Wolves Wednesday: Turiaf ready for next chapter in bittersweet season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Ronny Turiaf (left) strips the ball from Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph during the second quarter.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Missing 50 games while his newest team misses the playoffs wasn’t exactly what Ronny Turiaf had in mind when he signed with Minnesota last summer.

The veteran center was back in uniform Wednesday night for the Timberwolves’ 102-88 victory over the Grizzlies, suiting up for the first time since going down with a right-knee bone bruise Feb. 19. Turiaf missed 31 games earlier this year with a broken bone in his right elbow.

Both injuries took longer than he had hoped to heal.

"It actually sucks," Turiaf said, speaking of his latest ailment suffered when he hit the floor in a home win against Indiana. "It’s something that for about two or three days you’re not gonna feel it, and then all of a sudden, you feel a sharp pain, like somebody’s sticking a needle into the side of your knee.

"It’s been mentally challenging something but you just have to bear with the pain."

Timberwolves 102, Grizzlies 88

Starting big man Nikola Pekovic’s absence — he missed his 20th game Wednesday with an injury to his right ankle — and the Timberwolves’ .500-ish season have amplified the angst.

But the ever-positive Turiaf said he’s also drawn some gratification in the wake of his misfortune. Players, coaches and fans alike have expressed their support and desire to see him return, taking the edge off a bit.

"It’s actually bittersweet," Turiaf smiled, "which can taste good sometimes."

It tasted just fine against Memphis. Turiaf wound up playing 21 minutes, 41 seconds — more than coach Rick Adelman had expected him to — and scoring 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and pulling down seven rebounds.

On one occasion, he soared over two Grizzlies defenders to snatch an offensive rebound. An another, he skied to slam home a putback dunk in the second quarter.

His knee looked just fine.

"It’s amazing, because I don’t know when we scrimmaged — about five days ago, and I didn’t think there was any way I’d see this this quick," coach Rick Adelman said. "I guess he’s been saving it all this time."

Said Turiaf: "I honestly did not care what happened. I told the guys that before the game. I was like, ‘Guys, I have not played in six weeks. Don’t be mad at me; I’m just gonna go out there and have some fun.’"

When Turiaf’s been on the floor, he’s been effective. The 31-year-old, ninth-year veteran playing for his seventh NBA franchise came into Wednesday averaging 8.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per 48 minutes (4.1 and 5.7 per game).

He started 10 games in Pekovic’s stead before his latest injury, scoring 5.4 points and pulling down 7.5 rebounds a contest.

Turiaf practiced marginally the past few days, participating in different light scrimmage scenarios — everything except full-blown 5-on-5 — and working privately with team trainers during the Timberwolves’ day off Tuesday. He entered for Gorgui Dieng, who’s started seven of Minnesota’s past 10 games, late in the first quarter Wednesday.

There was never any talk of shutting down for the season, Turiaf said.

"That’s not part of who Ronny Turiaf is," said Turiaf, who signed as a free agent for two years and $3.2 million this past summer.

Gritty Ricky: Stitches on the chin. Stiches on the lip. A hard shove from his countryman.

Not much can keep Ricky Rubio out of the lineup these days.

The point guard who missed parts of his first two seasons due to a torn ACL gave fans a brief scare Wednesday when fellow Spaniard Marc Gasol knocked him out of bounds in the third quarter. Rubio got up from underneath the basket limping and was briefly taken back to the locker room.

But he emerged early in the fourth quarter and checked back in at the 7:32 mark.

It’s not Rubio’s first brush with physicality this season. On two other occasions, he’s been bumped and received stitches but has come back just fine.

"He’s gonna play that way," Adelman said when asked about the finesse guard’s toughness. "That’s just who he is."

Before exiting, Rubio caught fire, hitting three straight shots to open the second half. All but one of his 13 points came in the third, helping Minnesota build an 18-point advantage that never dipped back below double digits.

"I had energy, so I came out in the third quarter and start attacking," said Rubio, who also had seven assists and three steals. "I kept attacking."

That task became a little easier against a worn-out Grizzlies team wrapping up a five-game road trip. Rubio was particularly effective against point guard Mike Conley, who came in averaging 17.3 points per game and 19.7 in his past six games but scored just seven on 3 of 15 shooting.

Conley picked up his fourth foul trying to guard Rubio during his third-quarter hot streak.

"He’s had a great season," Rubio said of Conley. "One of the keys was stopping him. Having him in foul trouble, that helped."

Playoff push: The last time Dave Joerger returned to his home state, he was clean-shaven, bright-eyed and borderline giggly with delight.

Photos of the Week: 3/23/14-3/30/14

But Wednesday, the Staples, Minn., native sported a goatee and a more stern countenance — a disposition indicative of the grind he says he and his team have been on for months now.

"It’s been a playoff push since Christmas, anyway," the rookie head man said when asked how he was handling the season’s stretch run. "We were behind with our record and trying to come back. We’ve been playing at a pretty high level, but the intensity and the focus of having to try to win every single game has been going on for so long that it’s not a huge difference."

Indeed, the Grizzlies struggled out of the gate and lost 15 of their first 25 games. But they came into Wednesday having won 17 of their past 24 and clinging to the Western Conference’s seventh playoff spot.

The loss to Minnesota temporarily dropped Memphis (44-31) into ninth place and out of the postseason picture, but the Clippers’ victory over Phoenix vaulted the Grizzlies into eighth. The seventh-place Mavericks, Suns and Memphis all have identical 44-31 records in a tight race for the West’s final two seeds.

‘Light It Up Blue’: For the first time all season, the Timberwolves wore their blue road uniforms at home in support of World Autism Awareness Day and the Autism Speaks’ "Light It Up Blue" campaign.

Minnesota has worn its all-black, sleeved "Lights Out" unis at home on a few occasions this year but hadn’t donned its slate blues until Wednesday.

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