Practice Report | Dario's Good Day, Staying Focused Before All-Star
The Wolves practiced on Monday afternoon before heading out on the road to play Memphis. It’s the first of a very important road trip for the Wolves—one they truly believe they can win out on.
“I think this is for us the most important part of the year, this five games that we have,” said forward Dario Saric. “We’re on this trip for three games, I think we can win all three games, and it’s very important to us.”
The Wolves are 25-27, two games out of .500 and three games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. A solid road trip and some momentum going into the All-Star break would be huge.
“A lot of games we are right there,” said Andrew Wiggins. “We’ve been disappointed the last couple games cause we lost when we could have won, at the last second. Every game it was a play or a couple plays that determined the game, we’ve got to get those plays. Whether it’s the rebounds, 50/50 balls, something.”
“We’re not in position right now,” Wiggins continued. “So we need to fight to get back in position and give ourselves a good chance to make a playoff run.”
Focus… Then A Break
With the All-Star break fast approaching, it’s easy for teams to lose focus and start thinking ahead to the weekend’s festivities or their mid-season vacations. However, that’s a dangerous game when the playoff race is so tight.
“It’s really important, this trip. We say it, we look at the next game, but you do want to position yourself before the All-Star break to be in solid standing as you’re looking towards playoffs. But also, All-Star break, it’s a challenge for some players and some teams as you want to make sure to stay focused and guys aren’t looking towards their plans,” said Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders. “That’s one thing being on the road that does help a little bit, we can kind of bunker in as a group and really try to knock some of these games out.”
This week also comes with the drama of the NBA trade deadline and it’s not always an easy task to keep a team focused on the task at hand, but Saunders has been doing a great job balancing things.
“Ryan is trying new things, he’s been doing a great job trying to inspire guys,” said Taj Gibson. “He’s only going to get better as a coach too, and I’m really excited, even though it’s midway through the season I’m still excited.”
Despite his relatively new status as the on-court leader of the Wolves, Saunders has been deeply involved in everything pertaining to the Wolves’ roster heading into an important stretch of games.
“Scott [Layden] and I talk multiple times a day, we’re on the same page with everything, so whatever role is needed of me I’m always open to it,” said Saunders. “He’s great about us communicating through things and he’s aware of how I’ve envisioned this team playing, things like that, so we’re talking. I expect to be a part of it.”
The break represents a chance for Saunders to sit back and evaluate how far the team has come and what still needs improving, but whatever the case may be, his message to his team remains the same: keep fighting and take care of things one day at a time. It’s a mature message from a young coach, and that hasn’t been lost on Wolves players, who have seen significant maturation from Saunders even over the course of just a few weeks.
“Every day in practice, every day how he leads, how he stands in front of the group, good or bad,” said Gibson of where he sees Saunders’ growth. “In film he’s challenging guys, and for a young head coach standing up there in front of veterans that have been in the league a long time, and challenge them, and give guys commands on who’s going to get minutes and who’s not, it’s a big task. People don’t understand how hard it is, but he’s doing a great job. It’s stressful at times but he’s learning. He’s only going to get better as a coach, I really believe in him.”
Super Dario’s Return
It’s been an up and down season for Dario Saric, but lately there have been signs that things are starting to even out for him.
“Dario had maybe his best practice of the year today. He was great. In great spirits, and we look forward to having Dario for a long time,” said Saunders. “We know what he does, love how Dario is a floor-spacer, he’s able to put the ball on the floor a little bit too and make plays, he’s a good decision maker.”
It’s a challenge to adjust to a new team after a play, especially for someone like Saric whose ideal role in the offense is that of a playmaker. The Wolves haven’t exactly had an undramatic season either, so it makes sense that it’s taking a little time for Saric to get his feet under him. However, his improvement would be a big deal for the team. One thing is for sure, Saric can be counted on to play hard.
“It’s going good. I try to find the way how to play with the guys and I think I find a way,” said Saric. “Sometimes it’s going good, sometimes it’s going bad and you know, just keep a positive mind and just be ready for the next game and try to give everything that you have.”
“Of course, you need to find a way with new coaches, new guys, find new chemistry, of course it’s a little bit harder. But I think I’m doing good,” he continued. “Of course, you have bad games sometimes, but I try to give 100 percent each game.”
Music to the ears of Wolves fans.
Things are still slightly tenuous on the injury front. Tyus Jones and Jeff Teague are both doing on-court work, and Teague participated in some parts of practice, but they will probably not be ready for Wednesday’s game.
Derrick Rose sat out of practice and is day-to-day. Robert Covington is shooting but has not returned to full practice.
For more info on Wednesday’s game, check out our scouting report.