OTTAWA – The old guys led the Timberwolves off to an improved start and the young ones and newcomers took them home to their first victory of the preseason, an 89-87 decision over Toronto that followed three earlier losses.
Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell started Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince alongside Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — the centerpieces of the franchise’s future — and then relied primarily on Gorgui Dieng, youngsters Tyus Jones and Zach LaVine as well as European additions Nemanja Bjelica and Damjan Rudez to hold off the Raptors with a closing 17-10 run over the final 7½ minutes.
“We understand it’s the preseason, but we’re learning how to win,” Mitchell said. “I’m proud of the starters coming out and showing guys how to execute and I’m proud of the young guys and some of the plays they made and some of the stops. Every time you can win, especially when you have a lot of young guys, it’s important.”
Dieng scored from the outside — making a rare three-pointer even — and then went to work inside. He scored nine of his 14 points — and made all four of his shots — in the fourth quarter when the Wolves overcame a seven-point deficit. LaVine struggled shooting in the first three games as a starter and began Wednesday 1-for-5 coming off the bench.
But LaVine made two of his three shots in the final quarter, including a floater that pushed the Wolves to an 84-80 lead with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left that they never lost against a Toronto team missing All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and veteran Luis Scola. Like the Wolves, the Raptors played their reserves throughout the final quarter.
“It means we’re getting better as a team,” Dieng said. “We’re just building. This will help us mentally to keep working hard. We’re a young team. This is good for us.”
Dieng made one three-pointer in each of his first two seasons. He has made one this preseason already with Wednesday’s third-quarter one. In the fourth quarter, he faked an outside shot that got more than one Raptor in the air and drove the lane for a dunk instead.
“I’ve been working on it,” he said of his three-point shot. “I’m trying to hit the corner three. It’s not a shot I’m going to rely on just to score, but if I can hit it once in a while, it will help us.”
He’s here …
Bjelica was called for his first NBA flagrant foul — of the Type 1 variety — late in Wednesday’s game when he whacked Bismack Biyombo in the head as he attempted a layup.
“I just want to make strong foul,” Bjelica said. “But I hit him unfortunately on the head. But I had no purpose to hit him like that, of course.”
Biding his time
Veteran Kevin Martin has played only 30 minutes in four preseason games after he was scratched Wednesday because of back spasms. He says that’s fine by him while Mitchell takes a good look at LaVine and others.
“It has been good for my body,” Martin said. “Right now, I feel good. If I get one or two games [with regular minutes], that’s good for me. When the lights come on, I’ll run all day.”
The Wolves will take their first full day off Thursday since training camp began. Mitchell is hopeful Ricky Rubio can practice fully Friday and Saturday, at which point he’ll be cleared to play Sunday at Memphis if he’s feeling fine.
“We’re not trying to rush him back,” Mitchell said. “He’s lost some conditioning. We want him in shape. I want him playing, but it’s just as important to have him healthy when we start the season.”
• The Wolves have extended their partnership with WCCO-AM 830 to carry games on a new multiyear deal. Play-by-play guy Alan Horton is returning for his ninth season. The station will carry one more preseason game, the Oct. 23 game against Milwaukee at Target Center.
• Members of the Wolves’ traveling party were headed to celebrate the Lynx’s WNBA third title in five years with Lynx players and coaches after the Wolves’ charter flight landed back home from Ottawa early Thursday morning.
• Former Wolves/Detroit star Chauncey Billups sat courtside Wednesday and visited old pals Garnett and Prince in the Wolves’ locker room afterward. He was the “NBA legend” the league flew in, a tradition of their Canada Series games.