Timberwolves (4-19) at Kings (6-18)
Scoring: Kings 15th (97.7), Timberwolves 26th (94.9).
Shooting: Kings tied for 10th (45.8 percent), Timberwolves 30th (42.7).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (106.1), Timberwolves 22nd (101.7).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.9), Timberwolves tied for 25th (46.9).
Rebound differential: Kings 19th (minus-1.7), Timberwolves 15th (minus-0.2).
The links: Timberwolves coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press
The almanac: On this date in 1997, the Bulls announced their 500th consecutive home sellout, the third-longest streak in history. Only the Trail Blazers (814) and Celtics (662) have better attendance runs.
There is no shock value, of course. Reggie Theus knew he was on soft ground, Joe Maloof publicly moved him there, and a lot of people had their own calendar for when this would happen. In mid-November, I called Dec. 3 because the schedule would finally allow practice days, the kind of timing where teams like to change coaches, but Geoff Petrie said nothing would happen until Theus could be evaluated with a full roster.
Instead, with Kevin Martin still out, Theus got it Monday morning. Just to double check: Not having your best player means the roster is not complete, right?
Management was obviously not prepared to let the atmosphere deteriorate further, until there were more wincing moments and greater schedule complications: You keep Theus a few more games, Martin may still not be back, you're in a tough trip to Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio, hardly an ideal time to serve up Kenny Natt. Then it's Christmas, and the Kings were not going to do this Dec. 23 or 24, right after the southern swing. It's been done -- Scott Skiles by the Bulls on Christmas Eve last year -- but the Maloofs are too PR conscious to face that backlash.
Theus is far from blameless. When players disregarded his defensive instructions, they stayed on the court. When Beno Udrih gave up on a play, he stayed on the court. Young players getting leeway is understandable because they have to be allowed to work through mistakes, but veterans checked out with little consequence.
Coaches get fired, and coaches this season get fired all the time, but the Theus' situation is a rarity in the way players' efforts were questionable from the first game. Apathetic on opening night, apathetic on the rest of the four-game trip, apathetic at Memphis in mid-November with the chance to break a brief losing streak, apathetic against the Knicks in December with the chance to build on back-to-back commendable showings -- that's about something besides the coach.
It would be hard, and maybe impossible, to find a time in the last few decades around the league when a team was so spiritless from the start. Ron Artest was gone, improving the mood. Spencer Hawes was healthy and, as has been proven, improving. Brad Miller, though with the setback of the five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, was coming off a good season and energized for another. Francisco Garcia had just received a healthy contract extension, removing that distraction. Bobby Jackson, a positive influence, was back.
*Timberwolves 98, Kings 96 on Oct. 29. The Kings were shorthanded, but still had a manageable opponent.
*Heat 103, Kings 77 on Oct. 31. Miami has turned out to be decent, but 26 points better than the Kings?
*Magic 121, Kings 103 on Nov. 1. The understandable one. Second night of a back-to-back against a good opponent, with no Miller to help against Dwight Howard.
*76ers 125, Kings 91 on Nov. 3. Philly has been so bad, it fired Maurice Cheeks before the Kings could get to Theus. On this night, though: amazingly easy win.
And so the tone had been set for the weeks that would follow and the lack of energy and focus that could easily come to define the season for an organization that has never known such a thing in the Petrie / Maloof era.
Coaches generally are responsible for players being tuned in. But when it's historically bad, when too much of the roster is sleepwalking in November like a lottery-bound team in early April, when it becomes common to question the heart at the only time of the season when the Kings aren't buried in the standings, it says something about a lot more than Reggie Theus.