Posts Tagged ‘Alexey Shved’

Howling Wolves Deal With Quiet Time


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Timberwolves 112-101 on Saturday

Remember when the Timberwolves were something to howl about?

It was less than two weeks ago when the ball and the shots were moving through the offense like they were notes in a symphony.

You could pull on your parka and a pair of mukluks, then squint your eyes and imagine you were watching the Spurs North.

You could see Ricky Rubio spinning, darting and creating with only the edges of his imagination as a limit, see Kevin Love go down low to score in the post and then come outside and make it rain from behind the 3-point line, see Kevin Martin drop in all those improbable shots from all those impossible difficult angles.

The Timberwolves were 6-3 right out of the box and they were a team that could dance right off into the stars.

But now they have two left feet. All of a sudden, they can’t shoot, can’t defend, can’t muster up enough energy to take the floor and make their coach happy.

“You can look at stats all you want, but we didn’t have enough,” said Rick Adelman after their fourth loss in six games, a flogging by the James Harden-less Rockets. “I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job and the schedule doesn’t matter.”

The schedule has turned brutal of late, serving up nine games in 14 nights, five in seven, including rising teams such as the Clippers and Rockets and next up are the East-leading Pacers.

“We play 18 games right off the bat this month,” Love said. “It’s tough. I think that’s really what it is. Plus we’re playing some really good teams. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”

One of the things that makes it hard has been the continuing struggles of Rubio to put the ball into the basket. For all of the wizardry that he uses to set up his teammates for easy baskets, the 23-year-old doesn’t seem to have a trick up his sleeve to help himself.

Rubio has made half his shots from the field only five times in the first 15 games, shooting just 34.7 percent. Now in his third NBA season, Rubio has scored 15 or more points in a game while making half his shots only nine times. The Wolves are 6-3 in those games. It’s just not that simplistic, but if Rubio could learn to shoot, the Wolves could take a big permanent step forward.

“It’s a lot easier when all your guys can make shots,” Adelman said. “He’s such a good passer and creator that if he’s making shots it makes it very difficult for the other team. They can’t go under screens, pick and rolls and things like that. It’s a process he’s going to have to go through.

“This is the first year he’s had training camp since he’s been in the league. He’s been hurt or we had a short training camp. It’s going to take time. He’s playing well and hopefully he’s to going to make shots.”

They’re a team that has Love and Rubio back in the lineup after being plagued by injuries a year ago and they have small forward Corey Brewer back with the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. They have big man Nikola Pekovic doing all that he can in the middle and with Chase Budinger again sidelined by injury, they’ve sucked everything they can out of Martin as if he were a water hose in the desert.

“We were the worst outside shooting team in the league last year,” Adelman said. “So having Kevin opens things up. And having the other Kevin (Love) back opens things up too. Last year we were firing blanks. We didn’t really have a lot of answers. This year we have a few more.”

They are still a team that has less depth than a wading pool and could use former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to be something more than a massive bust or Alexey Shved or Dante Cunningham or Robbie Hummel or anyone to step up.

“We’re a solid team,” Martin said. “We got some work to do. It’s a long season. Everybody goes through their tough stretches with a tough schedule…We feel like we’re right in there. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Just got to weather the storm right now.”

One Team, One Stat: Jump Shots A Problem For Timberwolves

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who dealt with a myriad of injuries last season.

The basics
MIN Rank
W-L 31-51 22
Pace 95.2 11
OffRtg 100.1 25
DefRtg 102.9 14
NetRtg -2.8 21

The stat

42.3 percent - The Wolves’ effective field goal percentage from outside the paint, worst in the league.

Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
League average from outside the paint: 46.0 percent

The context

Basically, the Wolves were the worst jump-shooting team in the league. The Pistons and Nuggets each had a lower raw field goal percentage from outside the paint, but shot better on threes. Minnesota ranked 13th in mid-range shooting percentage, but 27th on corner threes and 30th on above-the-break threes, the only team that shot less than 30 percent on those.

