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.
Wolves guard Ricky Rubio will have diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday in the Los Angeles area.
Continued soreness in that left ankle Rubio sprained so badly in November sent him to see specialist dr. Richard Ferkel in Los Angeles while the Wolves were there to play the Lakers and it was decided he'll have surgery to take a better look at the ankle.
Flip Saunders said in a statement that the decision was reached between Rubio, his representatives, the Wolves and orthopedic experts.
Rubio has played just 22 games this season because of the ankle and has missed 13 of the last 14 games and won't play again this season.
Rubio probably wasn't going to play for the Spanish national team this summer so he could concentrate on getting healthy for a Wolves team that guaranteed him $55 million last fall and this almost certainly guarantees that.
I'll have more from Flip after pre-game access.
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.
Wolves center Nikola Pekovic will undergo surgery next week to remove damage and repair his right Achilles tendon.
Pekovic has played just 31 games this season because of the injury, which has bothered him and limited him to 54 games played a season ago.
Pekovic is expected to be out indefinitely -- there's only seven games left this season -- and it's not immediately known when he'd be able to return to court work this off-season or whether, depending on the damage, if the matter could potentially be career threatening.
The "debridement" surgery will be performed next Wednesday by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Flip Saunders the other day ruled Pekovic out for the rest of the season and before Wednesday's game said, "We’ve got to do something. We’re not just going to sit there. We tried different ways to let it heal, trying to be as proactive as we can…We have to re-evaluate what we do with him. He’s constantly seeing doctors the last three weeks. We’ll see where it takes us.”
The Wolves owe Pekovic nearly $36 million over the next three years beyond this one on a five-year contract he signed in summer 2013.
Anthony Bennett and Robbie Hummel have been cleared and are available to play today at New Orleans.
Their returns mean the Wolves had to let the 10-day emergency hardship contract of guard Sean Kilpatrick expire without renewing it for another 10 days.
Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Garnett and Gary Neal won't play tonight, but Flip Saunders there's a chance Rubio could play tomorrow against Utah at Target Center.
Garnett is still ill -- has been for the last several games -- and isn't expected at the arena this afternoon.
Hummel hasn't played fracturing his right shooting hand in Jan. 25 game at Atlanta. That night he said he hoped to be back to four to six weeks. It took considerably longer and today he said he probably underestimated how long it'd take to get the right feeling back in a hand immobilized for so long.
Bennett hasn't played since the first game back after All-Star break because of a sprained ankle/calf injury sustained Feb. 20 against Phoenix.
Both Hummel and Bennett said they're not sure how their conditioning is but they'll each find out quickly probably. Each also said they also just hope to see these final 10 games to find their playing rhythm again.
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