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.
Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea walked off the Target Center court not long ago after this morning's shootaround and declared himself fit and ready for tonight's game against the Pacers.
"I'm going," he said. "I've been feeling good the last couple days, I've been working hard. I'm good to go tonight. Maybe I'll get tired pretty quick, but if I'm tired, I'll ask for a sub."
A couple hours later, Ricky Rubio was named the Western Conference's Rookie of the Month for January while Cleveland's Kyrie Irving was named the same in the East.
Rubio is first among all rookies in assists (8.9 a game) and steals (2.24) and fifth in scoring (11.4 ppg).
Irving leads all rookies in scoring with an 18.1 average, is second in assists (4.9) and field-goal percentage (.511) and third in three-point percentage (.411).
Barea said he won't be on a minutes' limit -- like he was in one of hos previous one-game returns, on a 17-minute clock -- but instead will play in six or seven minute bursts until he gets tired. Then he'll rest and be ready to go back in.
He has tried to come back from hamstring and ankle injuries three times before this season and each time played just one game because he wasn't yet ready and missed more time. He has missed 10 of the last 11 games.
"I think this time is the time," he said. "If we would have done this the first time around...I think this is two weeks or something. I think we ewre patient this time and I think it's going to work."
Also, Darko Milicic said he will play tonight even though he still is experiencing dizzyness that a doctor's checkup can't explain.
"I think they're still kind of curious what's going on," he said. "I still feel a little bit dizzy. I can't stay out no more, just got to figure out what's going on. It might just go away."
He said he took some medication for the last three days and that he's supposed to start feeling its effects within four to 10 days.
"It's going to make my head get in the right spot," he said. "I'll play. I'll go as long as I can. I think it's going to go away."
You'd think Nikola Pekovic would start his fourth consecutive game tonight, even if Milicic's length probably is a better match for Pacers 7-3 center Roy Hibbert.
But I probably won't know that for certain until pre game.
Of course, Barea's return -- combined with the return of Martell Webster and Brad Miller last week -- is going to make Rick Adelman's job of finding enough minutes to keep everybody happy impossible.
With Barea and Webster back, that will limit -- or eliminate -- minutes for Wayne Ellington, Wes Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and probably even Luke Ridnour, among others.
And that's still with rookie Malcolm Lee out. He participated in some full court 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 work on Tuesday and looks like he's getting closer to a return, although with everybody else now healthy I'm not sure if that means he'll be able to crack the lineup or not.
The Wolves, btw, are wearing their throwback Minnesota Muskies uniforms tonight for the first time as part of the NBA commemorating the American Basketball Asscoiation's 45th-year anniversary.
First things first after Monday's season-opening 104-100 loss to Oklahoma City at the standing-room only Target Center:
* Rick Adelman will not coach Tuesday night's game in Milwaukee so he can attend his mother-in-law's funeral, the team announced after the game.
Top assistant Terry Porter will coach the team instead back in the city where he was a head coach for the first time, from 2003 to 2005.
* Ricky Rubio's 6-point, 6-assist, 5-rebound stat line isn't why he blew up on Twitter tonight.
Rather, it was those ESPN highlights that caused the masses to start those Steve Nash comparisons and inspired one LeBron James to tweet, "Rubio can pass that rock!"
Well, yes, he can.
You saw that Monday night when he pushed the ball on the break and every turn and already showed him to be something of a master of the bounce pass on a full run.
After just one real game, the bandwagon is already getting a little crowded.
Looking more like the guy who amazed at his DKV Joventut team rather than the guy who looked so stifled with Regal Barcelona, Rubio found Derrick Williams a couple times (including one that gave Nick Colllison a close shave) and Anthony Randolph another time with some fancy passing.
"He was good," Adelman said. "He really sees the floor obviously, everybody sees that. He competes at both ends of the court. We just have to give him a little bit of time to work his way in. It is going to be an up and down situation for him. All rookies face that. He seems to have an awful lot of hype going his way, but I don't see him buying in that. I just see him as a young man who really wants to learn, really wants to do well and he's just going to get better.
"He is really good in teh open court and that is why our guys have to learn they can't walk up the court or jog. They have to run up the court every time."
* Do the Wolves really want Michael Beasley shooting 27 times?
Yes, he led them in scoring with 24 points, but he needed those 27 shots to get there.
