LOS ANGELES – Nine years after his Los Angeles Lakers beat his former Timberwolves team 106-98 Friday night, Mark Madsen recalls a season finale deemed a farce, mockery, travesty and circus all compressed into one and emotions ranging from embarrassment to regret still flow from his role in such a game.
In an issue that continues in the NBA to this day, the Wolves needed to lose to Memphis in order to keep their first-round draft pick. And lose they did, but not until Madsen hoisted seven three-pointers – count ‘em, seven – all in the final 10 minutes of a double-overtime loss.
A reserve forward who built his NBA career by playing in the paint, Madsen hadn’t attempted a three-pointer that entire season or the season before that. But as Target Center fans implored him, he attempted seven in succession, all of which missed and the Grizzlies basically had no choice but to win 102-92 after two extra sessions.
“I look back and I still feel some pain about that game,” Madsen said Friday at Staples Center. “It was a unique circumstance.”
All these years later, the Wolves and once-mighty Lakers now play out the season with only draft-lottery implications at stake. Together, they started six rookies Friday while Ricky Rubio, Kevin Garnett, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin, among many others, sat out because of sore knees, ankles and “coach’s decision.”
The Wolves trailed by as many as 18 points when rookies Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne wowed the Friday-night Staples Center crowd with feats of athleticism and Lorenzo Brown impressed coach Flip Saunders with his energy and toughness.
Wiggins’ 29-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist, 2-steal night including a 15-for-16 shooting night from the free-throw line as he states again in this season’s final days his case for Rookie of the Year award.
“He’s making more plays off the ball, that’s what you’re looking to see,” Saunders said afterward. “If you want to be good, you put the ball in the hands of your main guy – whether it’s a (James) Harden, a (Stephen) Curry, a LeBron James, someone like that –and have confidence they’ll either make plays for themselves, get fouled or more plays for their teammates. We’ve given him more responsibility to do that and he’s accepted that and done pretty well with that.”
Wiggins has attempted 31 free throws in his last two games and has reached double digits in attempts in four of his last five games.
“Going to the basket is one the key things I’m good at,” Wiggins said. “I’m trying to use it. I hope I can keep it up.”
At 16-63, the Wolves remain firmly aimed at the NBA’s second-worst record. The 21-58 Lakers are aimed at fourth-worst record, but there’s a 17-percent chance they’ll surrender a pick outside the top five to Philadelphia.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is exploring draft lottery reform that doesn’t reward bad teams for playing worse. Speaking passionately Friday about his part long ago, Madsen proposed rewarding the league’s best teams with the draft’s best picks as incentive for all teams to achieve.
“To this day, I still have emotions about that game,” said Madsen, now a Lakers assistant coach. “Part of me wishes it had never happened. Part of me wishes I wouldn’t have taken a single shot, but I own it. I take full accountability and responsibility.”
Madsen smiled that night when he answered questions afterward. Wolves coach Dwane Casey said his players deserved some fun at the end of a long, lousy 33-victory season. Memphis’ Brian Cardinal dryly said, “We were fortunate. Mark Madsen wasn’t `on’ tonight.”
That night’s loss meant the Wolves kept a top 10-protected draft pick owed the Clippers. That night’s loss meant the Wolves selected sixth that June, when acquired Randy Foye after selecting and trading away Brandon Roy on draft night.
He said that night’s loss still is with him. He doesn’t smile much talking about a night he took 15 shots that night and made just one. Included were those seven three-pointers, all in overtime. Those were the last seven three-pointers of a nine-year career that still had three more seasons left. He had taken nine in six seasons before that night.
“I had kids coming alongside the court telling me to shoot the ball and I shot the ball,” he said. “People, they wanted the pick. Everyone in the building knew that. Every time I touched the ball, a lot of the arena is telling you to shoot, shoot, shoot. It makes you feel bad because basically they’re saying if you shoot, you’re going to miss and that’s good for the team.”
He admits now that he knew then he couldn’t lose either way in a season when Garnett missed the final two weeks because of a sore knee and the Wolves started Eddie Griffin, Justin Reed, Rashad McCants, Marcus Banks and Mark Blount that night.
“I tried to make every single shot I took that night,” said Madsen, who remembers two shots missing badly but said the other five had a chance. “I also knew if we lost the game, it was better for the organization. I did know that. No one ever told me to shoot the ball like that. I also felt a little bit upset inside at the spectacle and part of me inside wanted to go out there and knock down some threes and prove everybody wrong.”
Madsen worked with three different shooting coaches – including current Spurs assistant Chip Engelland – and considered himself a capable shooter, even if he made just one of 16 career threes attempted.
“I take full accountability and responsibility for every game I ever played, including that one,” he said. “For those people who have feelings about that night, I apologize. But let it be known for the record, I was trying to nail every single shot.”
• The Timberwolves held their morning shootaround Friday at Beverly Hills High School on a court that carries some Hollywood history with it. Underneath the court, is a swimming pool that was featured in a Charleston dance scene from the old holiday film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
• Wolves veteran guard Kevin Martin missed the morning shoot because he was ill, but felt better by afternoon and started Friday’s game.
• Former Wolves center Ronny Turiaf, traded away midseason, was a visitor to the morning shoot Friday.
• Saunders when asked about practicing atop some silver-screen history Friday morning. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “ `It’s a Wonderful World’ or whatever.”
• Forward Robbie Hummel fell hard on his back unsuccessfully attempting to draw a foul and walked very carefully after the game. "It hurts, but I don't think anything's broken or anything," he said.