Darko returns as Timberwolves beat Pistons 109-99
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This is a was a big boost to a Timberwolves team that didn't stand a chance against the New York Knicks on Monday after Darko went down and probably could have held off the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night had he been in the lineup.
That last sentence might have caused some Wolves fans' heads to explode this summer,considering the amount of outrage there was after Darko signed a four-year, $20 million contract.
But after a rough start to the season, Darko has earned every penny. He is leading the league in blocks, rapidly improving on offense and playing with a sense of confidence not seen in a seven-year career that has spanned five different teams since he was drafted second overall by the Pistons in 2003.
It's especially amazing considering just a year ago Darko seemed destined to be an answer in the Jeopardy category "Sports' Biggest Busts."
"He's brought more consistency (than earlier in his career)," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "He went through a rough patch early in the season and he is gaining confidence in his offense. He has always been a real good defensive player for us."
Consistency and confidence has been the key for Darko. Earlier this season against the San Antonio Spurs he was demanding the ball in the post in the 4th quarter against future Hall-Of-Famer Tim Duncan—a far cry from the timid offensive style that had defined his career.
"I'm going to try (to be more consistent) because the biggest problem in my career is consistency, because used to have great games and the next game I would come out flat. I'm going to try to work on my consistency this year, try to keep playing hard, not worry about scoring and stuff and just come out and play.
Critics of Darko forget that he came into this league as a teenager from his native home of Serbia is still considered young at the age of 25.
"He is also at that age where players start to figure out the league a little bit better and have a much greater comfort level with what they can and cannot do and just physically and mentally they start to settle down so we expect it to continue," Rambis said.
Darko has particularly begun to figure things out on the offensive end--the 9.2 points he scores per game is a career high -- and Rambis thinks there is still more to come.
"We see this as a starting point for him," Rambis said. "He's playing more comfortably with his back to the basket, but he's got a great face to the basket game too but he hasn't gotten to the point where he has let that out but those are things we are working on. We just see him continuing to get better and better."
Martell Webster's return to action got pushed back to next Tuesday in Golden State because he wants a few more live practices under his belt.
"He has to feel comfortable out there," Rambis said "It was a mutual decision to give him a couple more days. Get him some more pounding (in practice), the work he is going to get in a game."
Rambis added, "We will have a couple practices coming up Sunday and Monday. Monday will be a difficult practice as we have to get ready for a road trip so we will see how he handles those."
Rambis said Webster will travel with the team to Chicago if they can find a gym for him to workout in otherwise he will stay back in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, 236 miles away in Sioux Falls, Jonny Flynn played in his second rehab game with the Skyforce. Flynn had eight points, 12 assists and eight turnovers in 30 minutes in a 120-102 loss to Tulsa.
Flynn will stay in Sioux Falls to play in the Skyforce's game Saturday and, if his hip responds well after the back-to-back games, he'll rejoin the team and will also be available for Tuesday's game in Golden State.
Rambis has said all year they won't know who they are as a team until their full compliment of players is available. With Flynn and Webster on the verge of returning, we are about to finally find out.