In an ever-changing rotation, having 12 players made a world of difference.
PHOENIX – By their modest standards, the Timberwolves had an abundance of riches available for Friday night’s 117-86 runaway victory at Phoenix.
That means 12 healthy players.
Until this quick two-game trip West that ended Friday, the Wolves haven’t had that many with a 15-man roster since the day after Christmas.
So now that Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic have returned to the starting lineup and Chase Budinger is back after four months away with perhaps Kevin Love not far behind … do the Wolves have enough time in the season’s remaining three weeks to find a way to play together again?
“I just don’t know,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We’re trying to work people back in. The rotation’s changed. We’re in situations where we’re just not used to being in.”
That was obvious when the two-game trip opened Thursday night with a 101-98 loss in Sacramento, where Adelman got caught at the end of the game with a defensive lineup on the floor when the Wolves ended up with the ball and the chance to tie the game with a three-pointer but with few shooters on the floor.
Ricky Rubio was left flinging the ball out to Dante Cunningham for a desperation three-pointer that went wide right at the final buzzer.
“I don’t blame him,” Adelman said, referring to his starting point guard. “I blame me. We need to think ahead.”
The Wolves took much of the thinking out of Friday’s game at Phoenix after they led 31-18 at the end of one quarter, 67-39 by halftime and by as many as 35 and never fewer than 19 in the second half.
Their 31-point victory came four days after the Suns beat the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers by 23 points at home on Monday.
A month after they lost an 84-83 overtime game in Phoenix, the Wolves thumped the Suns with Kirilenko looking more comfortable in his fourth game back after he had missed nine because of a strained calf.
He led the Wolves in scoring with 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds before he sat for most of the fourth quarter.
“I think it’s better,” Adelman said before the game. “It doesn’t bother him as much, but I don’t think he plays with the same freedom he was playing with before. That’s going to take some time for him to get used to it. I have to be careful and not push him minutes-wise. With Chase and Gelly [Mickael Gelabale], I don’t have to push him that many minutes.”
The Wolves also did so with Budinger playing through the soreness following Thursday’s return performance with a 16-minute, 11-point performance that helped the Wolves build their big early lead.
“I’m just going to watch him,” said Adelman, who kept Budinger within a 15-20 minute limit. “You don’t want to do anything where it flares up or anything like that.”
The Wolves’ bench outscored the Suns’ 58-31, thanks in good part to Cunningham’s 18-point night on 8-for-11 shooting.
• Former Wolves forward Wes Johnson had been on something of a roll — starting the past nine games, averaging 12.9 points in those games — since these teams played in Phoenix a month ago, at least until Friday, when he made just one of his first nine shots.
• Gelabale saw his first action since Budinger returned to the lineup Thursday by playing the game’s final six minutes.
• Somebody asked Greg Stiemsma before Friday’s game which Wolves player’s alma mater will go the farthest in the NCAA tournament. “Not mine,” he said with a long face after his beloved Wisconsin Badgers lost in the first round.
|Minnesota - WP: C. Thielbar||7||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - LP: M. Banuelos||3|
|Stephen F Austin||85|
|Sam Houston St||69||FINAL|
|San Diego St||59|
|Utah Valley U||69|
|New Mexico St||69|
|CS-Northridge||71||2nd Half 1:35|
|Long Beach State||69|
|(22) Middle Tennessee||64|
|(25) Bowling Green||55|
|New Mexico St||65||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||70|