DENVER – Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett on Friday talked publicly for the first time since his longtime coach and friend Flip Saunders died Sunday. Although he said he would answer “basketball questions” only, he touched on the sorrow of a week in which the players and franchise lost their part-owner, president of basketball operations and coach.
He and his teammates have gone back to work, winning their season opener Wednesday on the road over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s a good outlet, especially when you’re going through things,” Garnett said. “It’s good to have an outlet, something where you can take your mind off reality for a little bit.”
Garnett wore a sweatband on one arm during Wednesday game and Friday’s at Denver that bore the name “Flip” and the number “2” for former teammate Malik Sealy, who was killed by a drunken driver in a 2000 automobile accident.
He returned to the game for the final four seconds, in time to help the Wolves make their final defensive stand. When it was over, he gestured toward the heavens as he left the floor.
“We’re trying to build something here,” Garnett said. “Opening night is probably one of the most important games of the year. It was good to get the first one. Hopefully, the momentum carries us to a couple more.”
The Wolves opened their season with a two-game Western trip. They were set to fly home after Friday’s game and will attend a private Saturday memorial service celebrating Saunders’ life that will draw dignitaries from across the NBA.
“We all are carrying each other, holding each other up throughout the week,” he said. “Tough week for all of us, but we’re managing.”
Wiggins on the mend
Andrew Wiggins started Friday even though he has been bothered by upper back spasms since Monday. He had a pack strapped over his shoulder blade when he wasn’t on the court Wednesday in Los Angeles, where he shot 2-for-10 from the floor in 29 minutes.
“It’s better,” he said. “I’ll live.”
Not this time
Teammates credited veteran guard Kevin Martin’s unilateral decision to defend Lakers point guards full court late in Wednesday’s third quarter for changing uplifting their team’s defense and switching the game’s momentum their way.
He was asked if he intended to do so again Friday against Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, who had 11 turnovers in a victory at Houston on Wednesday. “Probably not,” he said before the game. “What are we at, 7,000 feet? No, I probably won’t do that at 5,280 too much tonight.”
• Point guard Ricky Rubio opened the season with 28 points, 14 assists and one turnover Wednesday. “You can’t just disrespect him and say he’s a complete non-shooter,” new Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “We have to guard him.”
• Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell on “rookie” Nemanja Bjelica’s two-game introduction to the NBA: “[Lakers forward] Julius Randle is a load, but if he thinks Julius Randle is a lot, [Denver’s] Kenneth Faried is a whole different animal.”
• Rookie Tyus Jones and injured center Nikola Pekovic again were the Wolves’ inactive players.