Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Roy’

Tough Comeback Might Help Roy Amnesty Doubts

Trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late makes sense if you’re Branch Rickey, the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers general manager to whom that quote is attributed, or any of the other flesh peddlers who build and rebuild professional sports teams.

But quitting a year too early, or “retiring” or exiting or however else one wants to put it? That might be the wrong way to go. Or, to be precise, the wrong time to go.

It’s a scenario we see played out time and again in the NBA. The great Michael Jordan made like Ali or Sinatra, assuring himself of multiple retirements through repeated comebacks. The not-quite-as-great Rasheed Wallace is back now with the New York Knicks after two idle years, not only playing better but seemingly enjoying it more  (18.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg per 36 minutes this season compared to 14.9, 7.7 over his “final” seven seasons from 2003-2010).

Then there’s Brandon Roy, who sounds a lot more ready to limp away from the game now than he was a year ago, when his bone-on-bone knees were arguing against his disbelief, his ego and fears he had not yet faced.

Roy ought to be making a triumphant successful active return to Portland’s Rose Garden Friday night but, as so often has been the case through his six NBA seasons and the basketball adventures that preceded them, he’ll instead be recovering from knee surgery. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ shooting guard, who has played all but five of his 326 NBA games so far for the Trail Blazers, underwent the seventh such procedure since he was a junior in high school.

This one, they said, was to clean out debris in his right knee and thus carried a whiff of encouragement, considering how the talk about Roy’s degenerating knees usually focuses on how little soft tissue – debris or otherwise – is left in them. He figures to be sidelined for a month or more before he tries again to resume his interrupted and possibly torpedoed career.

In anticipation of Roy’s return to Portland, the Oregonian had reporter Jason Quick stop in Minneapolis for a glimpse at the player’s comeback attempt. What he got instead was more of a snapshot of Roy’s basketball mortality, which came back into focus two weeks ago but has been in play for a year, ever since he made his initial decision to retire on the eve of the hectic, post-lockout season last December. Writes Quick:

He knew there were risks — long term, life-altering risks — when he embarked on this comeback.
Not just one doctor, but multiple doctors have told Roy that he should stop playing basketball. His knees are getting worse by the day. By now, at 28, he has had so many surgeries, so many treatments and seen so many doctors, he sounds like a specialist. He explains that he has degenerative arthritis, which erodes and eventually eliminates cartilage, with the same precision and ease that came to define his run of three consecutive All-Star appearances. And with the calm that made him one of the game’s best finishers, he explains that his knees have reached Level III arthritis. There are only four stages.

“Level IV,” Roy says fearlessly, “is when you get a knee replacement.”

So why do this? He doesn’t need the money. He doesn’t want the attention. He doesn’t need the validation. Why risk his long-term health? Why endure the pain?

Roy talks in the story about values such as not quitting when faced with a formidable challenge (how could he explain that to his kids), and of testing himself to see if he could handle being merely ordinary on a basketball court. But by the end, it’s way more than that.

Going out when he did and staying gone would have been way more on him, a 27 year old’s decision that might gnaw at him across a life not even one-third lived. Going out the next time – whether that comes later this season in a failed bid to reliably help Minnesota or sometime thereafter from more modest, non-All-Star heights – will be on someone (doctors) or something (his knees) else.

“I wouldn’t be disappointed either way,” Roy said. “If it ends in three weeks, it ends. It’s over. I’m totally satisfied with what I’ve done. I know the sacrifice and the effort that I put into coming back. … I’ve had an unbelievable run.”

Most important, it won’t have been ended by his own hand; better to have that forced on him by his knees. That might snuff any lingering what-if’s and liberate Roy to seize whatever it is he targets next.

Bobcats and Timberwolves … Rising?




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.

Another Knee Surgery For Roy

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Brandon Roy‘s career-long battle with his knees will take another turn this week when the Minnesota Timberwolves swingman undergoes yet another procedure (arthroscopy) on his right knee, according to a report by Jason Quick in The Oregonian.

This will be Roy’s fifth knee surgery, the first since he made his miraculous comeback from retirement, and his seventh dating back to his high school days in Seattle.

There is no timetable for his return from this latest setback.

Roy’s play in the preseason stirred excitement that he might be ready to return to the form that saw him earn three All-Star nods in five seasons in Portland, where he was the face of the franchise before taking a medical retirement in December of 2011 because of arthritic and degenerative knees.

After a year off and getting treatment on his knees, Roy made his comeback with the Timberwolves. But he played in just five games, shooting just 31 percent from the floor and averaging 5.8 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds for a team that has had to battle without injured stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio through this early stretch of the season.

Roy’s troubles began before the regular season began, though, per Quick:

He banged his right knee in Minnesota’s final preseason game on Oct. 26 against Milwaukee, forming a bump and a bruise. He said he later aggravated the knee when a teammate bumped him in practice, then again on Nov. 9 in the first half against Indiana. He did not play in the second half of the Indiana game, then missed the next four games.

On Thursday in Minneapolis, Roy was still hopeful he would be able to play Friday in Portland, where he spent his first five seasons. But he said no matter what happens the rest of this season, he has no regrets.

