PORTLAND – His teammates reached the season’s midway point last week and have rounded the turn, headed down the long homestretch in this 82-game NBA season.
Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger, meanwhile, is approaching the end of October and headed toward November.
Nine games after he returned from a second surgery on his knee meniscus cartilage, Budinger remains in what he considers his training camp, a process where his knee has felt fine but the rest of his body has been adjusting.
“I’m hopefully mostly toward the end,” he said, sizing up the length of his own personal camp. “Hopefully, that’s where I am right now.”
Budinger’s 24 minutes played in Saturday’s 115-104 loss at Portland were his most in the nine games since he returned Jan. 8 against Phoenix from a second knee surgery to resolve torn meniscus cartilage.
He went 2-for-7 from the field — including 1-for-3 on three-pointers — and scored six points on a night when Wolves coach Rick Adelman searched for bench help to relieve his battered and bruised starters and didn’t find it.
The Blazers’ bench outscored the Wolves’ backups 34-15, and Budinger was the only one of eight reserves used who played more than 12 minutes. He played those 24 partly to replace starter Corey Brewer after he got into early foul trouble and partly because Adelman is trying to familiarize Budinger with his teammates while also working him back into playing time after two surgeries in the same part of the same knee within 11 months.
“It just seems like he has been kind of out of sync,” Adelman said. “When he gets an open look, he’s just not knocking it down, and he has been playing shorter minutes, too. So it’s hard to get something going. His history says he’s going to make shots. You just got to be patient with him.”
A career 42.9 percent shooter, including 35.8 percent from three-point range, Budinger is shooting 28.6 percent from the field so far, including 6-for-20 on three-pointers. That’s 30 percent, or better than what he’s shooting from inside the arc.
Budinger said his surgically repaired knee is fine, and he hasn’t experienced swelling in it. But it’s the rest of his body — his legs, his conditioning — that is working to keep up.
“I feel the recovery is starting to get a little easier after games,” Budinger said. “I do feel a little more comfortable each game with cuts and running up and down the court. The biggest thing right now is my endurance. That’s what I’m struggling with, especially my legs. After I’ve been in there a few minutes, I’m just trying to get some lift on my jump shot. It’s not there.”
He injured his knee in a game at Chicago early last season, underwent surgery in November 2012 to repair his torn meniscus and then had another surgery in October in which the surgeon removed a portion of the meniscus after he experienced swelling while preparing for a training camp in which he never participated.
“He’s had two injuries, so he’s coming back from two of them,” Adelman said. “It seems like more guys have had that happen to them: [Russell] Westbrook and Chase and Derrick Rose. It’s just happening. You don’t know why. It’s an unknown.”
Adelman coached Budinger before, in Houston. That’s why the team traded the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft for him. Budinger played 23 games last season and then signed, at age 25, a three-year, $15 million contract in July before he began experience swelling and pain in late September.
“He has got to get used to playing with the guys, and they’ve got to get used to him,” Adelman said. “That’s one thing he has always had: When he played in Houston, Kyle Lowry was great at finding him, and they really played great together. We had some guys there who passed the ball a lot better. I think he’d be a lot better if I can get him on the court more with Kevin [Love] because Kevin is a guy who can pass the ball for us and Chase’s cutting would be more effective.”
Adelman played Budinger with Love and three other starters after Brewer picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of Saturday’s game. Budinger played 13 consecutive minutes, most of them with Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, and then played another 10-plus minutes in the second half with a combination of starters, including Love, and members of the second unit.
“That’s something that will come with time,” Budinger said about learning to play with teammates both old and new all over again. “I haven’t been around these guys for so long, I’m like a newbie jumping in on the team. It will get there. The chemistry will take time to build. That takes time. It has only been a few weeks.”