PHOENIX – Timberwolves rookie Adreian Payne started Wednesday for a second consecutive game and veteran Kevin Garnett sat out once again, this time in a game against the Suns in Phoenix.
In explaining his reasoning, coach Flip Saunders said he wanted to see if Payne could respond with another energetic performance after Monday’s 16-point, 15-rebound game against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Payne finished with 10 points and three rebounds in a 106-97 loss to the Suns, but also got pulled for seven minutes in the third quarter for an expression he made at his coach.
Saunders also said he wanted to keep resting Garnett and a sore knee he banged before the All-Star break, a nagging thing that apparently won’t keep him from practice.
Clearing time for Payne fits the Wolves’ late-season objective here in which they intend to develop their young players. Doing so also helps ensure they don’t leapfrog over other teams and thus diminish their draft-lottery chances come May.
Payne played 37 minutes Monday, in his 12th NBA game. Saunders wanted to see how he would do Wednesday in his 13th against underrated Suns forward Markieff Morris.
“I’ve always said it’s intriguing to see if young players can follow up a good performance with another one,” Saunders said. “That’s not necessarily with stats, but can he have the same energy, have the same impact on team defense, set screens offensively? I want to see if he can continue to do those things.”
Saunders said he and Garnett have agreed Garnett won’t play every night, even if Garnett insists on practicing whenever his team does, which at this point of the season is only occasionally.
“He won’t miss a practice,” Saunders said. “We’re going to have to take his shoes away or something.”
Saunders said Garnett told him when the team traded for him last month that he’ll sit out games if necessary for a team not headed to the playoffs but won’t sit out practices because that’s where he believes he can have the most influence with a young team.
“We’re doing what we talked about doing when we traded for him,” said Saunders, who said he expects Garnett to play Friday at Oklahoma City.
Wolves forward Robbie Hummel began dribbling and catching with his healing right hand on Tuesday for the first time since he broke it Jan. 25 at Atlanta. Hummel had hoped to be back playing by now but said he probably underestimated how stiff his hand would get while it was immobilized in a cast.
Hummel hasn’t begun shooting yet, but said he still hopes to play yet this season. Until now, he has been working exclusively with his left hand on the court.
“I think I’m better with it now but until I actually play a game and see, I won’t know,” he said.
• Newly acquired Justin Hamilton played nine minutes Monday, his first action with the Wolves. Against the Suns, Hamilton entered in the second quarter and finished with 15 points in 28 minutes. “I like what he does,” Saunders said before the game. “He’s a third center. He’ll know more as we get into it. He knows how to play defensively. He can make shots. He sets good screens. What we saw is what we expected from him.”
• Saunders said he hopes to limit starting point guard Ricky Rubio’s minutes because he thinks Rubio is favoring a hurting leg. He also said he wants to play rookie Zach LaVine more at shooting guard in the season’s final five weeks.