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.
The Wolves and Oklahoma City finish the regular season tonight with so much at stake:
The Thunder need a victory and a New Orleans loss to San Antonio to secure the West's eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wolves need a loss to guarantee the league's worst record, and thus the best chance in the May draft lottery.
"We’d like nothing better than to have Oklahoma City go golfing with us tomorrow," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.
Kevin Martin expects to play for the Wolves tonight and even Anthony Bennett is supposed to give it a try just so the Wolves can come close to getting eight ready players they need by NBA rules to play the game.
The Thunder has that playoff spot at stake and star guard Russell Westbrook is battling Houston's James Harden for the NBA's scoring title here on the season's final day, too.
"We have to play our game tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said at his team's morning shootaround at Target Center. "Obviously, we need help. San Antonio needs to win, but we have to focus on what we have to do and go from there. Our job is to worry about our job and not worry about what's happening south of us."
Two Eastern teams with losing record will make the playoffs while the Thunder, seven games over .500, will miss them if the Pelicans win at home tonight.
"I mean, that's just how it goes," Westbrook said this morning. "That's how it always has been, especially in this league. It's something you can't change now. Obviously, our record is better than some teams in the East. It is what it is. We've got to take care of our business. That's the nature of the business."
A couple other things from today:
* Andrew Wiggins said he plans to play for Canada in August, which would be an Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico. There's also the Pan Am Games in Toronto in July, which Anthony Bennett has said he will play.
* Zach LaVine said he's open to playing in the Las Vegas Summer League again. He said he plans to be in the gym all summer anywhere and likes playing to the crowd in Vegas. He also likes the up-and-down pace of the game there.
Saunders said he wants Wiggins, LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad all to practice with the summer-league team but was non-committal on whether any would play in games in Vegas. Wiggins certainly won't.
Greetings from Target Center, where the Wolves will tip off with New Orleans in about 30 minutes. Here are a couple nuggets that came out of the pre-game pressers with the two coaches:
First of all, this: Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Kevin Garnett will not play tonight and likely won’t play in Wednesday’s season finale.
And he thinks Wolves fans should take this as good news. Saunders said that, if Garnett were to play Wednesday, it would be, essentially a good-bye appearance. The fact that he likely won’t play could mean Garnett has plans that include playing next season.
“I’ll say this: If he plays, to me, it would be an indication that he doesn’t want to play next year,” Saunders said. “I think he’s looking at this as more not being over. He doesn’t to do anything, in one or two games, that would jeopardize something that’s going to throw him back to not be able to really start and get ready (for next season).’’
Garnett – who threw out the first pitch for the Twins home opener Monday afternoon – has not spoken to the media, so we don’t have definitive word on whether he wants to play beyond this season.
To Flip, KG not playing Wednesday should be taken as a good sign.
Meanwhile, a couple other items:
--First, Jrue Holiday’s sore leg will keep him out of the lineup tonight for New Orleans.
--On the Wolves side, Kevin Martin will miss the game because of a stomach ailment. That means the Wolves will once again be casting about for players healthy enough to actually play.
--Ricky Rubio was scheduled to have diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday. But, as of game time, Saunders had not received word on how the procedure went or what it showed.
D League power forward Arinze Onuaku is joining the Wolves in Sacramento this afternoon and will be available if needed tonight against the Kings after the team signed him to a 10-day hardship-exception contract.
The Wolves need another big body to finish the season now that injured Gorgui Dieng stayed home from this West Coast trip and Nikola Pekovic is headed for surgery on Wednesday in Charlotte.
They'll get a bit of break against the Kings, who will play without All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins tonight. He's out with a sore right foot.
Onuaku averaged 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 41 D League games this season with the Canton Charge. A former Syracuse star, he has played in the D League, Lithuania, China and played three games with New Orleans and two games with Cleveland in brief stays with NBA teams.
Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton are the team's only real available big men left, at least until -- or if -- Kevin Garnett plays again.
Flip Saunders said Garnett won't play tonight but said Garnett's leg and knee is getting stronger and said there's still a chance he plays before these final six games -- four in the next five nights -- are through.
Cousins is out for the Kings, but Rudy Gay and Nik Stauskas are listed as probable.
It was a quiet, clearly dejected Nikola Pekovic who talked, briefly, with the media this morning after the Timberwolves’ shoot-around at Target Center.
His season over, with surgery looming, Pekovic acknowledged that he is concerned about his future – both on the basketball court and off.
“Of course I am,” he said. “I’m pretty much worrying about how this is going to affect my life in 10 years. I mean, I’m still thinking about basketball (too). But when you deal so much with something like this….. It’s a big deal, I think.’’
It is his ankle and foot problems that Pekovic has dealt with for so long. Ultimately, in what Pekovic described as “the last thing I can try,” he will undergo surgery next week to remove damaged tissue and repair his right Achilles tendon.
This has been a protracted situation. Pekovic was limited to 31 games by the pain this season. He only played in 54 last season. Indeed, as far back as 2012 Pekovic had surgery to remove bone spurs from the ankle.
The latest surgery – to be performed by Dr. Richard Anderson in Charlotte N.C. next Wednesday – is the most recent attempt to ease that pain. Pekovic has already tried different treatment approaches and custom-made orthotics.
It is unclear when Pekovic will be able to return to playing, assuming the surgery goes well.
“I’m going to try everything I can try to make my foot feel better,” he said.
That said, the ordeal has clearly taken its toll on Pekovic.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “It’s really tough, when you try to do everything, for like a year, and nothing helps you and you get to the point where you have to sit. But you have to deal with it, that’s all.’’
Meanwhile, Kevin Martin, who has missed the last six games because of a strained left hamstring, is set to return to action tonight.
Andrew Wiggins gets another chance against his hometown team -- his second two weeks -- tonight when Toronto comes to Target Center.
He drew a crowd from the local and Toronto media after shootaround, where his dunks over Utah's Rudy Gobert Monday night were a popular topic.
Wolves guard Kevin Martin said he'll decide whether he'll play tonight when he wakes up from his pre-game nap and sees how his hamstrings feel, but he didn't sound too confident.
He did say if not tonight, then Friday vs. Orlando.
Didn't look from the little we see at end of shootaround like Ricky Rubio will play tonight, neither.
Kevin Garnett was at shootaround after being ill for most of the last week, but he isn't expected to play tonight, either.
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