With his in­creased min­utes and im­proved play since team­mate Jimmy But­ler went down in Hous­ton clutch­ing his right knee last month, Tim­ber­wolves for­ward Nemanja Bjelica is doing more than steady a Tim­ber­wolves’ ship — with vic­to­ries over Golden State and Wash­ing­ton — that start­ed to list af­ter its first three-game los­ing streak this sea­son.

He’s also mak­ing him­self some mon­ey. Bjelica is in the fi­nal year of a three-year, $11.7 mil­lion con­tract that’s a bar­gain in to­day’s NBA. He will be­come a re­strict­ed free a­gent in July, mean­ing the Wolves can match any of­fer he might re­ceive.

Scouts from two teams that will have mon­ey to spend this sum­mer asked ques­tions a­bout Bjelica’s back­ground, at­ti­tude and tal­ent while at­tend­ing a re­cent Wolves’ games.

The Wolves last fall signed An­drew Wiggins to a max­i­mum con­tract. Team­mate Karl-An­thony Towns is up next for his very own start­ing this sum­mer and But­ler is due, too, if the team in­tends to keep him be­yond July 2019.

NBA rules al­low them to ex­ceed the sal­a­ry cap if they re-sign one of their own play­ers and are will­ing to pay the hefty lux­u­ry tax­es. It’s the kind of fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment the Wolves ha­ven’t con­tem­plated since Kev­in Gar­nett, La­trell Spre­well and Sam Cas­sell played for them, but that is the price of milk if you’re se­ri­ous a­bout con­tend­ing for a title.

At some point, Wolves coach/pres­i­dent of basket­ball op­er­ations Tom Thib­o­deau, General Man­ag­er Scott Lay­den and, of course, own­er Glen Tay­lor must de­cide how much they can af­ford and with whom they can sur­round three play­ers earn­ing max con­tracts.

“We’ve been plan­ning,” Thib­o­deau said. “We’re wor­ried a­bout not only now, but we have to be sure we put the best team on the floor we can. That’s a big part of this. The big­gest thing is ev­er­y­one con­cen­trat­ing on us win­ning. We don’t want to get lost in any­thing but chas­ing ex­cel­lence.”

The last re­main­ing play­er from the David Kahn era, Bjelica was ac­quired in a draft-night deal af­ter be­ing picked in the se­cond round by the Wiz­ards in 2010. He played over­seas un­til join­ing the Wolves in 2015. At age 29, he is is play­ing like the youth­ful point guard who grew into a multitalented Euroleague MVP.

His tran­si­tion dis­rupt­ed by in­ju­ries and lim­it­ed play­ing time, Bjelica start­ed to find his way in the NBA just when he sus­tained a bro­ken bone in his left foot this time last year. Af­ter a sum­mer’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and a sprain in that same foot side­lined that him for 15 games in De­cem­ber, Bjelica has be­come the Wolves’ iron man since But­ler’s in­ju­ry.

The same guy who played nine min­utes in a game just be­fore All-Star break played 40 min­utes or more — in­clud­ing 45 in a game at Utah — in three of five March games. His ca­reer-high seven as­sists and per­fect 5-for-5 fourth-quar­ter shoot­ing fu­eled Tues­day’s vic­to­ry at Wash­ing­ton, the Wolves’ first road win over an Eastern Conference teams af­ter seven con­sec­u­tive loss­es.

For now, Bjelica will play on and de­cide his fu­ture for him­self, his wife and two young chil­dren when it is time, name­ly this sum­mer.

“To be hon­est, I just try to play as good and hard as I can and at the end of the day, ev­er­y­bod­y will be fine,” Bjelica said. “I’m hap­py here. My fam­i­ly is hap­py. Some­times I hate Jan­u­ar­y be­cause it’s so cold, but I kind of got used to it.”

Thib­o­deau al­ways says nev­er look behind, nev­er look a­head, just look at what’s in front of you.

“Bel­ly, I don’t think he’s wrapped up in that,” Thib­o­deau said. “You have to take ev­er­y­thing step by step. For every play­er, just keep chas­ing ex­cel­lence. All that oth­er stuff takes care of it­self. If you keep con­cen­trat­ing on play­ing well and you help your team win, ev­er­y­one’s value goes up.”

Short takes

- It has been a tough month for former Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who has been knocked to the floor three times by three players who all were ejected. Wolves guard Jeff Teague body-checked Rubio into the Wolves’ bench nearly three weeks ago and Thursday, first Phoenix’s Jared Dudley shoved Rubio to the floor and then teammate Marquese Criss did it again as soon as Rubio got up. They did so, apparently, because Rubio had stepped over Criss while he was on the floor after a missed dunk.

“This is a problem for our team when these things happen and they happen multiple times,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It becomes cumulative so the other team, they move on to the next game and it happens again to us with a different team and then it happens to us again with another team. ... Guys are going to have each other’s backs. Where that goes when it gets like that, you never know what’s going to happen. Those guys in that locker room, there’s a brotherhood and they’re going to defend each other.”

- Out since late January, the Wizards’ John Wall is expected to begin contact work this week on his road back from knee surgery. Before Saturday’s game against Indiana, the Wizards were 13-8 in games without him, thanks plenty to backcourt mate Bradley Beal.

“It’s different seeing him out there because we haven’t seen him for a long time,” Beal said. “It’s like we welcomed back a new player onto the team. It’s good. We’re excited. I know he’ll be back in no time, for sure. He looks really good.”


Sunday: 6 p.m. vs. Houston

Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. L.A. Clippers

Friday: 6:30 p.m. at New York

Saturday: 5 p.m. at Philadelphia

All games on FSN


Player to watch: James Harden, Rockets

Target Center fans will get their last look this season — the playoffs excluded, perhaps — at Harden and his devastating crossover move that Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns sought pointers about at All-Star weekend in February.


“There’s no more smiling, no more buddy-buddy stuff. We’re trying to do something special.”

Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson on games that are growing more competitive as the Western Conference playoff race tightens.