Thanks to Nikola Pekovic (303 buckets in the restricted area) and Andrei Kirilenko (207), the Wolves were strong at the basket. But they just couldn’t space the floor or make defenses pay for double-teaming Big Pek.

Lowest EFG%, outside paint

Team FGM FGA FG% EFG%
Minnesota 1,262 3,513 35.9% 42.3%
Chicago 1,293 3,570 36.2% 42.5%
Orlando 1,303 3,629 35.9% 42.9%
Charlotte 1,240 3,427 36.2% 43.0%
Phoenix 1,403 3,796 37.0% 43.3%

Here are some of the gory details:

  • Alexey Shved led the team with 288 3-point attempts and made just 29.5 percent of them. Among qualified players, he was the second-worst 3-point shooter in the league, ahead of only Monta Ellis.
  • 15 different Wolves attempted 3-pointers last season and not one of them shot them at the league average (35.9 percent) or better. The best of the group was J.J. Barea (34.6 percent).
  • Ricky Rubio ranked last in the league, by far, in EFG% (38.6%) among players with 500-plus FGA. Part of that comes from being a poor finisher at the rim (44.3 percent in the restricted area), but he struggled from the outside as well.

On Feb. 24, the Wolves outscored the Warriors 62-36 in the paint, but lost by a point because they shot a brutal 6-for-35 from outside it. Rubio was 0-for-6 from outside the paint, Kirilenko was 0-for-5, and Luke Ridnour was 4-for-12.

Here’s video of some of the brickage …


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A healthy Kevin Love will make things better. After registering an effective field goal percentage from outside the paint of 47.9 percent over his previous two seasons, he dropped down to 35.7 percent last season, dealing with an injury to his shooting hand.

Kevin Martin will obviously help, too. Of 150 players who attempted at least 300 shots from outside the paint, Martin ranked 12th in effective field goal percentage at 55.4 percent. Not only will he shoot better than anyone on last year’s Wolves, but he’ll take some minutes from the poor-shooting Shved.

Of course, the Wolves also added Corey Brewer, who was just barely above Shved on the 3-point shooting list at 29.6 percent. Coach Rick Adelman might want to give Brewer a little less freedom to shoot than George Karl did.

Love and Martin will make the Wolves a better offensive team. The bigger question may be on defense, where they’ve lost Kirilenko and Greg Stiemsma.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Kirilenko Invaluable To Wolves, Shved

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DALLAS – Andrei Kirilenko has been a godsend to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Russian rookie Alexey Shved during this strange twist of a season.

It’s a minor miracle that the Wolves are still sniffing playoff contention considering their barrage of injuries. One major reason is Kirilenko, the 11-year NBA veteran who is in his first season with the Wolves after a decade-long run with the Utah Jazz. He spent the 2011-12 season enjoying a one-time homecoming in Russia, playing before family and friends during the NBA’s lockout and shortened season.

The versatile, 6-foot-9 forward was always going to figure in as a major piece to the rotation, but he’s been invaluable in the wake of long-term injuries to forwards Chase Budinger and Kevin Love, among multiple other injuries such as to Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee that have thrust the surprising Shved into a starter’s role at shooting guard.

“We had some seasons when we had a lot of injuries, but this is something crazy,” said Kirilenko, whose scoring (13.4 ppg), rebounds (6.8) and minutes (34.8) are all his best since the 2005-06, and his 50.8 shooting percentage ranks as a career high. “We never played together [with a full roster] for even one game. It’s tough to play that way, but I guess this is the reality of NBA basketball.”

Then there’s been the big brother role Kirilenko’s embraced mentoring Shved, who turned 24 last month. But with a baby face and a mouth full of braces, some might say Shved could could pass for, well, a 12-year-old. Which is exactly how old he was when he first met Kirilenko and asked Russia’s No. 1 basketball player to sign a picture for him.

