Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger on Wednesday was cleared to participate in contact practice as soon as Thursday, the next step toward him returning from October knee surgery that has kept him sidelined for the season’s opening six weeks.
So just when will he play again? “No idea,” he said. “I have to get through my first practice first and see how that goes and see how my wind is, which I feel like is going to be pretty tough.”
Budinger underwent two operations on a torn meniscus within 11 months, so he has been through this recovery business before. He said he has the peace of mind that comes from the first time through it last winter but also will proceed cautiously because of it.
“I’m being more careful, making sure everything’s right,” Budinger said. “I think I have a better understanding this time where I need to be. I know I have to take my time and get my legs underneath me before I’m ready to play.”
Budinger will practice Thursday with his teammates for the first time this season. He will spend three days at home in San Diego next week while the team scatters after Sunday’s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles for three days of rest over Christmas.
Budinger probably won’t play until a Dec. 27 home game against Washington at the earliest.
“I have no idea,” coach Rick Adelman said when asked about when Budinger will play. “At least he can get out there, get some work and see how his knee responds.”
Budinger said he’d better get back in a uniform soon for a simple reason: “I’ve got to get out of that suit quickly. I don’t have enough combinations left to keep wearing.”
Back sooner than expected
Wolves guard Kevin Martin and forward Dante Cunningham both played regular minutes and maybe then some in Wednesday’s 120-109 victory over Portland, appearances that pleasantly surprised Adelman.
Martin missed Monday night’s loss at Boston because of soreness and pain in his knee, and he said before that night’s game that he need time off to get his knee “right.” But against the Trail Blazers, Martin started, played nearly 37 minutes and scored 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting. “I was able to play tonight so it was back to where I wanted it to be,” he said of his knee.
Cunningham left Monday’s game in the final four minutes after painfully turning his ankle, so much so that Adelman said he initially thought Cunningham might have broken it. He played 26 minutes off the bench Wednesday, including 7½ in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, I let out a little war cry, I did,” Cunningham said before he wore a fabric brace on his left ankle. “I admit that. It was more shock than anything … If I can run and I can move and I can benefit this team, I’m going to play.”
By beating the team with the NBA’s best record, the Wolves moved back even to .500 with a 13-13 record.
Did they also deliver something of a statement victory in a season when they have beaten Oklahoma City, Dallas (twice) and now the Blazers and lost at Cleveland, Washington and Boston?
“I think you’re trying to get your team to see the validation of what they can do when they play the way they’re capable of playing,” Adelman said. “Our problem has been all year long, we’ll have a game like this, a half like this, and then we slip up. There’s a lot of potential there, but we have to be consistent and that’s what we haven’t been.”
• Point guard Ricky Rubio on Kevin Love’s 29-point, 15-rebound, nine-assist game: “Awesome. There are no words to describe. He’s doing a great job leading this team in scoring, rebounding, even assisting. He’s taking my job, too.”
• Center Ronny Turiaf hasn’t yet been cleared to practice on that right elbow he injured Nov. 1. But he likely will need less practice time than Budinger once he is cleared because he has been able to do more conditioning. “He’s getting better, but no one has said a word to me about when he’ll be able to practice,” Adelman said.
• Eighteen years ago Wednesday, Wolves basketball boss Flip Saunders was named the team’s head coach, his first NBA head coaching job. He replaced Bill Blair less than two months into the 1995-96 season and stuck around in the job for the next 10 seasons.