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.
At some point today – if it hasn’t already happened – Kevin Love will welcome back an old friend. Luc Mbah a Moute was not available to the media this morning. I understand he was taking care of some final details, perhaps finishing up his official physical. He is expected to be available before tonight’s game with Denver after coming to the Wolves in the Derrick Williams trade.
But Love knows Mbah a Moute as well as anybody. Love was a freshman and Mbah a Moute a junior on the 2007-08 UCLA team that made it to the final four before, as Love said today, they ran into a guy named Derrick Rose.
Well, officially, they didn’t. UCLA’s Final Four loss to Rose and Memphis in the spring of 2008 was vacated by the NCAA because of rules violations by Memphis.
But I digress.
Mbah a Moute might have been busy, but Love took some time to talk about his once and future teammate. “I’m very happy to have Luc around,” Love said. “Obviously it’s sad to lose D-Will, he’s been here. But we wish him the best – I think everybody does – in Sacramento. But, having Luc around brings a guy who, defensively, is going to be great for us. He can guard multiple positions, can score the ball if need be. Just a great guy to have around, period. He’s really going to help the locker room out, bring an intensity and a defensive presence for us.’’
Love saw Mbah a Moute’s defensive ability at UCLA, and said that hasn’t changed. He also sees his former teammate as a player who, in spots, has shown his ability to take advantage of mismatches on the offensive end as well.
That said, Love admitted that making a personnel change during the season can be difficult. “It’s pretty tough,” he said. “I would say it would be a little bit more tough had D-Will been a starter or something, playing 25-, 30-plus minutes a night. But it’s always tough losing somebody. I really enjoyed having D-Will around. And, like I mentioned, Sacramento will enjoy him. But having Luc, he’ll come in and fit in immediately.’’
Love reiterated his believe that Williams will flourish in Sacramento. “He’ll definitely get a chance there,” Love said. “And I think he’ll have success. If he keeps working hard, keeps his nose to the grind, he has the talent. He just has to go out there and show it.”
--Meanwhile, Derrick Williams did an interview with the Kings’ web site last night. Here are some excerpts.
On the trade: “It’s a new beginning, a new start for myself and the team,” he said. “I feel I can help this team out, we have a young nucleus on this team and I feel I can help a lot.’’
On how he found out in the Wolves locker room: “Some of the guys were like, ‘I heard it’s happening,’ ‘’ Williams said. “They all said good luck and wished me the best and things like that.”
On his fit with the Kings: “I feel like I fit,” he said. “We’re going to run up and down the court, use our athleticism. Like I said, we have a good nucleus on this team, with young guys on this team , and the vets as well. The sky’s the limit.”
On his fit in Minnesota: “Yeah, (the trade) was good for both sides,” Williams said. “Not too many times it’s like that, when you part ways. They have a great team over there, sometimes it just doesn’t work out and I think we all felt that way and that’s the reason I’m here. (It is a) better fit for myself and the style of play that I have. … Everybody knows I’m athletic, run up and down the court, like to shoot. I like to shoot threes, I like to get everybody involved, I like to call myself a game-changer.’’
More on his fit in Minnesota: “I think it was just a bad fit for myself and the situation I was in. I’m here to prove people wrong. Since the day I picked up a basketball I’ve always been like that. I was never in the top 100 for ESPN out of high school and people talked I was going to redshirt my freshman year, and two years later I was the No. 2 pick. … It was tough (in Minnesota). People say I’m a 3 or 4, I just tell people to get me on the court and I’m going to do good things. Playing with Kevin Love is tough. Not too many people can out play him, he’s one of the best players in the world. He’s going to give you 25 or 26 and 15 a night. It wasn’t a great fit but I’m here now and I think it’s going to be a great fit in Sacramento.’’
That’s it for now. I’ll get back to you before tonight's game.
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.
Well, the Wolves might gotten a break on the second half of these back-to-back games while tonight's opponent has been waiting at home in Houston since Wednesday:
Rockets star James Harden won't play tonight because of a sore foot.
Point guard Jeremy Lin will start in his place beside starting point guard Pat Beverley.
The Wolves clobbered Brooklyn last night and rested their starters the entire fourth quarter before making the two-plus hour flight south after the game to play their fourth game in five nights once again.
"Well, he's their best player," said Wolves guard Kevin Martin, who returns to the Toyota Center arena where he played nearly four seasons with Rick Adelman as his coach. "Anytime your best player sits out, other guys step up. When he's out, they play pretty good. THere's more shots to go 'round for everyone else."
By the way, Wolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad is available after missing the last five games because of a sprained ankle. That doesn't, of course, mean he'll play.
--Greetings from Target Center, where the Wolves are about to try to end a two-game losing streak against a banged-up Nets team missing three starters and a top reserve.
