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Wolves at Lakers tonight: A sportswriter confesses

It feels like the Lakers have Friday's two acts switched around, with tonight's anticlimatic game against the Wolves following the emotional unveiling late this afternoon of a Shaquille O'Neal statue outside Staples Center.

It's the fifth such one commemorating a Laker -- if you count legendary play-by-play guy Chick Hearn -- and the 1,500-pound hanging statue depicting Shaq hanging two-fisted from the rim goes out on the plaza alongside statues of hockey's Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille as well as boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

I'll have to admit, it made me feel old.

I remember watching O'Neal announce on a San Antonio military base in 1992 that he was turning and today watched the Laker family honor him seven years after he played his last game.

Why such a site?: His father was a military man.

I was covering the Wolves my first time around on their beat and the team was playing in Dallas while the 1992 Final Four was being held at the Metrodome. The Wolves were headed toward the NBA's worst record that season, and thus O'Neal's decision to leave LSU was big news back home.

I remember flying to San Antonio for the afternoon announcement and flying back to Dallas for that night's Wolves-Mavs game.

What I remember more is how O'Neal wrinkled up like face, like he smelled some bad cheese, when I asked him what he thought about the prospect of playing in Minnesota.

Of course, Orlando won the lottery that year, Charlotte finished second and the Wolves third.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Or infamy...

The Magic ended up with O'Neal, for four seasons anyway, before he bolted as a free agent for L.A.'s big stage and bright lights. Charlotte took Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning and the Wolves drafted Duke's Christian Laettner.

Mourning, by the way, was among the many dignitaries who attended this afternoon's ceremony. Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West all spoke from the stage and Magic Johnson appeared by recorded video message because as the Lakers' new basketball boss he is out scouring tonight's UCLA-Kentucky game in Memphis.

Among former teammates, coaches and others who attended: Former Wolves forward Mark Madsen, former Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy, Augsburg's own Devean George, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, A.C. Green, Gary Payton, Lakers coach Luke Walton, Elgin Baylor, Elden Campbell, James Worthy and O'Neal's coach at LSU, Dale Brown.

It's probably no coincidence tonight's media-room meal is barbecue chicken, O'Neal's favorite phrase for an opponent about to be exploited.

Omri Casspi set to make Wolves debut tonight vs. San Antonio

Not having played in an NBA game in nearly a month and still wearing a small brace on his mending right thumb, Omri Casspi said he was excited to be wearing a Wolves jersey, his third in a month’s time.

“I made a joke yesterday,’’ said Casspi, 28, who was signed by the Wolves Monday for the rest of the season in the wake of a season-ending injury to Nemanja Bjelica. “Within a month I had three different jerseys on. From Feb. 20 to March 20, I was in Sacramento still, then going to New Orleans, and now here. But it’s just playing basketball. It’s fun and I’m going to enjoy this ride.’’

The veteran stretch-four figures to play some in the Wolves’ game with San Antonio at Target Center – it’s an 8:30 start, remember. And he figures to fill much the same role as Bjelica did off the bench.

“We need shooting,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We knew that.’’

Thibodeau pointed to the way Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are being defended. Even Ricky Rubio – whose scoring  and shooting has improved – is starting to see some double teams off pick and rolls, according to Thibodeau.


“So shooting is critical,’’ he said. “We think (Casspi)  can open up the floor. He’s shown throughout his career he’s been a really good shooter. We’ve always liked him. So we’ll get a look at him.’’

And Casspi will get a look at the Wolves. Casspi knew he could get minutes right off the bat by signing here. But another draw was the Wolves willingness to sign him to a deal that included no obligation guarantees for next season. So Casspi will have flexibility come this summer.

But, over the rest of the season, Casspi will give the Wolves a reliable shooter – he’s a career 36.9-percent three-point shooter – and some veteran experience.

The biggest draw, according to Casspi?

“Being able to play under coach Thibs, and kind of being in a situation to help the team win and compete for the playoffs – though it will be tough, to be realistic,’’ he said. “I thought my talk with coach was great. I felt like it was the right situation for me.’’

He said he has other offers. And while joining a team clearly headed for a playoff run was tempting, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to crack the rotation on such a team with such little time left in the regular season.

Thibodeau and some of the Wolves players walked through some plays at the team’s practice facility Monday. There was more of that at today’s shootaround. Thibodeau wouldn’t say how much he thought Casspi could play.

Casspi admitted there would be rust, but said he was ready. “Tonight is a big game, so I’m going to do what I do,’’ he said. “I come off the bench to bring energy and get rebounds and get out and run and shoot the open shots. ‘’

Casspi will a small brace on his thumb, but he said it wouldn’t affect his shot. “I want to share some of my experience and help this team win basketball games. Learn how to play with them, and enjoy this ride and see where it goes from there.’’

Here are some other notes from this morning:

--Bjelica is scheduled to have surgery on a fractured navicular bone in his left foot in New York today. Bjelica sustained the injury in the second quarter of the March 15 game Boston.

--There is a reason why Casspi wears the No. 18. The number 18 has spiritual meaning in Judaism.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Baltimore at Twins (spring training)

    6:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Lakers

    9:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Vancouver at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at New England

    1 pm on Ch. 29, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's hockey vs. Notre Dame

    2:30 pm on ESPNU, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Portland

    9 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Detroit

    11:30 am on Ch. 11, 100.3-FM

  • Boston at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Pittsburgh (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN

  • Timberwolves at Indiana

    6 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on NHLN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Tampa Bay (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • L.A. Lakers at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Ottawa at Wild

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Rochester at Twins (exhibition)

    11:05 am

Today's Scoreboard

  • Atlanta

    Detroit

     

    - F

    2

    3

  • Philadelphia

    NY Yankees

     

    - F

    2

    3

  • Tampa Bay

    Pittsburgh

     

    - F

    0

    4

  • St. Louis

    Washington

     

    - F

    3

    1

  • Boston

    Toronto

     

    - F

    2

    3

  • Houston

    NY Mets

     

    - F

    2

    0

  • Cleveland

    Chicago Cubs

     

    - F

    4

    2

  • Milwaukee

    Cincinnati

     

    - F

    11

    12

  • Arizona

    LA Dodgers

     

    - F

    6

    13

  • Chicago White Sox

    Oakland

     

    - F

    2

    8

  • San Diego

    Texas

     

    - F

    3

    4

  • San Francisco

    Colorado

     

    - F

    6

    5

  • Kansas City

    Seattle

     

    - F

    3

    4

  • Washington

    Miami

     

    - F

    0

    3

  • Baltimore

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    5

    5

  • Seattle

    LA Angels

     

    - Bot 8th

    0

    4

No NFL games today

  • Cleveland

    Charlotte

     

    - F

    112

    105

  • Brooklyn

    Washington

     

    - F

    108

    129

  • Detroit

    Orlando

     

    - F

    87

    115

  • Denver

    Indiana

     

    - F

    125

    117

  • Phoenix

    Boston

     

    - F

    120

    130

  • Atlanta

    Milwaukee

     

    - 4th, 0:09

    97

    100

  • Philadelphia

    Chicago

     

    - F

    117

    107

  • New Orleans

    Houston

     

    - F

    107

    117

  • Sacramento

    Golden State

    9:30 PM

  • Minnesota

    LA Lakers

    9:30 PM

  • NY Islanders

    Pittsburgh

     

    - F

    4

    3

  • Tampa Bay

    Detroit

     

    - F

    2

    1

  • San Jose

    Dallas

     

    - End 2nd

    1

    4

  • Winnipeg

    Anaheim

     

    - 1st, 9:49

    0

    0

No MLS games today