SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A sellout crowd stacked to the rafters that opened Sioux Falls’ new retro, intimate Sanford Pentagon arena arrived Thursday to cheer home-state hero Nate Wolters and see, among many others, NBA stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
What they received primarily for their $80-plus per-seat admission fee was a Timberwolves’ 98-89 victory over Milwaukee that transformed into an audition for the team’s final two roster spots.
The South Dakotans got their chance to welcome Wolters — St. Cloud’s own — back as an NBA rookie after they cheered him just up the freeway in Brookings at South Dakota State, all right. And they watched Love and Rubio work for the game’s first 11 minutes before those two sat down for the night while coach Rick Adelman auditioned his rookie class and training-camp invitees for roles and jobs.
Reserve forward Derrick Williams didn’t play Thursday so Adelman could get a good, long look at top draft pick Shabazz Muhammad, who played 21 minutes off the bench after appearing for just six in the team’s first two preseason games.
“I guess I’m a vet now,” Williams said with a smile.
Love and Rubio played just briefly. Williams and starting shooting guard Kevin Martin (sore Achilles’ tendon) didn’t play at all. So Adelman sent Muhammad, fellow first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, second-round picks Lorenzo Brown and Robbie Hummel, and camp invitees Othyus Jeffers and A.J. Price out there and let them play.
All but Price played 20 minutes or more. Afterward, Adelman was asked if the competition for that final available roster spot or spots is getting more crystalline or more clouded.
“It’s getting a little cloudier,” Adelman said. “They’re all doing a good job, but that’s what it is all about. I like the way some of them played in the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line. They’re not intimidated by it.”
The Wolves starters again began slowly, falling behind 12-2 early. But the team’s second group that, in Love’s words, “kicked our butts” at times during training camp in Mankato carried the Wolves through.
Muhammad showed the offensive-rebounding tenacity that Adelman praised at camp with three of them Thursday during a 21-minute, 11-point, four-rebound night. Dieng blocked four shots and altered a number of others. He, Hummel, and vets Jeffers and Price were on the floor for the entire fourth quarter, when they produced a closing 10-2 run that saved the game.
“Every time I step on the court, I feel like it’s an audition,” Muhammad said. “I thought we played really hard out there tonight. I’m feeling really comfortable now, got a couple rebounds, made a couple moves. We always have to find something to get you on the court. I feel like that’s something that will get me on the court faster in the season. I also have offensive game, but I’m really trying to get offensive rebounds.”
The Wolves have 14 players with guaranteed contracts, but one of them — big man Chris Johnson — is the only healthy player who hasn’t appeared in a preseason game yet. That’s a clear signal the team intends to waive him and his $916,000 salary so they can make room to add two players, not one.
“That’s something we’ll talk about as the month moves on,” Adelman said about the team’s final roster spot(s).
Jeffers, 28, knows the training-camp routine and has played for three other NBA teams. He doesn’t intend to try to read the tea leaves.
“That’s not up to me,” he said. “I’m here to prove I’m able to play on this team and get this job. I think I’ve pretty much shown what the people already know: I’m here to defend, and I want to defend.
‘‘We’re all out here trying to show we can give this team something that it needs.”