“He’s a great guy and he has a lot of bright moments in front of him,” said Kirilenko, who turns 32 next month and beams at Shved more like a proud papa than a big brother. “I think he started the season well and he can really be a great contributor to a team.”

Two-thirds of Russia’s NBA contingent play for the Wolves. Timofey Mozgov, currently buried on the Denver Nuggets’ bench, is the other. Kirilenko and Shved know each other quite well now after playing last season together for CSKA Moscow, and the two fashioned quite a dynamic duo on the Russian Olympic team that put hoops back on the map in their country by taking bronze in London.

They were gearing up for the Games when Shved, signed as a free agent by Minnesota in July, got word that he would continue on as Kirilenko’s teammate in Minnesota.

“He is the best player in Russia,” said the 6-foot-6 Shved, whose game (10.8 ppg and 4.7 apg) has emerged quicker than his grasp of the English language, which he speaks softly and carefully. “He is smart, he plays hard. Everybody wants to be a player like this.”

Just as Spanish-speaking J.J. Barea (from Puerto Rico) aided the Spain-born phenom Ricky Rubio last season in his arrival stateside, having Kirilenko around to show Shved the ropes of the NBA and American life has been invaluable.

And who knows, perhaps soon Shved will serve a similar role to another wide-eyed countryman that makes his way to the NBA.

Sergey Karasev might be the next [one],” Kirilenko said of the 6-foot-7, 19-year-old shooting guard who averages 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds for Triumph Lyubertsy in the Russian Professional Basketball League. “He might be joining us soon.”

D-League Showcase Brings Beverley Home

RENO, Nev. — The biggest change for Patrick Beverley in his first NBA D-League game was being able to understand all that was said by of his teammates.

For better part of the past four years, he’s been a global traveler: playing in the Ukraine, Greece and Russia until signing a contract this week with the Rockets.

“I enjoyed it all,” Beverley said after playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League Showcase. “It was a great experience to play in different countries, to experience different cultures and to make some great friends along the way. But after a while, it was just time to come home.

“My goal was always the NBA and what I was waiting for was the right situation and the right team to show the interest and give me the opportunity.”

The Rockets have been keeping tabs on the 6-foot-1 point guard, who most recently had played for Spartak St. Petersburg in Russia, averaging 15 points.

A second round pick of the Lakers in 2009, Beverley played six games with the Heat in the 2010-11 season. The Rockets had tried to sign him several times in the past couple of seasons, but could not come to terms. This time Beverley was willing to pay a big part of the buyout from his European contract to make the jump to Houston. His three-year contract has the second and third years as team options.

“His defense has always been strong. He’s got speed and athleticism and can just create havoc going to the basket,” said Gersson Rosas, Rockets vice president of basketball operation and general manager of the Vipers. “He’s somebody that we think might be able to help us going forward.”

At this point, the Rockets see the 24-year-old Beverly as insurance this season for a backcourt that has been relatively injury free and like his potential more than Scott Machado, who was waived from the roster.

“I wouldn’t have a problem using him in situational minutes right now,” Rosas said.

Beverley had no problem with being asked to make the transition to the NBA with an assignment to the D-League.

“With all the different places I’ve played and traveled to, this is just another road trip along my path,” he said. “After one game, I can’t really say that Europe or the D-League is better. There are some real good players in both places. In Russia, I played with Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved. There are some real players in the D-League, too. The difference is the tempo is faster here. But the game is still the game. I just think it’s time for me now.”

Love’s Latest Injury Testing Wolves’ Mettle

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So this is just how it’s going to be for the Minnesota Timberwolves, a season so marred by constant injury that it stands to test their collective sanity as much as their ambitious playoff aspirations.

The Wolves already knew they’re moving ahead without star forward Kevin Love for a second stretch of games after he re-fractured his right hand last week, but Wednesday’s news that he’ll miss more time than expected, the next eight to 10 weeks, severely worsened that blow just one day after the sigh-of-relief return of point guard Ricky Rubio from his second injury stint.

