Rudy Gobert returns from suspension, but back injury could keep him out

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Rudy Gobert joined the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday after a team-imposed suspension for his first game, but lingering back problems have compromised his status for the second.

Gobert was ejected from the arena Sunday after throwing a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson in a huddle argument during a timeout in the second quarter of Minnesota’s final regular-season game. The Wolves kept him at home as punishment when they traveled to Los Angeles and lost 108-102 in overtime to the Lakers on Tuesday after blowing a 15-point lead.

Speaking to reporters Thursday for the first time since the public fight, Gobert said he probably wouldn’t have been healthy enough to play for the Lakers anyway. He aims to return Friday when the Wolves host Oklahoma City in their last chance to make the playoffs, but there are no guarantees.

“It’s still pretty sore, I’m still not moving like I’d like to be able to move, but a little bit of progress every day,” said Gobert, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

The Wolves said the air had long been cleared before Gobert joined them on the floor Thursday.

“We both apologized to each other and move on. That’s life,” Gobert said. “It’s different when you have millions of people watching videos and you have an opinion about things that happened, but that we can’t control. What we can control is the respect we have for each other and our relationship.”

Anderson’s sentiment was the same in interviews after the game Sunday and Tuesday before the Wolves faced the Lakers.

“I still love Kyle. He’s still my brother. I tell people, ‘Sometimes you fight with your family. Sometimes you fight people you have a lot of love and respect for,” Gobert said. “It’s life. Nobody is perfect. Mistakes happen and then you grow and move on.”

After the Wolves paid a high price – in players and first-round picks – to acquire Gobert in a trade with Utah last summer, the 7-foot-1 Frenchman has had a frustrating debut in Minnesota. He has struggled to fit in as the second big man on offense with Karl-Anthony Towns and get on the same line with the guards.

The Wolves will be without at least one starter, Jaden McDaniels, because of a broken hand that occurred after he punched a wall in the tunnel near the bench out of frustration during the same game when Gobert hit Anderson at the top of the chest One of their top reserves, Naz Reid, is out with a broken wrist.

“Obviously, our goal was to be on top of the West,” Gobert said. “But you have adversity, you have things that don’t go your way, and that’s part of life.”

Gobert’s back problems had him listed as questionable for that game against New Orleans on Sunday when he lost his composure. Coach Chris Finch said he looked “a bit tight” in training on Thursday.

“We’ll keep working on it,” Finch said.

Will Gobert play?

“I hope so. I can’t really say,” Finch said. “But we haven’t ruled it out.”

Report from The Associated Press.

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