Milicic scores 8, grabs 8 boards

MINNEAPOLIS -- The start of what might be Darko Milicic's last chance in the NBA was a good one.

Milicic, who was traded to Minnesota last week by the New York Knicks, didn't know how much he would play prior to Minnesota's 109-107 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday night. He certainly didn't think he would play a season-high 19 minutes.

The 24-year-old, who hadn't played since Nov. 13 and only played eight games for the Knicks, was effective for the Timberwolves, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds. When he was on the floor, Minnesota outscored the Thunder by 35 points.

"I didn't expect to play as much as I did," said Milicic, who is admittedly out of game shape. "I fought through the first run, and it was hard. After that, my legs were out, but that's regular for not being in shape."

Milicic entered the game to applause and cheers from the Target Center. At one point in the fourth quarter, a "We want Darko" chant broke out behind the Wolves bench.

"The crowd was unbelievable tonight," he said. "I heard the cheering. I was trying to focus on breathing."

Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis was very pleased with the performance.

"Obviously, he has to work on his conditioning and stamina, but I thought he had fun," Rambis said. "He probably enjoyed playing again. He obviously has tremendous abilities and capabilities.

"That chant to get him back in the game is a good message for him. He knows that he's wanted here."

Before the game, Milicic acknowledged being upset that he was traded rather than just being released so he could return to his native Serbia. But he said he would try to make the most of the final 26 games.

The former No. 2 overall pick who was selected ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, Milicic had hoped that playing in New York this season would give him an opportunity for extended minutes at center while David Lee played power forward.

That never happened.

During his seven years in the NBA, Milicic has watched more than he has played.

"I went through a lot of bad experiences in this league," Milicic said.

As has been the case throughout his career, Minnesota officials see potential in Milicic. Rambis said it was clear in his first practice with the team that he has a high basketball IQ and understands what the team is trying to accomplish. After his first game, Rambis said Milicic was "finishing sentences for us."

"I just think he fits in so well with what we want to do," Rambis said. "Our bigs are interchangeable, when one is posting up, the other can be at the elbow area. There's nothing in our system that he can't do and can't do very well.

Milicic played primarily with Kevin Love against the Thunder. Minnesota's second-year big man was impressed with what he saw.

"He's athletic, lefty, unorthodox, can pass the ball, he can do a lot of things out there," Love said. "It just surprised me because he hadn't been in a game so long. You can see all his qualities and everything he brings to the table. He really showed that off."