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Wolves Can Adjust on James Harden

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April 17, 2018

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A Tuesday notes column with predictions on the Wolves and Wild, plus voices in support of youth football, items on MLB and the Twins, and more.

An NBA authority with decades of experience in the league has suggestions on how the Timberwolves can defend the Rockets’ James Harden who scorched them for 44 points on 15 of 26 shooting including 7 of 12 three pointers in his team’s Game One playoff win Sunday night.

“First thing I’d do is pick up full court (defensively on the Rockets)—not to steal the ball but to use up clock,” said the source who didn’t want his name identified.

The strategy is to take time off the 24-second shot clock, perhaps forcing the Rockets to use eight seconds or so to move the ball into the front court while eliminating time for Harden and the Rockets to set up their offense, including extra ball movement or dribbling. “He’s a hell of a player and great shooter,” the authority said of Harden who led the NBA in points per game during the regular season at 30.4.

Another suggestion is overplaying Harden to either his right or left, forcing him to move in the direction determined by the Wolves defender. As a strategy, other Wolves defenders stay alert to helping on Harden and with two men on him the superstar point guard may give up the ball to teammates or force a difficult shot. The source said this can also eliminate fouling and sending Harden to the free throw line (nine attempts, seven made, most of any player Sunday).

The Rockets had the best regular season record in the NBA, while the Wolves qualified in the last game for the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. Although there is minimal optimism about the Wolves’ chances against Houston, the Sports Headliners source thinks the best of seven series could go to the final game with the Rockets winning.

“They’re (the Wolves) better than their season record. …They have good young talent and are well coached,” the source said.

A Wild win tonight at home against the Jets evens the series at 2-2. A hockey source, who before the playoffs predicted Minnesota will lose in six games, described tonight’s matchup as a “momentum game.” A Wild win could mean Minnesota goes seven games against the Jets but a loss puts the team down 3-1 in the series and headed back to Winnipeg for Friday night’s game.

Give the Wild credit for showing fight Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Not only was Minnesota down 2-0 in the series but fell behind 1-0 in the game. “The Jets tried to play physical but the Wild didn’t back down,” said the source.

The most interesting angle tonight could be if Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck—after being pulled during Sunday night’s 6-2 loss—plays with confidence. That was his first ever road playoff game.

The Wild probably generated $2 million or more from revenues at Sunday night’s home game, and projects to do the same tonight.

Bob Motzko (photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications)

Bob Motzko, named the Golden Gophers’ new hockey coach in late March,  hasn’t announced who will be on his staff. He will do the “Let’s Play Hockey” call tonight before the Wild-Jets game.

There were legislative initiatives earlier this year in the states of Illinois and New York that would ban tackle football for children younger than 12—citing concerns over head injuries. From Hollywood to Hoboken, much has been said and written about the dangers of head injuries from football, a sport under attack in America.

Supporters, though, point to information showing other activities, including cheerleading, have caused more head injuries among youth. They also talk about the virtues and lessons learned from what many educators regard as the ultimate team sport.

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association and Minnesota State High School League are promoting an event May 5 at Mounds View High School called the Minnesota Football Summit. The purpose is to “develop a plan for short and long range action steps to benefit youth and high school participants and programs throughout Minnesota.” Youth and prep football coaches, and athletic directors, are encouraged to attend. More at Mnfootballcoaches.com.

Former Viking and St. Paul native Matt Birk, now a consultant for the NFL, told Sports Headliners that the Illinois and New York initiatives have failed. He believes “states can find bigger things they can focus on.” He speaks from experiences in high school, college and the pros when supporting his sport.

“Football is such a great game,” Birk said. “It has so much to offer young people. We don’t need to make any apologies.

“Of course we’re always going to try to make it better and safer. …I think it’s just fine for the most part the way it is. We need to make sure people know that the reason why you play football is because it’s great for the overall development of kids. You can learn a lot of things that will serve you well for the rest of your life.”

Birk has a nine-year-old son who played tackle football for the first time last fall. “He had a great time. He loves football. He loves being out there with his friends.”

Birk said his eight-year-old son asks almost every day if he can play football when he turns nine. The answer will be yes because Birk sees it as his responsibility to encourage kids to participate in activities they are enthusiastic about.

The NFL promotes co-ed flag football programs for ages 9-10 and 11-12, and 13-14 for boys, and 13-14 for girls. “Anything that gets kids involved with football is great,” Birk said. “There should be options for kids. If you want to play flag, they can play flag. If you want to play tackle, play tackle. …We have an obesity epidemic in this country. If kids want to do stuff, then gosh dang, we should find a way for them to do it.”

Birk said it would have been nice to see Case Keenum rewarded with a new and richer contract for his role in last season’s success, but the Vikings obviously identified new quarterback Kirk Cousins as an upgrade “which he may be.” The Vikings have a window of opportunity with a talented roster. “It seems like everything is there,” Birk said. “Kind of going all in right now to push for a Super Bowl run.”

A sports industry source was told the Twins, as the host team in the two-game Puerto Rico series against the Indians that starts tonight, are guaranteed by MLB the sum of their average Target Field game revenues. That figure could be about $1.3 million per game in Minneapolis, or for two games against the Indians in San Juan a total of $2.6 million, plus expenses.

Look for MLB to improve its April scheduling next year with northern teams likely to have fewer home dates the first two weeks of the month. Half of MLB’s 30 teams are either located in warm weather cities, or have domes.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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