While Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel charge hard in the season’s final weeks, Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins keeps making his case for NBA Rookie of the Year.
He did so again in a 113-99 home loss to Toronto on Wednesday, where the Wolves once again started beside Wiggins three players who weren’t with the team in January.
Wiggins scored 25 points on 8-for-20 shooting, his 26th game in which he scored at least 20 points this season, most among rookies. Add his five rebounds and five assists and he became the third Wolves player — Shabazz Muhammad and Thaddeus Young the others — to deliver a 25-5-5 stat line this season.
However, it didn’t keep the Wolves from losing their fifth consecutive game and for the 16th time in 19 games. They once again played with only eight healthy players and trailed by 31 points during a game in which Canadians seemingly outnumbered fans pulling for the home team.
“I’d like to say we can talk about something technically. It’s like men against boys,” said Wolves coach Flip Saunders, who canceled Thursday’s practice and banned players from shooting or lifting at the team’s facilities. “I feel bad for our guys because we can’t give them more bodies to give them rest. They’re both physically and mentally exhausted.”
If Wiggins is exhausted, he isn’t showing it. He keeps pushing toward two goals: Win Rookie of the Year and play all 82 games.
Mirotic’s Bulls are aimed at the playoffs, and Noel in recent weeks has cranked up his production. Wiggins leads the league in minutes played since Dec. 1. He now has averaged nearly 19 points and more than 38.4 minutes since that Dec. 23 coming-out party in Cleveland.
“I don’t know who else,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said when asked if Wiggins, a Toronto native, is Rookie of the Year. “The way he has played, the talent, his potential is unbelievable. The staff here has done a great job bringing him along.
“Winning is not their highest priority right now. They will win. They’re going to win. But as far as bringing him along, this is not a wasted year. His ballhandling, defense, shot-blocking, offensive rebounding, his all-around game has gotten better. He should be Rookie of the Year.”
Winner of every Western Conference rookie of the month honor this season, Wiggins is the only Wolves player who still has a chance to play every game.
“Right now, I’m just trying to finish out the season strong,” he said of his Rookie of the Year chances. “Obviously, it’s a goal of mine and I’ll be really thankful if it happens.”
Wiggins has pushed himself to the finish in a season when he often has carried the team after Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin were injured for months.
“I think it means a lot to him,” Saunders said. “There’s no question he should be Rookie of the Year, based on what he has done from Day 1 to where he is now.”
Getting Pek right
Now that he has called Pekovic done for the season, Saunders said the team will pursue every possibility to resolve ankle bursitis that has cost the center most of another season. Those options apparently could include surgery.
“We’ve got to do something,” Saunders said. “We’re not just going to sit there. We tried different ways to let it heal, trying to be as proactive as we can. … We have to re-evaluate what we do with him.”
As long as he wants?
With seven games now left this season, Saunders addressed his future as coach by saying, well, he will address it when he’s good and ready. He and Wolves owner Glen Taylor will talk when the season ends.
“I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done this year,” Saunders said. “It has been a trying year from an injury standpoint. When we look at the progress our young players have made, we feel like we’ve done what we set out to do when things changed over that first month of the season. I’m the coach until I tell you I’m not the coach, so you can take it that way.”
• The Wolves played again with only eight players, then Anthony Bennett tweaked his healing ankle during 14 minutes of action. “He just couldn’t run,” Saunders said.
• Saunders said Rubio wanted to play the past three games but the team’s medical staff isn’t comfortable he’s ready to play without risking further injury to his ankle.
• Garnett attended shootaround but remains sick, Saunders said. Also ill were the injured Gary Neal and Muhammad.