SI Vault
Jack McCallum
February 25, 1991
Foreign Fling a Flop?
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February 25, 1991

The Nba

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In Minnesota, Musselman began the season with the same kind of controlled, conservative offense that had kept his expansion team competitive, if not very exciting, in its inaugural season of '89-90.

In Denver, the Rocky Mountains reverberated with the echoes of coach Paul Westhead's controversial high-speed gospel: "We will run for 48 minutes! We will full-court press for 48 minutes! We will not stop! And we will not be deterred by our critics!" Or words to that effect, anyway.

What a few jolts of NBA reality will do. Weiss's Hawks quickly returned to running set plays that utilize the abilities of All-Star forward Dominique Wilkins, Musselman has allowed talented second-year point guard Pooh Richardson to open the Minnesota throttle, and West-head has given up on the idea of applying 48 minutes of full-court pressure.

The results in all cases have been positive, yet only Weiss seems comfortable with his decision.

"I wasn't going to take us down for the sake of running my system," says Weiss, "so I junked it."

The Hawks won four of their first five games by playing the passing game, a system that depends on constant motion, quick cuts, reads and short passes. Weiss embraced it partly because, as he says, "It's fun to play and fun to watch," but it was neither when the Hawks then dropped nine games in a row, lost confidence in the system, and began playing one-on-one basketball. "It didn't surprise me," says Weiss. "At the first sign of trouble that's what players do. They revert." So did Weiss, and now Atlanta runs set plays almost exclusively. And the Hawks, who at week's end stood at 27-23, are headed for the playoffs after missing them last season.

It was certainly not an easy moment for the hard-boiled Musselman when on the evening of Dec. 30, he handed Richardson the ball and said, "Let's run." In Minnesota's previous 12 games, 10 of them losses, the Timberwolves had averaged only 86.6 points, and Richardson and shooting guard Tony Campbell had voiced dissatisfaction with Musselman and the team's style. In that night's game against Seattle, Minnesota scored 126 and won by 20. Since then, the Wolves have averaged 106.2 and have a 16-33 season's record, the best of the four expansion teams.

Yet Musselman talks almost longingly about the old days—last season, that is, when his scrappy first-year club with the deliberate offense surprised a lot of teams by winning 22 games.

"We played as hard defensively as a team could possibly play," says Musselman. "We would've run ourselves out of a chance to win in a lot of those games. Anyway, I don't buy the theory that people don't like low-scoring games. Fans like close games. And we gave our fans a lot of them last year just because we played under control."

Musselman acknowledges, however, that holding fan interest was at least a minor consideration for upping the tempo. And he reminds everyone that should the need arise, the Wolves can return to the same conservative philosophy that produced a league-low average of 95.2 points per game last season.

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