MINNEAPOLIS – After spending part of the Timberwolves’ Tuesday shootaround hanging from the rim at the end of a few dunks, Chase Budinger confirmed what his actions hinted at: He has been cleared for full-contact practices after tearing the meniscus in his left knee on Nov. 10.
Budinger had a scheduled phone consultation with his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, on Tuesday, and after he and the team shared details about the swingman’s progress with the doctor, Andrews cleared him to rejoin the team. After a rehab that has thus far been free of setbacks, it was the logical next step, and now Budinger will attempt to get a few practices under his belt before returning to game action.
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That in and of itself will be something of an issue, as Minnesota’s schedule features three sets of back-to-backs in the next 10 days, and coach Rick Adelman never holds practices after consecutive games. Realistically, the team will next practice on March 16 and again on March 20, and so Budinger might be cleared to play before the March 21 and 22 back-to-back in Sacramento and Phoenix. Even that, though, is just a hypothesis at this point, and Budinger said it’s too early to say what his timeline will precisely be.
“The only unfortunate part is we don’t have really any practices coming up, which is really tough,” Budinger said. “But what I can do is start playing one-on-one with the coaches, two-on-two. Hopefully, Kevin can get cleared so we can start working out together and doing two-on-two type stuff.”
Budinger didn’t do any contact work at shootaround, but he’ll begin his regimen before Tuesday’s game, when he’ll work one-on-one with player development coach Shawn Respert. He isn’t worried about the lack of practice time he’ll have to prove he’s ready to return, and he said he’ll do a fair amount of one-on-one and two-on-two work while the team is too shorthanded for much five-on-five.
If Budinger were to return by late March, he’d have about 15 games in which he’d be able to play this season. He’ll be a free agent when the season ends, so there is some impetus to return and play well, and Budinger said he’s not too concerned with the fact that his knee won’t be at full strength likely until next season.
“I think just me being able to dunk again and jump off of it and still have a little balance out there, I think (my strength is) coming back,” he said. “It’s still not full strength. … I know even my jump, I’m not jumping like I used to. It’s coming along, which is nice to see.”
Still only nine against the Spurs: Small forward Andrei Kirilenko and center Nikola Pekovic were both reassessed on Monday, but neither will play Tuesday. (Kirilenko has a strained calf, Pekovic a strained abdomen.) Each said Sunday that he hopes to return within the week, but Kirilenko said he still needs to get a few practices – or maybe he just means workouts, what with the schedule coming up – behind him. No word has been given as to whether either will play in the second game of this Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back, but it seems doubtful that either will take the court before Friday in Houston.
“We don’t have a privilege to practice a lot right now because we have game (after) game,” Kirilenko said.
But there is an upside: “Today we have our first shootaround when I see no guys on the bench sitting out,” he added. “Everybody is involved. Everybody is shooting. You like that tendency.”
Kevin Love to New York: Love is scheduled to meet with his hand surgeon in New York on Wednesday, when he hopes to receive clearance to practice. He will rejoin the team in Houston for Friday’s game, but it would seem unlikely that he play that night without having practiced.