DENVER – Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio ran with his teammates Friday morning for the first time, another signpost on his road to return since he severely sprained his left ankle on Nov. 7 in Orlando.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders noticed a little hitch remaining in Rubio’s giddyap when he ran during full-court, 5-on-0 offensive work at the team’s morning shoot-around before Friday’s game at Denver.
Saunders hopes Rubio runs without a hitch or limp so he can begin contact work in another week with the New Year’s arrival and then play limited minutes in a game seven to 10 days after that.
“His gait is still not where it is at full-go, but he at least he’s able to get up and run and take some cuts and take some shots and get involved in what we’re trying to do,” Saunders said. “It’s good to see him on the floor.”
Saunders said Rubio won’t be sent to the D League to get into game shape, an option he has said center Nikola Pekovic will need when he returns from that recurring ankle/foot problem that has sidelined him for 19 consecutive games as of Friday night.
Pekovic has begun running on a treadmill machine that allows him to exercise without putting his body weight on that healing ankle. Saunders said Pekovic will have MRIs taken of his wrist and ankle when the team returns home after finishing a three-game road trip Tuesday at Utah and will be re-evaluated after that.
Expect Pekovic to go to the D League to play some games before he returns to NBA action. The difference between his situation and Rubio’s: Saunders said the chronic nature of Pekovic’s injury requires extra time and suggested the team, in retrospect, should have done the same with Chase Budinger last season.
An education, night after night
Wolves rookie Zach LaVine’s tour of NBA point guards continued on Friday, when he met the Nuggets’ relentlessly speedy Ty Lawson. You might remember Lawson was acquired in a 2009 draft-night trade with the Wolves.
“Shoot, a lot of them,” LaVine said when asked about varying styles of point-guard play he has faced. “[Russell] Westbrook one night, Derrick Rose, Ty Lawson tonight, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, the list goes on and on, from drivers to shooters to playmakers. And they’re all point guards. You’ve just got to be focused. That’s how great the league is. You can’t have an off day.”
There’s a first time for everything
The Wolves flew to Denver Thursday afternoon and had a turkey and ham dinner on Christmas together after some players scattered home on Christmas Eve to see loved ones.
LaVine stayed in Minneapolis with his father, went to the movies and appreciated the thanks he received from family and friends after he bought Christmas presents for them all.
“I felt good. This is the first time I was really able to buy my own gifts with my own money,” LaVine said. “I was proud that I was able to do that for my family and friends.”
• After playing in Mexico City — elevation 7,300 feet — last month, Saunders figured altitude made no matter for Friday’s game at Denver’s 5,200-foot elevation. “That was 2,000 feet higher and that didn’t seem to bother us,” he said.
• When he was a rookie, Pekovic was asked about a traditional Christmas dinner back home in Montenegro and he responded simply by saying, “Meat.” On Friday, he was asked again, and he reminded everyone that he doesn’t celebrate Christmas until Jan. 7, its date in the Orthodox Church.
• Saunders on the team’s very brief 42-hour Christmas break: “A lot of guys went home for a day even and got to see family. I think that’s a positive. It rejuvenates you. You feel a little bit better about yourself.”
• Saunders had this observation about Pepsi Center after looking around the arena before Friday’s game: “This place leads the league in blimps.”