Kirilenko: A healthy contribution to injured Wolves roster

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2012 - 12:34 PM

The forward has avoided the Wolves' lengthy list of injured players, supplying stability and leadership at a critical juncture.

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Andrei Kirilenko, right

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Down five injured men to start the evening and six by game's end, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman liked nearly everything about a 90-82 victory at Dallas and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko's tireless 44-minute performance in which he played the entire second half.

Everything, that is, but the final 15 seconds of a long and productive night for the only healthy, true small forward on a team that now is without Chase Budinger for at least three months.

That's when Kirilenko -- learning nothing from last week's game against Orlando -- had the audacity to hustle with the night's outcome already decided.

Five days earlier, teammate J.J. Barea chased a loose ball into the scorer's table with his team ahead by 20 points in the fourth quarter and headed immediately into the locker room knowing he had injured his foot, a mid-foot sprain that has kept him sidelined for a week now.

This time, Kirilenko spread himself across the floor pursuing a steal with his team ahead by eight points and center Nikola Pekovic already out of the game for the night, the fourth consecutive game in which the Wolves lost a player to injury.

"The only thing I don't want Andrei doing is going on the floor for a loose ball with 15 seconds to go and having something happen," Adelman said. "There's a time and place for that and when we're up 8, don't do that."

Don't do that particularly now that Budinger will not return until February at the earliest after famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews repaired the torn lateral meniscus in his left knee in Florida on Tuesday. His lengthy absence has the Wolves pursuing adding a free-agent wing player -- Mickael Pietrus and Josh Howard among the possibilities -- who'd accept the veteran's minimum the Wolves can offer and who can back up Kirilenko.

Hustle is exactly what Kirilenko has provided in the season's opening seven games, when the Wolves produced the franchise's best season start by going 5-2 despite a list of injured that grows by the night.

When Pekovic left Monday's game late in the third quarter because of a sprained ankle, Kirilenko was the only one still standing from what was supposed to be the team's starting lineup.

Young stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio started the season already on the injured list. Starting shooting guard Brandon Roy joined them at halftime of Friday's home victory over Indiana because of a sore knee that he banged for the second time in a week.

And Pekovic stepped on Dallas swingman Vince Carter's foot as the two harmlessly ran back down the court together, turned his ankle and fell in a painful heap that led him to declare thankfully after the game:

"I'm just glad it's not bad. I didn't hurt nothing, just a lot of pain."

So Adelman understandably grimaced when Kirilenko threw himself across the floor. In just about any other time and circumstance, a coach would have admired such a play and considered it punctuation on Kirilenko's performance: 16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers.

Instead, Kirilenko afterward had this to say about Adelman's concerns: Guilty as charged.

"It's a tendency, I have to get rid of it," he said after Monday's game, shrugging rather sheepishly. "I've always been a player who tries to get maximum. I see ball on the floor, if I get a steal we might finish the game. But I probably should not fall down. We don't want to lose guys."

That list is already long enough.

Pekovic received treatment on his ankle Tuesday -- the Wolves, with only nine healthy players, were given the day off from practice -- and he will be evaluated at Wednesday morning's shootaround before a game against Charlotte.

Roy had hoped to play Wednesday, but now is targeting Friday for his return. Barea's availability will be determined Wednesday for a team that has persevered despite all their injuries and still is chasing Oklahoma City for the Northwest Division lead.

Getting players healthy rather than losing yet another would be a refreshing change. Through it all, though, the Wolves somehow, someway have kept winning.

"I would give credit for character," Kirilenko said, explaining the victory over a Dallas team missing Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. "Nobody looked down. Nobody felt sorry. Everybody just tried their best."

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