Young Wolves getting taste of NBA life with long sojourn away from den
MINNEAPOLIS — Almost three weeks between games at the Target Center, "Friends in Low Places" and a sojourn into Aztec country.
The Timberwolves’ season-long, six-game road trip commences Wednesday night in Brooklyn. They won’t be back in Minneapolis until Nov. 19, representing the longest span between "true" home games in the franchise’s quarter-century history. After flying Tuesday to New York, they’ll be on the road for a total of 12 days.
"I don’t even know how to pack for that," rookie Zach LaVine said.
It will be an early mettle test for Minnesota’s young core as it adjusts to NBA life, and for its veterans whose bodies don’t recovery to wear, tear and travel as quickly as they used to. For LaVine and fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins, especially, their first extended NBA road swing — which includes a pair of back-to-backs sandwiched around a neutral-site game in Mexico City (although technically a Minnesota home game on the schedule) — will be the longest either has experienced.
And even second-year players Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Robbie Hummel haven’t been through something quite like this.
"All I told the young guys was ‘Make sure you bring enough underwear,’" coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. "That’s the only thing I told them."
In a league that crams an 82-game schedule into 5 1/2 months, taking care of one’s self on the road goes a long way toward a player’s success. Hours-long flights tax the body and mind. Playing in one state Friday night and another Saturday prohibits proper sleep patterns. Staying fed and hydrated is key, too.
So a trip from New York to Florida to Mexico to Louisiana to Texas will provide some on-the-job education, the Wolves veterans say.
"It’s going to be a very, very tiring situation, especially if you play 25, 30 minutes a game," said forward Thaddeus Young, in his eighth year in the league. "It’s one of them things where you might have three games in four nights and you’re getting into your hotel at 2 o’clock in the morning and not being able to sleep because you’ve got to wake up for shootaround. Guys will definitely get the NBA feel."
At least Wiggins and LaVine, both 19, ought to say out of trouble.
"They can’t go to the bars," shooting guard Kevin Martin grinned, "so it should be pretty good for them to get out on the road and experience the NBA life on how long a road trip can be."
This early one is especially lengthy.
Seven nights of Garth Brooks concerts at the Target Center from Nov. 6-15 meant the Wolves would be displaced from their home arena for a good chunk of this month, no matter the NBA schedule. But their Nov. 12 matchup against Houston at Mexico City Arena falls in a window between Brooks’ shows.
Back-to-backs this Friday (at Orlando) and Saturday (at Miami) and Nov. 14 (at New Orleans) and 15 (at Dallas) make the trip even more of a grind. Saunders’ one complaint to NBA schedule makers, he said, is wrapping up the trip with two straight days of road games after asking Minnesota to return to Mexico.
Last year’s NBA Global Games tilt there between the Wolves and Spurs was canceled due to smoke in the arena.
But whereas former coach Rick Adelman frequently decried his team’s status as an eastern team in the Western Conference, Saunders says they might as well embrace it.
"We’re excited," said Saunders, whose team is 1-2 after a pair of close defeats against Memphis and Chicago sandwiched around a victory over Detroit. "Our thing is, if we go out and play like we played these three games, we play hard, we’ll give ourselves a chance. That’s all we can ask. I’m excited in seeing how we react to that."
It’s an opportunity for a team that saw a lot of roster turnover this offseason to gel, too.
"Long road trips, they’re always a drag, but they’re a good time to bond with your teammates," Young said.
And Wiggins seems to have found a solution for LaVine’s rookie plight.
"I just over-packed," the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft said. "Better safe than sorry, so I just brought a lot of stuff."
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