Love initially broke his hand before the start of the season doing knuckle pushups at home. He missed the first nine games of the season and the Wolves, without their two young stars, were pleased to be 5-4 when Love surprised everyone with an early return.

A stunning spat of injuries followed. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee remain out with knee injuries. Rubio played in just his sixth game in Tuesday’s hard-fought home win over the Atlanta Hawks to push their record to 16-15, just 1 1/2 games out of the West’s final playoff spot. The Wolves played that one without resolute coach Rick Adelman – out for personal reasons — as they will again tonight trying to stay above .500 in a tough road test at Oklahoma City.

Coaches impress on their players all the time that the 82-game NBA grind is about survival. Expected to be without Love, their leading scorer (18.3 ppg) and by far most productive rebounder (14. 0 rpg), until mid-to-late March, the Wolves are truly in the fox hole now.

They’ll carry through the high hopes of its long-suffering fan base and secure the franchise’s first postseason berth since their lone Western Conference finals run in 2003-04 only by sticking together and pushing harder.

Rubio’s return is a good start. He played 19 minutes on Tuesday and finished with four points and eight assists. He missed the previous four games with back spasms, an issue believed to be caused by overcompensation as he learns to trust the surgically repaired left knee. He’s dealt with the groin and back problems since making his debut on Dec. 15 from last season’s ACL tear.

Adelman and the team’s training staff will have to closely monitor his minutes and progress, but the belief is he’s ready to ramp up and burden a bigger load.

To keep within arm’s length of a playoff spot to this point, the Wolves have heavily relied upon stat-stuffing forward Andrei Kirilenko, center Nikola Pekovic, who has eight double-doubles in last 13 games, emerging Russian rookie Alexey Shved and the diminutive backcourt duo of Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.

But how long can they keep up the fight in a competitive Western Conference that could take 45 wins to get in?

And which team or teams drop off? The top four, barring catastrophic injury — something the Wolves know never to discount — seem like locks. Golden State is playing well enough and for long enough to not expect a collapse in the second half of the season.

Of the next three teams — Houston, Portland and Denver — none are sure bets, yet the trio is currently on a collective 10-game winning streak.

And lost among the crowd currently on the outside looking in is the Los Angeles Lakers. A glorious run back into contention doesn’t appear imminent, but can’t be eliminated as a possibility either simply because of their proven talent.

The Wolves have expended tremendous energy to stay afloat. How much longer can they grind away? Long enough for Love’s eventual return to be meaningful?

We’re about to find out.

Adelman Steers Injury-Plagued Wolves

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HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — If Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman can somehow steer his dejected club through these latest injury setbacks to his two injury-marred stars, please reward him with long overdue recognition as coach of the year.

Before Saturday night’s game against Portland, and after learning that star forward Kevin Love would again be sidelined by a re-break to that darned right hand he originally fractured before the season by doing knuckle push-ups, Adelman marveled how, through one injury after another, his team had managed to pull off a 15-14 record.

With Love joining point guard Ricky Rubio, saddled with his second injury after a brief return from a torn ACL, on the bench once again, the Wolves dropped to 15-15 after a furious late comeback failed against the surging Trail Blazers.

A once-promising season, so filled with hope and excitement and adventure, is becoming one to forget, robbed by uncontrollable injury that now threatens to nosedive off the cliff as the Wolves sit in ninth place.

Rubio, the flashy, dynamic point guard destined for stardom, managed to play in just five games starting Dec. 15, but was unable to join the starting lineup before back spasms, perhaps caused by overcompensation for his knee, took him out after a Dec. 26 loss to Houston.

Rubio and Love, who had never really rounded into All-Star form, saddled with wilting shooting percentages, have played in just three games together.

“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Adelman told reporters before Saturday’s 102-97 loss, Minnesota’s sixth in the last nine games. “You start out with Ricky from the very beginning, hoping to get him back and then it’s just been one thing after the other.”

