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 now that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are a couple, is anybody else going to step forth:
Those two took the Wolves to an 18-point, third-quarter lead Saturday in Atlanta, but they alone weren't enough -- particularly on the game's final shot -- to keep a Hawks team missing Al Horford and Tracy McGrady from ripping off a 24-2 run that ended the third quarter and began the fourth and ripping off a victory the Wolves seemed to suggest afterward would have been theirs if the officiating didn't conspire against them.
They still had the chance to win after the Hawks took that two-point lead on Ivan Johnson's two free throws with 4.1 seconds left, but Love and Rubio got pushed too far out on the left side of the floor playing a two-man game after a timeout and had to settle for Love's long, forced shot just before the final buzzer never had a chance.
Here's the game story from Saturday night that details how the Hawks changed the game by slapping a zone on the Wolves out of desperation and the Wolves complied by chucking outside shot after outside shot up that missed until the Hawks were right back in the game.
Now you know Love wants to prove he can be that guy to take the final shot, but Rubio showed tonight that he's the guy who you want to give the ball in any situation.
He made another hostile crowd ooh and aah -- and even caused a couple NBA team advance scouts sitting courtside to chuckle in delight -- with his alley oop and behind-the-back passes, sharp shooting (yes, it's true, Wolves fans) and his defense, which seems to be getting better and better by the game.
Tonight, playing 35 more minutes after Friday's 44-minute game, he simply put together an 18-point, 12-assist, 4-rebound, 5-steal night
For those keeping score at home, that's 3.75 steals a game in his last four games.
That ain't bad.
Now who else (perhaps beyond Luke Ridnour) is going to start playing?
Rick Adelman turned to two unlikely possibilities -- Wayne Ellington and little-used Nikola Pekovic -- tonight after it became clear he decided Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph, Wes Johnson and rookie Derrick Williams weren't doing the job.
In fact, Williams played just eight minutes -- and not a second in the second half -- just a week after Adelman said he needed to get him in the game more.
Meanwhile, Ellington played nearly 31 minutes in relief of Rubio and Luke Ridnour after both again started in the backcourt.
He made 6 of 9 shots -- 1 of 4 threes -- and tried to break the Hawks' fourth-quarter momentum with such clutch shooting he hasn't shown much yet this season.
Pekovic saw his most meaningful action, playing 17 minutes and going for more than a seven minute stretch in the fourth quarter when Adelman turned to his physical presence perhaps in an attempt to counter Hawks rookie Ivan Johnson, the former D Leaguer who powered his way through the Wolves at will at times tonight.
(He also provided his team's final four points that assured victory).
Yes, it sure will help when J.J. Barea, Michael Beasley, Martell Webster, Malcolm Lee and perhaps even Brad Miller come back healthy, but the early results here in this still young season aren't good with the opportunity that guys like Johnson, Milicic and Randolph are getting.
I left Williams out of there because the guy's got to get more than eight minutes, no matter the game situation, doesn't he?
Adelman has said all along he's going to play who's going to give him the best chance to win, but I'll still take my chances putting Williams out there at least 30 minutes a game, including fourth-quarter time, and let him grow.
It's early yet -- just 12 games in -- but already you can see that Love, Rubio and Williams are this team's core, even if Williams and Love basically play the same position.
Let 'em play together, I say, even if Williams maybe has to play a good bit at a small-forward position he might not yet be quite ready for.
What do you say?
One other thing: Here's the notebook from Saturday night with an explanation from Wolves executive Ted Johnson about why you couldn't see Rubio's first two NBA starts on local television this weekend.
That's all I got from Atlanta after a long, horrendous night with wireless problems at Philips Arena.
The Wolves flew home after tonight's game, will take Sunday off and play Monday at home against Sacramento, which scored 60 points tonight in Dallas and got absolutely crunched by the Mavs.
I'll probably blog with you again after shootaround on Monday.
Got questions, comments or just want to share your giddiness about these Timberwolves with someone?
Join me at noon today for a live chat.
I'll be doing it live from the Timberwolves' free public scrimmage and David Kahn will join me.
Don't know yet if it will be for the whole hour or part of it or just when, but fire questions off for me and him and we will get to as many as time allows.
So if you can't make it down to Target Center for the lunch hour, spend it with me and the Wolves' basketball boss.
You'll find the link to the chat on the main page at www.startribune.com later this morning.
Yes, it's only preseason.
Yes, it's only one game.
Yes, it's only the Bucks.
Still, you've got to come away from Saturday's 117-96 victory encourage it not all atwitter if you're a Wolves fan, even though you know they're not going to start every game by hitting 10 of 11 threes in the first half like they did Saturday.
Also, while I'm thinking of it...Join me for a live chat Monday at noon from the Wolves' free lunchtime scrimmage at Target Center.
