Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Spurs

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Last season the Timberwolves had a daunting stretch of road matchups during the state high school basketball tournaments in March that caused more consecutive road games than usual because of the shortened lockout season. In all, Minnesota played nine of 10 and 11 of 13 on the road, including seven straight from March 12-23.

In San Antonio, that’s a regular occurrence in February. And in a lot of ways, they’ve gotten it down to an art.

The Spurs open up their annual Rodeo Road Trip tonight in Minnesota with an 8 p.m. tipoff against the Wolves at Target Center. Each February the AT&T Center hosts the San Antonio Stock & Show Rodeo, which kicks the Spurs out of their home arena for essentially three weeks. And each year, San Antonio endures the hotels and hostile venues with exceptional success.

Since the Rodeo Road Trip began in 2003, San Antonio is 59-24 during that stretch of road games. They went 8-1 twice, including last season, and they’ve only had one season in which they haven’t been above .500—in 2007 they went 4-4 on the trip, then went on to win the NBA title.

How do they do it? Guard Tony Parker said it’s not detriment in their eyes. They enjoy getting the chance to bond as a team on the road.

“It's still a great chance for us to gel as a team,” Parker said. “On the road you spend more time with your teammates. We always use our road trip to play our best basketball.”

This year, the All-Star Break is in the middle of the road trip and breaks it up a bit. Still, that’s nearly three weeks without being able to feed off the energy their home arena provides. Perhaps the mark of a veteran team, the Spurs tend to not look at it as a challenge as much as an opportunity.

“I don't mind it personally, I like it,” Parker said. “I don't care. It's fun. We have great teammates, we go to dinner, we enjoy spending time with each other.”

Wolves forward Dante Cunningham said he the road always presents challenge. You get homesick, tired of the hotel food and you’re going through the motions of being away from your regular environment each day.

Wolves coach Jack Sikma said it’s the mark of a veteran team that can make the most out of it and still be consistently productive on the road for that long of a trip.

“Part of it is their mix of veterans, and you’re talking about All-Star veterans like Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, so they lock in and I’m sure make sure everybody else is locked in,” Sikma said. “You’re leaving town and we’ve got work to do, so they almost focus on this trip at the start of the season as here’s when we go out on the road and this is when we’ve really got to tighten things up.”

AK, Duncan and Ginobili all out

The injury report presented by TSR Injury Law includes some big names tonight, as Andrei Kirilenko (quad), Tim Duncan (knee) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) are all out. Kirilenko has been a rock all season for Minnesota, playing in all but four games in a year defined by injuries. Sikma said the Wolves’ coaching staff was thinking back to who started in Kirilenko’s place during his four-game absence at the end of November and early December, and it was Josh Howard—who has since undergone season-ending ACL surgery.

Tonight, Mickael Gelabale will get his minutes in place of Kirilenko, who has been such a valuable piece in all facets of the game throughout the season.

“Mickael will get quite a few minutes; we may slide Alexey to the 3 if we get to go small or if we need to stay big then I guess Dante will probably get a little time,” Sikma said. “But we’re going to mix and match.”

Gelabale, Parker connection

For the second straight game, Mickael Gelabale will go head to head with a high-profile teammate on the French National Team as Tony Parker comes through town tonight. On Monday, Gelabale competed against and even guarded small forward Nicolas Batum.

Parker said he’s happy to see Gelabale back in the NBA and that he’s an important member of Team France.

“He can do a little bit of everything; he's a complete player,” Parker said. “He can shoot the ball, play defense, got long arms, offensive boards and stuff like that, so I think the fact that Minnesota got a lot of European players can help them too.”

Parker said even though Gelabale hasn’t played in the NBA in five years and he needed to recover from an ACL injury, he’s improved since his days the Super Sonics. He’s a mature player.

Part of that might come from Gelabale working out with Parker when they have a free month.

“Every single time we play, we learn just how he plays with the Spurs,” Gelabale said. “So he is a great leader for us.”

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