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 open their seven-game preseason schedule tonight in Indianapolis without injured Kevin Martin and Anthony Bennett as well as resting Nikola Pekovic and Mo Williams.
The Wolves will start Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young and Gorgui Dieng against a Pacers team that will play all season without star Paul George.
Martin has a strained left hip adductor and Bennett right hip flexor strain. Neither injury is considered serious and they'll be evaluated again on Thursday after the team probably only has an optional practice tomorrow.
Flip Saunders says he wants to take a good long evaluating look at such young players Wiggins, Dieng, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and perhaps Glenn Robinson III and said he wants to play veterans such as Pekovic and Williams in measuared doses during preseason, just enough to keep them sharp and still healthy.
There's is no local TV or radio for tonight's game but look around your satellite or cable system and see if you can find a house feed from Indianapolis on NBA League Ticket channels. My Directv system says it'll be on at 6 p.m. Central on Ch. 750.
The Wolves broke camp in Mankato late Sunday afternoon and they open their seven-game preseason schedule Tuesday at Indiana and Flip Saunders has a plan.
He intends to play about 10 players -- "a lot of people," he says -- but not all of his veteran players, including veteran guard Kevin Martin who is out until at least Thursday because of a groin adductor strain that he injured in a scrimmage on Saturday.
"We want to look at a lot of different people, we want to look at a lot of lineup," Saunders said. "The main thing is to go through the process and evaluate players. We do have some evaluation to do amongst our players: Who's going to be here, but also what the lineups are going to be. We're not going to play everybody because then they don't get a chance to get a ful run.
"We'll probably pick 10 guys to play and who we pick has no bearing on where they are right now coming of camp. I know we'll play some guy who might not be starting if we were starting (the season) for good."
Saunders said he'll sit down with his coaches and head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam after Monday's practice and plot out a plan for players. He said the entire roster will travel to Indianapolis, even though eight players might not play much, if at all.
"We want to start preparing like it's a game," Saunders said. "We'll do the game-prep stuff. We'll do the walk-through and everything else, so the young guys -- and even the veterans, they haven't been around us -- will know how we deal with game-day situations."
The Wolves spent six days practicing against each other. Now they'll finally face somebody.
For a look at some of what they accomplished or learned from those six days in Mankato, here's the story for Monday's paper I wrote about five things that week away showed.
The Timberwolves have come through the first five days of training camp in Mankato relatively healthy, but not entirely so.
Veteran guard Kevin Martin is the latest to leave practice early, doing so this afternoon when he injured his groin while reaching to make a steal in a collision along a sideline during a scrimmage.
He immediately came up hobbling and signaled for the training staff.
Flip Saunders afterward said he doesn't yet know the severity of the injury but, given the timing so early in the preseason, he suggested they will exercise caution to be sure it doesn't become a lingering issue.
Meanwhile, Corey Brewer returned to practice today after leaving early because of his chipped teeth sustained in a collision with Thad Young.
He went to the Twin Cities late Friday afternoon to have what he called "patchwork" done on his front two teeth and will return to the dentist on Wednesday for more work.
In the meantime, he's wearing a mouthguard and, yes, he's still smiling.
"Always," he said.
A few other things from practice:
* Saunders continues to remark on camp's competitive nature and an attention to defense.
Asked how good defensively this team can be, he said, "I don't know. I think we have a chance. We understand the concepts. I think our athleticism give us the ability to help and recover. I'm not willing to step out yet but we are getting better. That's the main thing."
* Andrew Wiggins continues to impress on the defensive end more so than offensively so far.
"He's picking things up right now," Saunders said. "He's trying to put everything up and not do too much. He's real solid defensively. We haven't done a lot of offensive scrimmaging, so he hasn't had a chance as much in the open floor to show some things he can do. But he's impacted the defensive end."
* Saunders continues to praise J.J. Barea at point guard for his command in running the offense and from what I've seen in camp so far, it's genuine. He's had a good camp.