Included was the one that could have tied the game at 102 with three seconds left.
That's when Rubio flung a pass to Beasley on the left wing and Beasley went hard to the basket -- afterward, he second-guessed himself and said he probably should have shot the three -- but missed and didn't get the foul call he sought when tried to stick a little shot over converging Kendrick Perkins and missed.
There was contact, but Perkins went straight up his arms and avoided the foul, which is the way Adelman said officials are calling those kinds of plays now.
"He made the right play," Adelman said of Beasley. "He went to the basket agressively trying to get the foul. He didn't get the call. It's the thing this team has got to learn. I really like a lot of pieces that we have, but we have to learn to win these ball games in the fourth quarter.
I asked Adelman if he wants Beasley shooting 27 times (made 11 of 'em), and he said he'd have to look at the game footage first. He also said Beasley wasn't the only one who forced shots in the offense.
* Rubio and J.J. Barea played the entire fourth quarter. So did Derrick Williams when Adelman went to that small frontcourt and played Williams, Beasley and Love for the final six-plus minutes.
Both those backcourt and frontcourt combinations create mismatch problems, both pro and con.
In the fourth quarter, though, it looked like those mismatches played in the Wolves' favor: The Thunder struggled to contain Rubio and Barea on pick and rolls and Barea in 27 minutes showed he's a tough little guy, just like he did for the Mavericks last season.
That frontcourt was effective even though the three combined to shoot 1-for-10 on threes on a night when the Wolves probably win if they do just a bit better than 3-for-22 as a team.
* Adelman praised center Darko Milicic before the game and he showed why even though he played just under 20 minutes a game. He was an efficient 4-for-6 for 12 points from the field, but more importantly, played with some actual fire, flattening Perkins in the first quarter and then glowering at him when the game turned physical almost from the opening tip.
* It didn't take long for tweeps on Twitter to call for the Wolves to trade both Wes Johnson and Luke Ridnour after Monday's game.
Nothing like some patience, huh?
Neither played in the fourth quarter.
It's obvious Ridnour's starting job isn't long for this world, just a matter of when Adelman thinks Rubio has paid his dues and is ready to take over that job.
The fact that Rubio played the final 15 minutes tonight already shows into whose hands Adelman wants to place the ball.
Johnson again looked like that one-dimensional 3-point shooter he was most of the time last year, but it's just one game, sports fans.
Let's give this some time and let it play out.
* This Thunder team is pretty dang good. Start with Kevin Durant (33 points and a lovely spining move and scoop shot around Milicic) and Russell Westbrook, who dueled with Rubio down the stretch and finished with 28, 6 and 6. But don't forget James Harden off the bench or the physical tag team of Perkins and Serge Ibaka that helped hold Love to "just" 22 and 12.
That's enough for tonight. Got a morning to Milwaukee.
Here's the game story from Monday's game.
And tonight's notebook.
Blog at you Tuesday.
The Timberwolves just concluded their morning shootaround for tonight's season-opener against Oklahoma City and judging from who wore the white jersey, Rick Adelman is going with that lineup from last season that he used in the preseason:
Luke Ridnour and Wes Johnson at guard, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley at forwards, Darko! at center.
When asked how the Wolves will try to defend two-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, assistant coach Terry Porter said they'll throw everything at him: Beasley, Derrick Williams, Wes and probably then some.
Rookie Ricky Rubio will make his NBA debut coming off the bench.
If preseason gave us an accurate preview, look for Adelman to pair Rubio with J.J. Barea most of the time. They'll probably be the first players off the bench tonight.
"It's going to be amazing," Rubio said. "After long, long two years waiting to play here, I'm finally here. It's going to be hard because we have a lot of games in a short season. I think today we'll play good. We have to think about enjoy it and try to win."
He missed the preseason finale at Milwaukee and a few days of practice because of a sprained ankle, but this morning declared himself, "Much, much better. I don't feel pain. I feel much better."
About coming off the bench, he said, "Derrick Williams and all the rookies, it's hard to start from the beginning. There's a lot of experience here like KLove and Luke Ridnour. All those players who know better than us, they have to teach us how to handle that pressure and all that stuff."
He said he believes he's ready for the NBA.
"It's a short preseason," he said. "I think that i learned fast. I learned a lot of things from my teammates, from the game with Milwaukee that we played. I think I'm ready. We'll see tonight."
