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.
So what's the latest deal with Wolves center Nikola Pekovic?
That same hurting ankle that bothered him in previous seasons? A personal situation? Or a sprained wrist sustained Saturday at Dallas?
Turns out it seems to be some of all three things.
Pekovic said after shootaround this morning that painful bursa sac in his ankle began bothering him more again starting with last week's game in Mexico City. But he said the wrist that he banged in Dallas is the condition a doctor recommended he take the week off to heal.
As for the personal situation to which Flip Saunders attributed Pekovic's absence from practice Monday...it was a trip Pekovic and his mother made to Rochester and the Mayo medical facilities, where each had their own appointments.
Pekovic said before tonight's game against New York at Target Center that he will visit a doctor again beginning of next week and is hopeful he'll be cleared then to resume practicing.
"Of course, it's just the beginning of the season, of course it's disappointing," he said. "But it's more disappointing when you try to do something and you just can't. When you're in pain, you make more damage than you can help your team. That's more disappointing that just sitting on the side...It's better to sit, take a few days off, try to heal everything as much as I can and then try to come back and play how I can play."
Saunders as the team's president of basketball operations has hired additional athletic training staff and forged a relationship with the Mayo organization that has resulted in its own facility next to Target Center.
None of those steps has prevented a rash of injuries that affected the team both past and present.
"There are some things you can't control," Pekovic said. "Ricky (Rubio), he played four, five games and he sprained his ankle and he's out for two months. The only thing you can control is you can do everything they say to protect yourself. We try to do what we can: We try to do our weights, try to do our stretching. Some things you just can't help it...
"It gets frustrating every time. This is our job. We don't work in an office. You get hurt. You get hit, especially me, how I play. I get hit a lot."
Pekovic is out for least the next three games. So, too, is Thad Young, who remains away from the team after his mother died last week. Rubio's out, too.
That leaves a starting lineup with four players who are rookies (Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine) or second-year players (Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett) and veteran Kevin Martin.
With backup center Ronny Turiaf (hip) also still injured, Dieng is the only healthy natural center left. He, Bennett and Robbie Hummel are the only "big" men left.
"It stinks but at the same time it gives guys a lot of opportunity to play, whether it's in position or out of position" said Hummel, who like Bennett probably will have to play some center tonight. "The games don't stop. We still have to come out and be ready to play. In my situation, whether it's the 5 or the 4 or the 3 or wherever that may be, I'll be ready to go. I look at any opportunity on the court is a good one."
The Timberwolves have completed their training camp roster by signing former Baylor guard Brady Heslip and 7-1 center Kyrylo Fesenko, who played last year in the D-league. Both players were on the Wolves’ summer league roster.
Heslip and Fesenko are among a group of players who have been working out this week at Target Center. Veterans Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Robbie Hummel have been joined by rookies Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III.
Wiggins and LaVine both said they have made the move to Minnesota along with their families.
“I can’t cook,’’ Wiggins said. “So whenever I need food, I can go to their house.’’
On the business side, Wolves General Manager Milt Newton said he’s “in constant contact’’ with guard Ricky Rubio’s agent.
If Rubio doesn't sign a contract extension by the end of October, he will become a restricted free agent next summer and the Wolves would have the right to match any offer he receives. Newton said the sides differ on salary numbers at the present time.
“”Until that right number comes up, I guess we’ll continue to talk,’’ he said.
Newton said signing Rubio now would be a show of “good will and trust’’ in the point guard.
“I feel optimistic,’’ Newton said. “Knowing Ricky the person, he wants to be here.’’
The Wolves today introduced newly drafted UCLA guard Zach LaVine and Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III at a Target Center news conference with basketball boss Flip Saunders.
Some highlights and impressions:
* LaVine reaction on draft night -- and that uttered expletive after he hid his face in his arms -- continued to generate buzz Friday from all the social-media angst expressed by Wolves fans the night before.
"You know, getting drafted in the NBA was something I've always dreamed of since I was a little kid so to tell you the truth when my name got called, I lost it," he said. "I put my head down, thanked God and from there I just lost it. I'm a very emotional person. I didn't mean any disrespect to anyone. I'm the most excited person. It was almost like in disbelief that I said that I think. I felt bad. OK, that's not the best first impression. Hopefully I can make that up.
"I just want to let you guys know I'm the most excited person in the world to be part of this organization. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to put my whole heart into this organization."
* Flip said he woke up Friday morning feeling better about the Wolves organization and where it's headed than he ever has since being hired in May 2013, in good part due to the two young players sitting beside him.
He said he also woke up feeling old because 10 years ago he coached Kevin Garnett on how to stop Glenn Robinson II -- the NBA's 1994 No. 1 overall draft pick and Glenn Robinson III's dad -- and now he's coaching the Big Dog's kid.
* Robinson will wear No. 22 and LaVine No. 8.
LaVine picked his number as an homage to idol Kobe Bryant and because Nikola Pekovic already wears No. 14, his college number.
"I'm not going to fight him over that number," LaVine said. "That dude is huge. He takes up a whole locker."
* The two new rookies worked out together for the Bulls recently, the first time they really got to know and play with each other.
After Robinson discussed the experience and praised him, LaVine turned and said, "Thanks, bro."
* It was clear from the way Flip talked that he drafted both players, but particularly LaVine, believing he can work and develop him the way he did with Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and John Wall.
* When asked about LaVine's basketball IQ and ability to learn and adapt to the NBA's complext offenses, Flip said, "That's up to the coach."
Of course, Flip's the same guy who drafted and who will coach LaVine.
* Unlike last year, Flip said he doesn't expect to be active when the NBA's free agency period begins Tuesday. A year ago, he flew to California to meet with J.J. Redick, O.J. Mayo and others. Now he says things will be quieter because the Wolves already have 14 of 15 roster spots filled, even though they still will have a nearly $6 million mid-level exception slot to use if they decide to do so.
