I wrote tonight about the Wolves' insistence that they're not looking for a place to nap away the final seven weeks, and while I realize all teams say they won't mail it in, I didn't detect any obvious watch-checking during tonight's blowout. Then again, there were only two players remaining in the locker room by the time reporters were allowed in, so let's just say there may have been some cars warming up in the parking lot.
Can't begrudge them that, I suppose, after a week on the road. But it will be interesting to see if Kurt Rambis' all-cylinders approach might start grating on some nerves during what looks like a seriously difficult month of March. He said tonight he'll relax after the season's final game, and not until.
Some guys are self-motivated, and some wonder why they should bother. Rambis said he's got an unusually dedicated bunch, not a bad guy among them to infect the rest. So we'll see. Plays like Corey Brewer hustling to disrupt a Blazer fast break, catching Brandon Roy from behind (though he committed a foul in the process), seem to show this team hasn't quit.
If that was the Wolves' best effort, though, it's going to be hard to tell the difference if they coast. Funny thing is, the 19-point loss was the closest game of the four routs Portland has inflicted on the Wolves this season. But it just felt particularly awful because of all the costly turnovers. Minnesota committed 20, Portland turned them into an amazing 29 points, and all those steal-pass-layup sequences are especially deflating.
A few more items, while wondering what compelled such a huge crowd (19,266) to turn out:
-- Rambis said he's "not quite sure" that Al Jefferson is completely healthy, an interesting response considering the load that the Wolves' leading scorer has to carry. "We're asking him to make an awful lot of sacrifices to his game that he has never been asked to do -- punching opportunities, rather than running to the left block and asking for the ball," Rambis said. "We're asking him to play without the basketball, asking him to do a lot of things he's never been asked to do, but we believe will help us win ballgames. So he might be in condition to do what he used to do, but he's still not 100 percent in condition to do the kinds of things that we expect him to do." Jefferson, a year removed from knee surgery, wasn't around after the game to offer his opinion.
-- Jefferson had an interesting exchange with referee Bill Kennedy midway through the first quarter, when he was whistled for shuffling his feet. Normally, officials try to get the game started right away, but Kennedy allowed Jefferson to demonstrate what he thought he did -- and then Kennedy demonstrated what he saw. The conversation lasted close to 30 seconds, far more than most officials would allow. Jefferson wasn't satisfied with the explanation, though.
-- Kevin Love played only 22:46, and had only 10 points, six rebounds (zero offensive) and two assists. Is he having trouble adjusting to coming off the bench? Is Rambis docking him playing time? None of the above, the coach said. He just didn't want to use Love at the end of a blowout. "When it gets into the (lopsided) environment like it was tonight, guys like Kevin that would normally be in the game for the last six minutes -- those are six minutes that are gone for him. So now he loses minutes he needed to get him up to where his average is."
-- Portland is now 12-3 on the second night of back-to-back games. Absolutely astonishing for an eighth-place team.
-- The Wolves, big crowd Saturday notwithstanding, normally have a lousy homecourt atmosphere -- not the fault of the diehards who show up, but there are just way too few of them to provide much of a lift. So at a time when commissioner David Stern says the league is losing money practically everywhere, the Wolves' new ticket promotion is remarkable in its aggressiveness: They're slashing lower-bowl prices -- but only in March -- to levels never before seen in the franchise's two decades. There are $10 tickets just below the suites, $15 tickets behind the basket, and pretty much everything not between the baselines is available for $30. It's so difficult to find new customers for a 14-win team, particularly with the competition in town -- the Vikings nearly made the Super Bowl, and the Twins are opening a new park -- that they figured all the revenue lost in the short term would be worth it if they can grow the pool of ticket-holders who will want to stick around if the team grows into a winner. I'll be interested to see whether rock-bottom prices (lowest in the league by quite a bit, they say) can revive a fan base numbed into unconsciousness by all the losing. Give them credit for trying something radical, and if the game-night atmosphere improves, that's a bonus, too.
-- PHIL MILLER