Coming off the most impressive win of what's already been a long season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will get a key member of their team back Tuesday night - their coach.
Randy Wittman returns to the sidelines after a three-game absence as the Timberwolves begin a quick East Coast road trip with a matchup against the Washington Wizards.
Wittman has missed Minnesota's last three games after undergoing surgery on a bulging disc in his back. He returned to practice Monday, though, and accompanied the team on the trip east, which concludes Wednesday night at Philadelphia.
Assistant Jerry Sichting handled coaching duties and went 1-2 in Wittman's absence. The lone win was a major upset, though, as Minnesota (3-15) stunned Pacific Division-leading Phoenix 100-93 on Saturday. It also left Wittman itching to return to work.
"This is the first time in my career, other than when I was a player, that I was either hurt or on the injured list," Wittman told the Timberwolves' official Web site on Monday. "As a coach it was the first time that I've been away and looked at things from afar.
"I told our guys that I've got bigger belief in them now than I did before I left in how they play. We've played with every team in this league."
Despite owning the league's worst record and failing to win consecutive games all season, Minnesota played its finest game so far in 2007-08. Al Jefferson was the biggest reason why, tying his career high with 32 points while hauling down 20 rebounds. He joined Kevin Garnett - who did it eight times - as the only players in franchise history to record at least 30 points and 20 boards in a game.
"Al Jefferson was a beast down there,'' Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Even with Wittman's return, keeping the momentum going Tuesday is likely to be a tough task, as the Timberwolves are 1-7 on the road this season. They have lost their last three visits to Washington since a 110-91 victory on Dec. 12, 2003.
The Wizards also won 105-89 at Minnesota on Nov. 16, behind 29 points from Caron Butler. That contest was also the last for Wizards star Gilbert Arenas, who scored 27 in his final game before undergoing a second surgery on his left knee.
Arenas is expected to miss another two months. The Wizards have persevered, posting a 7-5 record in his absence.
Butler helped Washington (10-10) to another win Sunday night, scoring 20 of his 28 points in the second half of a 104-89 home victory over New Jersey. Antawn Jamison added 22 points and 10 rebounds as the Wizards improved to 3-1 on their five-game homestand.
"We're a team that's known for probably putting our guard down a little bit early and letting teams get back into the game, but tonight shows our maturity,'' Butler said. "It shows how much we've grown as a basketball team.''
The Wizards play at Miami on Thursday night, then return to Washington for a three-game homestand.
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