Blowing one dunk was irritating. Missing another, also in the second quarter of the Timberwolves' 107-89 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, was frustrating. But with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter, Craig Smith threw one down. And it was good.
"You're going to miss dunks in this league," teammate Kevin Garnett said later. "Just like getting dunked on, dunking on people, air-balling and missing shots, it's just going to happen. It's part of the game. But did you see the one he made? Yeah! Rocked that rim."
Said Smith, a thick-bodied rookie forward and the team's biggest surprise of the early season: "Finally got one. Missed two earlier, bubbled out. But hey, things happen for a reason. Got another opportunity, made the best of it."
That has been the story of Smith's first NBA season. The second-round pick from Boston College ranks fifth on the Wolves in scoring (8.7) and third in rebounding (5.3), numbers that put him fourth and third respectively among the league's newcomers. One of Smith's distinguishing traits is how seldom he makes mistakes; he takes shots he can make and sticks to low-risk passes. He had three assists in the second quarter, finding Marko Jaric cutting for a layup and Garnett for a jumper and a slam.
"Mark Blount does an excellent job [as the starting center], but Craig comes in and changes the game," coach Dwane Casey said. "It's just his intensity, smarts. He's always where he's supposed to be."
Easy on the leftovers
Smith, a solid 272 pounds, admitted that he works at staying in shape, boosting his conditioning on a stationary bike. One reason: He needs his wind, averaging an unexpected 18 minutes a game.
"I've definitely got to watch it. I try to do extra things," Smith said of his workouts and menus. "It's not that bad. It's only if you put yourself in certain situations. If you take care of yourself the right way, you shouldn't have any problems."
View from down under
There's no denying reality in the coaches' office adjacent to the Wolves' locker room at Target Center. Two boards showing the Western Conference and Northwest Division standings dominate one wall. They're updated daily and, heading into today's games, show the Wolves (4-6) in last place in the division and next-to-last in the West.
"I hate looking at them," Casey said, "because I know we're better than where we are right now. You have quite a few teams whose records are not conducive to what they are. We want to hurry up and get those numbers up on that left side."
That would be under the W.
A babe in Manhattan
New York center Eddy Curry is showing a little more life these days, averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 29.2 minutes, all slightly better than his career stats. He had a ferocious slam in the third quarter that jostled the entire basket support, but it was an exclamation point in search of a sentence; the Knicks trailed by 24 points at the time, their largest deficit. The big guy finished with 14 points and seven boards.
"He's still young, and people forget that he's only 23," Wolves guard Trenton Hassell told a New York reporter. "He's still growing and learning. By the time he's 25 or 26, he's going to be a monster."
Four on four
It made for nice symmetry, Hassell and New York's Quentin Richardson canceling out each other by going scoreless from the small forward position Wednesday. They played a combined 42 minutes, didn't guard each other and weren't ground down as defenders, since the eight other starters reached double figures.
Hassell, in the lineup for his defense, had one such goose egg last season, eight in 2004-05 and six after he became a starter early in 2003-04. He scored 13 points in the Wolves' opener but has averaged 5.0 points on 39.1 percent shooting since.