While it probably won’t be easy at any point this season, the Wolves, having played through the emotion of Monday’s tribute to Flip Saunders, might now find it easier to focus on basketball.
Interim coach Sam Mitchell made it clear after practice Tuesday that he was touched by the video tribute, which included comments from around the league and around the country.
“Last night was a tough night,” Mitchell said. “There’s no words you can give to someone that will make them feel better. All you can do is be there, and be there for people, and listen to them. And let ‘em know you care.
‘‘But this has been a tough time. … I thought last night, it’s never enough to say goodbye to someone that meant so much to so many people. I thought they did a great job, and it showed how many people care.”
Mitchell was a Wolves player when his teammate, Malik Sealy, was killed in a car crash in May of 2000.
“There are two things I remember about two people who passed in this organization, Malik Sealy and Flip Saunders,” Mitchell said. “You can talk about the basketball part all you want to. But it’s the people aspect is what made them special. I don’t remember anything about Malik basketball-wise. But I remember how he always made people smile.
‘‘I can talk about certain things Flip did as a coach. But the thing I remember most about him was, when you walked off the floor, he never wanted you to be down. He always had a pat on the rear end for you, or a hug for you.”
That’s why, Mitchell said, the pain of losing Saunders will linger.
“It’s hard from the standpoint that I think about him every day,” Mitchell said. “Just how he was. Just coming in here. He was always going to say something funny, or do something to try to get you to smile. No matter how bad the day was, or how crummy the weather may have been, he was going to say something or do something to make us feel better.”
After meeting with the media, Mitchell walked back onto the court and challenged Andrew Wiggins to a shooting contest. And, much to his glee, Mitchell won. He made sure to give Wiggins a good-natured hard time as the second-year player walked off the court.
This is not without precedent. In March 2014 then-Warriors coach Mark Jackson beat a guy named Steph Curry in a post-practice three-point shooting contest
• For the first time since he had surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in April, center Nikola Pekovic did some light running Tuesday. It’s another step back for Pekovic, who was limited by injuries to 31 games last season.
• Mitchell praised the play of Ricky Rubio through three games. Rubio is averaging 17.3 points on 45.7 percent shooting with 10.3 assists. All three are career highs.
“I think Ricky’s doing a good job of running the basketball team,” Mitchell said.