There’s a confession to make: I departed for Fort Myers early on Jan. 7 and returned to MSP in the middle of this week on a full and on-time Delta flight.
The first portion of the winter weather break, before ballplayers start to arrive in larger numbers in The Fort … well, coming up with a couple of columns per week for the Star Tribune takes creativity, and fortunately I’m blessed with plenty of that.
OK, if not plenty, enough to get by.
The last portion of a Timberwolves game that I had seen on the local outlet came on Jan 5, a 118-103 victory in Cleveland. Karl-Anthony Towns was out with an injury, so Gorgui Dieng played 29 minutes and scored 22 points. Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington scored 15 points apiece, with Covington a team-high plus-29.
Point guard duties were split between Shabazz Napier, who had 21 points and was a plus-26 in 30 minutes, and Jeff Teague, playing 17 minutes, with three shots and five points.
Wolves viewing time was very limited in Florida. Even highlights were difficult to find, since among the networks run by the four major sports – NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL – the only one not part of our cable package was the NBA’s.
If you wanted the NBA, a premium was required. And let’s face it: No matter how much a person is in the habit of frittering away money, people that still have a brain function are not going to spend $15 a month so they can follow the Timberwolves more closely.
I mean, who needs live TV to follow the home team’s tilts these days? You got your Twitter, you got your various Website scoreboards with live box scores, you got your Star Tribune previews and reviews, and coverage from other sources.
You got all you need, with the exception of the fair-and-balanced commentary of Jim Pete, who hasn’t allowed the fact he was in on the evaluation of candidates that led to the hiring of Gersson Rosas as the new basketball boss to impact his in-game assessments of the Wolves’ shining new culture in any way.
Plus, with the Wolves, all you really need isn’t that much.
There was excitement in discovering the Wolves were home on Friday night. I wanted to check on my guy Gorgui – a solid NBA competitor who was poorly treated by Tom Thibodeau, and treated with the same disregard by Young Ryan Saunders.
I also have been all-in on Napier since his big-hearted efforts led underdog UConn through the 2014 NCAA tournament and to the national championship. Shabazz was playing more than at any time in six NBA seasons with these Wolves, and proving he could be an asset.
On arrival at Target Center, I exchanged pleasantries in the media room with scribes not seen in a while, accepted several compliments on a fine tan, along with a couple of quips that “it looks like you’ve put on a few (more) pounds,’’ and then settled into press row for the pregame hoo-hah.
The visiting Orlando Magic players were introduced and then came the Timberwolves’ starting lineup as determined by Young Ryan. As the names were bellowed, I was overcome with these reactions:
First starter, slight twitch in my left eye; second starter, shot of pain near right shoulder; third starter, shot of pain near left shoulder (which is more dangerous); fourth starter, rapid, uncontrolled twitching and blinking of right eye, in manner of Chief Inspector Dreyfus in a Pink Panther movie …
And finally, the fifth starter, I’m on my feet, stammering, stuttering and shouting:
“Who in the name of Tanguy Ngombo are these guys?
“What happened to Gorgui? What happened to Shabazz (Napier, not that other one)? What happened to Dribblin’ Jeff? And Cov ... the Gov of defense?
"Who ARE these guys!"
In truth, word had reached Southwest Florida that Andrew (Sleepy) Wiggins had been moved to Golden State in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, No. 1 challenger to Phoenix’s Devin Booker as KAT’s best friend.
It was going to be intriguing to see Russell run the show for this collection of strangers. He played five minutes in the first quarter and sat down for rest.
Five minutes, then rest. Who was running this team – Young Ryan, or Mr. Rest and Recovery, Rocco Baldelli, by text message from the Dominican Republic?
There’s a guy named Hernangomez (one last name, no hyphen) starting for the Wolves, and another named Reid, but Naz not J.R. And seeing there was a Beasley, I thought, “Great, Michael, easy Beasy, is back, and maybe we can get him to go with his sprigs on his head again.’’
That was my favorite hairdo in Wolves’ history.
Turns out Beasley was Malik, a 6-foot-4 guard, and with the same level of bashfulness toward shooting as Michael – meaning none.
James Johnson also is here, with a get out of Heat-Doghouse-free card, firing six shots in 12 minutes in the first half. Jordan McLaughlin got 11 minutes – looked all right, too, for a graduate of Basketball Players Anonymous.
All these new guys have learned one thing from their predecessors (Covington excluded): a wave of the hand as someone blows past on the way to the basket is perfectly acceptable defense.
For instance: Russell made a neat pass to Jake Layman (he’s back!) for a lay-in and the PA guy said, “From DLo.’’
I asked Chris Hine, the Wolves’ beat writer for the Strib, if that’s what we called Russell, and he said, “Yes, but nothing between the D and L.’’
At that moment, Markelle Fultz drove on by for an Orlando layup as DLo watched in admiration.
“Shouldn’t it just be Lo because there's no D with him?’’ I said.
Man, that was good. I’ll have to pass it along to Jim Pete for TV use.
Update: Magic 132, Woofs 118, but our culture looked fantastic.