INDIANAPOLIS – Back home again in Indiana, Timberwolves starting point guard Jeff Teague shot alongside teammates after practice on Saturday, just three days after he suffered a Grade 1 sprain of a knee ligament late in an overtime victory over Denver.
Teague injured his left MCL in the commotion after a jump ball with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Nuggets guard Will Barton fell into his left leg as Teague braced to chase the ball. Teague fell in a most unnatural way, his knee bending in a way it’s not meant to bend.
When he slapped the floor in great pain while he was down, both Teague and his teammates feared the worst, namely a torn ACL or something similar.
“I was terrified,” he said Saturday in Indianapolis at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse practice court. “I didn’t know what happened, how it happened. I was just glad to get the news I got.”
An MRI revealed the Grade 1 sprain, the same diagnosis he received when he was injured during a 2009 pre-draft camp held at Target Center that spring. He has experienced little swelling and was up walking after Barton fell on him.
“It’s the best news I could have gotten,” Teague said. “Blessed, happy, lucky, all that. I’m happy to be moving today.”
The Wolves list him out “indefinitely,” but the Grade I diagnosis likely means his rehabilitation time will be measured in weeks rather than months.
“No, man, just try to get out there when I feel good,” he said when asked if he knows when he might play again. “I’m not going to rush it or do anything crazy. It hurts, it’s painful, but it’s getting better. When I feel like I can play, I will be out there.”
The Wolves traded Ricky Rubio away last summer and signed Teague to a three-year, $57 million contract in good part because of his durability. Until he missed four November games because of Achilles’ tendon soreness and his current knee injury, Teague played 79 games or more in four of the past five seasons and 73 in the fifth.
“It really stinks not to be able to help your team and not be out there every night,” Teague said.
It also doesn’t help when his second game missed will be a New Year’s Eve game Sunday in his hometown against a Pacers team for which he played last season.
“Coming back home and not playing in front of your friends and family, it’s tough,” Teague said. “I had this game circled on my calendar, probably the only game I actually was looking forward to. But it happens.
“I saw it happen to Blake Griffin, to Rudy Gobert a couple times this year. It’s part of the game, but it stinks being on the receiving end.”
When asked how many tickets he has obtained for friends and family, Teague said, “Not that many now.”
Teague noted he suffered the same injury eight years apart in the same arena. He was injured in the Target Center basement health club when the Wolves held pre-draft workouts that scouts from nearly every NBA team attended.
“It was a coincidence that I did it in Minnesota,” Teague said.
But that 2009 injury could be good news this time, too.
“The fact he’s had it before, he understands and know what he has to do,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He hasn’t had much swelling. He’s shooting and stuff. Those are all good signs.”
With Teague out, the Wolves started Tyus Jones. and he played 35 minutes despite missing 2 ½ minutes late in the game while he had a dislocated pinkie finger put back into place. Third point guard Aaron Brooks played 3 ½ minutes in the second quarter and didn’t play again. Thibodeau often put the ball in Jimmy Butler’s hands alongside Jones or Jamal Crawford in the backcourt.
The Wolves could sign another point guard now or when 10-day contracts are allowed starting Friday. They could trade for one. Or they could wait for Teague’s return, probably two weeks out at the earliest.
Free-agent candidates include 27-year-old rookie Mike James foremost, as well as the G League’s Trey Burke and veterans C.J. Watson and Randy Foye.
“We’re looking at all the possibilities,” Thibodeau said. “There are always the trade possibilities; you’re looking at those guys as well. If we can improve the team, we’ll take a long, hard look at it.”