MEMPHIS – Mathematically, the Timberwolves remain in pursuit of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Practically, Sunday’s home loss to Phoenix in which they squandered a 22-point lead extinguished what little hope remained.
Thirteen games remain for the Wolves. Before Monday’s game, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked when the season’s remaining games become a time for evaluation and development rather than a single-minded push for victory each night.
“We’re getting that happening anyway,” Adelman said dryly.
He was referring to injuries that on Monday night left the Wolves without starting center Nikola Pekovic, backup center Ronny Turiaf as well as backup point guard J.J. Barea, who didn’t play because of a sprained foot that has bothered him for at least the past week.
“I fully expect Ronny and Pek to come back the same game,” Adelman said. “That’s just the way it has gone. Then what do I do?”
Adelman said he still has no idea when either center will play again, but their return will present a dilemma for a team that might be best served now by seeing what they have in rookies Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and others.
“G may find himself a power forward, I don’t know,” Adelman said, referring to Dieng. “That is the thing we have to look at. Do we want to keep playing G if those two guys come back. Bazz, we try to keep getting him in games. It’s all part of it. I think whoever we play has to play as hard as they can. We’re going to find out about guys anyway. You can’t talk about giving up on the season. We want to find guys who will play hard right up until the end.”
J.J. can’t go
Alexey Shved became the Wolves’ backup point guard Monday because Barea and third point guard A.J. Price were out. Price still is recovering from a recent appendectomy.
Barea played 17 minutes Sunday against the Suns and 15 minutes Friday at Houston with that sprained foot.
“It’s bothered me and it’s getting worse,” Barea said Monday. “Houston was really bad and yesterday I wasn’t myself. Hopefully a couple days off will make it right.”
Leaning on a friend
Wolves veteran forward Luc Mbah a Moute texted Sunday and spoke briefly Monday with Kansas star Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks were eliminated from the NCAA tournament Sunday before Embiid, a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick dealing with a back injury, was healthy enough to play again.
Mbah a Moute and Embiid will talk soon at length and discuss whether a prospect who came up through Mbah a Moute’s Cameroonian camp in 2011 should stay in school or go to the NBA.
“Of course, I’ve looked after him since he was younger,” Mbah a Moute said when asked about plans to counsel Embiid. “It’s unfortunate he got hurt at the wrong time, but it’s a blessing to be in this position. Not every kid got a chance to decide if they have to leave or go back to school. He has to understand it’s a blessing, that’s the No. 1 thing. A lot of people wish they were in this position. It’s a blessing to even be in this position in the first place.”
• Monday’s game was the first between the teams after they reportedly discussed a trade-deadline deal last month that would have sent Barea and Chase Budinger to Memphis for veterans Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. Allen didn’t play Monday because he was ill. “I don’t know if it got close or not,” Barea said. “I wasn’t thinking about it.”