Injury means opportunity for Wolves' Williams, again

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2013 - 9:42 PM

Derrick Williams will be asked once more to step up with Kevin Love again sidelined by a broken hand.

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Wolves forward Derrick Williams

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

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Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman usually is a man of few words, and he becomes one of even fewer still when asked if second-year forward Derrick Williams is better prepared now than he was two months ago to seize opportunity.

"He better be," Adelman said. "I mean, he better be."

Williams is getting a second chance now that All-Star forward Kevin Love has broken his shooting hand for a second time in three months.

Williams started the first nine games this season when Love was out after breaking his hand the first time, in October. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft received that distinction even though Dante Cunningham clearly had outplayed him in the preseason, but Adelman preferred Cunningham's energy and defense off the bench.

When Love returned just before Thanksgiving, Williams quickly found himself mostly buried on the bench.

Saturday afternoon, an MRI revealed Love had refractured the third metacarpal bone in his hand, and he will return this week to the same New York City hand specialist he saw three months ago to determine whether surgery will be needed this time around.

Saturday night, Williams went scoreless through three quarters, then scored 18 points in a fourth quarter when the Wolves erased a 22-point, third-quarter deficit and got within a basket in the final minute before ultimately losing 102-97 to a Portland team they are chasing for the West's final playoff spot.

Williams played the entire fourth quarter, much of it in a small frontcourt with Cunningham and Andrei Kirilenko where it's not exactly clear who's at what position.

"I think I am," the 6-8 Williams said when asked who the center is in that configuration.

Adelman lamented how his team "hung their heads" for three quarters before Williams' scoring led them back in a game when the Wolves played without either Love or Ricky Rubio, then lost center Nikola Pekovic to a strained hip.

"That's what we have, the opportunity is there," Adelman said afterwards when asked about Williams. "We have to compete, and there's no time. I just told them in the locker room: The games don't stop, the league doesn't stop for you. There's nobody coming over the mountain for us. It's who we have right now and what we have to do.

"Everybody has to step up -- Derrick, D.C., everybody -- and we'll have a chance. We can win games."

The 21-year-old Williams said he is ready when asked if he is better prepared to seize the moment this time. "I think so, maybe a little more focused," he said. "I've been working hard, man. It's really paying off. You can't just stop just because you have a little bit of success. Just keep doing what I'm doing and I think I'll be all right."

He often is the first Wolves player to arrive before games, meeting assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Shawn Respert 2 1/2 hours or more before opening tip, and often is one of the last to leave the practice floor as well.

A more-than-willing three-point shooter who has been told by coaches to get to the basket more aggressively, Williams has spent much of those before and after sessions working on his midrange shot.

"Just out here getting shots up when nobody else is on the court," Williams said. "I have the whole court to myself, just trying to knock down shots I know I can make. Earlier in the year, I was missing shots I know I can make. I think a lot of people know I can shoot the three or get to the basket, I'm just working on the midrange game and being able to knock it down."

He created 12 of those 18 fourth-quarter points Saturday from right around the basket, making six of nine field-goal attempts that included two three-pointers.

But he also missed two crucial layups in traffic, including one that would have tied the score with 29 seconds left had he not gotten bumped and missed a shot that he threw to himself. The crowd roared when he put the ball back in the basket, but he was called for traveling.

The other miss came when Williams attempted one of his wild, gyrating leaps around the basket and threw the ball blindly off the backboard.

"I just think it takes time," he said. "Earlier in the season, I was really struggling around the basket. I think it's getting at least a little bit better, finishing those. I'm just trying to go up and dunk it. If I miss, I miss. At least I'm attacking the basket hard."

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