Saunders felt he had to chastise his players after their lackluster 89-83 loss at Houston last Thursday, but he understood their malaise. To acquire Jackson the T-Wolves had to give up the popular backup center Dean Garrett (as well as a second-round pick in 2007). It says everything about Minnesota's camaraderie that Garnett and his teammates were upset by the trade of Garrett, who had washed out several times before finding a home with the Timberwolves. In the end that togetherness is going to win a lot more games for Minnesota than it loses.
All-Star Steve Francis
His Head Aches, But He Plays On
Of all the ills that have befallen the Rockets this season—and for an injury-riddled team that was 20-35 at week's end, there have been plenty—the most disturbing has been point guard Steve Francis's mysterious headaches. He suffered them occasionally last year, but since returning in December from a monthlong foot injury they have come like tidal waves.
That's why his backup, Moochie Norris, looks deep into Francis's eyes several times a game. "There was one time when he made a sensational move, and we had to yell at him to shoot it because he didn't realize he was so wide open," says Norris. "I'm worried that he could run into a screen and hurt himself."
"He's a guy who can jump really high, and sometimes he's out there when he's dizzy or he has blurry eyesight," says Houston trainer Keith Jones. "What if he misjudges the rim or mistimes his jump?"
Through Sunday the 6'3" Francis had missed five games because of the headaches, but he had also played at least 23 times with them. Before Francis's second game back after the foot injury, Rockets G.M. Carroll Dawson recalls seeing him lying in a darkened training room with cold compresses on his head. "On a scale of five, the pain was about 3�," recalls Francis, who tied his career-high of 36 points that night against the Pistons, including the first buzzer-beating, game-winning shot of his three-year career. Says Dawson, "It was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen because of the condition he was in."
Francis, who started in his first All-Star Game last month, says he was initially worried that he may have had a life-threatening condition. Since January at least a dozen specialists have examined his teeth, sinuses, eyes and brain and have scrutinized his diet and tested him for allergies. Although news reports have commonly referred to his ailment as migraine headaches, Jones says, "we have not had any doctor diagnose migraines."
As of last Friday the working diagnosis was that Francis was suffering from a vestibular weakness, which results in vertigo. He then began therapy at Texas Medical Center in Houston with Kathleen Deyo, a neurological physical therapist who is teaching him to compensate for an imbalance in his inner ears. "In a stadium, with the crowds, excitement, the lights and all of the movement, a person with this weakness can suffer from motion sickness," says Deyo, who successfully treated Astros pitcher Billy Wagner for a different form of vertigo after he was hit in the head by a batted ball in 1998.
Francis's team of doctors believes there may be another explanation for his symptoms, which is why the Rockets are wiling to support his leaving the team to visit the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for further examinations. While Houston players had missed 199 games because of injuries through Sunday, young forwards Kenny Thomas and Eddie Griffin have made the most of their increased minutes, raising hopes that the team will surge into the playoffs next year if Glen Rice, Maurice Taylor and others recover from injury.
But the real inspiration has come from Francis, who has been fighting his way onto the court for a team that is going nowhere. At week's end he was averaging 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists to lead the team in all three categories. "I look at it as a test from the devil," Francis says. "I've got to play because my team really needs me. There's nothing else I'd rather do than play."