TORONTO – Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins returned with the Timberwolves to Toronto on Monday night for the first two of scheduled appearances back home this season.
He could play there a third time if he plays every half like Monday night’s first in a 112-105 preseason loss to the Raptors.
Just FYI: This season’s All-Star Game is at Air Canada Centre in February.
“That’s going to be a big jump,” he said.
Rookie of the Year honors motivated him to achieve last season. This time, he says “definitely motivation” when asked about the prospects of becoming an All-Star in his hometown for probably the only chance in his career.
On Monday, he scored 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting — and made both threes he tried — in 19 first-half minutes before interim head coach Sam Mitchell rested him for the rest of the game right along with fellow starter Kevin Garnett, who didn’t play Monday. The Raptors, in turn, rested guard DeMar DeRozan.
“He played as good a first quarter, second quarter as I can ask,” Mitchell said.
He rested Wiggins after halftime because he wanted to play veteran Tayshaun Prince and wanted to get Shabazz Muhammad going. He rested Wiggins, too, because he’s aware that Wiggins played with Team Canada last summer and because he saw Wiggins do the things coaches have been asking him to do: Score within the offense without having isolation plays called for him every time.
“It wasn’t the plan, but he made it easier,” Mitchell said. “I need to see Wig show that he’s in the flow. Tonight, he showed me that. When he comes prepared and ready to play and he turns that switch on, it made it easier for me to rest him in the second half.”
Wiggins said he didn’t expect to play 19 minutes before halftime and none after it.
“Just worked out how it worked out,” he said. “Trust in Sam Mitchell.”
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry played on while Wiggins sat Monday, after halftime all the way to a 40-point game that was the first in team preseason history. Lowry very well could play for the East team Sunday night during All-Star weekend.
Is there a chance, however small, for Wiggins in the West?
“I’m working toward that,” he said. “I put in a lot of work this summer to prepare for this season. I feel good. My body feels well rested.”
Praising the new guys
With Garnett out, summertime signee Nemanja Bjelica started at power forward, made four three-pointers and delivered 12 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 31 minutes. In three preseason games, he’s making an impression.
“He just knows how to play,” Mitchell said. “He makes everybody better.”
The Wolves got back in the game when Bjelica and fellow European forward Damjan Rudez played together during a 14-4 run that ended the first half.
“Those two guys make us a better basketball team,” Mitchell said. “The way they play in flow, the way they pass and cut, the way they move the basketball.”
Zach on Zach
Zach LaVine has made six of 29 shots and has averaged 6.3 points in the three games since Mitchell named him the team’s new starting shoot guard over Kevin Martin. He went 3-for-10 on Monday in 20 minutes. Martin played eight first-half minutes.
“I just haven’t been making shots but I’ve been playing hard every day,” LaVine said. “It’s going to come. I had a great training camp. I just have to make it translate to the games. I started 40 games last year. I know it’s preseason but for me, I take it personal. I take pride in my craft. I don’t like embarrassing anybody.”
Bennett’s back home
Former Wolves forward Anthony Bennett met his old mates Monday for the first time since his agent negotiated a contract buyout last month. Bennett signed as a free agent to return home to Toronto.
“I felt way more comfortable here, with my family and friends and the great guys over here,” said Bennett, who had three points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. “My year in Minnesota, it was definitely fun. All those guys were all connected and basically we became a family. But at the same time, it’s a business.”
• Veteran Andre Miller rejoined the team Monday after he was excused to attend to a personal matter over the weekend. He played 19 minutes, all in the second half.
• Ricky Rubio hasn’t played in any preseason games because of a strained quad, but Mitchell is hopeful he can practice fully Friday and Saturday and play Sunday at Memphis.