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 Thunder's getting the league's leading scorer and another starter back in the lineup tonight against the Timberwolves at the arena formerly known as Ford Center.
Kevin Durant and Jeff Green both missed the last two games -- actually, Green has missed the last four -- because of sprained ankles, but that didn't stop Russell Westbrook and the Thunder from going to Boston and Milwaukee over the weekend and winning at both places because of both defense and grit.
Both declared themselves after this morning's shootaround ready to go tonight against the Wolves.
That means Serge Ibaka and James Harden return to their bench roles.
It'll be interesting to see what defensive matchups Kurt Rambis decides upon. Does he ask Beasley to try to defend his old childhood friend or does he put Wes on Durant and switch Beasley to guard Sefolosha?
(I'm guessing the latter).
Another thing to watch tonight on FSN: After that career night on Friday, Darko said the next step is for him to prove he can be consistent, something he hasn't been much during his eight-season NBA career. Let's see how he follows up that 23-point, 16-rebound, 6-block, 5-assist game,
Btw, Westbrook today was named the Western Conference's Player of the Week for leading the Thunder to a 4-0 week by averaging 23 points, 7.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
Kurt Rambis this morning said Sebastian Telfair will start again at point guard tonight, which means Luke Ridnour comes off the bench again. Check out the size disparity when Telfair and Westbrook are bumping each other.
One other thing: Jonny Flynn said he caught the highlights of Sidney Rice's return with the Vikings yesterday and said it's good to see his occasional rehab partner back on the field.
He also said it doesn't change his timetable, which remains somewhat mysterious. Rice had almost the identical surgery that Flynn did, but he had it a month later -- in late August -- and was back playing yesterday.
"We're still not at four months yet," Flynn said, referring to the three-to-four month timetable original given. He's getting a little sensitive being asked daily about his progress.
He said he and the team hasn't yet begun to look at the Sioux Falls Skyforce schedule, if indeed he returns with a rehab stint in the D League.
Here are the options:
The Skyforce play at Fort Wayne tomorrow night (so that's very very unlikely), then play at Bismarck on Friday and at home Saturday.
They don't play again until that next Friday. He could play back-to-back games in the same city if they so choose on Dec. 3 and 4, when the Skyforce play first Iowa and then Reno and its new head coach, Eric Musselman.
The 1-5 Wolves play the league's only remaining winless team -- the 0-5 Rockets -- tonight in Houston.
Maybe they should play this one in a medical ward instead.
The Rockets will have Yao Ming in the lineup after sitting him out last night in San Antonio for the first half of these back-to-back games, but they're starting their third-string point guard, rookie Ishmael Smith, because Aaron Brooks (sprained ankle)) and Kyle Lowry (back spams) both are out.
The Wolves, meanwhile, are banged up, too.
They waited until the 60-minute deadline before tonight's game to decide whether Luke Ridnour would start at the point because of a sore hamstring that seems to be getting.
He's a go, but the Wolves also activated Maurice Ager and de-activated Lazar Hayward just in case Ridnour can't play much and they need a backup to Sebastian Telfair at the point.
Wayne Ellington could play some there, too, if needed.
Michael Beasley's hip also remains sore, but he is scheduled to start here for an early 6 p.m. start.
Rookie Wes Johnson will start again at shooting guard as well.
Six weeks after surgery to repair his hip, Jonny Flynn reported today on his Twitter account that he's off crutches and back walking for the first time in pool physical-therapy workouts.
Flynn called the workout "great."
"Felt good to be able to walk," he wrote.
He said he worked out at same place Vikings receiver Sidney Rice is rehabbing his injured hip.
"His spirits are high and he's moving well," Flynn wrote.
Spain is now 1-2 in pool play at the World Championships after it blew an 18-point, third-quarter lead and lost to Lithuania 76-73.
Ricky Rubio went 1-for-7, scored three points, had two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 29 minutes after having 11 assists in Sunday's victory over New Zealand.
Undefeated Team USA finishes up pool play with games Wednesday against Iran and Thursday against Tunisia.
Wolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone texted from Turkey the other day raving about Kevin Love's rebounding and team-first attitude. Ronzone is a scouting director for the Team USA program.
