The Timberwolves played Wednesday’s game against Toronto — their last before the All-Star break — without veteran forward Tayshaun Prince, who received permission from the team to attend former teammate Chauncey Billups’ jersey retirement ceremony in Detroit.
Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said granting Prince’s request fulfilled two objectives: It enabled him to see Zach LaVine play extended minutes as a starter against Toronto, and it rewarded a player whom Mitchell said has done everything asked of him this season.
Prince and Billups were teammates on the Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship team.
“He has played a lot of minutes when we’ve asked,” Mitchell said. “He has played limited minutes when we’ve asked. And he hasn’t played when we’ve asked. The work he has done on the floor and in film [study] with our younger guys is just invaluable.”
With veterans Prince, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic all out injured, LaVine started at guard for the seventh time this season but the first time as a shooting guard beside Ricky Rubio.
“I tinkered with that a little bit in the preseason, but we felt at the time he wasn’t ready,” Mitchell said. “But obviously Zach is playing a whole lot better now, so it’ll just gives us the opportunity to see Zach and see how he reacts to starting.”
LaVine played the game’s first 18 minutes and finished with 13 points while playing 38 minutes.
Toronto forward Anthony Bennett returned to Target Center for the first time since he negotiated a contract buyout with the Wolves last fall and signed with his hometown Raptors. He has played little this season on a veteran team, other than on D League assignments, and is averaging 1.5 points and 4.9 minutes per game.
“I’m home, comfortable, friends and family around, I’m just working every day,” Bennett said. “It’s a surreal feeling to see those guys again. Just last year I was in this arena, playing with these guys.”
• The Wolves won’t practice again until Wednesday during an extended break in which LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will participate in All-Star festivities in Toronto this weekend. Their next game is Feb. 19, one day after the NBA’s trade deadline. Martin is the most likely player to be dealt by then.
• LaVine didn’t give away any secrets about Saturday’s defense of his All-Star slam dunk title, but this seems to be his strategy:start really big and don’t miss any. “I just want all 50s,” he said, referring to the scoring system. “That’s a guaranteed win.”
• Toronto coach Dwane Casey returned to where he once coached the Wolves, who missed out on evening his career record (242-244) because of the Wolves’ 117-112 victory. “Well, when we were building here, it puts you in a hole,” said Casey, who was 53-69 in Minnesota. “I couldn’t even tell you what my record is.”
• Towns wore a vintage Sex Pistols T-shirt after shootaround, but does he know who the 1970s punk band was? “I have no idea,” he said. “I just thought it looked cool.”