Robert Covington missed his 27th consecutive game Tuesday night because of a stubborn bone bruise in his knee, while Luol Deng missed his third game in a row because of a sore Achilles.
It’s not quite right to say the Timberwolves have missed both players equally, but both absences have been felt.
Since acquiring him in November as part of the Jimmy Butler trade, the Wolves are 13-15 when Covington hasn’t been able to play, including a single game he missed in December.
“We initially probably thought Robert was going to be back a little earlier,” said interim coach Ryan Saunders, who hasn’t had a healthy Covington since taking over for Tom Thibodeau in early January but hopes to have him back later this week. “It’s continuing to see how the knee responds ... with more contact and with longer durations of playing.”
Covington was spotted at Wolves practice Monday shooting free throws and then having a long conversation with Karl-Anthony Towns.
“It’s a team thing, but I think he’ll solve a lot of issues we have defensively with his length and his defensive prowess,” Towns said of Covington’s eventual return. “Just his IQ and obviously he’s a first-team all-defensive player for a reason.”
Deng played sparingly early in the season but became a key member of the Wolves’ rotation under Saunders. He posted a plus-86 mark over a five-game stretch during which the Wolves went 4-1, but he was injured early against Atlanta last week — the first game of an 0-3 road trip in which Minnesota gave up 129.3 points per game — and hasn’t played since.
“[Deng’s] toughness and his willingness to do a lot of little things is something that would be missed on any team,” Saunders said. “He provided great minutes for us in that stretch when we were undermanned and also getting some good quality wins. ... He’s a good boost for the group, too, when he’s out there. We definitely miss him, but we also know we have plenty on this team and we expect guys to step up moving forward.”
Winless road trips add up
The Wolves have a 21-10 home record — in the upper half of the NBA in terms of home winning percentage. But they are only 9-24 on the road, a .273 winning percentage in away games that ranked 25th in the 30-team league.
A big problem, of course, has been prolonged road swoons. Four times this season the Wolves have gone winless on trips of three games or longer. And on the recently completed 0-3 trip, a disappointing overtime loss to Atlanta in the first game seemed to bleed into two more defeats.
“To not close it out going to overtime and then end up losing, I think we let that carry over to Indiana — which is a natural thing to do but you’ve got to try not to do that,” guard Tyus Jones said.
“And then that one loss turned to two and then things started going downhill from there. We’ve just got to do a better a job of trying to shut that off.”