OKLAHOMA CITY – The man who now coaches Zach LaVine remembers a time not that long ago when Oklahoma City All-Star Russell Westbrook wasn’t the point guard he is now.
“I remember three, four, five years ago when people said nobody could play with Westbrook,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said.
“Now everybody wants him on their team. It’s amazing to me. Westbrook was getting criticized. Every day, he was getting criticized on television and in the newspapers. It’s not one team wouldn’t take him on their team right now. That’s just how it is. That’s part of the process.”
Mitchell has said he demands much of LaVine in that process but promises he will emerge a much better, more mentally toughened player after he is “tried and tested.”
After playing well against the Thunder on Tuesday in Minneapolis, LaVine called that process “not fun” and “sometimes unfair” and said, “But he’s the coach. ...That’s what you have to deal with.”
When asked Friday about how LaVine has handled being ridden hard, Mitchell answered: “I think it’s overblown when you say ridden hard. It’s not like we’re sitting there putting a saddle on his back and riding him all day. It’s a lot of information that Zach has to process in a short time.
‘‘When you haven’t played that position, it’s hard. It’s hard for any guy. … I’m confident in Zach. I’m not worried about Zach. He’s going to be a really good player in our league. It’s just going to take some time, that’s all.”
LaVine had 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in 24 minutes Friday. Westbrook, meanwhile, put up a triple-double — 12 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists — and didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
Martin out ill
Wolves veteran guard Kevin Martin was scratched from Friday’s game at Oklahoma City after he said he became sick to his stomach less than three hours before an early 6 p.m. tip on ESPN.
Mitchell countered by expanding Shabazz Muhammad’s playing time. Muhammad had 15 points and four rebounds in 34 minutes.
Martin and rookie Tyus Jones were inactive.
Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio followed Wednesday’s 12-assist, eight-turnover game at Houston by committing no turnovers Friday, but he had just two assists.
“Do I need to comment on that?” Mitchell said about Wednesday’s game. “What do you want me to say? Ricky knows. We can’t afford eight turnovers at the point-guard position. There’s nothing to say about it.”
• Wolves center Nikola Pekovic played Friday after he was rested during Tuesday’s game against the Thunder. His presence helps against OKC big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, who have more bulk than Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Pekovic finished with 10 points and three rebounds.
• Jones didn’t play for a sixth consecutive game. Mitchell said there haven’t had any discussions about sending Jones back to the D League, where he played six games before Christmas.