INDIANAPOLIS – Only two weeks ago, the Timberwolves left for Boston on a three-game trip they hoped would get them closer to Denver and the West's eighth and final playoff spot. On Tuesday, they returned from a different three-game trip, looking at the other end of the standings as one of four teams positioned to finish for the fourth-most chances in the May draft lottery.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau has urged his players to build good habits and run through the tape in the nine remaining games after Tuesday's 115-114 victory at Indiana. But as president of basketball operations as well, he has watched college basketball's top prospects all season and through the NCAA tournament when he can.
The more lottery chances, the shorter the odds for the Wolves to move into the top three for a chance to draft Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Kansas small forward Josh Jackson or Duke small forward Jayson Tatum. The Wolves are bunched with Sacramento, New York, Philadelphia and Orlando within two games of each other while Brooklyn, Phoenix and the L.A. Lakers clearly lead the lottery race.
"Our scouts, they're putting a lot of time into it," Thibodeau said. "Once our season is over, I'll get up to speed on all of that. I watch some of the games, but you're watching from a different perspective. Once the season is over, I'll try to get into it in more detail. But it's hard now in terms of preparing for our games, but I'll have an opportunity when the season is over."
Newly signed forward Omri Casspi has switched from a more cumbersome splint to a slighter one while he also adjusts to a new team and a new system on his road back from a broken right thumb.
"The other splint wasn't comfortable, it threw me off a little," said Casspi, who had two points and five personal fouls in 11 minutes against the Pacers. "This is better. It's just a matter of staying consistent in what I do. It's just awkward a little bit, that's what it is."
Happy to be back
Wolves forward Adreian Payne's eight minutes played Saturday at Portland was his first action since Feb. 1, before he was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia, a deficiency of platelets in the blood.
"It felt great just to play basketball again out there with my guys," Payne said. "You appreciate every second, every minute you can play out there. It definitely puts things in perspective as far as how serious that situation was."
This odd trip that started in L.A. and Portland ended Tuesday after an extra day spent in Indianapolis. Thibodeau used the extra day to scout the Pacers' victory over Philadelphia on Sunday night. "I don't know what else you'd do," he said.
Well, what about dinner or a movie?
"A what?" Thibodeau said with almost a grin.
• The Pacers played without Al Jefferson (sprained ankle), Glenn Robinson III (calf strain) and Rodney Stuckey (patellar tendon strain).
• Wolves starting guard Brandon Rush came home to Indianapolis and the franchise where he spent the first three years of his NBA career. Kansas City-raised, Rush met his future wife during his rookie season and the couple bought a home for themselves and their three children just north of Indianapolis last spring.