Wolves trying to remain resilient through adversity
MINNEAPOLIS — Weary, worn and wondering just how more tumultuous the end of an already erratic can become, the Timberwolves gathered for one of their final practices Monday afternoon at the Lifetime Fitness training center.
Then they did everything put practice.
In the trained eye of coach Rick Adelman, it makes little sense to put an attrition-rocked roster through a full set of drills and scrimmages when only nine of its members are able to participate. "We don’t have enough bodies," Adelman said.
Later, he added "I don’t know how we’re going to finish this off."
There’s little the 67-year-old Adelman — who may or may not be coaching his final six games in the next nine days — hasn’t seen in his 23 years as a head coach. But a team’s swift and pronounced depletion in a four-day span certainly doesn’t make for an average day at the office.
One player was in court Monday afternoon before being sent back to jail. Two more — and, perhaps, a third — are likely done for the season after suffering injuries during Minnesota’s Florida back-to-back this weekend. Two starters are game-time decisions for Tuesday’s clash with the franchise that’s within a hair of clinching the NBA’s best overall record.
"It’s been a grueling end," forward Corey Brewer said.
Per multiple local media sources, Dante Cunningham remains in jail after his Monday court appearance regarding charges he attempted to strangle a woman claiming to be his girlfriend. He was arrested again Sunday, this time for making terroristic threats.
A release from the Medina Police Department says Cunningham allegedly violated an order for protection by sending the woman threatening text messages.
After posting $40,000 bail and playing in Saturday’s loss at Orlando, Cunningham turned himself in at 11:45 a.m. Sunday and handed over his cell phone and computers to investigators. He is still waiting to be charged in the second case but already faces up to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine for the first.
Because the investigation is ongoing, Adelman and his players weren’t able to offer much by way of comment Monday afternoon following a workout that essentially equated to a walkthrough.
"It’s tough," Love said. "We hope for the best for him, but we know that it’s a personal thing."
Said Adelman: "I just can’t even comment on it, because I really don’t know all the circumstances. So it’s something we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that, and move on when we find out.
"You feel for him and his situation, but it’s also we have a lot of injuries now all of a sudden. So, I just worry about how many people we’ll have tomorrow to play."
The team issued a statement Sunday saying it was still gathering information and waiting for the legal process to play out. While that happens, players are allowed to compete under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, but it’s unclear when or if Cunningham would be able to return to the Timberwolves.
After making $2.1 million this season, he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
And he’s just one of the many missing.
Injuries piling up
Second-unit wings Chase Budinger and Shabazz Muhammad are both likely out for the season’s remainder, Adelman said, after going down over the weekend. Muhammad, the 14th overall pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, left Friday’s victory over Miami in the second quarter with what was later determined to be a right MCL sprain.
The knee injury won’t require surgery, but it’s unlikely it’ll heal in time for Muhammad to return between now and the season finale April 16.
Starting in place of Kevin Martin, who is out with a sore right heel, Budinger sprained his right ankle just one minute into Saturday’s contest. Both he and Muhammad are ruled out officially for Tuesday.
"I don’t know who the healthy people are," a befuddled Adelman told reporters.
It’s especially disconcerting for Budinger, who was just starting to find his groove after missing the first 34 games of the season. He had preseason surgery on the same damaged left knee meniscus that cost him 59 games last year.
Budinger made five 3s and scored 24 points — his most in a Timberwolves uniform — in Friday’s double-overtime thriller and was shooting 53.5 percent from the floor in his past six games entering the Orlando contest.
"That’s what we were talking about," Adelman said. "He probably felt comfortable in that Miami game. Then, in the first minute of the Orlando game, he’s out. He’s got a really bad ankle. He’ll be OK, ‘Bazz the same way â it’s a sprained knee â but they’re going to have to sit out the rest of the year."
Muhammad averaged 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game (37 appearances) this season.
Martin and Pekovic (sore right ankle) also have been ruled out for Tuesday. Pekovic will miss his 23rd game since being diagnosed with right-ankle bursitis in January, while Martin has sat out the past two.
The veteran shooting guard said his heel became sore after the Timberwolves’ victory over Memphis on Wednesday. It had considerably worsened by the time he woke up the following day and hasn’t improved much since then.
"It just feels the same," said Martin, who’s started 65 games this season and ranks second on the team in scoring with 19.2 points per game. "I don’t really know how it happened — just feels the same."
With Pekovic showing few signs of improvement, he may become the next player to be shut down for the year. The team’s No. 1 center played seven games in early March, sat out six and then played two more, but left early against the Clippers on March 31 and hasn’t been back since.
Adelman said he’s still day-to-day.
All-Star power forward Kevin Love didn’t play Saturday due to back spasms, which he attributed to playing a season-high 44 minutes, 44 seconds the night before. Adelman called him a game-time decision for Tuesday, but Love says he should be ready to go.
"It kind of caught up to me," Love said, "and I didn’t feel too good on Saturday."
With so many men down, Minnesota does have the option of signing a free agent to a 10-day contract, if for nothing else than to have enough able-bodied players to finish out the year. Adelman said the front office would likely meet Monday afternoon to look into that possibility.
There’s one player the coached joked he wouldn’t mind bringing in.
"We’ll see if maybe we can borrow (Kevin) Durant for a few days," Adelman said. "I’ll take him."
Resilience amid adversity
Through it all, the Timberwolves managed to knock off the two-time defending NBA champions Friday in what Adelman called "probably the best one we’ve had since I’ve been here." Even with Pekovic and Martin out, Minnesota hung tough for regulation and two overtimes and went ahead for good on Brewer’s free throw with two seconds remaining in the second extra session.
They’ll go for a similar feat Tuesday against the 2012-13 Western Conference champion Spurs, who have won 20 of their past 21 contests and lost just 17 games all season.
That matchup is the first of three home games in four days, part of a six-contests-in-nine-days stretch to finish out the year. If a Mexico City arena generator hadn’t malfunctioned and caused smoke to fill the building, Minnesota and San Antonio would’ve played there Dec. 4.
At least they don’t have to worry about a similar electrical error this time around.
"That seems like a real long time ago," Adelman said. "It was really weird."
It seems an appropriate summation in a season whose final days have been even more volatile than its overall up-and-down course. Hovering around .500 since November, the Timberwolves never made a run and thus will miss the playoffs for a 10th straight campaign, the league’s longest active postseason drought.
Their only goal still within reach is the organization’s first 40-win season since 2004-05.
They might as well enjoy going after it as best they can, Love said.
"This last week is going to be tough, but we’re going to fight through it," said Love, who will have a strong case for all-NBA selection this year. "We only have eight or nine guys. It’s tough.
"We’ve got to make it fun."
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