Yes, we will.
Opening tap is 7 p.m. tonight against a Thunder team that reached the Western Conference finals last spring before losing to eventual champion Dallas and who dispatched Orlando with relative ease in Sunday's season opener.
A couple other things:
* Barea on watching his former Dallas team play Miami in Sunday's national TV opener: "Watched most of it. The first part of it was hard, it was hard to watch. I wish it would have been different to be there with my old teammates and try to to do it again, but nothing. I'm excited to be here. New team, it's over now. Let that one go and keep going."
* Former Gopher and TImberwolf Quincy Lewis was at shootaround this morning and will do some pre- and post-game work for FSN this season, starting tonight.
After the breezy feel of the open scrimmage Monday, the Wolves got back to work in the afternoon. And the result was what coach Rick Adelman called perhaps the best practice of camp so far.
"They had the day off yesterday, and we said we need to come today and have a really good workout today and tomorrow," Adelman said. "I think they came with that attitude."
What made it the best? To Adelman, it was the focus the players brought to the workout facility. "It might have been our best as far as them coming in and keeping their attitude right on through. Two and a half hours and they didn't break down once in their attitude. So I thought it was a very good practice."
That said, a couple players were missing. Ricky Rubio's right ankle -- turned in the preseason opener Saturday -- was still a little sore. He said he felt something when he was trying to warm up, so he sat out practice. So did guard J.J. Barea, who has a bruised thigh. Neither seems serious and Adelman described sitting the two players as precautionary.
Other items of interest:
--Rubio, who didn't appear to be limping at all, met with two members of the Spanish language newspaper La Voz Latina, and with Kevin Friedland of the Minnesota Stars soccer team. Friedland is player/coach of the Stars, who won the 2011 North American Soccer League championship.
Friedland gave Rubio a personalized Stars jersey. Afterward Rubio was asked if he played soccer growing up in Spain. "I was playing both basketball and soccer," he said. "I decided to play soccer, because all of my friends were playing soccer. But after two months, or a month, I went to my mom and I said I didn't like soccer, I prefer to play basketball. I think I make right decision."'
That happened when Rubio was about 10 years old. And why didn't he like soccer? "Soccer was kind of boring," Rubio said. "Because, sometimes, when you don't score, you don't touch the ball for five minutes. You're running and not touching the ball. I prefer to control to control everything. So that's why I'm a point guard in basketball."
--Rubio and Derrick Williams went along with the rookie hazing that went with the open scrimmage -- the singing and dancing -- but it sounds like they're looking forward to doing the same thing to the new rookies next season.
--Adelman said both Anthony Randolph and Nikola Pekovic will get more minutes in the preseason rematch in Milwaukee Wednesday. Also, Adelman said the starting lineup would likely change, but that he hadn't settled on a starting five yet.
That's about all. Have a good night.
The Timberwolves' open scrimmage today -- one that about 2,000 folks showed up at Target Center for -- was more an homage to the fans than anything really basketball-related.
And that was fine.
It was fun, fan-friendly hour that included games of H-O-R-S-E and knockout with fans, a very loose, intensity-free 10 minutes of scrimmaging, some fun rookie hazing and a brief, three-man dunking contest.
Martell Webster was the emcee of the event, with a little help from Kevin Love. Webster thanked the fans for coming, Love promised that good things are coming this season.
Frankly, the most entertaining segment of the lunch hour came when Webster decided to do a little rookie hazing. He brought Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee out to center court, and that's where the fun started.
Webster told the rookies to sing the National Anthem. Rubio couldn't, because he doesn't know the words. But, with the help of a ringer, Williams and Lee obliged. Then Webster brought out a gal celebrating a birthday. Rubio got down on one knee and wished her a happy birthday, then Williams and Lee sang to her.
And then, a rookie dance contest. We were edging into cruelty here, I think, but it was fun seeing the three rooks do a little gyrating for the fans.
After Love thanked the fans once more for coming, Michael Beasley, Lee and Williams did a few dunks. The winner, in my eyes? Williams, who took a lob pass from Rubio and did a windmill dunk.
It's pretty clear most folks were here to watch Rubio, and he obliged with some nifty no-look passes during the actual 10-minute scrimmage.
I'll talk to the rookies today to get an idea how they felt about their pretty public hazing. Until then, have a good day.
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