Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
The Wolves and Oklahoma City finish the regular season tonight with so much at stake:
The Thunder need a victory and a New Orleans loss to San Antonio to secure the West's eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wolves need a loss to guarantee the league's worst record, and thus the best chance in the May draft lottery.
"We’d like nothing better than to have Oklahoma City go golfing with us tomorrow," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.
Kevin Martin expects to play for the Wolves tonight and even Anthony Bennett is supposed to give it a try just so the Wolves can come close to getting eight ready players they need by NBA rules to play the game.
The Thunder has that playoff spot at stake and star guard Russell Westbrook is battling Houston's James Harden for the NBA's scoring title here on the season's final day, too.
"We have to play our game tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said at his team's morning shootaround at Target Center. "Obviously, we need help. San Antonio needs to win, but we have to focus on what we have to do and go from there. Our job is to worry about our job and not worry about what's happening south of us."
Two Eastern teams with losing record will make the playoffs while the Thunder, seven games over .500, will miss them if the Pelicans win at home tonight.
"I mean, that's just how it goes," Westbrook said this morning. "That's how it always has been, especially in this league. It's something you can't change now. Obviously, our record is better than some teams in the East. It is what it is. We've got to take care of our business. That's the nature of the business."
A couple other things from today:
* Andrew Wiggins said he plans to play for Canada in August, which would be an Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico. There's also the Pan Am Games in Toronto in July, which Anthony Bennett has said he will play.
* Zach LaVine said he's open to playing in the Las Vegas Summer League again. He said he plans to be in the gym all summer anywhere and likes playing to the crowd in Vegas. He also likes the up-and-down pace of the game there.
Saunders said he wants Wiggins, LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad all to practice with the summer-league team but was non-committal on whether any would play in games in Vegas. Wiggins certainly won't.
Greetings from Target Center, where the Wolves will tip off with New Orleans in about 30 minutes. Here are a couple nuggets that came out of the pre-game pressers with the two coaches:
First of all, this: Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Kevin Garnett will not play tonight and likely won’t play in Wednesday’s season finale.
And he thinks Wolves fans should take this as good news. Saunders said that, if Garnett were to play Wednesday, it would be, essentially a good-bye appearance. The fact that he likely won’t play could mean Garnett has plans that include playing next season.
“I’ll say this: If he plays, to me, it would be an indication that he doesn’t want to play next year,” Saunders said. “I think he’s looking at this as more not being over. He doesn’t to do anything, in one or two games, that would jeopardize something that’s going to throw him back to not be able to really start and get ready (for next season).’’
Garnett – who threw out the first pitch for the Twins home opener Monday afternoon – has not spoken to the media, so we don’t have definitive word on whether he wants to play beyond this season.
To Flip, KG not playing Wednesday should be taken as a good sign.
Meanwhile, a couple other items:
--First, Jrue Holiday’s sore leg will keep him out of the lineup tonight for New Orleans.
--On the Wolves side, Kevin Martin will miss the game because of a stomach ailment. That means the Wolves will once again be casting about for players healthy enough to actually play.
--Ricky Rubio was scheduled to have diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday. But, as of game time, Saunders had not received word on how the procedure went or what it showed.
Wolves guard Ricky Rubio will have diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday in the Los Angeles area.
Continued soreness in that left ankle Rubio sprained so badly in November sent him to see specialist dr. Richard Ferkel in Los Angeles while the Wolves were there to play the Lakers and it was decided he'll have surgery to take a better look at the ankle.
Flip Saunders said in a statement that the decision was reached between Rubio, his representatives, the Wolves and orthopedic experts.
Rubio has played just 22 games this season because of the ankle and has missed 13 of the last 14 games and won't play again this season.
Rubio probably wasn't going to play for the Spanish national team this summer so he could concentrate on getting healthy for a Wolves team that guaranteed him $55 million last fall and this almost certainly guarantees that.
I'll have more from Flip after pre-game access.
D League power forward Arinze Onuaku is joining the Wolves in Sacramento this afternoon and will be available if needed tonight against the Kings after the team signed him to a 10-day hardship-exception contract.
The Wolves need another big body to finish the season now that injured Gorgui Dieng stayed home from this West Coast trip and Nikola Pekovic is headed for surgery on Wednesday in Charlotte.
They'll get a bit of break against the Kings, who will play without All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins tonight. He's out with a sore right foot.
Onuaku averaged 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 41 D League games this season with the Canton Charge. A former Syracuse star, he has played in the D League, Lithuania, China and played three games with New Orleans and two games with Cleveland in brief stays with NBA teams.
Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton are the team's only real available big men left, at least until -- or if -- Kevin Garnett plays again.
Flip Saunders said Garnett won't play tonight but said Garnett's leg and knee is getting stronger and said there's still a chance he plays before these final six games -- four in the next five nights -- are through.
Cousins is out for the Kings, but Rudy Gay and Nik Stauskas are listed as probable.
Ricky Rubio, whose season is done after 22 games because of recurring left ankle pain, spoke briefly with the media today after practice.
He talked about his immediate plans for the off-season, his goals heading into training camp next fall and was asked about whether or not he’ll play for the Spanish National Team at the European Championships in September.
Here is what he had to say:
--On his truncated season: “It’s been a tough season,” he said. “I’m trying to get healthy. Finally I was kind of healthy and I was playing with a little pain. But, at one point, I couldn’t do any more. It’s tough because I want to be out there on the court. I did everything I could, but I couldn’t.’’
--Does he consider this a lost year?: “I’m trying to be positive, even if it’s tough in these moments. When you play only 22 games, I try to take good things. I learned a lot. New coaches, learned with my teammates. I grew up as a player. Every injury you gotta be stronger, especially mentally. This one made me smarter.’’
--On the upcoming off-season: “I have time. I want to get ready. I want to be healthy and I want to improve. The main thing this summer is going to be to get healthy, get 100 percent and be ready.”
--Will he play for the Spanish National Team?: “Of course I have thoughts. But right now I can’t think about it until the season is over. Of course the priority this summer is my health. I haven’t been healthy and I how this team a lot. In four years, I have one good season, an 82-game season. I owe this team a lot.’’
Meanwhile, coach Flip Saunders said Kevin Garnett is going on the upcoming road trip. But Gorgui Dieng (concussion-like symptoms), Anthony Bennett (ankle) and Gary Neal (ankle) are not traveling.
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