HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t rub your eyes. It’s real. As of this morning, the Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves are both doing the unthinkable for two teams that have served as league-wide punching bags in recent seasons.
All the fun we’ve had at the expense of Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and Timberwolves boss David Kahn has been silenced by the winning ways, so far, of their respective teams. They are both 5-4 and battling their way to respectability while shaking off whatever adversity comes their way.
For all of the early-season shockers around the league, both good and bad, these two winning outfits have to rank at or near the top of the list of biggest surprises.
One of the better games of this young season was the 89-87 thriller they played against each other last week, the one where Kemba Walker‘s buzzer-beater gave the Bobcats their third straight win.
Last night’s comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks was another quality notch for Bobcats belt this season. They’re digging out of that ugly hole from last season in the only way possible: with their heads down, their defensive style looking legitimate and contributions from up and down the roster.
It’s more than most of us expected from a team with a new coach (Mike Dunlap), a new star (rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and plenty of other new faces added to the mix and continue to defy the odds. Jordan probably didn’t see this coming, not this soon. They didn’t win their fifth game during last year’s lockout-shortened season until March 12, just so we’re clear about how much progress has been made.
The Timberwolves are thriving on the other side of the conference divide without the services of their biggest stars. All-Star power forward Kevin Love (broken hand) and Ricky Rubio (recovering from torn ACL in left knee) have yet to suit up this season. Brandon Roy‘s comeback has been derailed by yet another knee procedure (he’s expected to miss at least a month) and Chase Budinger is out three months after knee surgery).
But Rick Adelman, as he often does, has found a way to cobble together enough healthy bodies to make the Timberwolves a factor every night. Andre Kirilenko‘s return to the NBA has been a huge boost. He leads the team in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (2.2). Fellow Russian Alexey Shved has also made an impression during his first few weeks of NBA action, showing signs that he’ll be a more than competent backup to Rubio, who, according to Jon Krawcynski of the Associated Press, has already started light practice workouts.
“Just having them five-on-(none) gives you a sense that when you get them back we’ll be pretty good,” Adelman said of having both Love and Rubio on the practice court. “We can’t wait for them. We have to go out there and play. But it gives us a sense.”
Love is expected back at the start of December and Rubio potentially a couple of weeks later, which couldn’t come at a better time. After winning five of their first seven games, the Timberwolves have dropped two straight.
Getting by with a shorthanded roster can last for only so long. Nikola Pekovic, not exactly a household name, leads the team in scoring (15.3), with Kirilenko (14.1), Luke Ridnour (11.4), Shved (10.4) and Derrick Williams (10.4) the only other healthy players scoring in that range.
If they can manage for another few weeks or so, at least until the first wave of reinforcements arrive, both the Bobcats and Timberwolves might remain among the teams boasting .500 or better records around Christmas, too.