The Twins are well-known for encouraging fans to arrive early for various ceremonies. It might be for the induction of a player into the Twins Hall of Fame, or for a reunion of past successful teams.
Football and basketball have the advantage of holding ceremonies at halftime, as they can finish in 12-15 minutes.
It has been my experience that fans rarely take the advice to get to their seats a half-hour before the first pitch, or to remain in those seats at halftime in greater numbers than is normally the case.
That wasn’t the situation on Monday night, when the Timberwolves had a tribute scheduled to honor the life of Flip Saunders. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. There’s usually extra dramatics added to introductions on Opening Night, so this was 15 minutes before a normal opening tip.
I’ve never seen Target Center close to full 15 minutes before an opening tip, even on those now rare nights when big crowds are anticipated.
On Monday, the fans were pouring into the main arena between 6:30 and 7, and the old arena (25 is old in arena years) had to be 90 percent full when Tom Hanneman walked to mid-court with a microphone and started the ceremony.
This had to be greatest tribute to Flip of all: He got Minnesotans to show up early for a game.
At the end of the ceremony, Hanneman asked the crowd to be revved for the action about to take place. Too bad Andrew Wiggins missed an open three in the early moments – the cliché about the “roof coming off’’ would have been true, just as it was the case at Williams Arena during Flip’s days as the Gophers point guard.
The Timberwolves played great early, but they couldn’t do anything about Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ wonderful guard, and ultimately lost for the first time in three games – 106-101.
There were three very close calls that went against the Wolves down the stretch, and one guaranteed the victory for Portland: Karl-Anthony Towns’ hold of Mason Plumlee on a jump ball was called a foul, rather than Plumlee’s hold of Towns being called a foul.
Such is life in the subjective of world of calling fouls in the NBA – or penalties in the NFL, penalties in the NHL or balls and strikes in baseball, for that matter.
The takeaway from three games with the Wolves is that they are a decent club when Ricky Rubio is on the floor running the show, and they aren’t so good when Rubio is sitting on the bench.
Zach LaVine’s stat line was OK on Monday, and the second team did have a decent stretch.
Overall, the ball movement and spacing – very necessary when you don’t have a Lillard who can say, “OK, I’m going to score now’’ – has a tendency to go to Hades without Rubio.
This is very much a quandary for coach Sam Mitchell and his staff. They want to have Wiggins spend significant time at off guard, creating matchup problems. You could see the chore it was for C.J. McCollum, giving up four inches, to handle Wiggins at times on Monday.
Trouble was, Wiggins had two early fouls and didn’t play his usual minutes.
Kevin Martin is the only three-point shooter and he’s going to wind up in the top three in minutes, even coming off the bench.
Wiggins moves to small forward when he’s on the floor with Martin. Mitchell has been starting veteran Tayshaun Prince there, to get the Wolves in a defensive mode earlier, and the coach also needs to find solid minutes for Shabazz Muhammad.
And thus arrives the LaVine problem: If Wiggins and Martin are going to take 90 percent of the minutes at off guard, this kid has too much ability to sit all night, right?
Thus, the need to keep trying to develop LaVine takes precedence over perhaps using veteran Andre Miller for 10 minutes at point guard and maintaining more cohesion with the offense.
What about Tyus Jones? I think the rookie is going to get most of his minutes in the D League this season.
I’m with Mitchell on this one. I think he has to keep pushing LaVine out there as the backup point guard and see what happens.
And once in a while, as was the case in Denver, he can let LaVine play in tandem with Rubio, and give Zach a first-hand feel on how to space a floor and find an open man.