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.
This tough November schedule the Timberwolves find themselves in gets even tougher starting tonight.
In the next six games, the Wolves are playing opponents that are winning at a 75-percent clip.
That includes the 12-1 Pacers tonight as well as 12-1 San Antonio, 10-3 Miami, 9-3 Oklahoma City and 9-5 Dallas.
The cupcake of the bunch is 6-6 Denver at home on Wednesday,
"I know, we're very aware of that," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, "and most of the team are on the road. That's just the way the schedule breaks and of course one of the home games is not at home. Every is going the other direction. It's a challenge and opportunity both."
The home game that's not a home game to which he refers is the Dec. 4 game against the Spurs in Mexico City.
A couple other things:
* Expect another physical -- chippy, if you will -- game between these teams. The last couple years have produced such games more often than not.
"I think there have been a few chippy games," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They play physical. We play physical. So anytime you have two teams that play that style of play, it's going to be a little edge, a little chippy. We welcome that."
* Former Strib columnist Dan Barreiro went on his KFAN radio show this afternoon and said Derrick Williams is as good as gone. He didn't have any more specifics, but he does have the Batphone line directly into Flip Saunders' office and home.
It's no secret Adelman doesn't see a place for him on this team and Saunders has been searching for a deal.
I was told this afternoon nothing is imminent.
One team that is looking to make a deal and wants to get younger is Sacramento, which would offer a veteran such as swingman defender Luc Mbah a Moute or Adelman favorite Chuck Hayes. Maybe the deal would even include reserve shooter Jimmer Frederette.
I haven't heard the Kings or any names specifically, it's just an educated guess on who wants to deal now and what's out there that Williams might bring in return.
Just in time...
That's what Monday night's victory in Cleveland was, a fourth-quarter victory that was just the kind of victory the Wolves needed for their collective mental health.
"I think it's really important, the things we did down the stretch," Rick Adelman said after the Wolves ended a four-game losing streak and won for the just the third time in their last 18 games. "I thought we defended them good. We executed. We still turned it over way too many times, way too casual and tried to make the home-run play and not the simple play."
They hadn't won a road game since Jan. 3, which incidentally is the last time Kevin Love played in a game for them.
The Wolves had lost eight straight on the road since Love broke his hand again in the third quarter of that game in Denver and then his teammates produced that big win without him. I think Miami and Washington remain the only other teams that have beaten the Nuggets at home this season.
Adelman brought Ricky Rubio back with his fifth foul and went with three guards again -- Rubio, Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour -- for the final 2:48 and the Wolves held off an improving Cavs team down the stretch.
They did so thanks mostly to Ridnour's fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his 21 points and got free on a well-executed play with a double screen including one from big Nikola Pekovic after a timeout for a three-pointer with 1:43 that repelled the Cavs after they had gotten within 92-89.
The Wolves had six players score in double figures, including all five starters for only the fourth time this season.
Big Pek got back in his double-double ways with a 16-point, 10-rebound game he credited with his teammates making shots. The Wolves made eight threes (on 14 attempts) and shot 52 percent from the field.
"Game's a lot easier when you make shots, I found that out," Adelman said.
There's a reason he's won nearly 1,000 games...
J.J. Barea played nearly 15 minutes on that sprained foot, but only 95 seconds in the fourth quarter. Adelman praised him for trying, but said he wasn't moving very well, particularly in the second half so he kept him out. Barea was sullen in the locker room afterward, waved off Pek's attempt to play with him in an otherwise joyous locker room and declined when I asked to talk about the game and that foot.
Pekovic was accompanied by team athletic trainer Gregg Farnam down the corridor after tonight's game toward the Cavs' locker room, which usually means he was needing to have something examined. Adelman said he was fine, mentioned he might have gotten hit in the head. Pek said he was fine after the game.
And just for a change of pace, here's my colleague Chip Scoggins story on former Wolves forward Gary Trent's transformation from lost soul to changing children's lives at Dayton's Bluff elementary school in St. Paul.
Wolves flew home after the game and play their final game before All Star break Wednesday night against big Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Utah at Target Center.
Both the Wolves and Spurs concluded shootarounds not long ago at Target Center.
Here's some stuff that transpired:
* Spurs stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were on the floor for their shoot, but coach Gregg Popovich said neither will play tonight.
Duncan hurt his left knee in a scary fall Saturday against Washingotn and Ginobili has a tight hamstring.
The Spurs, btw, bring their 10-game winning streak tonight to start their traditional long February road trip while the rodeo invades San Antonio. They play the next nine on the road, heading into and coming out of All Star break.
* Wolves starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko will not play either because of that quad he strained in Monday's loss to Portland.
Kirilenko seems to be a pretty good judge of his body.
He was pretty close in his prediction when he had those back spasms earlier this season, so what does he say about this one?
"It's kind of new for me -- never had the quad -- but I guess probably four, five days," he said. "That's what I feel right now. You never know..."
He said he hopes to get back before the team heads into the All-Star break. The Wolves have five more games in the next week before the break.
* With Kirilenko out, expect Dante Cunningham to start with Derrick Williams in the frontcourt.
