Timberwolves starting point guard Ricky Rubio missed his second consecutive game because of soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle, but reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica returned from injury in Sunday’s 107-99 loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.
He missed four games after he banged knees with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon nearly two weeks ago but returned Sunday with 22 minutes off the bench. His shot was perfect, even if his legs and lungs weren’t.
“He looked good,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “He made a couple shots, moved pretty good. Obviously, he’s rusty, but I was pleased. I thought he did well.”
Bjelica was 4-for-4 from the field, including 2-for-2 on three-pointers. He also had two rebounds, an assist and two fouls. Clippers star Blake Griffin welcomed Bjelica back with a lefthanded slam over him in the second quarter.
“Yeah, but I need good practice tomorrow,” he said when told his three-point shot doesn’t seem to have left him. “I felt good. I have some small pain, but it doesn’t affect anything, so I’m glad that I’m finally able to play. I need to keep working because every second night maybe there is a game so I need to be ready.”
Mitchell experimented with big men Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns together in the closing minutes Sunday for one of the few times this season.
“Those two guys play hard together, work extremely hard together,” Mitchell said. “They’re both getting better. They pull for one another. They’re best of friends. I love my combination of our two young centers. We got 31 points and 18 rebounds out of both of them. If we can do that consistently, we’ll be OK.”
Wolves star Kevin Garnett remains nine points away from 26,000 for his career after Sunday’s scoreless game. Former teammate Paul Pierce is 23 points away after he scored 10 for the Clippers.
“I can’t even imagine 26,000 points,” Mitchell said. “I can’t imagine playing 20-plus year or 50,000 minutes and all the rebounds and things Kevin has accomplished.”
• Clippers coach Doc Rivers has worn or kept in his desk all season a lapel pin remembering longtime friend Flip Saunders, who died Oct. 25 at age 60. “You want to keep him with you as much as you can,” he said.
• Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell visited the Wolves’ training room after the game to visit former teammate Garnett.
• Rivers started one former Timberwolf (Luc Mbah a Moute) over another (Wesley Johnson) for defensive purposes against Andrew Wiggins.
“You go by what you need at the time,” Rivers said.
• Rivers on Garnett now mentoring Towns: “It’s great. It’s great. Poor Karl, that’s all I have to say.”