SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – The Timberwolves scratched starting point guard Ricky Rubio from Friday's game at Sacramento because of soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle and replaced him with second-year guard Zach LaVine against the Kings' Rajon Rondo, a former All-Star who is starting to play like one all over again with the Kings.
Rubio began to experience that soreness two or three games ago, then jammed the ankle just before halftime in Wednesday's home win over Atlanta. He did not play down the stretch in that game and was held out by the team's training staff Fridaydespite saying he could play.
Wolves Vice President of Sports Performance Arnie Kander said the team is taking a very cautious approach. The ankle is sore, but the injury is unrelated to the injury that limited him to 22 games last season.
He said the team will limit Rubio's workload in practices and scrimmages in an effort to keep him healthy all season and will aim at him playing Sunday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Rubio missed four games earlier this season because of a hamstring strain, an injury Kander suggested might have caused Rubio to try to catch up and perhaps do too much too soon on an ankle healing from April surgery.
The Wolves also played without reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica, who missed his fourth consecutive game Friday because of a knee bruise.
LaVine started in Rubio's place against Rondo, who entered Friday leading the league in assists (10.9 per game) and already has four triple-doubles while trying to redeem his game and his reputation on a one-year, $9.5 million contract he signed last summer.
"I think people forgot how good a point guard he was," Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said.
"But I think he's showing people just how good he really is."
The Kings played without star center DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his second consecutive game because of a strained lower back.
Getting his chance
Mitchell's first coaching job after he retired as a player was on Sacramento coach George Karl's staff in Milwaukee in 2002.
"When you meet Sam, you know he's a leader in a lot of ways," Karl said. "Very bright, communicates at a high level with players. I like hiring players. I like getting ex-players and trying to help them become coaches. His face came on the scene and [Bucks executive] Ernie Grunfeld and I felt he'd be a good hire."
Karl choked up before the game when asked what it meant to him to fly to Minnesota last month with coaching colleagues Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers for a memorial service celebrating the life of Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.
"It was hard," he said, recalling the camaraderie he felt after coaching against Saunders in the Continental Basketball Association in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "When a talented coach, a talented person goes too early, you get sad."