It took just one win for new Minnesota coach Kevin McHale to win over his players.
McHale, Minnesota’s vice president of basketball operations, fired long-time coach Flip Saunders on Saturday before suffering an 87-83 loss to Chicago in his NBA coaching debut Sunday.
But McHale and the Timberwolves rebounded with an 82-71 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday, pulling within one victory of the break-even mark, and setting a tone for what they hope will be a strong stretch run to the playoffs.
“He’s like a breath of fresh air right now,” reigning MVP Kevin Garnett said of McHale. “He’s given everybody from A to Z confidence.”
“If you can keep banging the boards, hitting, fighting and scratching, stuff will fall your way eventually,” said McHale.
The Timberwolves held a 52-41 rebounding edge, shot 24 free throws to the Nets’ 14 and were frequently active without the ball. Those were things Saunders wasn’t able to get the team to do this season.
“Now, if you don’t score or if you don’t play that much, everybody’s still upbeat,” Olowokandi said. “McHale does a very, very good job of that.”
James and the Cavaliers reached 30 wins before the All-Star break for just the fourth time in team history, and first since the 1992-93 campaign. James scored 28 points Tuesday as Cleveland completed a season sweep of Atlanta with a 111-89 victory.
James, headed to the All-Star game in Denver, has not yet decided whether he will compete in the slam dunk contest. He will be in the starting lineup for the East All-Stars after being snubbed as a reserve last year during his rookie season.
Cleveland coach Paul Silas won’t be upset if James skips the dunk event.
“He’s playing in the rookie game and the All-Star game already,” Silas said. “And they’re going to have him doing everything. He’s not going to get any rest.”