Injuries create an opening for Muhammad to play

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2014 - 2:21 PM

– That last chance for which Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad has waited all his rookie season finally is here.

The four-month wait took him to Iowa and the NBA’s Development League via Reno, Nev., but it has arrived in at least a modest way the past two games now that Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf all are out injured.

Martin’s absence has moved Chase Budinger into a starting role at shooting guard. The absences of Pekovic and Turiaf has moved Dante Cunningham into the starting frontcourt, which in turn creates an opening off the bench for Luc Mbah a Moute and Robbie Hummel at backup power forward.

And all that finally has created room at both small forward and shooting guard for Muhammad, who was drafted for his scoring but has seldom played for a Wolves team that has lacked scoring off its bench almost all season.

He averaged 24.5 points in four games played with the D-League’s Iowa Energy in January, then returned to the NBA and sat again until Martin was injured Feb. 7 at New Orleans.

Muhammad’s 22 minutes in Sunday’s 108-97 loss at Portland were a career high. He now has played at least a little in the past six games — his longest stretch this season.

He made just one of eight shots Sunday, but he calls himself better prepared to play after spending a week in the D League.

“I definitely feel more comfortable,” Muhammad said. “I’m just relaxing out there, just taking it easy. It really helps out when you’re on the court because obviously I’m a rookie, so this is by first go at the rodeo in the NBA. That’s something I really try to do: Have no pressure and just relax out there.”

Wolves coach Rick Adelman has turned to Muhammad over Alexey Shved the past two games, looking for more offense the longer Martin remains out.

“He can give us something maybe that we didn’t have with that second group because he can get to the basket,” Adelman said. “He can post up. He’s strong. So give him an opportunity and see what he can do.’ ”

NBA honors Love, again

The NBA on Monday selected Love as the Western Conference’s player of the week for the second time this season.

Love beat out such nominees as Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin and received the honor after reaching his first career triple-double (37 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) Saturday at Utah in a week when the Wolves went 2-1.

Love averaged 36.7 points — best in the league last week — and 12.7 rebounds in those three games. Charlotte guard Kemba Walker was named the East’s Player of the Week.

If at first …

Martin flew to Los Angeles to get a second opinion on the fractured thumb on his left shooting hand. He’s hoping the visit will speed the timeline of his return so he can play on this five-game road trip.

He hasn’t played since injuring the thumb Feb. 7 in New Orleans. Pekovic has missed the last 12 games because of ankle bursitis.

“A night like tonight just reminds us we need all our guys back,” Love said after Sunday’s loss. “We need all our depth.”

Even the kitchen sink

The Trail Blazers on Sunday game-planned to take away Love’s long outlet passes to Corey Brewer and did so with as much success as anybody all year long. They sent big bodies at Love with arms raised before he could turn and look down court for Brewer and others and held him without a single assist — after he got 10 of them in Saturday’s victory at Utah.

“That was something they did,” Love said. “They just switched up different defenses. All 94 feet, I’ve seen every defense in the world this season.”

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