Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Love is back, Rubio’s getting there, but is Minnesota really a playoff team?
Steve Aschburner: As I write this, the gap between the fourth-place and 12th-place teams in the Western Conference is just 1.5 games. And Minnesota is getting healthier — Kevin Love is back to his old 20-20 self and the noise in the Twin Cities is that Ricky Rubio will be back sooner than expected, as in early Christmas gift. Chase Budinger‘s activity and accuracy are missed and, even though we all knew it was a flyer, the hopes the Wolves had for Brandon Roy look like they’ll be dashed. Still, Andrei Kirilenko is playing well enough that some folks are wondering what Jerry Sloan‘s problem was in Utah. And Alexey Shved, a great unknown when training camp opened, has given what Roy might have. Then there’s Rick Adelman‘s coaching … duh, yeah, Minnesota definitely is a playoff team.
Fran Blinebury: Love has barely returned. Rubio is not back yet. They had lost five in a row until last night’s win. And still they’re only a game out of the eighth spot in the West and it’s still only November. When Rubio gets back on the court, the Jazz and Warriors can start looking over their shoulders.
Jeff Caplan: Yes. The number of injuries all at once finally caught up to them, even in Love’s return. The team was fatigued and reeling, I’m sure, from the shock of it all. Give this time. Hopefully reports are accurate that Rubio is getting close to playing. He’ll bring renewed energy and enthusiasm to the club and allow Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea to fall back into more-suited support roles. This club has the ingredients to be very good and I expect that, barring anymore catastrophic injuries, they will.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’m the wrong person to ask because I didn’t have them as a playoff team in the first place, under the premise that the early injuries would drop them in too deep of a hole. I will say this, though: the Timberwolves hung in there better than I expected with a roster held together by tape and hope. And there is still plenty of time to get back on the playoff track.
John Schuhmann: I think there are six locks in the West: Denver, L.A. x 2, Memphis, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, with the last two spots going to Dallas, Golden State, Minnesota or Utah. Honestly, I think it’s a toss-up among the teams in that group. The Mavs have survived without Dirk. The Warriors have played the toughest schedule of the group and can still get better (if Andrew Bogut gets healthy and Klay Thompson starts making some shots). The Jazz have a chance to make improvements via trade. And the Wolves could obviously be a solid team with Rubio, Kirilenko, Love and Pekovic all on the floor at the same time. So I guess my answer is … maybe. And I can’t wait to find out.
Sekou Smith: They weren’t a playoff team based on the first eight to 10 games of the season, so it feels a bit foolish to go projecting anything more for this team after 13 games. The Timberwolves entered this season with the same puncher’s chance at the playoffs that the rest of their lottery brethren did. Even if things went right for them in almost every capacity (no injuries, newcomers overachieve, Rubio returns from injury better than before, etc.), they were still going to be a playoff longshot in the Western Conference. The road they have to travel to the postseason comes with just too many potholes for a team still trying to solidify its foundation. Love has picked up right where he left off and they’re in a decent position to battle their way into the postseason mix, but that’s only if Rubio delivers on his end when he returns.