Budinger could return to Wolves action Thursday

Chase Budinger, missing since early November because of a knee injury, is back at practice and could play Thursday.

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Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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Long after the Timberwolves’ practice ended Wednesday there was an informal three-point shooting contest. It was high-spirited and rather loud, with good-natured digs going back and forth as Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved and Mickael Gelabale took shots along with Kevin Love and Chase Budinger.

Love still is recovering from a hand surgery. But Wednesday marked Budinger’s first practice since sustaining a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee on Nov. 10 in Chicago. Should his knee feel good Thursday morning, he expects to play Thursday night in Sacramento.

With Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic already back from their injuries, and Love and Budinger showing their three-point prowess Wednesday afternoon, Rubio was asked if seeing them all together made him wonder what might have been.

“We don’t have to think about what could have been,” Rubio said. “We have to think about what can be.”

The Wolves, inching back to health, have 17 games left to do that. Out of the playoffs, and with the possibility that Love won’t return this season, they do have enough pieces back to build some positive momentum.

“We have to do that,” coach Rick Adelman said. “I don’t know any other way to do it. Though the one thing I worry about is our schedule becoming so brutal.”

Indeed, the number of games and quality of opponents the Wolves will face in the coming weeks had Adelman shaking his head.

“I’m not sure what we did to the league office,” he said. “But our schedule is just incredible.”

The good news is that Budinger said he came out of practice feeling good. His return, he said, was a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration. He was tired from being out of basketball shape and thrilled to be back. He said it felt like the first practice of training camp.

But the good thing is the knee held up.

“I’m just trying to get my legs underneath me,” he said. “But, all in all, the knee felt great.”

Budinger will play if he doesn’t have significant swelling in the knee. He said the joint will be painful for the rest of the season, but he thinks he can play through that. But he also has to keep tabs on the rest of his body as he gets back to full speed after months of relative inactivity.

His return will change the way the Wolves play. His ability to hit three-pointers has been sorely missed and will help space the floor.

“And just the way he moves without the ball,” Adelman said. “Even today. He made cuts that other guys don’t do. That will help us a lot.”

Whether that translates to victories down the stretch remains to be seen. But the Wolves — who were playing with nine players just a week ago — are getting healthier.

“It’s exciting,” Rubio said. “I think it’s very important for everybody — for the fans, for us — to see what we have.”

Notes

• Adelman wasn’t done offering his opinion on the Wolves’ upcoming schedule, which has them playing seven games in the next 10 nights.

“I didn’t look at the schedule until recently,” Adelman said. “And I saw all those games.”

The Wolves have three back-to-backs in that stretch, which ends with home games against the Los Angeles Lakers on the back end of a back-to-back, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Then, in April, the Wolves return from a three-game Western road trip with a home game against Phoenix on the back end of a back-to-back.

“Which makes no sense,” Adelman said. “But that’s what the schedule is.”

• Rubio, who appeared to have sustained some sort of injury in Memphis on Monday, said Wednesday he was fine. “No problems,” he said.

• Kirilenko and Pekovic — both two games into their return from injuries — are being limited in minutes, Adelman said. Especially Kirilenko, who sat for most of Wednesday’s practice.

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