DENVER – Heading into his 11th week being injured, Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio continues to run and shoot mostly on his own with no date for his return determined.
Was his sprained left ankle sustained Nov. 7 at Orlando really that severe or is a Wolves team aimed firmly at May’s draft lottery being both extremely cautious and pragmatic with a player who signed a hefty contract extension exactly a week before he was hurt?
The answer is both.
“It was that bad,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “His ankle sprain was worse than a high ankle sprain.”
Saunders knew it was some kind of bad when he went onto the floor immediately after Rubio’s ankle twisted and saw it already swelling into a shape Saunders called “the state of Texas.”
He’s also taking no chances with a season that in many ways was lost the moment Rubio went down.
“Are we being cautious? Yeah,” Saunders said. “We just signed a guy to a $55 million contract. So yeah, I’m going to be cautious. When he’s ready to go and the doctors say he’s ready to really go, that’s when we’ll go. He hasn’t totally gotten there yet. He still has some soreness in that ankle. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. He’s too valuable.”
Injured guard Kevin Martin and center Nikola Pekovic remained out Saturday along with Rubio. Saunders said it’s possible one or more injured players could play Monday when the team’s odd four-game trip ends with a Martin Luther King Day matinee game in Charlotte.
Martin is expected to be the first player ready to return, followed by Pekovic and then Rubio. Forward Shabazz Muhammad missed his fourth consecutive game because of a strained outer oblique muscle.
Wiggins feeling better
Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins played against the Nuggets, one night after he scored 17 points in 36 minutes while ill in a loss at Phoenix.
Apparently, he was feeling better: He made seven of his first nine shots — including all three three-point shots he attempted — and scored 19 points by halftime. He finished with 31.
“I think he’s feeling OK,” Saunders said before Saturday’s game. “But you never know. Wig never is going to give you a ringing endorsement.”
What if …
Saunders was asked Saturday where his team might be now if Rubio, Pekovic and Martin all had not been sidelined since November.
“If they were healthy, we’d be a team hanging around .500 or a little bit above,” Saunders said. “I think we could be that type of team. Ricky makes everybody better. Pek gives us a physical presence. Those are two things we really sorely miss.
“You put your team together with Pek being your guy inside and Rubio running the show. … If we had our veteran guys available, a lot of these games you might have been able to overcome.”
The Nuggets have traded away center Timofey Mozgov and swapped Nate Robinson to Boston for Jameer Nelson since they last played the Wolves on Jan. 5 at Target Center.
“You look at the guys who hurt us — their main guys, [Arron] Afflalo, [Kenneth] Faried and [Ty] Lawson – and those guys are still here,” Saunders said.