They came early, waited in lengthy lines and in some cases paid a premium price for tickets Wednesday night at Target Center, all for the sake of experiencing the emotional return to Minnesota of …
Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman?
"Yeah," the man himself said, smiling slyly before a game against the Timberwolves. "It's unbelievable."
Wednesday night's game, won by the Wolves 97-77, brought former Wolves great Kevin Garnett back home after nearly eight years away. It also brought to Target Center the Wizards coach who was a Wolves assistant when Garnett arrived in 1995 as a gangly 19-year-old rookie and the Wolves head coach when Garnett left a bona fide superstar 12 years later.
"It was a joy," Wittman said about coaching Garnett for seven seasons as an assistant coach and a few months as a head coach. "One of the easiest guys to coach, listened, worked hard, best practice player on any team he was on. To have a guy who leads by example like that, other guys have to fall in line. It makes it easier on a coach, obviously, if your star player can be like that."
Wednesday's game brought Wizards veteran star Paul Pierce — Garnett's teammate in Boston after the Wolves traded their star to the Celtics in 2007 — to Target Center as well, but he was scratched from the lineup before opening tip because of a bruised knee.
"I don't know if too many people would have thought that," Wittman said about seeing both Saunders and Garnett back with the Wolves. "Both of them have come full circle, so I wouldn't have guessed that. But it is kind of neat."
Time marches on
Garnett entered the NBA the same year — 1995 — that Wolves rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine were born. It was also one season after rookie Glenn Robinson III's father entered the league as the NBA's No. 1 draft pick.
"It's kind of weird when guys say they play with my dad," Robinson said. "When we played the Spurs, Tim Duncan came up to me and said, 'Man, I played with your dad, I feel old.' KG said the same thing: "Man, you're making me feel old."
Robinson called his dad Wednesday with instructions to pass along a hello to Garnett.
• Wolves forwards Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and Robbie Hummel remain out injured, but veteran guard Gary Neal returned Wednesday after he missed Monday's loss at Houston because of a sprained ankle. Saunders called upon him early in the game, summoning him after the Wolves trailed 13-1 early to steady things and help get his team back in the game.
• Former Gophers and Hopkins High School forward Kris Humphries left the game after playing 12 first-half minutes for the Wizards and did not return because of a strained left hamstring.
• Wolves veteran guard Kevin Martin, who got the Wolves back in the game by scoring 16 first-half points, does not have one distinction anymore, not now that Garnett has come aboard. "I'm glad I'm not the oldest on the team anymore," said Martin, 32. "That was the move of the year for my psyche."