ORLANDO – When Jaylen Nowell took the floor at Miami on Friday night, it was the first time since April 14 he played in a game for the Timberwolves.
A right tibia contusion suffered April 3 upended Nowell's month and after a solid start to the second half of the season under new coach Chris Finch, Nowell said he tried to rush back from the injury, and then needed to shut himself down again.
Then, when he was healthy enough to return, the Wolves were playing well and he wasn't getting minutes like he was before the injury. Nowell said the path back from the injury has been "really tough."
"Not really in a physical aspect, more mental," said Nowell, a second-year guard. "Watching and seeing how different things have changed up since I've been playing and trying to incorporate myself in that."
One of the biggest changes was the return of D'Angelo Russell while Nowell was out, something that added a scoring presence to the second unit Nowell was able to once provide. Russell was back in the starting lineup, and the absence of Jaden McDaniels for personal reasons shook up the rotation Friday, and Nowell was finally able to get back on the floor with the second unit.
Nowell came back for two games in the middle of April and shot a combined 1-for-14. His injury had something to do with those numbers.
"It affected my shot the most," he said. "I was really shooting off one leg and trying to come back, I came back a little too early; I came back when I was still hurting. I just wanted to have the least amount of time off as possible, so I kind of rushed back into things and you live and you learn."
Nowell has said the influx of scoring the Wolves have found over the last month has caused a shift in his mentality when he is back on the floor.
"I just try to make sure that I pick up the defensive end," Nowell said. "And maybe when I'm out there not overthinking it, but definitely facilitating a little bit more. Shifting that type of aspect in my game."
Juancho Hernangomez was a late addition to the Wolves' injury report Sunday because of a left quad contusion and did not play in the rout of the Magic. Finch said the forward was experiencing swelling in his knee. McDaniels missed his second consecutive game to attend a family funeral.
After Friday's game, Ricky Rubio, who has helped mentor Anthony Edwards this season, discussed how Edwards has taken leaps forward in his game from the first half of the year. Rubio said part of Edwards' development is making sure the Wolves have the structure around him to "protect him" as he matures as a player.
"He keeps learning, keeps learning, wanting more," Rubio said. "We have to protect him, because he's going to be special. But we have to put him in situations so he can succeed. Nobody in this league can do it alone, not even LeBron [James]. He needs pieces together. … It's that type of player who you can build around, and with the right ones, it can be special."