I wrote tonight about the Wolves' insistence that they're not looking for a place to nap away the final seven weeks, and while I realize all teams say they won't mail it in, I didn't detect any obvious watch-checking during tonight's blowout. Then again, there were only two players remaining in the locker room by the time reporters were allowed in, so let's just say there may have been some cars warming up in the parking lot.
Can't begrudge them that, I suppose, after a week on the road. But it will be interesting to see if Kurt Rambis' all-cylinders approach might start grating on some nerves during what looks like a seriously difficult month of March. He said tonight he'll relax after the season's final game, and not until.
Some guys are self-motivated, and some wonder why they should bother. Rambis said he's got an unusually dedicated bunch, not a bad guy among them to infect the rest. So we'll see. Plays like Corey Brewer hustling to disrupt a Blazer fast break, catching Brandon Roy from behind (though he committed a foul in the process), seem to show this team hasn't quit.
If that was the Wolves' best effort, though, it's going to be hard to tell the difference if they coast. Funny thing is, the 19-point loss was the closest game of the four routs Portland has inflicted on the Wolves this season. But it just felt particularly awful because of all the costly turnovers. Minnesota committed 20, Portland turned them into an amazing 29 points, and all those steal-pass-layup sequences are especially deflating.
A few more items, while wondering what compelled such a huge crowd (19,266) to turn out:
-- Rambis said he's "not quite sure" that Al Jefferson is completely healthy, an interesting response considering the load that the Wolves' leading scorer has to carry. "We're asking him to make an awful lot of sacrifices to his game that he has never been asked to do -- punching opportunities, rather than running to the left block and asking for the ball," Rambis said. "We're asking him to play without the basketball, asking him to do a lot of things he's never been asked to do, but we believe will help us win ballgames. So he might be in condition to do what he used to do, but he's still not 100 percent in condition to do the kinds of things that we expect him to do." Jefferson, a year removed from knee surgery, wasn't around after the game to offer his opinion.
-- Jefferson had an interesting exchange with referee Bill Kennedy midway through the first quarter, when he was whistled for shuffling his feet. Normally, officials try to get the game started right away, but Kennedy allowed Jefferson to demonstrate what he thought he did -- and then Kennedy demonstrated what he saw. The conversation lasted close to 30 seconds, far more than most officials would allow. Jefferson wasn't satisfied with the explanation, though.
-- Kevin Love played only 22:46, and had only 10 points, six rebounds (zero offensive) and two assists. Is he having trouble adjusting to coming off the bench? Is Rambis docking him playing time? None of the above, the coach said. He just didn't want to use Love at the end of a blowout. "When it gets into the (lopsided) environment like it was tonight, guys like Kevin that would normally be in the game for the last six minutes -- those are six minutes that are gone for him. So now he loses minutes he needed to get him up to where his average is."
-- Portland is now 12-3 on the second night of back-to-back games. Absolutely astonishing for an eighth-place team.
-- The Wolves, big crowd Saturday notwithstanding, normally have a lousy homecourt atmosphere -- not the fault of the diehards who show up, but there are just way too few of them to provide much of a lift. So at a time when commissioner David Stern says the league is losing money practically everywhere, the Wolves' new ticket promotion is remarkable in its aggressiveness: They're slashing lower-bowl prices -- but only in March -- to levels never before seen in the franchise's two decades. There are $10 tickets just below the suites, $15 tickets behind the basket, and pretty much everything not between the baselines is available for $30. It's so difficult to find new customers for a 14-win team, particularly with the competition in town -- the Vikings nearly made the Super Bowl, and the Twins are opening a new park -- that they figured all the revenue lost in the short term would be worth it if they can grow the pool of ticket-holders who will want to stick around if the team grows into a winner. I'll be interested to see whether rock-bottom prices (lowest in the league by quite a bit, they say) can revive a fan base numbed into unconsciousness by all the losing. Give them credit for trying something radical, and if the game-night atmosphere improves, that's a bonus, too.
-- PHIL MILLER
The Timberwolves' upbeat assessment of their six-point loss to Chicago was interesting, given how the Bulls mostly dominated the fourth quarter. I guess when your two best scorers combine to shoot 8-for-24, as Al Jefferson and Kevin Love did despite rarely taking any shot longer than six feet, you figure the loss is a fluke.
