Jefferson returns to Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- Al Jefferson returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves starting lineup on Monday night against Dallas after serving a two-game suspension for a DWI arrest.

"It feels good, man," Jefferson said at the team's morning shootaround. "It was the longest seven days of my life. I feel good. I'm glad I'm back and I have to make sure I stay back this time."

It didn't take long for Jefferson to make an impact upon his return. He had 36 points and 13 rebounds in Minnesota's 125-112 loss to the Mavericks.

Jefferson was arrested early Feb. 28 on suspicion of drunken driving and later apologized. He has impressed coach Kurt Rambis with his willingness to accept his punishment and take responsibility for his actions.

"I'm proud of him as a ballplayer in this organization and as a man," Rambis said. "He owned up to his mistake. He apologized for it. He didn't try and shirk his responsibilities. He didn't try and get out of the fine; didn't argue the suspension. He made a mistake. There are consequences for that mistake. He accepted it and handled it well."

With Darko Milicic in Jefferson's spot in the starting lineup, the Timberwolves lost both games without their leading scorer -- at Dallas and home against Houston last week.

Minnesota needs him back. The Timberwolves have won only one game since Feb. 6 and started a tough stretch of games that include home dates with the surging Mavericks on Monday, Denver on Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday.

Jefferson went through a grueling week of conditioning, weight training and shooting in hopes of staying sharp for his return to the court.

"It was no vacation, I know that," Jefferson said.

He even traveled on his own to Dallas last week, watching the game on television from his hotel room.

"Just wanted to be around the team. It was a very crazy time for me and I just wanted to be around my second family," Jefferson said. "All the laughing and joking we do just kind of cheered me up. I just wanted to be around them."