Rubio Staying Positive On Rough Road Back

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DALLAS – For a kid who knows only how to play the game with pure joy, this is pure hell.

The two ugly scars that mar his left knee each measure five inches long, one starting in the middle of his knee cap and jagging down. The other curves around the left side of the knee like a misshapen crescent moon.

As Ricky Rubio pulled up the black, padded knee sleeve that made the permanent markings of reconstructive surgery disappear, he wished the trials that still come with his ongoing recovery, one that wiped out the Olympics and all but 10 games now of this season, could just disappear, too. He softly shook his floppy mane of dark hair and flashed a small, if only brief, smile.

“It’s hard because I still have a little pain and it’s something you have to fight through and get through,” said the 22-year-old Spaniard before the Minnesota Timberwolves lost 113-98 to the Dallas Mavericks, a fourth consecutive defeat for Minnesota and yet another game that Rubio would come off the bench and be limited by a minutes restriction.

“I talk with the guys who had the same injury and they say about a year, a year-and-a-half [after surgery] they started feeling, like, normal,” Rubio continued. “It’s tough when you’re playing with something in your mind; you don’t want to think about it, but it’s in your mind that you’re going slower and you are not who you used to be.

“That’s going to come, but you have to be patient.”

Rubio made his season debut on Dec. 15 against Dallas and played 18 minutes. He dazzled the home crowd with eight points and nine assists, including the highlight of the night, a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass into the lane to Greg Stiemsma for a layup. It’s about as good as it’s gotten.

Back spasms, likely caused by overcompensation for his knee, took him out of the lineup after just five games. He returned on Jan. 8 and in the four games prior to Monday, Rubio, averaging 3.8 points and 4.6 assists, had made one of 12 shots. His assists dwindled from eight to seven to three to two, all while playing no more than 22 minutes.

“You see flashes, but you can see he is nowhere near like he was last season. He was moving,” teammate J.J. Barea said. “The way he plays he needs to move like he used to move, where he’s faster and he’ll be able to get to pick his spots, get wherever he wants so he can make those passes.”

Flashes came and went Monday night against the Mavs. By the time acting coach Terry Porter subbed Rubio in with 3:20 to go in the first quarter, listless Minnesota trailed 22-11. Rubio and benchmate Barea got the Wolves clicking. Rubio directed an alley-oop pass to Dante Cunningham, drained a jumper and kept a possession alive with a swooping rebound in the lane as the Wolves closed to 39-36 and then 45-41.

But Rubio also couldn’t finish a drive after getting around O.J. Mayo, with little lift leaving his attempt short of the rim. In the final moments of Rubio’s nearly 13 minutes in the first half, Dallas went up 48-41, and then, with Rubio on the bench, 55-45 at the half.

He never got a fair shot to make a dent in the second half. Porter — serving for Rick Adelman while he tends to his wife in the hospital — kept Rubio tethered to the bench for the first 10 1/2 minutes of the third quarter as the Wolves’ first unit mirrored its awful first quarter and allowed the game to slip away. Rubio checked in with Minnesota, reeling from injuries and a rotation in tatters, trailing 87-68.

He finished with six points, six assists and five rebounds, and was a plus-7 — the highest rating among the eight Wolves that played at least 21 minutes.

Rubio’s 2-for-3 shooting night tied his season high for made buckets and figured as his best shooting percentage among the 10 games he’s played, an indication of how brutal it’s been after he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists in a tantalizing rookie campaign before a torn ACL ended it after 41 games.

“It’s hard because you work hard for eight or nine months to get back and it doesn’t stop here,” Rubio said. “You have to work even harder now to get back in shape, to get back to the point you want to be feeling the game again, and that doesn’t come easy.”

Yet, add logging a season-high 27 minutes Monday and a desperate Wolves team slipping down the standings at 16-18, can at least glean some positives as they head back to frigid Minneapolis.

“I tell him to be patient, to keep working on his legs, keep working on his body. It’s going to turn around sooner or later, but he’s got to be patient and stay positive,” Barea said. “And I tell him he’s young. He’s 22, he has nothing to worry about.”

Maybe so. But right now, it’s hell.

5 Comments

  1. big cat says:

    second best point guard in the league behind chris paul

  2. dattebayo says:

    Love hasn’t even had his surgery yet, Budinger is still 2 months away, Malcolm Lee is done for the season (which makes him the 2nd player to go out after Howard), Roy most probably too (he will be the third) and now Adelman has to deal with personal issues and has a leave of absence from the team (all the Best wishes to the Adelman family!).
    They shoot the threeball historically bad (under 30%) and they shoot too many contested deep threes instead of spotting up in the corner. Ridnour is having a season to forget, he is not quick enough to guard starting caliber point guards anymore, he can’t knock down open jumpshots and lately he can’t even set up his teammates or put them in a position to score. Shved has probably hit that rookie wall, he doesn’t get any calls, he never gets open looks and he is asked to do way too much, because nobody else can do what he does. Williams is disappointing to say the least, he is still lost on offense, he can’t shoot or drive and he doesn’t produce as well as he could (defense, rebounds, steals, blocks),

    All things considered, it’s admirable that the Wolves have a better record than the Lakers and Mavericks. Sadly they are still out of the playoffs and the team seems to be falling apart slowly now.

  3. Rocks says:

    It’s tough but unfortunately as a professional player you need to realise that injuries are part of the game. Some players play most the careers with injuries and produce. That’s why it’s important to not rely only on your physical ability but also the psychological aspect of the game. Understand those little things that can make a huge difference. Players like CP3 and Jason Kidd are some of the players that can play with one leg and have a huge impact in the game. Rubio can become that kind of a player. His quick transition from Euroleague to the NBA at that age showed his qualities. He must just keep learning the game, have patience and keep improving. I think he has a great future in the NBA.

  4. toki says:

    trade ridnour! so useless and always making bad decisions.

  5. dr max says:

    rubio is a good player, i hope the t wolves go to play off