Dante Cunningham, Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved are the only Wolves to have played in all 30 games. The injury list is mesmerizing. Obviously Rubio didn’t play for the first month-and-a-half and Love missed the first three weeks. Brandon Roy lasted just five games before more knee problems have forced him to consider re-retirement. Chase Budinger made it into a sixth game before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Malcolm Lee played in 16 games before a knee injury took him out.

Josh Howard, brought in as an emergency replacement, was waived after he suffered an ACL injury.

J.J. Barea has missed five games, Andrei Kirilenko has missed four and Nikola Pekovic must feel fortunate to have only missed two when he sprained an ankle in November.

If the Wolves have any luck at all they’ll soon get Rubio back. They’ll need him. The remaining January schedule is a bear and could ultimately determine whether the Wolves will be a playoff contender and how active they might be come the trade deadeline.

Among 12 games left this month, Minnesota faces Atlanta twice, the Los Angeles Clippers twice, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and Brooklyn. The Wolves play seven of the 12 on the road, where they’re just 6-10. Games at Washington and Charlotte at the end of the month will serve as must-wins.

In the hotly contested West, if the Wolves somehow head into February with a top-eight spot or anywhere close, be ready finally to give Adelman that long overdue coach of the year award. No questions asked.

Rescue Timberwolves? Rubio’s Return Could Rev Them Up





MINNEAPOLIS – Ricky Rubio figures to be a lot of things when he finally returns to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ lineup nine months after knee surgery and rehab: A hardwood savior. A gate attraction. An emotional boost. A coaching challenge, however welcome, as far as blending Rick Adelman‘s new with his existing.

Most of all, Rubio’s 2012-13 debut – expected to come Saturday night when the team plays host to the Dallas Mavericks at Target Center – figures to be a big happy headline for a franchise rather lacking in those across its 24 seasons.

Here are three more things the charismatic second-year point guard will be when he plays for the first time since tearing the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee in an innocent-looking collision with Kobe Bryant back on March 9:

  • A diversion (from the Kevin Love hubbub that flaired up Tuesday over an Internet story full of unhappy quotes from the Wolves’ power forward).
  • A one-man cavalry (shoring up a backcourt thinned by injuries to Brandon Roy, Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee).
  • And … an unfair advantage?

It almost seems that way. The Timberwolves are 11-9 despite playing a quarter of their season without Rubio and the first 10 games without Love, the All-Star power forward who broke two bones in his right hand in training camp. They have weathered other injuries, too, but there they sit in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings, generally getting healthier and positioned to climb even higher.

When Rubio went down last spring, the fear within the team was that his knee injury would cost Minnesota not just a run at the 2012 postseason but possibly a shot at getting there in 2013, too. If the Wolves started, say, 6-14 through their first 20 games, they might find themselves too far back, needing too many breaks and coincidences, to climb back above .500 to chase down even the eighth seed.

Well, look at them now. With Adelman doing a masterful job of plugging holes and finding mismatches, the Wolves are off to their best start since Kevin Garnett‘s last season with them. They have won five of their last six games and are 6-6 against teams that are .500 or better. If the goal was to stay competitive and viable as a playoff challenger while Love and Rubio were out, the Wolves have overachieved.

The schedule is a grind at the moment. The back-to-back this weekend vs. the Hornets and Mavericks is followed hard by an Orlando-Miami swing Monday and Tuesday, during which Rubio’s minutes – or even involvement in one or both – likely will be carefully managed. (A confab of team and medical personnel Saturday morning was expected to give him the green-light to face Dallas.)

After this stretch, though, Minnesota plays just four games in a stretch of 14 days, three across the 12 days from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1. It is 9-5 when getting at least one day of rest between games.

Rubio’s impact could be profound. He returns to an overhauled roster, with only six faces back from the group that went 5-20 after he went down.

The team’s two Clydesdales up front – Nikola Pekovic and Love – should get more opportunities at the rim, with Rubio’s interior passes and the defensive attention he’ll draw. In particular, Love – who might have come back too soon, judging by his continued hand discomfort and miserable shooting percentages — should get more open looks as he and the point guard sync up their games again.

