MINNEAPOLIS — When Ricky Rubio picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter of Sunday night’s Timberwolves loss to Toronto, J.J. Barea galloped to the scorer’s table with noticeable zeal.
Here was his chance. Extended minutes, no need to wonder when coach Rick Adelman would remove him from the lineup, if at all. If ever there was an opportunity for Barea to terminate a personal skid dating back to the beginning of Minnesota’s long road trip, this was it.
Eight minutes and 34 seconds of game clock later, the Puerto Rican point guard sauntered back to his seat near the corner of the Target Center floor with four fouls of his own and a trademarked scowl to match.
Four fouls. Two missed layups. Back-to-back errant 3s. And although Barea was in the lineup when the Timberwolves tied things up at 64, he came off after helping yield a 16-8 run.
At a time when the Timberwolves are in dire need of bench production, their second unit’s leader admittedly isn’t in a good place.
"No question," Barea said after practice Monday, "I’m on a bad slump."
Since Minnesota began its five-game road trip Feb. 22 at Utah, Barea hasn’t been quite the same. The team is 5-3 since then, but he’s shot 32.1 percent and made just 7 of 23 3-point attempts during the stretch.
Barea’s been even worse in three straight home contests since then — two of which the Timberwolves have lost to fall further out of playoff contention — making 5 of 25 field-goal attempts and 2 of 6 3s while often getting beaten defensively.
Even worse, he says, is the reserves’ recent return to ineptitude. The NBA’s No. 27 scoring bench hit a February stride but has been outscored by at least 11 points in each of the past three outings.
"Shooting, that comes and goes," Barea said. "That’s not big with me; I’m gonna keep shooting, and it’s gonna come back. But second unit-wise, I hate it when I come in and we can’t help our team."
That’s raw, honest emotion from an athlete who’s always fed off of it. It’s visible whenever Adelman yanks him — an unpredictable occurrence this season as the coach has flip-flopped between Barea and Rubio in late situations.
"It’s a little frustrating out there when I can’t help my team the way I want to, do my job the way I want to do it," Barea said. "Sometimes, I get mad, because I don’t get my job done. Of course I’m gonna get mad."
But there’s been some clamoring from the front office for him to tone it down. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders told KFAN 100.3 Barea is "on notice" for his emotional reactions, and the pair have talked about the subject in person, Barea said.
Adelman, too, would like to see the 29-year-old rein himself in a bit.
"One thing we can’t allow to happen even if we’re losing some of these games, you’ve gotta keep playing," the coach said. "Your season’s on the line, and we want to finish the season off on a positive note whether we get a chance to be in the playoffs or not. I think that’s what these guys need to understand."
Heading into Monday night’s NBA slate, the Timberwolves (31-31) were five games back of a playoff spot with 20 contests remaining.
Shortly before the league’s trade deadline last month, Minnesota was purportedly in trade talks that would’ve sent Barea away, possibly to Memphis in exchange for pieces to aid the franchise’s playoff push. But the deadline came and passed, and Barea — who has one year left on his contract with the team — was still here.
His emotions will stay, too, he said.
"I told Flip, ‘Flip, that’s me. I mean no disrespect to you, to the coach,’" Barea said "Coach knows me. Coach, I don’t mean any disrespect to him. That’s his job to put whoever he wants to play out there, so yeah."
If anything, Barea said, he needs to play with more of a psychological edge rather than focus too much on his mindset to the point where other parts of his game are lacking.
"I think as I come to the games, I try to relax myself so much that I’m not aggressive like I used to, so I’ve just got to be back to normal and see what happens," Barea said.
Managing Pek: Nikola Pekovic sat out Monday’s practice for precautionary reasons.
In his fifth game since returning from an injury to his right ankle, the Timberwolves’ starting center played 33 minutes — 13 more than the limit recommended by the team’s training staff — on Sunday. So Pekovic didn’t do much during practice in order to rest up ahead of Tuesday’s home game against Milwaukee.
Pekovic tallied his first double-double since before missing 13 games with right-ankle bursitis, handling and limiting Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas.
Adelman asked head trainer Gregg Farnam with about 5 minutes left in Minnesota’s 111-104 loss what he thought about Pekovic’s status. The player himself said he was "feeling fine," so he played nine of the game’s final 10 minutes before exiting with the outcome all but decided.
"We just went with it," Adelman said. "But today he seems to be in good shape. We just got caught up in a situation where they had . . . two big guys out there and I was just trying to stay in the game and win the game."
Adelman has yet to honor Farnam’s suggested minutes restriction. Pekovic has played at least 23:57 in each of his outings since coming back but has been mostly limited to spurts of 5-7 minutes, also a suggestion from Farnam.
It’s not the first time this year Adelman’s gone against a medical staffer’s recommendation. When Chase Budinger returned from knee meniscus surgery that kept him out for the first two months of the season, he played 20:57 in his third game back despite an 18-minute restriction suggested by Dr. James Andrews, who performed Budinger’s operation.
"I’ve kind of hedged (Pekovic’s limit) to 27," Adelman said with a grin. "I was never very good at math."
Tweet heard ’round the hoops world: Adelman didn’t have much to say about a Minnesota politician’s tweet that had the basketball world abuzz Sunday night.
"I’m not talking about that," Adelman said. "I’ve never even heard of the guy. I don’t know who he is."
"That" is this post from the handle @PatGarofalo: "Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime"
Minnesota Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, posted the tweet at 7:33 p.m. on Sunday. By Monday afternoon, it had been retweeted 1,734 times and received 478 "favorites."
Public outcry after the representative’s words went viral caused him to issue an apology late Monday morning.
"In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals as opposed to groups," Garofalo’s statement read in part. "Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized. The NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our communities and for our country. Those individuals did not deserve that criticism and I apologize."
Updated digs: The new-and-improved Target Center will include a more dynamic in-game viewing experience during Timberwolves games, according to the project’s Request for Proposal released Monday.
The plans include high-definition upgrades to the venue’s center-hung scoreboard and new ribbon boards wrapping around the arena bowl. The Lynx and Timberwolves reached an agreement in the fall with the City of Minneapolis and AEG Facilities to renovate the Target Center at a price tag of $97 million.
The RFP’s release is the first step in securing an architect for the project. Construction is scheduled to begin as soon as the Timberwolves’ season ends.
Final design details are expected to be released at a later date.