ANAHEIM, CALIF. – When the Timberwolves convinced slimmed-down Shabazz Muhammad to return to them for a league-minimum contract, they wooed him away a Los Angeles Lakers franchise for which Muhammad worked out as a free agent for a couple weeks in early September.
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Lakers coach Luke Walton and Lakers exec Rob Pelinka (Muhammad’s former agent) all wooed him during the time Muhammad spent at the Lakers’ shiny new practice facility.
Born in Los Angeles with family roots still there, Muhammad helped lead his Wolves to a 108-99 victory over those Lakers on Saturday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
On a night when three-time All Star Jimmy Butler played just the game’s first quarter, by design, Muhammad played a team-high 29½ minutes and led the Wolves with a 22-point, six-rebound game.
“I felt great,” said Muhammad, who says he hasn’t weighed his current 218 pounds since high school. “The weight difference is really helping me up and down the court.”
When the Lakers cut a 20-point, third-quarter deficit to as few as eight early in the fourth quarter, Muhammad responded with 10 fourth-quarter points and delivered a timely steal, too, that helped stop the Lakers’ rally.
“I’ve been telling you guys from the start of camp, but it was good to see it translate to the game,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters afterward. “He has been playing like that every day in camp.”
When asked before the game how tough of a sell it was to keep Muhammad from the Lakers team he once loved, Thibodeau pursed his lips, looked away and paused.
“Pretty easy,” he said. “He’s here.”
Indeed he is and, according to Thibodeau and Muhammad’s teammates, he was perhaps training camp’s most energetic player in San Diego.
When asked why the Lakers wanted Muhammad, Walton said, “He wants to play fast. We want to compete. We want to put a lot of pressure on the rim and he does all those things. He actually fit really well with our guys.”
Players and coaches from each team locked arms during Saturday’s playing of the national anthem, following in their own way the NFL players’ kneeling to protest racial inequality and police brutality in America. The NBA has a rule that requires players to stand during the anthem, the NFL does not.
“I have a ton of respect for the country, the flag, the military,” Walton said. “But I think by locking arms we feel like we’re showing there are issues in this country.
“It’s a chance for us to raise awareness and still make it a talking point. If you do nothing, then it kind of goes away and, if it goes away, nothing changes.”
On the Ball
Lakers rookie sensation Lonzo Ball made his preseason debut with a five-point, eight-assist performance on 2-for-9 shooting Saturday.
“The kid’s extremely talented and from what I know, he works,” the Wolves’ Butler said Saturday morning. “… I want to see what he’s going to do in this league. I know he can be as great as he can be if he puts his mind to do it.”
• The Wolves started Butler, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. “I liked the way they started,” Thibodeau said.
• Forward Nemanja Bjelica was cleared to play and was on he court for 20 minutes. He is recovering from a broken bone in his foot sustained last March.
• Wiggins has yet to sign that maximum five-year, $148 million contract. Asked if he was worried about injury, Wiggins said, “Nah, I’m still taking it day by day.”