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If not for ankle injury, Lance Stephenson could still be with Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson (7) dribbles in the second quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Target Center in Minneapolis on Feb. 12, 2017. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Lance Stephenson spent just more than a month in Minnesota last season — on a pair of 10-day contracts — but his stay could have been much, much longer.

In six games in Minnesota last season, Stephenson averaged 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds. He said his time with the Timberwolves was "actually great."

"I learned a lot from (Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau), got to play with a couple all-star caliber guys and I liked it here," Stephenson said Tuesday, Oct. 24. "I liked the fans, they embraced me well. I just loved it here."

But Stephenson's time was cut short by a left ankle injury he suffered during his first 10-day contract in February. He reinjured the ankle in his second stint with the team in March.

Stephenson believes his time "would've worked out" had he not been injured. Before those injuries, he was set to sign with Minnesota for the remainder of the season.

"We just wanted the ankle to clear up," Thibodeau said. "We were planning on bringing him back."

It's possible Stephenson would still be in Minnesota this season had it not been for the injury.

Said Thibodeau: "As I told him when he came in, I said, 'Lance, you've already shown what you can do in the league. It's just you doing the right things again and getting yourself on track.'

"He's young and that's what I liked about him, and he's a wing, so he fits into the NBA game and the way it's being played today."

Although the injury ended Stephenson's time in Minnesota, it didn't end his season. The wing signed a three-year deal with Indiana — where he spent the first four years of his career — at the end of March. He played a key role in helping the Pacers reach the playoffs last season and is averaging eight points a game in Indiana this season. Thibodeau said he's glad it worked out for Stephenson.

"I think I'm in a place where I can be myself and I'm definitely happy here," Stephenson said. "God put me back with the Pacers and I'm just happy where I'm at, but I think it would've worked in Minnesota."

Looking back

Minnesota's 115-113 win over Oklahoma City on Sunday night featured a thrill — Andrew Wiggins hit a 30-footer at the horn to give the Wolves the victory — and a little controversy.

The NBA's Last Two Minute report, which looks at officiating decisions made in the final two minutes of close games, revealed two missed calls on that final play that benefited the Timberwolves. First, the report said Thibodeau can be seen calling a timeout Minnesota didn't have right after Carmelo Anthony hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 113-112 lead with five seconds left — but the officials didn't catch it. Had they awarded the timeout, Thibodeau would've been called for a technical foul.

"I made a mistake," Thibodeau said. "I started to call it, but we had talked about that in the timeout before with nine (seconds) to go. ...But I realized it right away, so we just kept going. But we had talked about what we were going to do in the timeout before."

The report also said the screen Karl-Anthony Towns set on Paul George to free Wiggins was illegal. But that doesn't bother Towns much.

"I don't care," Towns said. "We got the W. That's all I care about."

Players and coaches don't seem to pay those reports much attention. Thibodeau said it's good the league wants to be more transparent, but he noted the reports don't change the outcome of anything.

Teague faces Pacers

Tuesday's game against the Pacers marked Timberwolves point guard Jeff Teague's first game against his former team. He played for Indiana last season.

"It's just another game," Teague said. "I wasn't there long enough to really think about it like that."

That's not Teague's only connection to Indiana. He is an Indianapolis native. He said it was fun to play for his hometown team last season.

"I had a great time," he said. "Wish we could've did better. But we made the playoffs, that was good. I enjoyed it."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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