--First, here is a statement from the Wolves organization on the passing of Vern Mikkelsen:
“The Minnesota Timberwolves organization is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Minneapolis Laker and NBA Hall of Famer Vern Mikkelsen. During his playing days at Hamline University and the Lakers, Vern was a dominant force on the court and one of the game’s great power forwards. Vern was a great friend to our organization and we offer our condolences to his family.’’
--I asked Wolves coach Rick Adelman – who was a 12 or 13 when Mikkelsen finished playing, if he was a fan of the Lakers growing up. Not until they moved to Los Angeles, he said.
--Meanwhile, it appears we made be about to watch Kevin Garnett’s final game on the Target Center floor.
“He’s been a great player,” Adelman said. “He plays with such dedication, and he works so hard. That’s why they’re a dangerous team. They can put a game together. He’s been terrific for so many years. What can you say about him? All Star all the time, MVP of the All Star game when I coached him. I think he really energizes his teammates.”
--This is yet another pretty big game for the locals, playing on the front end of their second back-to-back this week. The team will board a plane to Houston after tonight’s game.
“You can’t slide backwards, the schedule doesn’t get any easier tomorrow. This is a big game for us.’’
And it’s winnable. The Nets are without Jason Terry, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams. The Wolves need to come out and put this one away early.
--One final thought: I believe Kevin Love, who is coming off a tough shooting day Wednesday, is primed for a big one tonight.
That’s about it. I’ll get back to you after the game.
Kevin Garnett was back at Target Center this morning, and once again drawing a crowd.
He was one of the relatively few healthy Brooklyn Nets who were at the team’s shootaround this morning. (The Nets, by the way, will be without guard Deron Williams (ankle), forward Andrei Kirilenko (back), center Brook Lopez (ankle) and guard Jason Terry (knee) for tonight’s game with the Wolves).
The Nets are struggling to find a rhythm, with so many new faces and so many injuries making it difficult for them to get to know each other. The Nets are 3-8, 1-6 on the road and have lost three straight overall heading into this game. The Wolves, meanwhile, have lost two straight.
But back to Garnett, who, along with Paul Pierce and Terry, were traded from Boston to Brooklyn during the off-season.
“It’s always good to come back to Minnesota,” Garnett said, surrounded by both New York and Twin Cities media members. “The Twin Cities have always been like a second or third home. Always enjoyed the fans here.”
Garnett had nice things to say about the Wolves, calling Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. He called the Wolves “electrifying.’’
“They play with a real fast pace,” Garnett said. “Kevin Love is in an unbelievable groove…. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. And trying to slow any of these guys down is going to be a task for all of us tonight.’’
But Garnett deflected any questions about where he is at in his career. When asked if he has contemplated retirement after this season, he said, “Next question.” A question about whether he could see a scenario in which he finished his career in a Wolves uniform got the same response.
Indeed, Garnett said, he is not thinking much about the past or the future. He’s worried about the present. Namely, trying to get the Nets back on track. “You deal with reality,” he said. “You deal with the current (situation). I don’t think outside of whatever I’m doing at the time. And the focus needs to be (there). ‘’
Garnett said he’s maintained a relationship with Flip Saunders, his coach when he was here and currently Minnesota’s president of basketball operations.
Here’s one final Garnett quote: “There is a lot of emotions that come with this building,” he said. “A lot of emotions that come with some of the stuff that’s in here. But, obviously, different time, different personnel, different times.”
In other items:
--Kirilenko met with Alexey Shved Thursday night. The two players, both from Russia, were very close last season, and Kirilenko said he’s been trying to help Shved through his struggles early this season. The two talk once or twice a week. “He’s in a tough position now, game-wise,” Kirilenko said. “But for young guys he has to use every opportunity. If you play five minutes, go hard. If you play 10 minutes, go hard. Play one minute, go hard. And if you aren’t playing, cheer for your teammates. Be positive and wait for a chance.”
--Kirilenko said he’s happy with the Nets, but admits that he sometimes wishes things had gone differently in the summer. Kirilenko opted out of the second year of his deal with the Wolves – one that would have paid him a little over $10 million – to become a free agent after last season. He rejected a multi-year offer from the Wolves at a lesser salary. Ultimately he ended up signing a two-year deal with the Nets that will pay him $3.2 million this year.
--Kevin Love got two stingers in his right arm during Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers, but said this morning that the arm is fine. “It didn’t affect my shooting,” he said of Wednesday’s game. “It was just an off night. But I feel good today.’’
It will be interesting to see the two Kevins tonight. They last faced each other in Target Center two years ago at the end of March, 2012. Love had played amazingly well in the month and there was talk about whether he might ultimately turn out to be the best forward named Kevin to play for the Wolves. Garnett got the better of things that night, scoring 24 points on 12-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds in Boston’s 100-79 victory. Love scored 22 with 11 rebounds but shot 5-for-18 that night.
It’s my guess that Love will fare better tonight.
That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you just before the game.
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