Rick Adelman could go with the three-guard thing, with Alexey Shved as a quasi-small forward, but I bet he'll go with DC's stability there instead.
* NBA commissioner David Stern will attend tonight's game. He also will meet with local media late this afternoon.
Think he'll take any action if Duncan and Ginobili indeed don't play?
* Kirilenko will receive the EuroPlayer of the Year award before tonight's game, putting him on a list of winners that also includes Dirk Nowitzki (six times), Pau Gasol (three times), Tony Parker, Peja Stojakovic and Toni Kukoc, among many others. It's given to the European player for his performance in a year with his club team and national team.
Kirilenko led the Russian Olympic team to a bronze medal last summer, took CSKA Moscow to the EuroLeague final four and now is back in the NBA.
"It's very nice to have, but I always think basketball is a team sport," he said. "Individual award is not indicating the full effort because it's usually the team effort."
I asked him if it's a meaningful, prestigious award in Europe.
"I have no idea, to be honest with you," he said. "My first time getting this award."
* If both teams were healthy tonight -- and everybody knows neither is, by a long shot -- there'd be 15 international players between them.
That's half of the 30 players total on both rosters.
The Spurs, of course, led the NBA's international movement and now the Wolves are following along.
"Minnesota has done it big time," Popovich said. "I think it's smart, it's very smart. Sometimes you can even get lucky and find somebody who's a Nowitzki or a Ginobili or a Parker."
* Popovich said new Wolves forward Mickael Gelabale had been on the Spurs' radar for some time.
"We've looked at him before, but never really had a position there," he said. "He's somebody we thought about a lot the last couple years."
* Tony Parker scored 55 points here at Target Center one night when both Duncan and Ginobili were out for the Spurs.
He said after shoot this morning that maybe he'll set an assists record tonight instead.
As the old saying goes, something has to give, and it will tonight at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
Somebody has to win.
The Bobcats and Wolves enter tonight’s game each having lost three straight and eight out of nine. Now, it might be for different reasons – Charlotte is still trying to get their young players to grow up while the Wolves are dealing with a slew of injuries -- but the numbers are the same.
“I think we could switch locker rooms and I’m sure the faces of our tenants would be the same,” Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said. Added Wolves acting coach Terry Porter: “They’ve already been in our den and won. I’m sure they’ll come out with a lot of confidence.”
Still, somebody is going to get a streak-busting win tonight.
More streaks? Charlotte has lost 16 straight home games while the Wolves have lost six straight on the road.
We’ll see how it goes when the tip finally happens at 7:30.
Porter talked a bit this evening about talking to the team about playing hard through adversity. “We have to worry about things we can control,” said Porter, who has gone 2-8 as the team’s acting head coach. “And that is going out and trying to play hard, trying to play together, trying to right this ship, get through it.”
Some other items:
--Porter is going with the same starting five of Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams at forward, Greg Stiemsma at center and Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio at guard. Rubio played 31 minutes last night, which was a bit more than the 28-minute limit that remains in place.
--Guard J.J. Barea said he is good to go. He hurt a thigh muscle in the second half of Friday’s game in Washington.
--The Wolves had a travel issue last night in Washington. Their charter, due to fly into the D.C. area from Raleigh, N.C., was held up by an ice storm. That meant the team had sit for more than an hour waiting for a plane to arrive. They finally got into their Charlotte hotel room after 1 a.m. “You don’t think charters are supposed to happen that way,” Porter said. “It’s supposed to be smoother. Just list it among the other adversities we have to overcome.”
Do you feel it slipping away already?
Yes, the Wolves are only two games below .500, for the first time since they lost to the Clippers in L.A. on Nov. 28.
But they've lost three straight -- all on the road, though -- by an average of 17.3 points.
In their last four, they've allowed 31 points on 58.2 percent shooting in the fourth quarters.
Tonight, they trailed by four points late in the third and by 13 three minutes into the fourth on a night when the Spurs lost Manu Ginobili to a strained hamstring late in the first half and with Tony Parker leading the way outran the Wolves 32-10 in fast-break points.
Luke Ridnour said after the game that he doesn't want to hear any more talk about how shorthanded the Wolves are playing, but until -- or if -- help arrives either by signing a free agent such as Mickael Gelabale or a meaningful trade...
They will come home afte1Monday's game at Dallas to play nine of the next 12 at home, but that stretch starts with the Clippers and Houston.
They got both J.J. Barea and Lazar Hayward back tonight, so they had 11 guys available to play. Barea played 19 minutes and was effective with 15 points and six assists, even if he shot 4 for 11.
Hayward played 8 1/2 minutes.
Here's the game story from tonight.
And here's the notebook with the main item on Barea's return.
A few other quick things:
* Ricky Rubio played right up to a 22-minute limit and even though he had three steals, he went 0-for-6 from the field and continues to show this recovery is indeed going to be a slow process.
* When Alexey Shved has an off shooting night, he has an off shooting night: Tonight he went 0-for-7 four games after he went 1-for-11 against Portland. In between, he went 16-for-40 in three games.
* Tim Duncan looked like it was 2002 all over again, with seven blocked shots. When asked what got into him, he said, well, they kept coming at him.
That's all from San Antonio.
Blog at you tomorrow from Dallas.
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