You can find the link to the chat then at startribune.com.
Now, as for Saturday's game:
* Of course, there was Rubio's debut, which should suggest to the many doubters that he's not going to be a Jonny Flynn-ish bust.
OK, so he's probably not as great as those fans who came to his see debut and went all agog every time he made even the simplest of plays.
Sure, his jump shot isn't the prettiest thing in the world -- he went 1 for 4 from the field but 4 for 4 from the line -- but from just one night you can tell he's going to make his teammates happy -- and maybe wealthy -- because of his passing.
If you can be a star averaging maybe 8 points a game, this guy can in time be it.
He almost always found the open man with the right pass at the right time and would have reached double digits in assists rather than his 7 assist, 6 point, 6 rebound night if his teammates had converted more of his set-ups.
In particular that that alley-oop pass Derrick Williams lost control of after Rubio had already set him up nicely for a thunderous dunk.
When asked if fans are going to see a lot more of those alley-oop dunks from Rubio, Williams said, "Hopefully, if he still passes me the ball since I missed the last one."
* For those who have wondered how much, or little, Rick Adelman will be able to play Williams, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley together...well, if first impressions mean anything, this is going to be their best frontcourt lineup except for maybe the nights they play Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.
Adelman started Darko Milicic because he went with last year's starters for familiarity's sake and because of the matchup with Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
Milicic neutralized Bogut and the way he's played in camp so far will give Adelman the option to go big if he wants, but...
The Wolves changed the game with a 31-12 run that closed the first half and showed that for whatever that Williams-Love-Bealsey frontcourt is going to give up on the defensive, it might get back and then some on the offensive end.
All three guys are, for their positions, quick, particularly now that Love has lost those 25 pounds.
"They were much quicker than us tonight," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.
He was referring to the entire game, but it was never more obvious that in that closing first-half run when the Wolves started to move the ball the way Adelman envisions they will and clobbered the Bucks with their three-point shooting.
But it wasn't just J.J. Barea and Wayne Ellington -- two backcourt shooters -- doing the damage.
Love, Williams, Beasley combined to make six in the half's final 5:46. Love finished the night 4 for 7 on 3s, Williams 3 for 4, Beasley 1 for 1.
OK, I know it's one night, but these guys are going to drive power forwards and centers nuts trying to cover them on the perimeter.
"It's not going to be fun," Love said about the opposition. "I wouldn't like to play against us."
Williams for now is best suited to play power forward, and that's where Adelman has told him to concentrate after watching Williams struggle trying to defend out on the floor at the small-forward spot during camp.
He's not quick enough and he's unaccustomed to chasing guys out there at the 3, but at the 4 he's going to be quicker than almost everyone he comes across.
Love just might be better playing center than he is at power forward. Yes, he has considerably less bulk but it looks like his agility is going to make him a better defender and he commented after the game that he'll be better at that simply because he's going to have more stamina in the fourth quarter now.
He had another double-double by halftime -- 15 points and 11 rebounds -- Saturday, just like he did 16 times last season.
He finished with with 21 and 15 and Beasley had 21 and 6 and neither guy played in the fourth quarter because the game was already decided.
If the Wolves are going to play those guys together a lot -- and it seems pretty clear already Adelman will -- other things will try to exploit them at the defensive end, which is what Skiles says his Bucks indeed will do when the two teams meet in the season's second game, Dec. 27. (Not to mention in Wednesday's preseason finale at Milwaukee).
"If they're going to go small, which they will do, we have to be able to go to Bogs and get some baskets at the other end if they have small people on him," Skiles said, referring to Bogut. "We tried to do that, but with limited success tonight."
* Adelman knows how to maximize players' strengths -- see his decision with Williams so far as some small example -- and minimize their deficiencies, which eventually you're going to see to individual player's performances and in team defense and decision making.
This team still made plenty of defensive mistakes and turnovers on Saturday, but they got better as the game progresses and at least you can tell there are principles and strategy here with the defensive plan.
They're going to get better. Remember, they've had just eight practices together so far. Give 'em a season.
* Speaking of putting players in position to succeed...that two point guard look proved intriguing, if used with the right moderation and in the right situations.
Barea played more (26:26) than he might have expected, much of it alongside Rubio.
The two players combined for 13 assists and 20 points (Barea 14, Rubio 6).
"No question, I like it," Barea said of that two point-guard combination much like when he played with Jason Kidd or Jason Terry in Dallas. "And he did a great job."
Barea won't guarantee this team will shoot 90 percent (10-for-11) in the first half every night, but...
"I know we can score the ball," Barea said. "I don't know if we're going to be that good every night. This team, if we play defense and rebound every night, you never know what could happen. We've got people who can score on this team. I'm excited for this team."
