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Reusse: Jaden McDaniels and the Wolves' summer project

Coach Chris Finch had stated a few times in recent weeks that the involvement level of Jaden McDaniels is the "barometer" as to how his Timberwolves are playing in a given game.

If that had been an accurate assessment, then the barometric pressure inside Target Center for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals might have been low enough to create dangerous winds.

Which wouldn't have been the first indoor weather event during this series, since there were raindrops coming from Target Center's sod-covered roof in select areas on the wet day of Game 1.

McDaniels is a true 6-foot-10, a lithe leaper, and started this series by drilling three-pointers from hither and yon to lead the Wolves to a 62-point first half. He finished 9-for-16 with 24 points in that 108-105 opening loss.

By Game 5, McDaniels' teammates were back to ignoring him, he slapped his way to five fouls in frustration, and finished Thursday night 3-for-6 with eight points in 21 minutes.

He was sitting with two fouls for much of the time when the score went from 18-18 to 40-19 for Dallas, and remained the invisible forward – whether sitting, or watching Anthony Edwards dribble around, hoping a crack suddenly would appear in the Mavs' wall of defense.

The Ant Man was considerably more dynamic with his postgame interviews than with his play in this series.

Sean Sweeney, the former Cretin-Derham Hall Raider and St. Thomas Tommie, is the defensive specialist on the Mavericks' coaching staff. Sweeney might be getting head coaching interviews soon, and he can bring along video of the Mavs' work vs. Edwards.

He went 11-for-33 in the two home losses that started this series and sealed the Wolves' fate. Ant's numbers were better in Games 3 and 4, but the flurry of threes in the third quarter that saved Edwards' stat line for Game 5 … we love you, Ant, but too late.

As for defense, the Wolves' alleged calling card: they gave up 69 points in the first half and then the Mavericks waltzed to a 124-103 final.

Meantime, the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA after the trading deadline (the final quarter of the schedule) was Dallas, even with the great scorer, Luka Doncic, shuffling around, offering "guard that guy" points to teammates.

The Mavs gave up a pair of future No. 1 draft picks and expendable players to acquire center Daniel Gafford and forward P.J. Washington at the deadline.

Sweeney was in the crowded Target Center hallway as the Mavs' celebration was winding down in the locker room. He was asked if those trades gave the coaches confidence this was now a team to make a playoff run.

"For sure," he said. "We had two of the best players in the world, Luka and Kyrie [Irving], but we needed more inside. Rebounding, defense, toughness.

"And an added thing about Luka, with tremendous scoring … he rebounds."

Doncic had 10 rebounds, all defensive, on Thursday. Gafford had nine and Washington seven. And the rookie, Dereck Lively II, the alternate center with Gafford, had eight.

And if you want a barometric check: McDaniels had one rebound.

Finch and his coaches had a great summer of 2023 figuring out how Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns could form a winning combination.

Many observers did not think that was possible. We were wrong, as the Wolves went 56-26 to finish one win out of first place in the rugged Western Conference.

Now, Finch and company have another summer job: Figure out how to make consistent use of McDaniels – on both ends of the court, not just defense.

You're paying him a ton. If you're satisfied to have McDaniels stand in the left corner and go 1-for-3 on threes with three rebounds, it's a complete waste.

Start giving McDaniels the ball more often to make plays when the schedule starts in late October and, when the playoffs arrive next April, Edwards might not have so many defensive walls to try to maneuver through.

As a comparison in the local sports-scape, the Game 5 flop was remindful of the Vikings' 34-7 debacle in Philadelphia in January 2018, one week after Stefon Diggs and the Minneapolis Miracle.

The manner in which these Timberwolves overcame Denver and Nikola Jokic in the second round was also miraculous. That was over the course of seven unpredictable games, not 10 seconds, but unhappily, our sports barometer was pointed straight downward at the finish in both cases.