Scant options make for Howard's big chance with Wolves

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2012 - 6:58 AM

Injuries at small forward have created minutes for the newest Wolf.

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Josh Howard

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LOS ANGELES - The way veteran forward Josh Howard figures it, his legs and lungs are about where his teammates' were six weeks ago, only he never got the benefit and privilege of going to Fargo or Winnipeg.

"This is my training camp," he said. "I'm going through my second week just like everybody else was going through their second week. Only everybody else got a full month."

Signed Nov. 16 after both Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger were injured, Howard was pushed into a starter's role for Wednesday's 101-95 loss to the Clippers when Andrei Kirilenko came up shuffling like an old man that day because of back spasms.

Two weeks before, Howard was home in Dallas, watching NBA games on television and working out on his own because he couldn't find any suitable pickup competition.

On Wednesday, he played 26 minutes, made three of nine shots and scored seven points replacing Kirilenko because coach Rick Adelman considered him the most suitable of all possible and limited options.

"He's our only natural small forward," Adelman said.

"We don't have time to tinker with anything. We have to put the best flowing group on the court, and that's why I decided to go that way."

Adelman chose Howard as the small-forward starter rather than move either power forward Dante Cunningham or Derrick Williams there. He also went with a three-guard lineup that featured Alexey Shved at that forward spot alongside Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee in the backcourt.

Those three guards were on the floor for the final 2 minutes, 38 seconds, when the Wolves twice pulled within a basket but couldn't overcome the poise, scoring and playmaking provided by Clippers guards Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, who played their first game together since Billups tore his Achilles' tendon 10 months ago.

"He did fine, I thought he did a good job," Adelman said of Howard, whose 26 minutes were his season high in the six games he has played. "The whole team, if we compete like that and we battle like that, we'll win our share of games."

Cunningham played 17 minutes of the bench while relieving Howard at small forward and Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, almost 12 minutes relieving Love at power forward.

Howard is shooting 37.8 percent (14-for-37) from the field and 28.5 percent (2-for-7) from three-point distance in his first six games while averaging 5.5 points a game.

At age 32, he considers himself still in the middle of training camp, searching for his shot and what he calls "my legs."

"It feels like things are coming back," Howard said. "I've just got to get confident with my shot and knock it down. I'm feeling better. No ill effects after practices or after games. I'm a vet at this. I've been able to hang through and fight."

He might remain at that starting small-forward spot for more than only Wednesday's game, the last of a four-game Western trip in which the Wolves went 1-3.

Kirilenko aggravated his back in Saturday's loss at Golden State, didn't practice Monday and then played 41 minutes, including the entire second half, in Tuesday's victory at Sacramento.

He said before Wednesday's game that he experienced similar back spasms in previous NBA seasons and said it usually takes six or seven days for his back to feel much better.

Until the spasms subside, the Wolves likely will rely upon their oldest player to replace Kirilenko's minutes, if not exactly the defense their usual starting small forward provides. Howard is 14 months older than Ridnour, who is 5 days older than Kirilenko.

"Actually, I feel quite younger," Howard said when asked about being 32.

"I've been working my body out. Hey, you've seen me out with your own eyes, you can tell me."

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