ATLANTA – Beginning a stretch where his team plays seven games in 10 nights, Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell vows he will coach Tuesday’s game like there’s no tomorrow.
At least until tomorrow comes.
The NBA worked diligently to reduce back-to-back and three games-in-four days situations with this season’s schedule. It’s an effort that kept the Wolves from playing games on consecutive nights, until Monday’s game at Atlanta and Tuesday’s game against Charlotte at Target Center.
So with two 30-something veterans in his starting lineup, Mitchell said he has no plans to adjust his lineups and/or rotations to contest Father Time unless …
The exceptions: If the first of consecutive games is a blowout either way or if either 35-year-old Tayshaun Prince or 39-year-old Kevin Garnett tells him otherwise the next morning.
“We’re not worried about back-to-backs,” he said. “We got to worry about the game tonight. Why would I worry about a game that’s tomorrow? We’ll worry about that then. You’ve got to try to win the game at hand.”
Garnett didn’t play some back-to-back games in the past two seasons. Asked if he will do so this season, Mitchell said, “It depends how many minutes we play him the first game. We’re not going to change his amount of minutes so it just depends on how he feels. … We have a plan how we’re going to manage his minutes in back to backs.”
Garnett didn’t play more than 12 minutes in three of the team’s first five games but played that many in Monday’s first half and played a total of 18. Mitchell always could opt to rest him Tuesday and start Nemanja Bjelica at power forward instead. Prince, meanwhile, played more than 38 minutes Saturday in overtime, partly because Kevin Martin didn’t play.
Prince, who played 24 minutes Monday, said his body felt lousy when he awoke Sunday, but he felt better as the day progressed. He said he could play that many minutes on consecutive nights if needed.
“There might be a game here and there where it has to happen,” he said. “I’ll be prepared for it, no question.”
Monday’s game brought Wolves rookie and No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Atlanta All-Star forward Al Horford together against each other as professionals for the first time. They played together on the Dominican Republic national team starting in 2011, when Towns was just 15.
Horford said he saw a potential NBA player back then, but called Towns’ development — “so far, so fast” — really impressive.
“It meant everything,” Towns said of learning from Horford at such a young age. “I go from one great mentor to another, from Al Horford an All-Star to a Hall of Famer in KG [Garnett]. I was able to learn some moves, learn patience, learn how to be a pro. Al Horford, I don’t think I have to say it: Many people look at him and see the definition of a pro.”
Hawks reserve forward and Roseville’s own Mike Muscala grew up watching Garnett play and Flip Saunders coach. On Monday, he remembered games his grade-school teams played before Wolves game once upon a time on the Target Center floor.
“We’d play and Flip would always come out and talk to us,” Muscala said. “It was always cool. I grew up watching him and the Wolves and watching Wally Szczerbiak, my favorite player. I was really sad to hear about [Saunders’ death last month] because he was part of my NBA experience growing up.”