* Nikola Pekovic said he's has come through camp's opening five days feeling strong and said he had some soreness in his Achilles that contributed to sitting out Thursday's practice.
The Wolves will finish camp Sunday with an afternoon scrimmage -- closed to the public, but open to about 70 or 80 invited high-school coach -- and then head home to get ready for Tuesday's preseason opener at Indiana.
Wolves veteran forward Corey Brewer got whacked in the mouth during today's practice and chipped two teeth that will require a trip back to the Twin Cities from Mankato to have them fixed.
"That's a major injury for him because of the way he smiles, that takes away all the laughing and smiling," coach Flip Saunders said.
Brewer is expected back in time for Saturday's practice, the team's second-to-last session in Mankato for camp.
Not sure if that means he'll be back in time for tonight's annual lasagna feed at owner Glen Taylor's Mankato home.
He was injured during a collision with Thad Young for a loose ball.
Brewer stopped practice early on the same day Nikola Pekovic and Glenn Robinson III returned to work after they sat out Thursday.
Pekovic didn't practice Thursday, a precautionary measure Flip Saunders said he'll use occasionally this season to try diminish the wear-and-tear on Pek's ankles and feet.
Robinson mildly sprained an ankle in Wednesday night's scrimmage, but appeared to be running fine today.
Day 3 -- and the last of two days of two-a-day practices -- is over for the Wolves at training camp in Mankato and they've come through the opening five practice in relatively good shape, save for Glenn Robinson III's minor ankle sprain.
Nikola Pekovic didn't practice Thursday morning -- the major workout in a day when the Wolves just went for about an hour's walk-through at night -- but Flip Saunders called it a precautionary measure intended to limit the wear-and-tear on Pekovic's ankles.
He said they'll continue to do the same throughout the season, whenever the Wolves encounter a heavy game or practice portion of their schedule.
Saunders talked Thursday about what he has seen so far, mentioning vets Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea as among the camp's best performers so far and newly acquired Anthony Bennett as perhaps its most surprising.
Budinger, of course, is coming back from two injury-filled seasons when he underwent two knee surgeries twice in a span of 10 months.
"He's starting to get his legs under him," Saunders said. "He really hasn't had a training camp in two years. The last training camp he had was the lockout year, which was seven day. So this is a whole process for him to get to where he wants to get."
Actually, Budinger participated in 2012 training camp, after he was acquired that June for the 18th overall pick Houston used to take Terrence Jones.
Saunders has kept three separate teams together during these first three days of camp and Budinger and Barea have been on the same team.
That team, Saunders noted, has won a bunch of scrimmage games.
(Don't tell that, though, to those Wolves fans who have been counting the days until the team trades or buys out Barea).
"He and JJ, they've played really well," Saunders said. "They've bought in what we're doing and their teams have been winning a lot of games. So they've done some really good things."
Before camp started, Saunders said Barea probably was the best player in last season's camp.
"He was," Saunders said. "Like I told him, he just has to keep doing things in the system, and not get carried away too much. He has shown good leadership, gotten guys into plays, hasn't tried to do too much."
Saunders went out and signed veteran Mo Williams in July because he wanted a stable combo guard he could play late in games, game situations last season when the Wolves struggled mightily.
Presumably, that leaves little room for Barea. We'll see if Saunders can figure out how to find time for all of 'em: Barea, Williams, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine.
Look for Saunders to use Budinger at both wing spots and maybe some power forward, too.
"I think he can play some 4 against certain teams," Saunders said. "Like how New York used (Steve) Novak and Houston used (Matt Bullard). He's long, athletic and can put a lot of pressure on you by being able to spread the floor, if that's something you want to do."
The Wolves will practice once on Friday and Saturday and then will scrimmage Sunday afternoon -- closed to the public -- before they break camp and head back to the Twin Cities to get ready for their preseason opener at Indianapolis on Tuesday.
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