Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio returned to practice Monday and is expected to be back in the lineup when the team plays host to Orlando on Tuesday at Target Center.
“Rick’s going to play tomorrow,” interim coach Sam Mitchell said after Monday’s practice. “Unless he has a setback, I expect him to play.”
Rubio missed both games of the Wolves’ weekend California road trip after turning his left ankle — the same one he had surgery on in April — against Atlanta on Wednesday.
Mitchell said he doesn’t feel he has to monitor minutes for Rubio.
“I don’t coach that way,” Mitchell said. “If Ricky tells me he can go, we’re going to play him. I can tell when he’s getting tired or if his conditioning is not where it needs to be. But the way Zach [LaVine] and Andre [Miller] have played, we feel pretty good about the point guard position. But we need Ricky.”
Rubio missed four games earlier this season because of a hamstring issue. The Wolves are 1-5 when he does not play.
Arnie Kander, the Wolves vice president of sports performance, said Rubio wanted to play in each of the past two games. But Kander, wanting to be extra cautious considering it was the same ankle Rubio had surgery on, wouldn’t let him. Rubio wanted to play though his soreness, but Kander said he wouldn’t put Rubio back into a game until he felt the point guard’s ankle was 90 percent healthy. Kander said Rubio was especially unhappy about being scratched for Sunday’s matinée in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Kander had a message for fans who think Rubio has been too slow to return from his injuries this season. He said Rubio is in the top 10 of players he has worked with in terms of toughness.
Indeed, Kander, wanting to keep Rubio healthy long-term, has asked Rubio to alter the way he practices. In an effort to take a load off his body, Kander is requiring Rubio to sit for prescribed periods during practice.
Kander said center Nikola Pekovic — who had Achilles’ tendon surgery in April — might be as little as two weeks away from beginning to take part in practice.
Kander took a unique approach to Pekovic’s rehab, one tailored to Pekovic’s size. Kander had the big center work extra hard in the weight room, trying to get his legs as developed as his upper body already was. Kander has also had Pekovic do some boxing to work on his mechanics.
Already Pekovic has done a good bit of running and some pick-and-roll drills. He has been working with Wolves assistant Gary Trent on post-up drills as well. The good news is that, other than usual muscle soreness, Kander said Pekovic reports being pain-free for the first time since he can remember. He has been working at a near-practice pace under controlled conditions.
The hoped-for scenario: After two weeks of ramping up Pekovic’s practice time, and assuming no setbacks, the idea would be to get him ready to play in a game. But that’s not likely until January.
• Count Mitchell — a native of the South — as one of the people happy to see the snow fly. “To me, if you’re going to be in Minnesota, you have to have snow,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right without snow.”
• Mitchell said Nemanja Bjelica’s return to action Sunday after missing four games because of a sore knee went well.
“He made shots, he was active, he was moving the ball, rebounding,” Mitchell said. “It was good to have him back.’’