Timberwolves star Kevin Love returned to the starting lineup Monday after missing two of the past three games because of a body that hurt almost everywhere, but particularly because of a bruised thigh sustained in Friday’s loss at New Orleans.
Former Wolves teammate Greg Stiemsma kneed him in that game. Combined with the effects to his neck, back and tailbone from a nasty fall in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers last week, Love was too sore and stiff to play in Saturday’s home loss to Portland.
“He’s got sharp elbows, sharp knees,” Love said. “He laid a lot of those blows back here last year. I was on the wrong end of one.”
Love decided in the final minutes before games Wednesday at Oklahoma City and Saturday against the Blazers that he was just too hurting to play. He said before Monday’s game that he intended to play and did so, returning to the lineup on a night when starters Nikola Pekovic (ankle bursitis) and Kevin Martin (thumb fracture) remained out.
“It was tough to get up and down the court most of all,” Love said afterward. “In the halfcourt, I was fine. Knock on wood, if I don’t get it banged again, it’ll start to feel better. It’s just the way it goes.”
Pekovic missed his eighth consecutive game, and Martin missed his second in a row.
Even feeling sore, Love put on a show Monday in front of Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who made a draft-night deal in 2008 to bring Love to Minnesota when McHale was the Wolves’ basketball boss.
“I learned a lot from him,” said Love. “He gave me my first real opportunity to go out on the floor and have success. He always took me aside and worked with me. Between him and Big Al [Jefferson], they had a lot to do with where I’m at today.”
McHale coached the Rockets Monday and Flip Saunders sat in a suite, looking on as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations. Those are roles that are reversed from the years when they ran the Wolves together, McHale as the basketball boss and Saunders as coach.
“I think he’ll do well,” McHale said when asked about Saunders now filling his former job. “I think he’s got a pretty good nucleus. In our league, if you can be a little bit unique, it helps you. They have two really rugged [players] in Pekovic and Love, and a lot of teams just aren’t set up to kind of deal with that. So add pieces around it and it will be good.”
Pekovic and Love, by the way, are the two remaining pieces from players acquired while McHale ran the team.
Royce White sighting
Former Rockets first-round draft pick and Minneapolis’ own Royce White attended Monday’s game and sat in the front row opposite the Wolves bench.
He hasn’t played an NBA game since the Rockets drafted him 16th overall in 2012 because he disagreed with how the Rockets handled his anxiety disorder. He was traded last summer to Philadelphia and went to training camp there but was waived by the 76ers.
• Original Timberwolf Tony Campbell received a standing ovation from the Target Center audience when he was introduced during a first-quarter timeout. He was in town Monday as part of the team’s 25th anniversary season celebration this year.
• Gophers coach Richard Pitino attended the game and was introduced during a second-quarter timeout.