MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves suspended center Rudy Gobert for their play-in game against the Los Angeles Lakers, after the 10-year veteran threw a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson in an argument in the huddle during a timeout.
The Timberwolves announced on Monday that Gobert would serve his one-game punishment when they face the Lakers on Tuesday night. Gobert took a swing at Anderson and hit him in the upper chest in the second quarter of Minnesota's game against New Orleans on Sunday, when the flustered Timberwolves were trailing by 12 points.
“It’s not something we condone. Veterans can get upset, too, so I don’t want to be too hard on him,” coach Chris Finch said after the game. 'But obviously it’s not something we’re going to be able to tolerate here."
Gobert sent a group-text request for forgiveness to his teammates, according to point guard Mike Conley, and later posted a public apology on Twitter.
“It’s an emotional game,” Conley said. “You’re talking about two guys in Kyle and Rudy who are two of the biggest competitors you’ll meet. Stuff happens, honestly.”
Gobert was playing through back spasms that had him listed as questionable for the game.
“We've got to be mature, especially late in the season like this,” Conley said. “We can’t let our emotions get the best of us. He knows better than that. Kyle challenges everybody. We know how that works. We have to be able to accept it and move forward.”
Anderson said he didn't think he and Gobert, who has struggled to find his groove in his first season with Minnesota, would have trouble getting along in the aftermath of their very public conflict.
“We’ll speak about it and move on," Anderson said. "We’re grown men. It is what it is.”
The Timberwolves rallied to beat the Pelicans 113-108 and take eighth place in the Western Conference. That gives them two chances to win a play-in game to qualify for the playoffs.
If they beat the Lakers they'll get the No. 7 seed and face Memphis in the first round. If they lose, they'll host the winner of the New Orleans-Oklahoma City game on Friday night for the No. 8 seed and a first-round date with Denver.
The Wolves also lost forward Jaden McDaniels indefinitely to a broken right hand after he hit a wall in the tunnel that leads to the locker room after being called for his second foul in the first quarter on Sunday. Another key player, backup center Naz Reid, is done for the season with a broken left wrist from a fall on the court in the game on March 29 at Phoenix.
The Wolves announced on Monday that McDaniels has been placed in a cast with two fractures — the third and fourth metacarpals — in his hand. No timetable for his return was revealed.
This is far from the ideal way to face the surging Lakers, who overtook the Wolves with a rally for a 123-111 win in Minnesota on March 31. Gobert and McDaniels are the team's two best defenders, a major setback for their ability to guard Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
That will only make third-year All-Star Anthony Edwards more important on both ends of the floor. Edwards had 26 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and four steals against the Pelicans and figures to continue to pick up the assignment of covering the opponent's best perimeter player.
“That's what I'm here for,” Edwards said.
Said Anderson: “I know how good defensively he is. I think we’ve just got to challenge him on being better all the time defensively and not just pick his spots."