Little-used Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad heads to Iowa and the NBA’s Development League on Sunday. Before he goes, he reacted Saturday to an assignment that’s expected to last at least four games with the Wolves’ Iowa Energy affiliate.
Until he was told the news on Friday, Muhammad said he preferred to stay in the NBA, adding he felt he’s better off practicing against NBA talent rather than playing in a minor league.
Saturday, he changed his mind.
“I’d rather go down and play right now, to be honest with you,” he said. “Watching is a good thing, too, but sometimes you just want to go out and play and it feels like I haven’t played a game in while. So that’s something I’m excited to go do.”
Muhammad wore a Wolves uniform Saturday night and was available to play against Oklahoma City. Wolves coach Rick Adelman played him sparingly in just 11 of the team’s first 32 games and Muhammad will be even less likely to play now that swingman Chase Budinger is due back any game now.
Muhammad has been the star of his team all the way from AAU ball and high-school ball through his one collegiate season at UCLA and now finds himself an afterthought for the first time since he started ninth grade.
“I’m really strong mentally, it didn’t really affect me,” he said of such an unfamiliar role. “I know I’m a rookie and Adelman is a Hall of Fame coach. He likes his veterans a lot, so that’s just something I keep in mind and something I just abide by.”
Both Budinger and center Ronny Turiaf remain close to returning, but not enough to let them play Saturday.
“It’s up to the doctors and medical people to say they’re ready to go,” Adelman said, “and they haven’t said that yet.”
Reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute did not play because of a groin injury sustained in Wednesday’s victory over New Orleans. Without him, Adelman expected to ask more defensively from Corey Brewer and Dante Cunningham against Kevin Durant.
Saturday’s game featured the NBA’s top two scorers: Durant came in averaging 28.6 points per game, Love 26.3.
“I’ve been knowing Kevin since I was about 14 years old,” Durant said. “He has grown so much as a player. I mean, he couldn’t shoot a lick when I first met him and now he’s the best three-pointer shooter in the league after Steph Curry.”
Love led the NBA in scoring during December with a 30.0 point average and was third in rebounding with 13.7.
“He’s what, 30 and 10 and four assists the whole month?” Durant asked. “Not too many people can do that. Nobody can do that, really. So he had a great month. I don’t see why it’s going to stop now. Hopefully it stops against us.”
The Thunder played without injured All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, who is expected to be sidelined until after February’s All-Star break now that he has undergone a third operation on his knee in the past nine months. The Clippers also will be without All-Star Chris Paul for at least the next three to five weeks after he injured his shoulder Friday.
Both injuries will impact the Western Conference playoff race, and the Wolves’ place in it.
“They’re a different team without Chris Paul,” Love said. “Obviously, everyone knows what he’s capable of. They’re going to have to manufacture a lot of points and [Blake] Griffin is playing out of his mind right now. They’re really going to have to go through him. As far as the playoff picture, I don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and see how they do in the next couple weeks without him.”
• Love was looking almost baby-faced Saturday after a haircut and shaving his shaggy beard for a Friday GQ Magazine photo shoot. Don’t worry, though, he plans to grow back the beard.