The NBA midseason break is now on. Minnesota is off until Feb. 24 after completing one-half of a four-game homestand this month. The Wolves currently have the second-best scoring starting five in the Western Conference (77.2 ppg).
The Detroit Pistons lost both meetings against Minnesota this season, including a 13-point defeat on Feb. 6 in downtown Minneapolis. The team is in the middle of a “restoration” process, longtime analyst Greg Kelser told the MSR prior to the contest.
Although the Pistons are mired in last place in the Central Division, “There are certain things that you have to not focus on so much,” explained Kelser. “Your overall record is probably one of them.”
Despite Detroit’s sub-500 record, the Pistons rank third in the NBA in bench scoring, tied for fourth in forced turnovers per game, tied for eighth in steals, and ninth in second-chance points this season.
With four players with one year of pro experience and five rookies, including 2021 first overall pick Cade Cunningham, “You’re looking for development, and are guys really getting better,” continued Kelser.
“I’m doing great. I’m enjoying coaching these kids,” HC Dwane Casey, the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year when he was coaching Toronto, told us after the game. His first NBA head coaching job was with Minnesota (2005-07), and he was fired with the Wolves in playoff contention in late January of 2007.
He has 14 years of experience as an NBA assistant and was in charge of the defense when Dallas won the 2011 NBA championship.
“I’m having fun,” said Casey. “It is frustrating sometimes, but it got all of our coaching juices [going], teaching and watching kids like Cade, Killian (Hayes) and Isaiah (Stewart), first and second-year players.”
The 6’6” Cunningham is tied for first among rookies in scoring and second in assists. “He’s a very good player,” noted Kelser on the first-year guard, with only a year of college experience. “He can take over a game and he does it with the combination of a six-foot-six frame with some strength going to the basket. He’s not afraid to challenge inside. He’s also a good passer.”
Said Casey, “We’re learning on the fly. You got to take your bumps and lumps and everything. This summer will be big for us. We have a lot of cap space coming off the books so we’re looking forward to big things.”
“I think during the course of an 82-game season,” surmised Kelser, “you can break it up into segments: games 1 to 20, games 20 to 40 [etc.]
“We showed marked improvement [in] the month of January, we were 7-9,” said Kelser. “You can see that they’re competing. They’re working extremely hard.”
Finally, the Pistons have the right man in Casey as a coach, said Kelser. “He coaches with integrity and honesty. He sets a nice time and a nice example [and] hold guys accountable.”
“I’m enjoying it,” concluded Casey.
Guards Layshia Clarendon and Rachel Banham both were re-signed last week by the Minnesota Lynx.
Clarendon, a nine-year veteran played in Minnesota in 2021 after being waived by New York in May 2020 last season and signed with the Lynx 10 days later. The team went 16-5 with Clarendon on the floor.
Banham returns for her third season in Minnesota—a 2016 first-round choice, she spent her first four seasons in Connecticut before she was acquired by the Lynx in 2020. The former Gopher played in 27 games off the bench in 2021.
“Minnesota is my home,” said the Lakeville, Minn. native. “I’m very excited to be back.”
Said Clarendon, “Minnesota and this team have been a salve for my soul. I’m beyond thrilled to be back with the Lynx.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.