Guard Gary Neal and center Nikola Pekovic both played despite injuries in the Wolves’ 121-113 victory over the Trail Blazers on Saturday at Target Center.
Neal suffered a right hand contusion during Friday’s practice but dressed after X-rays came back negative. He came off the bench in the second quarter, dropping 27 points.
The guard was acquired by the Wolves in the trade that shipped Mo Williams to Charlotte last month. Neal has scored in double figures in his past four games, averaging 18.7 points during the stretch.
“When the trade happened, it probably didn’t appear that it would be a good place for me to come,” Neal said. “You’re in a playoff race in Charlotte, you’re locked in the rotation there. Right now, with the shots going in and Flip [Saunders] playing me, yeah, it’s a great move for me now. But I can’t look at you in the face when I heard the news that I was excited about coming to Minnesota because I didn’t know. It was a big question mark.”
Pekovic started and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Wiggins in the post
Forward Andrew Wiggins has seen an increase in post touches over the last month. Although he’s listed at 199 pounds, he’s looked very smooth and confident with his back to the basket.
“I feel good there,” said Wiggins, who won his fourth NBA rookie of the month award this season in February. “It’s one of the spots I feel comfortable at and spent a lot of time on that in the offseason to get better. I think it’s paying off.”
Wiggins still has plenty of room to fill in on his 6-8 frame, but Saunders said he’s actually deceptively strong when the rookie backs up on defenders.
“He was in the post against LeBron [James], and he was able to hold his own in there,” Saunders said. “What the strength does is helps you when you get to Game 63, 72, 73. You don’t get worn down as much and that’s where being able to take the pounding of a season and the practices that go with it.”
Looking for more
Saunders said the biggest area he wants to see Gorgui Dieng improve for the rest of the season will be his physical presence. The center was shooting 57.7 percent from inside five feet entering Saturday, but Saunders thinks that figure should be higher. Dieng had six points on 2-for-3 shooting vs. Portland.
“There’s no question he’s got to work on becoming more explosive around the basket,” Saunders said. “He has a lot of shots blocked around the basket where you think he gets it, and you’re ready to stand up out of your chair and cheer for a dunk, all of a sudden it gets blocked and you sit back down in your chair.”
Working it out
Saunders said he is still figuring out his frontcourt rotations with forward Kevin Garnett’s minutes restriction, Dieng’s fatigue and Justin Hamilton’ recent arrival.
Garnett started again versus Portland, playing just 21 minutes.
“A lot of people questioned would he accept that and would you still be able to play the young guys?” Saunders said. “With those young guys getting the minutes they need in these last 25 games to continue in their development, so from that perspective it works perfect.”
• The 76ers claimed guard Glenn Robinson III, who was waived Thursday by the Wolves, to make room for Hamilton.
• Saunders said forward Anthony Bennett (ankle) will not make the Wolves’ four-game road trip starting Monday against the Clippers.
• Garnett played in his 1,424th game, tying Kevin Willis for the fifth-most games played in NBA history.