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 Detroit Pistons arrive at Target Center tonight 13 games under .500 and...just three games behind Atlanta for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
The Wolves, meanwhile, are even at 30-30 and five games behind Dallas for the West's final spot and the clock is ticking loudly.
If the season ended today, both Charlotte and Atlanta would make the playoffs in the East with losing records.
And Memphis with a 34-26 record would miss out in the West.
"I just think that's the way it is," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said about the disparity between the strength of the two conferences. "There's nothing you can do about it."
That said, Adelman suggested the league should be "aggressive" in seeking ways to modify the playoffs to make them more equitable.
"You look at each year as it comes and see if there's any way to tweak it," he said. "This is just one of those years you have to deal with."
The Knicks came to Target Center Wednesday with a 21-40 record and yet were about as far away from the playoffs as the Wolves are.
Then the Wolves went out and got run over from the start.
Tonight, they face a physical Pistons team with a talented frontcourt. Another loss could just about end any realistic ambitions the Wolves have to catch up and claim a playoff spot.
Greetings again from Target Center. We’re just a few moments away from tipoff of the Wolves-Knicks game, and here is a quick update:
Despite an off-the-charts month of February in which he averaged 34 points and 14.1 rebounds per game, Kevin Love was not named the Western Conference player of the month. The award, announced just now, went to Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who averaged 30.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in 11 games in February.
The biggest difference? Griffin and the Clippers went 7-4 February games while the Wolves – though hot late – won just five of 11 games in February.
--The Knicks will continue with a starting lineup that includes Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, hoping to counter the Wolves one-two punch of Nikola Pekovic and Love.
--The Wolves, as usual, are going with a starting five of Love, Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer
Greetings from Target Center.
With the Wolves back in town after a long road swing, and with the New York media in town with the Knicks, the crowd of media at this mornings Wolves shootaround was, as expected, immense.
Also as expected, much of the questions surrounded Kevin Love’s big month of February.
In particular, Love was asked, more than once, whether his wonderful February was the best month of his professional career.
“More than anything it was opportunity,” Love said. “A lot of guys have stepped up, not just myself. The fact that [Nikola Pekovic] and [Kevin Martin] were out, I had to do all that I could just to keep us kind of in the fight. So, yeah, I had a good February. I fought as hard as I could. Having those guys back makes us a better team. But, like I said, opportunity knocked for a lot of these guys and they were up to the challenge.”
We’ll know tonight just before game time whether that big month – one in which he averaged 34 points, 14.1 rebounds and three made three pointers per game – was enough to win him Western Conference player of the month honors. That will be announced tonight just before the 7 p.m. start.
“February was probably, statistically, my best month,” Love said. “But hopefully this month, as far as the team goes, will be a better record. I just tried to do all I could to make sure we could win games. I think a lot of other guys did, too. I’ve had great months of basketball, and that was right up there with one of the best.”
Perhaps surprisingly, there were not a lot of questions regarding Love’s future, a topic that has been hot all season. Love, of course, can opt out of his contract after next season, and speculation is already rampant on what will happen.
The Knicks are in a similar situation with forward Carmelo Anthony. The league’s second-leading scorer, Anthony can opt out of his contract after this season.
The one question Love was asked was whether contract speculation can become a distraction. “Yeah, but Carmelo is a pro,” Love said. “I think he’s probably not worried about it. I’m not worried about it. We just think more than anything, we want to get a win tonight. I don’t think it’s a distraction.”
Here are some other items from this morning:
--Ricky Rubio on the team’s current streak: “We just worry about [the] next game,” he said. “And that’s what we have been doing the last couple weeks. Maybe in the beginning of the season we’re looking too much to the future, and we weren’t focusing on what’s next. Now we have New York here at home. We just have to play good and try to win the next one.”
--Rubio on playing with Love in February: “Unbelievable,” he said. “He makes my job so easy. I never thought a player could play as good as he is doing and control everything – not just scoring and rebounding, assisting and defending much better.
--Rookie Shabazz Muhammad on his recent increase in playing time: “I’ve been playing and we’ve been winning, so I think that is something that is great,” he said. “I think all of us have a part in that. I’m just here and I want to win and make the playoffs. We’re making a pretty good run here.”
The Denver Nuggets went 1-8 without star guard Ty Lawson in the lineup for most of February, but he's coming back from a fractured rib just in time for tonight's game in Denver against a Wolves team looking to end its longest road trip of the season 4-1.
Lawson will start for the Nuggets and he told coach Brian Shaw he's ready to play all 48 minutes, which, of course, he won't do.
Shaw said he expects Lawson to be a "little rusty" but added the response of Lawson's teammates at Monday's shootaround is an indication that whatever Lawson can give will be good.
"Everybody was in a good mood because of that," he said, referring to Lawson's return. "When you add that element of speed, he makes everything easier for everybody else."
Wolves coach Rick Adelman called the Nuggets a "totally different team" with their most explosive player back.
"He's the guy who gets their engine going," Adelman said. "The first two times they had him, we lost. We have to find ways to control him."
The Wolves lost to the Nuggets twice in November when Lawson played and thumped Denver at home last month during that nine-game stretch when he was out injured.
Both Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin said before tonight's game that they came through Saturday's return at Sacramento feeling fine physically.
: it’s a totally different team, he’s the guy who gets their engine going, they’ve got five in a row and 1-8 woithout him, so he’s back, all those athletes they have, he delviers the ball and gets them going, so its first two times they had him, we lost, we have to find ways to cpnotrol him
Wolves just wrapped up shootaround in Sacramento with Rick Adelman back after he returned from three days away and both Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin said afterward they are well enough to start and play against the Kings.
How much, neither could say.
Both practiced and scrimmaged 5-on-5 with their teammates on Thursday and Friday in Phoenix to prepare themselves to play again after weeks away.
"Two days to work out and I wake up not sore or nothing," Pekovic said. "The pain still is going to be there but hopefully it's not going to get worse. You can handle certain amount of pain. I just hope I don't go over it. For now, it's good. The last few days have been good. My conditioning is going to come, of course. I'll need four or five days to come back to that shape I was before. I'm more concerned about than my conditioning."
Still, he'll have to come back after a month away by banging with big Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who returns tonight after serving a one-game suspension for Friday's game against the Lakers in L.A.
Martin said he'll still have pain, too, in that healing fractured thumb on his left shooting hand and said he used the last two days of practice to figure out how to catch with it.
"I'm sure I'll figure out more during the game," he said. "I have a good idea. Right now, it's just about getting back out there and helping the team in whatever way you can...I feel good enough to play. Couple good days of practice and everything felt good, so I'm ready to play."
Martin said he isn't concerned about his conditioning. He hasn't played since breaking that thumb Feb. 7 at New Orleans. Pekovic has played since Jan. 27 at Chicago because of ankle bursitis.
"Maybe a little but hopefully not once you get in a game and your adrenaline starts going,," Martin said when asked if he thinks conditioning will be a factor. "I'm a little gazelle, skinny guy. I can run all day."
Adelman was back at shoot after he flew home following Tuesday's victory at Phoenix to spend that three-day break with his wife, Mary Kay.
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