* Flip defended selling two second-round picks -- see a story forthcoming that I'll write for Saturday's paper -- and said European prospects Nemanja Bjelica and Bogan Dubljevic both are on career arcs headed to the NBA but are at least a year away.
He said that's because both probably will command bigger salaries and want more playing time than the Wolves currently can give.
Timberwolves rookie guard Alexey Shved is one of 18 young players chosen for All-Star weekend's Rising Stars challenge, but Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams weren't invited to play on Friday night in Houston next month.
The NBA chose 18 rookies and sophomores -- nine each -- and will divide those players equally into two teams, as chosen by GMs Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley.
The NBA ditched the rookie-sophomore opposition starting last season in Orlando.
Second-year players Kenneth Faried, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Kawhi Leonard, Chandler Parsons, Klay Thompson, Tristan Thompson, Nikola Vukevic and Kemba Walker were chosen ahead of Williams and Rubio.
Rubio, of course, got a late start this season, missing the season's first six weeks following March knee surgery.
The rookies chosen: Portland's Damian Lillard, Golden State's Harrison Barnes, Washington's Bradley Beal, New Orleans' Anthony Davis, Charlotte's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cleveland's Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.
Shved, btw, will make his return tonight against the Clippers at Target Center after two weeks away because of a sprained ankle.
As of yesterday, Rick Adelman was uncertain whether Shved or vet Luke Ridnour will start beside Rubio in the backcourt.
I'll bet Ridnour does.
Kevin Love refuses to call it a rivalry because he has a high threshold for such things, but there’s something going on between him and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge.
As they did a season ago, the two power forwards had another exchange that turned physical on Friday in the Wolves’ 103-95 loss to the Blazers.
This time, it featured Love shoving Aldridge underneath the basket – typical NBA stuff among big men, Love said afterward – and escalated into a pair of fouls and then a pair of technical fouls early in the third quarter that contributed to the foul trouble that sent Aldridge to the bench midway through the third with five of them.
“I personally didn’t deserve it,” Love said about the Ts. “I walked away. He was doing whatever it was that he was doing. I think he was just trying to hype his team up.”
The Wolves led 59-54 at the time and still were ahead 65-62 when Aldridge picked up that fifth foul and went to the bench midway through the third quarter.
Without him, the Blazers then outscored the Wolves 22-13 over the next nine minutes on a night when the visitors couldn’t defend Portland’s starting backcourt of rookie Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.
Here’s the game story that details their nights, when they combined to shoot 68 percent, make nine threes and score 58 points.
Getting back to the theme….
So what’s the deal between Aldridge and Love?
Is there a deal?
Of course, both say no.
“I don’t think so,” Aldridge said, “but everybody else might think so.”
Love also pooh-poohed the notion.
“No, no, you could ask him and I think he’d say the same,” Love said. “There’s plenty of premier power forwards in the league and we both happen to be one of them. But I don’t think there’s any rivalry between us. You create rivalries in the playoffs and plain and simple, I haven’t been there yet.”
Maybe not a rivalry, but there does seem to be something there.
Part of it probably dates to when Love made his first All-Star Game in 2011 with gaudy stats on a lousy team, picked above a more physically gifted Aldridge who has helped his team win more than Love's team since each player entered the league.
Part of it might be that Love gets more out of what he has, which might get under Aldridge’s skin some because that’s something he’s never really been accused of.
So, too, might Love's always more physical play.
Either way, any way, each wants to prove he’s better than the other.
Love had a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double in his second game back from injury. Aldridge had 13 and 6, but his team won.
His team almost always wins: The Blazers are 10-2 against the Wolves when both players have played.
The Blazers now have beaten the Wolves 13 of the last 14 times at Rose Garden.
That one time?
The Wolves needed Love’s 42 points last March to end a five-year, 16-game losing streak in Portland.
A few other bits of this and that from tonight:
Derrick Williams – the 2011 draft’s No. 2 overall pick – didn’t play a second again for the second consecutive game.
Rick Adelman said before the game that he knew someone would be left out when Love returned from that broken hand. He also said he intended to get Williams into Friday’s game somewhere, somehow.
He never did, going with Love for nearly 36 minutes and Dante Cunningham for 19 minutes off the bench because, he said, Cunningham clearly has won that power-forward battle with Williams so far.
He even played Lou Amundson eight minutes, turning to Amundson to play center when he went with a small lineup.
Backup center Greg Stiemsma also sat all night tonight.
So does that mean Williams is deep, deep, deep in Adelman’s “doghouse” – the word folks on Twitter love to use – and does this mean Williams’ days are numbered?
No and no.
It means that Williams hasn’t played well enough to Adelman's liking to earn Adelman’s trust above Cunningham and Amundson, guys who have both been in the league longer, and it does mean that the Wolves seemingly have given up, at least for now, with that experiment playing Williams at small forward.
He could still show up there someday even with Andrei Kirilenko and now Josh Howard still around, but probably only if Adelman plays Love more at center, something he’d rather not do unless it’s absolutely needed to get the Wolves’ struggling offense thus far clicking.
Lillard – the early clubhouse leader for Rookie of the Year – became the first rookie since Steph Curry in March 2010 to record at least 28 points and eight assists without a turnover in a game.
Him against Luke Ridnour tonight simply was a mismatch in size and speed.
Lillard has scored 20 points or more 11 times this season. All other NBA rookies have scored 20 or more 11 times combined.
* The Wolves now have lost four straight after starting the season 5-2.
And this road trip just keep moving along: They play at up-and-coming Golden State on Saturday in this stretch where they play four road games in six nights.
Good night from Portland. I'll be back tomorrow from Oakland.
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