* Rubio turned his ankle in the first half and briefly went to the locker room to have his ankles re-taped but declared it "nothing" after the game.
We're less than 24 hours from seeing these Rick Adelman-coached Timberwolves play at Target Center for the first time.
I asked Adelman this morning if he's got the concept of a starting lineup in his mind and he said, "Not really, no. I really don't."
He said he'd rather figure out a finishing unit that's going to win games at both ends of the floor.
Here's my best guess: Beasley and Love at the forwards, Pekovic at center, Rubio and Barea at guards.
* I think Adelman is so concerned about that lack of ball-handling and playmaking everywhere but point guard that he's going to look hard at Barea starting and playing a lot with the other two point guards. If you wondered why they went out and signed him, that's why.
* If you're going to go that small in the backcourt, you probably want to be big elsewhere.
Andrew Bogut's presence is one reason why I don't think Kevin Love starts there. I don't think Adelman really wants to start him at center, even though he will play there some obviously.
The way Adelman has harped about the team's turnover tendencies and how little he has talked about Darko...I just get the feeling that he's going to go for Pek's fundamentals, physical presence and dependability over Darko's potential and possibilities.
This guy's going to go for chemistry and guys he thinks are will win.
He's said not he's not concerned with developing young players.
That's another reason why I'm not penciling Wes Johnson in at starting shooting guard, like you might have assumed before training camp began.
Now how he'll find time for all these point guards, small forwards and power forwards....well, I have no idea.
That's why he's getting the $5M a year.
He did say he'll probably play 10 guys Saturday night because he wants those he does play to have the chance to develop a rhythm.
It'll going to be fascinating to see what this thing looks like tomorrow night.
Here's the story for Saturday's paper that I wrote about the two point-guard backcourt and Luke Ridnour's thoughts about it after he had gone silent since Barea's signing became imminent.
You'll find it here.
And here's the notebook led by Ricky Rubio talking about his first game at Target Center.
That's all from this brief trip to Mankato.
Next stop: Target Center.
Blog at you Saturday with all the tantalizing details.
Not really, no,” he said. “I really don’t
The Timberwolves took training camp to Mankato Thursday for a two-day getaway that will include two practices at Minnesota State-Mankato and offered a lasagna dinner at owner Glen Taylor's home Thursday night.
They'll practice there Friday morning and then head back to the Twin Cities for Saturday night's preseason opener.
Here's the story I wrote from here for Friday's paper about the team's point-guard lineage, from head coach Rick Adelman to top assistant Terry Porter to rookie Ricky Rubio.
And here's the notebook that touches on a wide range of subjects, starting to Adelman's admission that has no idea yet who his starting center is.
Adelman started to shorten practices a bit today and will do so again on Friday, when the Wolves are expected to work out for only about 90 minutes after putting in 3 to 4 hour practices in the past week.
He also says he's starting to put together groups he envisions playing together in these two short, sweet preseason games his team has to prepare for its Dec. 26 opener against Oklahoma City.
Here's the way he divided them Thursday for scrimmaging:
White team -- Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Nikola Pekovic and Wayne Ellington.
Black team -- Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic, Luc Ridnour, Bonzi Wells, Anthony Tolliver and Malcolm Lee.
Got any hunches that your starting lineup will come somewhere from that white team?
At least a good bit of it, although I'm still wondering not only what they'll do at center who how shooting guard will shake out.
Barea played off the ball there a good bit Thursday with Rubio, but Adelman said he'll probably switch it up and play Ridnour with either Rubio or Barea on Friday.
I found it intriguing to Pekovic and Ellington played on that white team.
Are they deep reserves attached to five starters or possible starters themselves?
Afterward, Adelman praised Pekovic's strength, fundamentals, pick-and-roll play and positioning even though he's not a pure shot blocker like Milicic is.
(Adelman has been pretty reserved commenting on Milicic so far this camp.)
Williams continued to work exclusively at power forward on Thursday, and that will continue for the foreseeable future. Adelman praised Williams' shooting Thursday, but said it's best for now to limit his learning curve to that 4 spot rather than try to get him to learn both the small and power forward spots.
How are they going to split those minutes between all those forwards and centers and who inevitable is going to be unhappy?
That's a BIG question.
Adelman said once again that Love and Randolph most will play some center and said Love could start at center some nights depending on the matchup.
But he said he'll likely have to pick and choose those spots because he's concerned Love will get into early foul trouble the nights he's matched against an old-fashioned, real NBA center, of which there are only a handful.
Maybe I'm ready too much into Thursday's lineup but I got a hunch that Pek could begin the season as starting center.
Adelman said he'd like to play about 10 guys against the Bucks on Saturday, then maybe sub in a handful of new players and play about 10 again in the rematch Wednesday in Milwaukee.
So who's your starting lineup?
And what's your rotation?
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