ATLANTA – Timberwolves forward Tayshaun Prince last summer signed a one-year contract for the NBA veteran’s minimum, a few bucks shy of $1.5 million for the season.
In retrospect, he should have negotiated to be paid by the minute.
Signed for what was an unspecified but presumed limited role, Prince played 38 ½ minutes Saturday because of his defense, but he also quadrupled his previous season scoring high. His eight-point night included a last-minute layup that put away a 102-93 overtime victory at Chicago.
His 38 minutes, 34 seconds Saturday were the most he has played since a February 2014 game when he played for Memphis against New York, and behind only Andrew Wiggins’ 41 minutes, Nemanja Bjelica’s 40 and Ricky Rubio’s 39 in an overtime game the Wolves played without Kevin Martin.
Bjelica is 27 years old, Rubio 25 and Wiggins 20. Prince is 35.
“We’ll let him rest tomorrow,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said after Saturday’s game. “Tay takes good care of himself.”
If you wondered why Prince started alongside 39-year-old Kevin Garnett and was playing as much as 20 and 29 minutes during the Wolves’ season-opening four games, Mitchell had an answer after Saturday’s game in which Garnett played 12 minutes.
“It’s just so hard to take him out of the game,” Mitchell said. “Defensively, he just knows where to be. He’s talking and communicating. He’s teaching our young guys the value of communication, and it’s just hard to take him out.”
Mitchell played Prince the final 2:28 of the third quarter, all of the fourth quarter and then all of overtime. That was nearly 20 consecutive minutes.
“We need K-Mart back,” Prince said with a smile, referring to Martin, who missed Saturday’s game and three practices last week while he attended to a family matter.
Keeping the faith
Mitchell kept promising that Wiggins’ shooting and scoring would improve after a season start in which he made 29.3 percent of his field goals, averaged 13.8 points and made just one three-point shot in his first four games.
That time came Saturday, when Wiggins made four threes by halftime and scored 31 points on 11-for-27 shooting. That was his fifth career 30-point game and two points shy of his career high. He would have surpassed that 33-point high had he shot better than 5-for-10 from the free-throw line.
“The first two games, he was hurt,” Mitchell said, referring to Wiggins’ back injury. “Sometimes you struggle when there’s so many expectations put on you. But we kept telling him to stay aggressive, keep shooting the ball, keep finding your shots in the offense and eventually it’s going to happen.”
That explains it …
Saturday’s early 5 p.m. start time in Chicago allowed the Wolves to fly to Atlanta that night and still arrive relatively early, not long after midnight. That Bulls game was one of a series of Saturday and Sunday games this season with start times intended to suit European viewing audiences.
Saturday’s game featuring Rubio and Chicago’s Pau Gasol aired live at midnight in Spain, where a Saturday night is just getting started in big cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve even started, they start late,” Rubio said of Saturday nights back home. “They’re finishing dinner right then. Sunday is a day off, so they go late to bed. If they go out, they go out at 2 [a.m.] so midnight is a perfect time to watch a game.”
• Martin returned in time for the team’s practice at Georgia Tech late Sunday morning in preparation for Monday’s game against the Hawks.
• Rookies Bjelica and Karl-Anthony Towns each had double-double games — Bjelica 17 points, 11 rebounds and Towns 17 points, 13 rebounds — on Saturday. “I thought Nemanja just played a great game,” Mitchell said. “You look at him and don’t think he can rebound the ball the way he does.”