MEMPHIS - This entire Timberwolves preseason -- whether it be held near the bazaars or Beale Street -- is one big audition. But perhaps no more so than Monday night, when Marko Jaric started at point guard by default in a 101-93 loss at Memphis.
Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair missed Monday's game because of injuries -- Foye because of a tender knee, Telfair because of a bum ankle -- and is likely to do so again tonight at Atlanta.
Without them, Jaric assumed a starting position at what he calls his natural position and delivered a 35-minute, 17-point, three-assist, five-turnover performance on a night when the Timberwolves cruised early and collapsed late in their first game back in the United States after a European tour.
The Wolves built a 16-point, second-quarter lead, then were outscored 54-32 after halftime, partly because of their anxiousness to start the second half, partly because of Jaric's foul trouble that transformed such players as Greg Buckner, Ricky Davis and Corey Brewer into emergency point guards.
Coach Randy Wittman also turned to his young players in the second half and used veteran starters Ricky Davis and Theo Ratliff sparingly.
"We did a lot of good things for the most part, without a true point guard," Wittman said. "Things came so easy the first half, we fell into believing they'd be that easy all night."
Jaric, a 6-7 guard still searching to find his way in Minnesota more than two years after he was acquired in a hefty sign-and-trade deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, considers himself a true point guard.
"I'm finally back at my natural position, after the last year and a half lost out there," said Jaric, who mostly played off the ball last season because the Wolves had a surplus of point guards. "I see every night as an opportunity. In this league, when you get an opportunity, you better be ready to take it."
Wittman contemplated Jaric's evening and called it "pretty much OK."At the end, we didn't keep it together like we need to down the stretch of a tight game," said Wittman, who termed another turnover-prone game (21) problematic. "Overall, he did a decent job."
When Jaric collected his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, Wittman turned to, among others, Buckner to bring the ball up court.
"I don't think I've done that [in an NBA game] since probably my early years in Dallas with Nellie," Buckner said, referring to former Mavericks coach and current Golden State coach Don Nelson. "Nellie tried some wild things."
Wittman said Memphis' pressure defense wore down his team because of its point-guard situation. Grizzlies guard Juan Carlos Navarro's 22 points, including five three-pointers, didn't hurt. Neither did Memphis' 11-0 fourth-quarter run that turned a one-point Wolves lead into a 97-86 deficit with 3:12 left.
"We didn't have our top guys in that much in the second half," Buckner said. "He [Wittman] looked at a lot of the young guys. We've got to make some cuts coming up here. You've got to give some guys the opportunity to see what they can do."
Forward Ryan Gomes played only |four minutes before he injured his foot. Wittman said Gomes' condition would be re-evaluated today.