Timberwolves lose Zach LaVine for rest of season to torn ACL
Jon Krawczynski | The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Zach LaVine will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
LaVine had an MRI before the Wolves hosted Memphis on Saturday, when the diagnosis was revealed. LaVine was injured the night before in the team’s loss at Detroit. He’ll have surgery at a yet-to-be-determined date.
The news was a devastating blow to a young Wolves team that had recently begun to find a groove. The 21-year-old LaVine was having a career season, averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 37.2 minutes per game.
LaVine is part of Minnesota’s young trio of 21-year-olds, including Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, that have given the team’s long-suffering fans hope that the franchise is returning to relevance. His explosive athleticism and back-to-back slam dunk championships have made him a crowd favorite, but he had taken another step this season toward proving he is more than just a dunker.
LaVine is shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range and has worked harder to become a better defender under new coach Tom Thibodeau. And after winning the last two dunk titles, LaVine recently decided not to go for a third straight win this year, a decision Thibodeau said proved the flashy youngster had the bigger picture in mind.
“He’s done a lot more than just be a dunker: his shooting, his playmaking, all that stuff,” Thibodeau said in January. “But the big thing is weighing whether the rest is more important to be ready for the second half of the season. So I don’t want him putting a lot of time and thought into that. I want him thinking about what we have to do tonight. … Prioritizing winning and our team is the most important thing and I think he’ll do that.”
After the Wolves started the season a disappointing 6-18, they had shown signs of putting things together. Improved defense and more consistent ball movement helped them go 13-11 before losses this week to Cleveland and Detroit. They had climbed to just 2+ games back of the eighth seed in the West before those two losses, and LaVine was just starting to pull himself out of a shooting funk that had set in since he missed two games with a hip injury.
Thibodeau has a few options to help the team weather LaVine’s absence. Wiggins can move from small forward to shooting guard and Nemanja Bjelica would start at small forward, a strategy the coach used when LaVine missed a game against the Los Angeles Lakers early in the season.
Or Thibodeau could use veteran Brandon Rush as the starting shooting guard. Rush played well in LaVine’s two-game absence in January because of the hip injury. The Wolves beat Houston and Oklahoma City with Rush in the starting lineup.