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 have won three consecutive games and now they're almost getting their full team back just in time for tonight's game against the surprising Atlanta Hawks.
Ricky Rubio will play after being held out of Sunday's victory at Detroit.
So, too, will Shabazz Muhammad, who will make his return after missing a month because of a groin/abdominal strain.
And Nikola Pekovic said at shootaround this morning that it's business as usual with him, which means Flip Saunders isn't following through with his talk a couple days ago that he might sit Pekovic on one half of back-to-back games to help his ankle.
The Wolves' medical staff didn't want Rubio playing consecutive games this soon, so he took the night off on Sunday and now won't be faced with back-to-back games until Feb. 27-28 at Chicago and vs. Memphis.
"I was feeling good so I was kind of mad, but I respect the process," Rubio said about sitting out after carrying the Wolves to an upset victory over Memphis on Friday night.
Muhammad hasn't played since a Jan. 9 game at Milwaukee.He said there hasn't been any discussion about a minutes limit for him tonight.
"I feel good," he said. "My energy's there."
Pekovic played back-to-back games shortly after he returned following a 31-game absence. Games at Atlanta and Oklahoma City were his third and fourth games back.
"When I come back, after three days I play back-to-back," he said after Monday's shootaround. "I wouldn't see the reason I wouldn't play tonight. Nobody even mentioned to me anything. I'm a little tired, but it's OK. I've got lots of time to rest today. I'll be fine tonight."
Both Saunders and Pekovic the other day said it'd benefit his ankle not to play back-to-back games.
Two other things...
* The Wolves have two games left before the All-Star break against the league's two best teams, the Hawks and Golden State.
That also means they have just two games before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, which comes a way before they return from the NBA's elongated All-Star break this year.
There's a good chance somebody from a group that includes Mo Williams, Thad Young, Kevin Martin and possibly Chase Budinger won't be a Wolf by the time the team plays again after nine days away.
Williams is the most likely to go because he's a valuable veteran on an expiring contract.
"I think about it every day," he said. "I have no clue (what will happen). I haven't spoken with them. Neither have they spoken with my. Every day I wake up, if I don't get a call, I'm here."
Martin the other day said he doesn't think about the deadline at all.
Williams probably will fetch a second-round pick in return. The Wolves will shoot higher if they trade either Martin or Young, probably looking for a young lottery-pick player in recent years in return.
Martin's the most marketable, but it also depends on how much a contender values him. You'd think teams that need a shooting and 2-guard help -- Chicago, Washington, Phoenix, Dallas to name a few -- will kick the tires on him.
* Starting tonight, the Wolves' next 14 opponents -- through a March 15 game at San Antonio -- have a combined winning percentage of 63 percent. The only team among those 14 opponents that has a losing record is Denver. Otherwise, it's a murderer's row with the likes of the Hawks, Warriors, Sunds, Rockets, Wizards, Bulls, Grizzlies, Clippers, etc.
The Wolves re-signed backup point guard Lorenzo Brown to a second 10-day contract before playing Memphis tonight at Target Center.
When this one runs out, they'll have to decide whether they want to sign him for the rest of the season. That's likely because Flip Saunders liked Brown when they drafted him in the second round two summers ago and likes his progress, and also because by the time it expires the Wolves could have traded or might be about to trade veteran point guard before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
As for tonight's game...
* Shabazz Muhammad isn't ready to play yet tonight, but Saunders is targeting Monday's home game against Atlanta. He said that is more likely than Sunday's game at Detroit because they probably won't play him back-to-back games to start with anyway.
* Saunders said the other night he's open to rest Nikola Pekovic on the second part of back-to-back games if it'll help reduce discomfort in that ankle and Pekovic said after this morning's shootaround that he's all for that as well. We'll see if that could happen as soon as Monday's game against Atlanta.
* Saunders said if you had to pick the toughest team in the NBA right now to play in a seven-game series, the Grizzlies might be it with their physical tag-team of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol up front and underrated Mike Conley running the show a the point.
* Tonight is the first time back at Target Center for Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who interviewed for the Wolves coaching job last summer before the Grizzlies extended his contract and kept him in Memphis. Both Joerger and Flip Saunders said all is fine and happy between the two sides.