And maybe it is. Kurt Rambis said after the game that he was proud of his team's defensive effort, and more than one player seemed surprised, rather than frustrated, by the loss.
But it's a dangerous slope they're on -- the losing streak is five now, and check out the schedule: The Wolves' next 10 opponents have winning records, and the next 18 -- yes, eighteen! -- games are either on the road or against winning teams. Sixteen of the next 18 are against playoff teams. On paper, the easiest game in the next six weeks is either a home game against Houston (28-25), or road games at Sacramento (18-36) or Charlotte (26-26); before chalking up any victories there, remember, the Wolves are 4-24 away from Target Center.
In other words, this losing streak could easily grow into double digits, and an incredibly difficult March is almost a certainty, even if they continue to play hard. So blowing a chance at a victory, as they did on Friday, should sting a little bit more.
It was the perfect chance to catch the Bulls, after all, given that they were missing Joakim Noah and figured to be at least mildly demoralized by the salary-dump trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas. Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray, probably headed for other teams after the season, were making their Chicago debuts.
But in the fourth quarter, it was the Bulls who appeared energized and organized, while the Wolves fell apart. Warrick and Murray combined to score eight of Chicago's 23 points in the period, while Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Ryan Gomes combined to miss all eight shots they took.
And yet: "I thought we did a lot of really good things," Rambis said. "We played good enough defense to win a lot of basketball games."
Just not this one.
A couple other points from Minnesota's first home game in 10 days:
-- I thought the Wolves might get a lift from the final play of the third quarter, but it didn't happen. Still, it was quite a play. The Bulls dribbled the clock down for what they thought would be the final shot, and Luol Deng took an 18-footer with five seconds left. The rebound bounced off a defender and flew toward halfcourt, where Ramon Sessions corralled it just before it flew out of bounds. He regained his balance and whipped a pass to Damien Wilkins, streaking toward the basket. Wilkins caught the pass and quickly slammed home a dunk, beating the horn by less than a second. The play pulled the Wolves to within a point, but five minutes later, the Bulls owned a double-digit lead.
-- The last play of the second quarter was interesting, too, because it appeared Rambis was trying to pull off a little misinformation. As Derrick Rose dribbled out the clock near halfcourt, waiting to make his move, Rambis yelled to Jonny Flynn, "You're all by yourself! You're all by yourself!" Maybe Rose believed the Wolves really were guarding him one-on-one, because he suddenly cut to the basket -- where Ryan Gomes and Ryan Hollins had raced to guard the basket. Rose had to make an awkward pass, and Warrick missed an off-balance jumper.
-- Less than four minutes had passed Friday when Corey Brewer hit a personal milestone by sinking a three-pointer from a step behind the line. That extended Brewer's streak to 20 consecutive games with a three-pointer -- a particularly impressive stretch considering Brewer had made a trey in only 19 games in his career before the streak started. The Wolves' third-year guard, who led them with 19 points Friday, has made 38 of 84 long shots in his last 20 games, a 45.2 percent success rate.
-- What's with Kevin Love? The 3-for-11 shooting night seemed to affect his all-around game, because Love gathered only six rebounds and had difficultly guarding rookie Taj Gibson, who made six of seven shots on the night. Love is averaging 15.1 points on the season, but he's reached that number only twice in seven February games, and he's reached his rebounding average (of 11.5) only three times this month. Things went so badly for him Friday, Love didn't play the final six minutes.
-- Good crowd of 18,183 in Target Center on Friday, largest since Dec. 5. Maybe it's those throwback jerseys. The crowd even gave a standing ovation -- but not for a basketball player. Former Vikings' defensive end John Randle, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this month, was introduced during the third quarter, and received a loud 30-second hand.
-- Overheard: Rambis complaining to referee David Jones about Hollins' offensive foul early in the fourth quarter. Rambis pointed at Bulls center Brad Miller and shouted, "He's a flopper! He's a flopper!"
-- Alando Tucker was in uniform for Friday's game, but once again didn't play. His eight-minute stint Jan. 26 in New York is still Tucker's only appearance for the Wolves, who acquired the former Wisconsin guard from Phoenix in December.
-- PHIL MILLER
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