TORONTO – Not many people say this about a Wednesday night in Toronto in October, but Timberwolves rookie guard Lorenzo Brown promised he was sincere about those 17 minutes he played at the end of a 101-89 preseason victory over the Raptors.
“Best time of my life,” he said. “Most definitely.”
OK, so he’s only 23 years old and given he’s a rookie, he might be a little susceptible to hyperbole but …
There he was on a professional stage for the first time, disrupting an honest-to-goodness NBA opponent with a defensive presence that helped the Wolves limit Toronto to only 30 second-half points after they allowed 37 points in the second quarter alone.
Brown was a second-round draft pick from North Carolina State last summer, chosen for his big point-guard presence. He played shooting guard after starter Kevin Martin left the game in the first six minutes. He and fellow rookie Gorgui Dieng played the entire fourth quarter long after the team’s starters again sat down for the night, and together they helped the Wolves win after the team lost Monday’s preseason opener at home to CSKA Moscow.
The score was tied when Brown entered an NBA game for the first time with 4:47 left in the third quarter. By the time his night was through, he was a plus-11 and the Wolves were winners.
“He’s a really good defender,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, “always has been.”
Adelman was pleased his starters — even without Martin — moved the ball better than they did Monday. He also was pleased with his two rookies for that entire fourth quarter, when Brown disrupted the Raptors with his straight-up defense on Terrence Ross and others and Dieng blocked a shot and altered others.
“They’ve competed the whole camp,” Adelman said. “G [Dieng] was really good. He gives us a presence, we don’t have anybody else who does that. He alters shots. I was really impressed with how calm he played. He just went out and played his game. We’ve liked the way he has played the whole camp, Zo the same way. They’ve been composed the whole camp.”
Neither rookie played for the game’s first 31 minutes. Brown said he looked around wondering to whom Adelman was talking when the coach called his name late in the third quarter. And he offered another piece of hyperbole after the game when he addressed Dieng’s offensive game by mentioning a guy named Hakeem Olajuwon in the same sentence.
“Nah, I caught it on the wrong block,” Dieng said with a smile, apparently referring to the right block because everybody knows Olajuwon loved the ball on the left block.
“Guess what next time? I’m just a rookie and I’m learning. I’ll be real patient, take my time and learn the game. Yes, that’s premature. Very.”
Martin played only the game’s first six minutes because of a sore right Achilles’ tendon that he said started bothering him Tuesday. He called his absence the rest of the night just precautionary.
“We know it’s preseason,” Martin said. “I just want to be healthy opening night. I don’t want to risk anything and do further damage. I can tell you it’s nothing serious.”
J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham each played 21 ½ minutes off the bench after missing Monday’s opener. Barea hit consecutive threes in the fourth to keep Toronto away.
“I like the way he played,” Adelman said. “He ran the team and kept them organized. It’s nice to see him back. With him and Ricky, we have two pretty good point guards out there.”
• Adelman challenged his starters after Monday’s loss and liked the way they responded against Toronto.
“I thought we were into the game,” he said. “They moved the ball well. We just have to keep improving.”
• Former Wolves assistant coach Bill Bayno is now the top assistant to Toronto’s Dwane Casey, the former Wolves head coach. Bayno joined the Raptors last summer for a promotion when Adelman’s future was in doubt and after the team had fired David Kahn, who hired him to leave Portland for Minnesota two years ago.
“I loved it in Minnesota, I loved working for Rick,” Bayno said. “But the more I looked at it, the more I decided it was a challenge that’s well worth the risk.”