Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders promised there would be lineup changes after Saturday’s lifeless loss to Utah.
Who figured it would be him?
Saunders and reserves Chase Budinger and Robbie Hummel all missed Monday night’s 110-101 loss to Denver because they were too ill to work, but the only real lineup change made with assistant coach Sam Mitchell in charge was substituting veteran Mo Williams for rookie Zach LaVine at starting point guard.
Mitchell talked to Saunders before and after Monday’s morning shootaround and proceeded to work that night as a NBA head coach for the first time since Toronto fired him in December 2008.
“Bad,” Mitchell said when asked how Saunders sounded. “He’s sick. As head coach, I’ve been sick before and there have been times I’ve crawled out of bed and coached the team. Then there are nights when you just can’t do it. His main concern with something like this is other players getting sick, bringing it into the locker room and everyone getting sick. We have enough injuries as it is.”
Budinger missed his second consecutive game because he was ill. Hummel missed the morning shootaround and was called a game-time decision, but couldn’t play.
“Yeah, that’s not good,” Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad said when asked about even his coach being out. “And Robbie’s got it now. I’ve been taking a flu pill every day and it’s getting cold out so we have to make sure we’re taking care of our bodies.”
The lineup changes Saunders vowed Saturday turned out to be just one Monday, with the substitution of Williams for LaVine. The other starters — Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Thaddeus Young — remained the same.
“Nothing against Zach, nothing Zach has done wrong,” Mitchell said. “But when you’ve lost 11 in a row, we’re just trying to find a little spark. We expect Zach to come in and continue to play well, continue to develop. You all have seen Zach enough to see him grow and get better, but it’s a tough position to play. It’s not anything reflective of what Zach has done or has not done and then when Ricky [Rubio] comes back, Ricky will be starting anyway.
“So we’re just trying to get a little spark and get off to a better start and have a better chance to win.”
Wiggins wins again
Wiggins was chosen the Western Conference’s rookie of the month for December. He received a standing ovation from those fans who had arrived by the time lineups were announced before the game.
He is now 2-for-2: He won the same award in November, too. He won the December award for leading all West rookies in scoring (14.6 average)and minutes played (33.9) that month. He scored 20 or more points five times. Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic — his main competition for Rookie of the Year now that Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker’s season is over — won the East award.
The other two players considered for the West award also were both in the building Monday: LaVine and Denver center Jusuf Nurkic.
• Mitchell was 3-0 lifetime as a head coach at Target Center before Monday’s loss. All those victories came when he coached Toronto. He never assumed head coaching duties when he was a New Jersey assistant in between his Raptors and Wolves jobs.
• Single-game tickets for the Wolves’ Jan. 31 game against LeBron James, Kevin Love and Cleveland go on sale for the first time at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Tickets in both arena levels are available fee-free at the Target Center box office or at the Wolves’ website.