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 practiced Saturday before boarding a plane for Atlanta.
Well, I should say, most of the Wolves practiced. But many did not. With the team about to embark on a difficult back-to-back at Atlanta and at Oklahoma City Sunday and Monday, a number of players were unable to participate. They include:
Kevin Martin, who is still wearing a brace on his right wrist;
Anthony Bennett, whose knee is sore;
Zach LaVine, who hyper extended his elbow Friday;
Mo Williams, who had general soreness, and;
Shabazz Muhammad, who is still out with an oblique muscle injury.
Martin and Muhammad will not play in Atlanta, it appears. The others? Coach Flip Saunders said he hoped they could all go. But all those bumps and bruises prevented Saunders from giving anyone much of a break, such as Andrew Wiggins, who appears to have hit the rookie wall.
Jerry will be with the team the next two days. Have a good rest of your weekend.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders wouldn’t say anything for sure. But it appears there is a good chance that at least one veteran will be back in the rotation Wednesday when the Wolves host Dallas at Target Center.
Both center Nikola Pekovic and guard Kevin Martin appear very close to returning. Pekovic has missed 31 games with ankle soreness and Martin has missed the last 30 after fracturing his right (shooting) wrist and then having surgery.
Pekovic said there is still some residual soreness in his ankle, but the soreness that he’d been experiencing after practices and games is gone. “It feels better,” he said. “I mean, way better. There is still some pain there, but it’s normal. It’s something that is totally acceptable for me.”
When asked whether he’d play Wednesday, Pekovic said it was Saunders’ decision. But he also indicated that he’d told his coach he was ready to play.
Martin, meanwhile, said it would be his decision on whether to return Wednesday. “I’ll make that decision, if I’m going to go tomorrow,” he said. “It depends on how I feel when I wake up. I’m still learning how to play with it, being a little cautious because it’s a shooting hand. But I’m getting there.’’
Ricky Rubio’s return date is a ways off, though. The good news is that the team’s point guard – out the past 35 games after spraining his left ankle – did some live contact work in practice Tuesday, the first time he’s done that since the injury. But Saunders said Rubio still has some soreness.
But, having had both Pekovic and Martin in practices over the last week or so has made the whole team better; Saunders said it was one reason for the recently-completed 2-2 road trip.
But the bottom line is that all three will be back sooner than later. And that means a lot of adjustment from everyone. Pekovic indicated that he might need to ease back into things, minutes-wise, to get his conditioning back. Martin seemed to think he’d be good from the time he returns. “I’ve been on a minutes restriction the last 2½ months,’’ he quipped. “I think I’m past that point.’’
Saunders said the returning vets will have to learn with a team that has changed since they left, with the development of youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng in particular. Those players who have been playing all along will have to adjust to a change in rotation – and, perhaps, a decrease in minutes – with the return of the veterans.
“It will be an adjustment both for the guys coming back into their roles and also the guys who have been playing,” Saunders said.
That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you prior to Wednesday’s game.
The Wolves just got done working out in Phoenix, back to work again after Tuesday's victory at Indiana broke their 15-game losing streak.
A bunch of this and that from practice:
* Kevin Martin had a good day at practice pain free, feeling well and could return almost any day now.
"I think I'm getting close, I think I impressed them today," he said. "I was back to K-Mart today. Today was a big step."
Asked if he was inspired by teammate Mo Williams' career-high and franchise-record 52-point game Tuesday, he said, "I don't know what it was, I think it was. I've been hanging out with Mo lately, I think he rubbed off on my today.
Martin said he's uncertain if that means he'll play sometime on the remaining three games of this road trip that goes Phoenix Friday, Denver Saturday, Charlotte Monday.
Asked if he could play as soon as Friday against the Suns, he said, "I don't think it's likely, but you never know when you wake up."
Flip Saunders said it's all up to Martin to make the call and tell him that day when he's ready.
"I don't know if he's ready yet," Saunders said. "That's going to be his call. One of these days he's going to get up in the morning and say he's ready"
* Martin is closest of the trio of injured that includes Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio.
Rubio is the furthest away of the three and Saunders said Rubio still has some soreness on the inside of his ankle and said "definitely not" about the prospect of Rubio playing on this trip.
"Almost like a little bone bruise so we're going to be very cautious with that," Saunders said.