The pressure Rubio puts on the defense and the angles he sees could be golden for shooters such as Chase Buddinger and Roy, if only they were healthy now. Luke Ridnour will benefit in their absence. And so will the team’s Russian connection. The way Andrei Kirilenko moves without the ball and uses the baseline, he and Rubio could be good for a couple highlight set-ups per night. And teaming Alexey Shved – no longer a mere Rubio placeholder – with him in the backcourt hints at some crafty ball-sharing and scoring chances at one end, better-than-expected defense at the other.

“He’s one of those kind of guys who can make a difference in the game,” Kirilenko told reporters after a Wolves practice this week. “In practice you see that every attack, every possession offensively and defensively. Those guys are pretty rare. … He’s just adding some more something to the game. He can run the ball, he can really create that up-tempo and his passes are unbelievable.”

And they’ll be coming now to rev up, rather than just rescue, the Timberwolves.

Adelman Has Beat-Up Wolves Believing

DALLAS -- Rick Adelman is brewing something special with the Minnesota Timberwolves. So much so that one might wonder if a certain Buss family in L.A. might regret not hiring their former Sacramento adversary when they had the chance.

No one in Minneapolis is complaining.

After Monday night’s impressive 90-82 road victory against the Dallas Mavericks, the “Wonder-Wolves” are off to a 5-2 start despite having nearly as many players injured as games played. Everybody knew the team would be without stars Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love to start the season. But, with each passing game another player goes down with an injured body part.

Brandon Roy. J.J. Barea. Chase Budinger. That’s five rotation players, four starters when counting Rubio and Love, that were not available when Minnesota suited up in Dallas. Yet, they led 45-39 at the half and went up by 13 in the third quarter shortly before yet another Wolves player went down. Center Nikola Pekovic, in the process of punishing Dallas in the paint with 20 points, sprained an ankle and limped to the locker room — done for the night.

Still, the Wolves held tight and never allowed the Mavs, smarting from their own injury woes with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion nursing knee injuries, to get closer than six points down the stretch. A glance at the box score would hardly indicate a depleted roster: Five players scored in double figures — with the Russian duo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved each going for 16 — they shot 46.2 percent from the floor, got to the free throw line 32 times and outrebounded Dallas 49-35.

Adelman said he hopes Roy and Barea can return for Wednesday’s home game against Charlotte. Pekovic reported after the game that his ankle is not bad, but he didn’t care to put a timetable on any possible absence. At this rate, even Adelman can only shake his head in disbelief.

“We have three point guards and three centers, and our roster is kind of not great right now,” Adelman said before the game, semi-joking about the first part of the sentence and not at all about the latter. “But you just have to get through it and you have to keep the team believing that they can go out and win, because you can.”

The impressive Wolves proved it again Monday night.

Blatt Says ‘Nyet’ To Russia; NBA Next?

The question about David Blatt only flared up every two or four years, at least among casual fans of international basketball: Why isn’t that guy coaching in the NBA or at a major college program?

For seven years, Blatt -– born outside Boston, played at Princeton –- worked as coach of Russia’s national team. The American-Israeli serves in the same capacity as Maccabi Tel Aviv in Brooklyn. But his global work schedule will be opening up considerably with his decision, as announced by the Russian Basketball Federation and reported by Eurobasket.com, to step down from duty with Big Red’s national squad:

“Russia was a big part of my professional life. Our common achievements were exceptional and historical, and our impact on Russian basketball growth was tremendous,” Blatt said in a statement issued by the Russian Basketball Federation.

“These seven mutual years were amazing and I quit while Russian basketball is at a peak as the entire basketball world follows it closely.”

Blatt’s work with the Russians was impressive. He led them to a gold medal in the 2007 EuroBasket games, knocking off heavily favored Spain, 60-59. He helped them score a bronze in the same tournament in 2011 and Russia finished third to Team USA and Spain in the London Olympics in August. (more…)