DALLAS – Only four days a Timberwolf, newly signed Lorenzo Brown played all but five seconds during Saturday’s crackling 106-90 loss to Cleveland because the Wolves had not another single healthy point guard available, not even emergency backup Robbie Hummel.
By the time they play at Dallas on Monday, the Wolves could have three, possibly four ready to play at least some minutes at that position.
That includes, of course, Ricky Rubio.
He’s aiming to make his return after missing 42 games and nearly three months because of a severely sprained ankle that damaged muscle and bruised bone.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders said after Saturday’s game he’s hopeful both Rubio and veteran Mo Williams, out the past three games because of a hip he injured in Atlanta more than a week ago, can play some minutes to spell Brown, who has played 95 minutes in three games since the team signed him on Wednesday out of the D League.
“We’ll integrate these guys,” Saunders said.
Saunders is less optimistic rookie Zach LaVine will play against the Mavericks, who have beaten the Wolves twice already this season, by an average of 18.5 points. LaVine sprained his ankle when he stepped on somebody’s foot during the third quarter of Friday’s loss at Philadelphia.
“He might need a few days,” Saunders said.
Saunders praised Brown for the endurance and defensive performance he mustered against Cavaliers star guard Kyrie Irving, who made four of 16 field-goal attempts on a night when LeBron James won the game and overcame Andrew Wiggins’ 33-point performance by scoring 16 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter.
Brown delivered a career-high nine assists, had six rebounds and missed all five shots he took from the field. He made one of two free throws, and his lone point made him the first NBA player since Dennis Rodman in November 1993 who played more than 47 minutes in a game and scored a point or nothing. Rodman played 48 minutes and went scoreless for San Antonio in a loss at Phoenix.
“Just a few days ago, he was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, getting a $12 per diem,” Saunders said Saturday, referring to life in the D League. “And tonight he was out there playing 48 minutes.”
Brown played all but the third quarter’s final 5.2 seconds, when Saunders sent in Chase Budinger on a defensive substitution.
Rubio has not played since his ankle badly contorted on a drive toward the basket Nov. 7 in Orlando. He originally hoped he could play by the time his family visited from Spain for Christmas, but his rehabilitation time morphed from weeks and weeks to months because of the damage done to muscle and bone.
The Wolves were 2-2 before Rubio went down before halftime that night in Orlando and are 6-37 without him this season,
Saunders predicts Rubio will be “about 75 percent” of his old self when he returns but predicts you’ll see “flashes” of his passing and an understanding of the game that will benefit young players such as Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and, when they return, LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Hummel.
Saunders said he appreciates Rubio’s command of his position more after coaching him for all of October and November’s first week than he did before he coached him.
“People will kind of react the same way,” Saunders said, referring to Wolves fans who have learned Rubio’s importance in these three months without him.
As for how much Rubio will play in his debut, Saunders was noncommittal and suggested just a “few minutes.” The Wolves kept expectations low the last time Rubio returned from a significant injury, and he provided an eight-point, nine-assist, four-rebound, three-steal performance and played 18 minutes in his first game back from knee surgery.
That game also came against Dallas, in November 2012 at Target Center.
Saunders has significantly minimized his massive playbook with Rubio out, particularly so since Brown signed.
“Probably all of them,” Saunders said when asked how many of his offensive sets he’ll be able to run with Rubio back. “Some of them we haven’t run in a while. Ricky has a great feel for the game. He’ll be able to help out.”