Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
Yes, Flip Saunders is taking it easy on the old guys here as the Wolves' preseason schedule ticks away.
Flip said before tonight's game that Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Ronny Turiaf and Mo Williams all are getting the night off here in Milwaukee on the second half of back-to-back games after last night's home victory over Indiana.
Rookie Andrew Wiggins also will not play because of that bruised butt he injured in a fall Sunday in Tulsa and that kept him out of last night's game, too.
Tonight's likely starters are Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Thad Young and Nikola Pekovic.
Flip hasn't spend much time this preseason trying to build chemsitry by playing his likely starters and probable rotations together a lot, but he didn't sound too concerned when I asked him about before last night's game.
He was more concerned with getting to next Wednesday's season opener at Memphis without a serious injury and said they've had enough time playing guys together in practices to form that chemistry.
Greetings from Target Center for a final time tonight. The Wolves just pasted the injury-riddle Pacers 107-89. Here are some post-game notes for you:
--Coach Flip Saunders said rookie Andrew Wiggins experienced some soreness and swelling in his backside as a result of a fall he took in Sunday’s game. He did not play tonight and likely won’t tomorrow in Milwaukee. The Wolves do not think the injury is serious.
--Don’t look now, but Anthony Bennett is playing with a lot of confidence. Could he, might he, become the steal of the big trade this summer? Bennett scored 17 points in 17 minutes with five rebounds and a steal.
--Ricky Rubio was 1-for-5 shooting at halftime. But, continuing to be aggressive – he got to the free throw line eight times in 22 minutes – and he finished with 16 points on 4-for-8 shooting.
--It’s been so long I’d forgotten what a healthy Chase Budinger looked like. Tonight he was moving off the dribble, getting to places on the court where he likes to shoot. And he had legs beneath his three-point shot (2-for-2).
--I think Mo Williams is a big upgrade at backup guard. He played really well tonight. He scored 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting with a game-high nine assists. But he did have six turnovers.
--You should have seen the Wolves bench explode in celebration when Brady Heslip scored a late basket.
That’s about it for now. Have a good night. Jerry will be with the team tomorrow.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of Wolves coach Flip Saunders’s pre-game meeting with the media was his contention that he doesn’t need to work too hard on rotations in the final three preseason games.
Saunders’ stated plan when the seven-game preseason began was to use the first few games for individual evaluation, then spend the final games ironing out his rotations. But, as the preseason has gone on, Saunders has decided that keeping players healthy is the most important thing. That’s why you might not see all the veterans play tonight vs. Indiana at Target Center or Wednesday in Milwaukee.
“My need is to get out [of the preseason] unscathed if we can,” Saunders said. “We’ll have lineups in there, but we’re not going to see an extended lineup. I don’t think we need to do that.”
Well, Saunders said much of the chemistry that is necessary on the court is being built in practices.
But there is another thing. “We’re trying to get our guys to play more conceptually than worry about who they’re playing with.’’
Here are some other pre-game nuggets:
--After missing the last three preseason games with a sore heel, Shabazz Muhammad will play tonight. I talked to him after morning shoot, and he is very, very eager to get out there and play. Muhammad stayed in shape while he was rehabbing the heel, dropping a few more pounds to get to 215. Now he has to go out and make up for lost time while he tries to earn himself minutes when the regular season starts. It won’t be easy.
“You can’t make the team in a hot tub,” Saunders said. “It’s tough to get playing time from there. You have to go out and play. He’s been diligent. He’s worked hard, studied film. We’ll see in the next few days if he’s able to translate that and do it on the court.’’
--Zach LaVine returns to regular minutes after sitting almost all of Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City on the bench. This was by design. After a difficult game against Milwaukee two days prior, Saunders had LaVine sit on the bench next to assistant coaches Sidney Lowe and Ryan Saunders. They talked through what they were seeing, hoping to give LaVine a new perspective on the game.
“We wanted him to get a feel for how we look at the game as it is going on,” Flip Sanders said. “What we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to play. … I thought, by the end of the fourth quarter, he was understanding more of what we’re trying to accomplish.’’
That’s about all for now. I’ll get back to you after the game.
No surprise here, but the Timberwolves today announced they have waived training-camp invitee center Kyrylo Fesenko to get their roster down to 17 players.
Former Baylor guard Brady Heslip remains, for now.
Barring something really unforeseen, he'll, too, be waived, even though Flip Saunders said after Sunday's victory over Oklahoma City in Tulsa that he believes Heslip will play in the NBA because he shoots the ball so well.
The real question is what the Wolves do over the weekend or early next week to get from 16 players down to the maximum 15?
Do they do the most cost-efficient thing and pay off Glenn Robinson III's very small guarantee?
Do they trade or buyout J.J. Barea, the team's third point guard despite what Saunders has called impressive play throughout the preseason.
Do they pay off Robbie Hummel's fully guaranteed but minimum contract instead?
Or do they find a team willing to take Chase Budinger's fully guaranteed contract for the next three years.
I still think the Budinger move is most likely just because of the four options, he's the most expendable if the Wolves can find a willing team.
The Wolves probably keep Robinson because of his potential and cost efficiency.
They probably keep Hummel just because, as was shown Sunday in Tulsa, they'll need him as a third power forward if Thad Young or Anthony Bennett gets hurt. When Bennett's knee proved too sore, Hummel played 19 minutes Sunday and played well.
And Barea might have been the best point guard in training camp and gives the Wolves insurance if something happens to Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams. If one gets injured, do the Wolves at this point want to rely on Zach LaVine as their backup point guard. By keeping Barea, it also keep open the option that another NBA team will lose a point guard to injury, possibly increasing Barea's trade value.
Budinger is experienced and the Wolves sure could use his three-point shooting, but the Wolves already have Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Robinson, Hummel and Young who all can play there as well.
That decision could come soon after the Wolves play their final preseason game Friday at St. Louis against Chicago.
The Wolves are starting Ronny Turiaf, Thad Young, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea tonight against an injury-depleted Oklahoma City team in Tulsa.
Where'd that lineup come from?
Answer: From practice yesterday.
That was the team out of three split up for practice that won the most scrimmages at BOK Center Saturday afternoon, so that's who's starting.
Coach Flip Saunders said he'll experiment with different lineups tonight, "depending on how things go"
Martin will play for the first time this preseason now that he's deemed recovered from that groin injury, but Shabazz Muhammad won't play tonight after he returned yesterday for his first hard practice back from that heel injury.
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