Saunders said Pekovic is willing to go to the D League for rehab and the team would send him there, but the D League's current Showcase in Santa Cruz, Calif., might mean the timing won't work out for Pekovic to go down and get 22, 24 minutes in a game.
Saunders said Pekovic's issue now is conditioning, says he's not having any pain in that troublesome ankle.
* Former Sacramento coach Mike Malone was at practice today and will travel with the team on the rest of this trip.
He coached Williams at Cleveland, knows Martin and he walked out of practice today chatting with Thaddeus Young.
Saunders said he's done that before with other coaches who have been fired because "the first three days you get 120 calls. Everyone tells you how great you are and two weeks later, no one talks to you."
Saunders said he invited Malone to come down and travel with the team and he accepted.
"It's good to have him and it's something hopefully that will help him, too," Saunders said.
* Williams has been fielding calls and text messages since that 52-point game Tuesday.
"I got a lot of reaction," he said. "It was a special moment for myself. A lot of people saw it and gave me a lot of attention for it. But I'm a couple days removed from it, so it's dying down a little bit."
When asked if he has gone back and watched the game, "To be honest with you, I just saw the clips they put on social media, on my Facebook page or whatever, I saw the highlights, definitely I did."
When asked if he watched the game to see if it really happened, Saunders said, "It was real. I was there."
All the injuries have made it rather difficult for coach Flip Saunders to run a normal practice, even when the team actually has time to practice. So he and his coaching staff have gone a different direction. Instead of a full scrimmage-type practice, the Wolves, of late, have done more skeleton-type drills and walk-throughs.
“We do three-on-three, a lot of skeleton stuff,” Saunders said. “You actually get a lot more done. You have a chance to teach more, in a smaller setting with the players, work on concepts more than anything else.’’
Here is the updated injury report:
--Despite a sore ankle that got worse as his playing time went on Wednesday Shabazz Muhammad practiced today and said he will play tomorrow. It hasn’t been easy for him. The ankle has been a problem for a while, but he’s doing everything he can – including acupuncture – to keep himself on the court. Saunders said Muhammad’s energy in the first half Wednnesday really set the tone. But it’s clear that the ankle got worse, as a few missed dunks later on showed. But give credit to the second-year forward for playing through the pain.
--Mo Williams’ back spasms kept him out of practice again today and Saunders said he would not be available vs. Oklahoma City Friday.
-That’s about it for now. Jerry will be with the team tomorrow.
Thaddeus Young is glad to be back with his teammates, and he’s eager to play again. But he is still mourning the loss of his mother. Lula Hall succumbed to cancer Nov. 13 in Memphis. Her funeral was last Friday. Young returned to the Twin Cities on Sunday.
“It’s still a situation where you still think about what happened with my mom,” Young said after Monday’s practice. “But my teammates and my coaches and the whole organization have been behind me every step of the way.I thank them for their thoughts and their prayers, each and every fan that’s reached out to me also, all the players around the league. It’s definitely a tragic thing, but you try to get back in the swing of things and just keep playing, making her proud.”
The Wolves were in the middle of their long road trip when Hall, who had battled cancer for some time, had a downturn. Young left the team after the Wolves played Houston in Mexico City on Nov. 12 and was able to get back home before his mother died.
“The last 10, 15 minutes of my mom’s life I was there holding her hand,” Young said. “I felt her last breaths as she passed away. I was just happy I was able to get home and see her before she passed.”
Young said his mom, who raised him and his siblings as a single parent, was a huge influence on his life, a disciplinarian when needed, a strong woman who sacrificed a lot to help her children. “She was my concentration, my focus,” Young said. “Everything. You just try to keep making her proud and keep going out there and doing the things that she taught me to do.”
Here are some other items from today’s practice:
--Wolves coach Flip Saunders had no updates on either center Nikola Pekovic (wrist, ankle) and guard Ricky Rubio (sprained ankle). Rubio is still in his protective boot, but he is down to one crutch.
--Guard Mo Williams was sick and missed practice.
--Guard Kevin Martin was scheduled to see a doctor Monday afternoon. After the visit, Saunders said, a plan of treatment – one that could include surgery – will be decided upon.
--Saunders said the team still hasn’t decided on whether to use an injury exemption to add a player to the roster. But if they do, he said, that addition will be a post player.
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