TORONTO – Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett predicts his return from a sprained ankle is near.
It just wasn’t near enough Wednesday.
He says he could play again within the week, any time after the Wolves return from a quick two-game trip that ends Thursday night in New York. But it didn’t come Wednesday, when he and teammate Andrew Wiggins returned home to Toronto for the Wolves’ only visit this season.
Bennett hasn’t played since the first game after the All-Star break, Feb. 20 against Phoenix. He had held out hope right until Tuesday that he somehow might be ready to play Wednesday in his hometown.
“I mean, I tried to go yesterday but it just wasn’t working,” he said about Tuesday’s practice. “Even when I sprained my ankle, I wanted to go out and play that night, but it was just hurting way too much. So I’ve just got to take a step back.”
Even given his absence, Bennett has been working his phone for days checking on ticket requests for family and friends, a number that has reached 50 or more.
“It has been disappointing not to play a whole month,” Bennett said. “But coming back home with a lot of family, friends, fans in Toronto, it’s just depressing. But at the same time, I’ll just go out there and cheer on the team.”
Play it again, Sam
Wolves coach Flip Saunders missed Wednesday’s game, but is expected to rejoin the team for Thursday’s game at New York.
Assistant coach Sam Mitchell became the acting head coach for the night while Saunders was in Ohio visiting his ailing father. Like Wiggins and Bennett, Wednesday’s game was something of a homecoming, too, for Mitchell, who once coached the Raptors.
“I’ve been back before,” Mitchell said, referencing television work he did for Canadian sports network TSN after the Raptors fired him in 2008. “The people always have been gracious, always treated me well here.”
Hamilton out, Rubio in
The Wolves played Wednesday with what Mitchell called “7½” men. By his calculation, starting point guard Ricky Rubio was the half.
Rubio returned to action still battling a sore ankle that caused him to miss the last two games and played regular minutes on a night when the Wolves played without newly acquired Justin Hamilton because he was ill. Center Nikola Pekovic, forward Kevin Garnett and guard Gary Neal remained out as well.
“I’m not going to say it has been a tough year, but it has been a different year with all the injuries,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great opportunity for our young guys. The only way they’ll know what they have to get better at is by going through some of these tough times. Tough times make tough people.”
Back in time
Raptors coach Dwane Casey coached Garnett in Minnesota a decade ago.
“It’s funny to see him back in the blue, black and white and just for him to be with the Timberwolves,” Casey said. “There’s something right about it because that’s where he started. When you think about the Minnesota Timberwolves, you think about Kevin Garnett.”
The Wolves have not yet provided an update on a second medical opinion Garnett was scheduled to receive Monday. That’s expected to come Thursday. He missed his fourth consecutive game Wednesday.
What’s in a name?
Casey took exception with a questioner Wednesday who called the Wolves lousy.
“They’re not lousy,” he said. “I tell you what: They get paid twice a month, just like everyone else. They’re hungry, young, athletic, no worries, no pressure, playing free. They’re the most dangerous team you can play right now. We saw San Antonio lose to New York [Tuesday night]. Anybody can beat anybody in this league any night.”
He said it
Former Kentucky star Casey when asked about his undefeated Wildcats on NCAA tournament eve: “I’m proud of it, but our players can tell you I haven’t bragged about it this year at all. I think the record speaks for itself. It’s a great time of year if you’re a basketball fan. Being a Kentucky fan doesn’t guarantee you anything. You can lose it all in one night.”