Timberwolves' Johnson answers call in superb way

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2013 - 8:28 AM

Center Chris Johnson kicked off his 10-day stint with the Wolves with adrenaline and aggression -- as did Mickael Gelabale.

ATLANTA -- In his first 36 hours back in Minnesota, newly signed Timberwolves center Chris Johnson set his career highs for points scored in an NBA game and text messages received.

He packed a bag Friday, left his D League team in misty Santa Cruz, Calif., and flew on little more than a moment's notice to Minneapolis, where Saturday he received some rudimentary instruction at the morning shootaround and went out that night and scored 13 of his 15 points in a winning fourth quarter over Houston.

On Sunday morning, he awakened to a hero's welcome after supplying the night before exactly the kind of energy the injury-ravaged Wolves lacked in a five-game losing streak that ended when Johnson and fellow newcomer Mickael Gelabale scored their team's first 23 points in Saturday's fourth quarter.

By then, he had received more than 20 congratulatory messages from family and friends on his phone.

"Most I've ever had," he said.

Until Saturday, Johnson had never scored more than 11 points in any of his four previous, brief NBA stays. That was last March in one of seven games with New Orleans after he had played 34 games before that with Portland and Boston.

On Saturday, he and Gelabale started the game as little more than two terribly needed, healthy bodies available to play as much, or as little, as acting head coach Terry Porter needed.

But the entire fourth quarter for each?

"No, no, no," Porter said. "But that group on the floor was doing such a good job, we just let them roll."

Johnson, 27, was invited to the Wolves' training camp last fall and played 15 minutes in three preseason games before being one of the final two players waived in October so the team could keep Will Conroy around as an extra guard until Ricky Rubio returned from knee surgery and Luke Ridnour proved his iffy back was fine.

"Just a numbers game," Johnson said. "At that time, Luke was hurt and Ricky was hurt and the right decision was to pick Will. I wasn't mad, because I left it out on the floor. You've just got to control what you can."

So he returned to the D League and said he tried to put the NBA out of his mind so he could concentrate on making his Santa Cruz team a winner, figuring the latter would take care of the former.

"You never really know what a team needs and when they're going to call," Johnson said. "This isn't my first call-up, so I'm kind of used to it."

He entered Saturday's game remembering some of what he learned during three weeks with the Wolves in October but relying just as much or more on Rubio and J.J. Barea guiding him through plays he didn't have time to comprehend at that short morning shootaround.

"I remember some things, but it's pretty simple with the bigs, especially for myself: Just roll to the basket," Johnson said. "Ricky makes it easy. He puts the pass right on the dot."

Twenty-four seconds after he entered Saturday's game in the second quarter, Johnson turned a Barea alley-oop pass into a lunging dunk. By the time his night was through 18 minutes of playing time later, he had made two other dunks and a short jumper, he'd gone 4-for-4 from the field and had gotten to the free-throw line four separate times as well.

He proved himself equally efficient at the other end, as well, by blocking a shot and altering others. His play inspired Target Center fans to chant "MVP, MVP" at him, even if you couldn't tell whether they meant league or team.

"I don't know," he said with a grin. "Probably just for tonight, I guess."

Johnson vows to be more "aggressive" this time around in the NBA, whether his latest invitation lasts 10 days or longer.

The Wolves received a roster exception from the NBA for 10 days so they could add Johnson as an extra, 16th man because of all their other injuries.

Starting center Nikola Pekovic (bruised thigh) and rookie guard Alexey Shved (sprained ankle) will miss their second consecutive games Monday in Atlanta during a Martin Luther King matinee in the civil-rights leader's hometown. But forward Dante Cunningham is expected to play after missing Saturday's game because he was ill.

Johnson played his 18 minutes Saturday and Gelabale his 21 minutes mostly on adrenaline.

Can the Wolves expect so much from both again so soon?

"I wouldn't go into a game thinking they would play more than that," Porter said.

"Obviously, I have trust in them. Just see how the game plays out."

Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this story.

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