Nemanja Bjelica returns to Wolves lineup after missing 15 games
LOS ANGELES – Gone the past 15 games because of a mid-foot sprain, Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica on Monday was cleared to play again, just in time for a their Christmas night game against the Lakers at Staples Center.
The 6-10 reserve from Serbia entered in the first quarter for his first game since Nov. 22 vs. Orlando.
“I knew it was going to come,” he said before the game. “I just had to be patient, no rush and ready for next. I feel I am ready now and it’s not just because of the Christmas game. Maybe I was ready to play the game before [Saturday’s victory at Phoenix], but we’ll see.”
Bjelica hoped he was just a game away three weeks ago. But soreness persisted in his foot so he suspended his intensive workouts until a week ago. He said he has felt so such soreness since then: “No, no, that’s everything past,” he said. “Now I feel good.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau said his team missed Bjelica’s shooting as well as his playmaking. He was uncertain how much or in what situations Bjelica would play.
“He has been out for a while, but we’re pleased to have him back,” Thibodeau said. “He was a big part of the rotation for the last two years, so we have a pretty good idea how he fits. The main thing is conditioning.”
Ball, Ingram out
Bjelica returned for the Wolves, but the Lakers played on Christmas’ big stage without Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
Ball is out for at least a week after he sprained his shoulder Saturday against Portland. Ingram was scratched about an hour before Monday’s tip because of a contusion in one quad and tendinitis in the other. Veteran center Brook Lopez remained out, too.
He won’t be staying long enough to unpack, but Wolves rookie center Justin Patton returned to the NBA while the G League’s Iowa team takes a holiday break.
Patton and Iowa teammate Anthony Brown both were brought back because Iowa won’t play again until Friday. They returned in time for the final game of the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule.
The 16th pick in last summer’s draft, Patton has played six G League games in his comeback from July foot surgery and has averaged 9.5 points on 48.9 percent shooting as well as 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 17.5 minutes. Both players are expected to return to Iowa by Friday.
“I’ve done great,” Patton said. “I feel like I’ve been great taking everything in, doing what I’m supposed to do, starting with defense and rebounding. But it still doesn’t compare to this level. Everything I’ve done [in Iowa] is taken with a grain of salt. Whenever I get my chance here, I’ll have to prove it again.”
• The Wolves held a Christmas morning shoot-around at UCLA while Lakers players and coaches celebrated the holiday at home. Thibodeau said he opted to give his players Saturday off with their families — most players had family and friends come to L.A. — and used the morning shoot to do their prep for the Lakers.
• Brown’s recall brought him back Sunday to Los Angeles, where he was raised. “The best part is I got to go home,” he said. He and Patton remained the team’s inactive players for Monday.