* Now that the Wolves are getting healthy, Flip said it's a better possibiity they send rookie Glenn Robinson III to the D League for playing time, but probably won't do so until after All-Star break.
Ricky Rubio will play tonight against the Mavericks in Dallas, presumably no more than 20 minutes.
Flip Saunders said that's the minutes limit for his star point guard who hasn't played a game since severely spraining his ankle in a Nov. 7 game at Orlando.
Expect Rubio will start and don't be surprised, if all goes well, if he plays more than that limit.
Rubio talked before the game about the growth he has gained in three months away, as a teammate, a leader and what he called a "coach."
He also said his shot has more arc and is improved from work with shooting coach Mike Penberthy during all that time when his upper body functioned while he healed his leg.
Rubio likely will be matched up against Mavs guard Devin Harris now that Rajon Rondo is out at least three games because of facial injuries sustained in Saturday's game.
One of Rubio's agents and one of his friends from Minneapolis have flown in for the game.
Ricky Rubio participated in this morning's shootaround in Dallas and said he'll play tonight IF his ankle feels right after pre-game warmups.
"I mean, if it feels good, I'm going to be back," he said. "It depends how it goes. If I don't feel ready in the warmups, I won't be playing. I don't know, we'll see."
Rubio has not played since severely spraining his left ankle on Nov. 7 in Orlando. He has missed the last 42 games.
Veteran Mo Williams said he expects to play after missing the last two games because of a hip pointer.
That would give the Wolves three options at point guard tonight against a Mavericks team missing starting point guard Rajon Rondo.
Newly signed Lorenzo Brown had to play all but five seconds in Saturday's home loss to Cleveland because he was the only healthy point guard the Wolves had.
Rookie Zach LaVine won't play tonight, btw. He missed Saturday's game because of an ankle he sprained Friday in Philadelphia.
Flip Saunders said Saturday that Rubio would likely play "a few minutes" in his return.
Apparently, Rubio only returns against the Mavericks. They were the team he faced in December 2012 in his return after nine months gone following knee surgery. He was supposed to be play very limited minutes that night, too, and ended up delivering an 18-minute, 9-assist performance achieved mostly through the rush of adrenaline.
Asked if he was tempted to play Saturday when Kevin Love returned to Target Center on an emotional sold-out night, he said, "As soon as I step up in the warmups, the arena was already full. It was a great atmosphere but I wasn't feeling ready. So let's see tonight."
Rubio and some of his teammates, including Gorgui Dieng and Robbie Hummel, watched Sunday's Super Bowl at former teammate J.J. Barea's place in Dallas.
"We had a bet between him and me," Rubio said. "He bet for the Patriots, I bet for the Seahawks and it didn't go well. It was a straight bet and I almost got it. I don't know they didn't go for Marshawn Lynch, but it was a fun game to watch."
The Mavericks said today that Rondo will miss at least three games because of nasal and orbital bone fractures sustained when Orlando's Richard Jefferson inadvertently kneed him in the face in Saturday's game.
Devin Harris will start in his place.
I'll make this prediction about tonight's game at Philadelphia: I bet tonight's returning son gets more cheers from the hometown crowd than tomorrow night's.
Tonight, it's Thaddeus Young's return to Philly, where he played his first seven NBA seasons.
The 76ers welcomed him back warmly. When he arrived at Wells Fargo Center, he found a hand-written note from GM Sam Hinkie and three of his Sixers jerseys framed set on easels near his locker.
"It was a great seven years, an amazing seven years," Young told reporters before tonight's game. "But it's a business, so you have to move on."
Tomorrow night's game is, of course, Kevin Love's retun to Target Center for first time since last August's trade that sent him to Cleveland.
Anticipating a sellout, the Wolves plan to sell 500 standing-room-only seats -- at $25 each -- Saturday morning starting at 10 am.
A couple other things:
* Veteran guard Mo Williams has rejoined the team after being away Wednesday to attend a funeral, but will not play because of that hip he hurt Sunday in Atlanta.
The Wolves again will go with Zach LaVine and newcomer Lorenzo Brown at the point.
* Flip Saunders ruled out Ricky Rubio for either of this next two weekend games, but left open the possibility that he could return next week, possibly as soon as Monday at Dallas.
* Kevin Martin will come off the bench tonight for second straight game.
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