WINNIPEG - It will take at least a couple of players to pick up the slack left by All-Star forward Kevin Love's absence, a premise the Timberwolves showed they can successfully work under Wednesday night.
Derrick Williams got the start at small forward in the 95-76 exhibition victory over Detroit in front of a crowd of 12,163 at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, while veteran Andrei Kirilenko slid over to power forward as the Wolves reshuffled their lineup once again in the wake of Love's broken right hand.
"[Starting] gives me a lot of confidence," said Williams, who scored 18 points and grabbed two rebounds in 22 minutes against the Pistons. "Not looking over your shoulder -- that's what a few people get caught up in -- and I was one of them. Looking over my shoulder a little too much and not getting out there and playing like I know I can."
This is an interesting time for Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. It's a stretch to say this opportunity for a larger role counts as the defining moment for him -- he's only 21 years old, remember -- but the chance for an increased workload does present a rather large test.
With Love out six to eight weeks, Williams has a chance to claim more minutes and earn the trust of the coaching staff -- something he was unable to secure last season.
Moving on in this Love-less world and replacing his 26 points and 13 rebound per game isn't a one-player proposition. Which is where Dante Cunningham comes in.
The third-year player looked like the better option Wednesday. Coming off the bench, he scored 12 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds (11 defensive) in 26 minutes. If the Wolves can get a similar combined effort from Williams and Cunningham moving forward, they might be able to survive without their best forward through November.
"That's what we need to do," Cunningham said. "It's always tough to say that one guy is going to come in and take over for a star player like Kevin. Everyone has to step up their output, and we have to spread it out over everyone. Just do your job. You can't just say 'I'm going to go out and put out Kevin Love numbers tonight.' It doesn't work that way. We need to do it as a team."
Forward Chase Budinger added a game-high 21 points, on 8-for-11 shooting, off the bench.
"We need those guys to each come in and give us a lift," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "That's how we're going to get it done."
Adelman said his focus is on finding the best rotation of players to get the Wolves through the first part of the season without Love and guard Ricky Rubio, recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee.
The Wolves (4-2) wrap up exhibition play against the Bucks in Green Bay on Friday at 7 p.m.
Following that, the club enjoys a full week off before opening the regular season against the Sacramento Kings at Target Center.Notes
• Luke Ridnour started at point guard, totaling six points and three assists in 24 minutes. The veteran had been recovering from a herniated disk in his lower back, and said the week of practice before Friday's regular-season opener is a blessing.
"That's going to be big for the whole team," he said. "It will give me a chance to get even healthier and get my cardio back up to where it needs to be. It's going to be a big week for us getting everything figured out."
• Given the proximity to the Twin Cities, the crowd in Winnipeg was decidedly pro-Minnesota on Wednesday, with guard Brandon Roy earning the biggest cheers.
He finished with six points and three assists in 26 minutes. Afterward, Adelman told reporters Roy was playing at "90 percent."