Hudson (hip) are probable for tonight's game.
Nate McMillan decided to take on a tough challenge when he accepted the Trail Blazers' offer to become their new general during the offseason. McMillan, who guided the Seattle SuperSonics to a 52-30 record and the Northwest Division crown in 2004-05, takes over a club that finished 27-55 last season and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
In his four years with the Sonics, McMillan compiled a regular-season record of 212-183, while going 8-8 in the postseason. Under his leadership, Seattle reached the playoffs on two occasions, as it also appeared in the postseason in 2001-02. During that season, McMillan's first full campaign as the team's head coach, the Sonics went 45-37 and earned the seventh seed in the playoffs, where they lost to San Antonio in five games.
Gone are veterans Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who signed with Sacramento, Derek Anderson, who landed in Houston, Damon Stoudamire, who inked a deal with Memphis and Nick Van Exel, who joined the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Blazers selected high school sensation Martell Webster with the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, and also acquired Georgia Tech guard Jarett Jack, who was drafted by Denver in the first round, from the Nuggets for Linas Kleiza, who was picked by Portland at No. 27 of round.
Guard Juan Dixon, who averaged 8.0 points and 1.8 assists for Washington last season, joined the club as a free agent. Portland reportedly inked the 27- year-old Dixon to a three-year deal worth $8 million. Former Wizard Steve Blake was a restricted free agent and also inked a deal with the club.
Forward Zach Randolph, who the 2003-04 Most Improved Player, played just 46 games in 2004-05. The 24-year-old Randolph averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 boards when he was on the court. Randolph, who had a bone contusion to the articular surface of the femur in his right knee that ended his season, is still one of the building blocks for Portland's future.
Twenty-year-old Sebastian Telfair, who was selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2004 draft, is the point guard of the future for Portland. He averaged 6.8 points and 3.3 assists in 68 games during his rookie campaign. Telfair had a strong finish to the season and should be the starter in 2005-06.
Randolph and Telfair are young and skilled. The Blazers have shaped their roster around the two of them. Portland also has 23-year-old forward Darius Milers, who netted 12.8 points per game in 63 contests last season, and centers Theo Ratliff and Joel Przybilla who will share the duties in the middle.
McMillan will have to be patient with the Blazers. Portland is a franchise that is trying to find a direction to go in. General manager John Nash is on the hot seat and must get McMillan some better talent to work with. McMillan will lead Portland into the future, whether Nash will be along for the ride is another story.
Last season, Minnesota won all four contests with the Trail Blazers. Overall, the Timberwolves have won eight of the last 11 meetings. Portland has lost two in a row and four of its last five at Minnesota.
11/02 10:22:02 ET