“I wouldn’t be disappointed either way,’’ Roy said. “If it ends in three weeks, it ends. It’s over. I’m totally satisfied with what I’ve done. I know the sacrifice and the effort that I put into coming back. It took a lot of discipline to get to where I am, That’s all I care about: how hard I’ve worked.’’

The Timberwolves didn’t bank on Roy playing like the All-Star he was earlier in his career, although it would have been a nice bonus for a team with playoff aspirations. They signed him to a two-year deal that pays him $5.4 million this season with a second year that was non-guaranteed.

If Roy doesn’t meet certain standards for games played and other goals, this could very well be the last time we see him on the NBA stage.

Early Run Of Injuries Taking Its Toll


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks signed journeyman big man Eddy Curry out of desperation at the center position with Chris Kaman injured. When he returned, Dallas cut Curry and signed out-of-work Troy Murphy because power forward took top billing on the depth chart with Dirk Nowitzki rehabbing from surgery.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, down four starters and six rotation players to injury, signed Josh Howard off the street Thursday. The Toronto Raptors are reportedly looking into unemployed 3-point shooter Mickael Pietrus to plug into their injury-depleted roster.

Entering just the third week of the 2012-13 season, injuries — many to some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars — are the overwhelming story line as overworked team medical staffs are on 24-hour notice.

Both conferences can field a veritable All-Star team, position-by-position, of players that have recently returned from injury, were injured prior to the season or are injured now.

The West: Steve Nash, Ricky Rubio, Eric Gordon, Shawn Marion, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Love, Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut.

The East: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger, Amar’e StoudemireAndrew Bynum, Nene.

Yet that’s hardly all of the NBA’s wounded. Here’s more of those who have been, still are or just got injured: Gerald Wallace, Gerald Henderson, Mario ChalmersDevin Harris, A.J. PriceNikola Pekovic, Kirk HinrichGrant Hill, J.J. Barea, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Anthony Davis, Steve Blake, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Channing Frye, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Alan Anderson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Avery Bradley.

When Minnesota came to Dallas earlier this week with five players out (and Pekovic’s sprained ankle in the third quarter would make it six), coach Rick Adelman engaged in something of a “Who’s on First” rapid-fire Q & A with beat writer Jerry Zgoda.

Jerry: Who’s your backup 3 and your backup 2?

Rick: We don’t have a backup 3. I’m going to start Malcolm (Lee) tonight at the 2 and bring Alexey (Shved) off the bench at both spots. And then at the 3, I don’t know, we’re going to slide somebody there.

Jerry: Have to play AK (Andrei Kirilenko) 48 minutes?

Rick: I don’t want to do to that. We don’t need to wear him out, too.

Jerry: Can you get five or six (minutes) out of (assistant coach Terry) Porter?

Rick: I don’t think so.

A year ago, the worry around the league was how an abbreviated training camp following the hasty resolution to the lockout and then a compacted, 66-game schedule would affect player health. With a full, month-long camp this time around and a complete slate of eight preseason games, this spate of injuries is as unexpected as unfortunate.

Entering this weekend’s games, only the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder among the league’s 30 teams boast clean injury reports, and 22 list more than one injured player.

When the Mavericks play the Indiana Pacers tonight, they expect to get Marion back after a five-game absence with a sprained left knee. Nowitzki will remain out as will Indiana’s Granger. For Dallas, it’s been a strange run of not only playing shorthanded, but facing teams with at least one starter sidelined. They played, in order: Toronto (Lowry), New York (Stoudemire), Charlotte (Henderson), Minnesota (Love, Rubio, Roy, Budinger) and Washington (Wall, Nene).

“The league’s not going to stop and wait for you,” Adelman said the other night about his team’s rash of injuries. “A lot teams are having the same issues with major injuries. As a coaching staff you can’t coach the people that aren’t there. You only can coach the people that are there.”

And so it goes in a very strange first month in the NBA.

It’s Time For Wolves’ Williams To Howl

HANG TIME, Texas — As the cold nights and the injuries pile up in Minneapolis, so should the opportunities for those still upright and healthy in the Timberwolves lineup.

So what should we make of Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011? After doing little to distinguish himself as a rookie, Williams has shown few signs of getting better.

Much credit has been given to the always-resourceful coach Rick Adelman for keeping his team moving forward without the infirmed Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Brandon Roy and now Chase Budinger.

However, the Wolves 5-3 record is even more impressive when you consider how little he’s getting out of a gem prospect like Williams who has turned into cubic zirconia in barely a year. Last season, he at least had the post-lockout excuses of no real training camp and a condensed schedule to blame.

None of that applies this time around and, if anything, the opportunities to prove himself have only grown in the face of so many injuries.

But according to our man Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Williams shows no inclination of rising to the occasion and pitching in:

The Wolves’ most gifted healthy player isn’t playing long enough or hard enough to justify the second pick in the 2011 draft, isn’t playing long or hard enough to justify his place on a team that desperately needs him right now, and he doesn’t seem to understand that if he can’t help right now he might not be asked to help much later.

The Wolves have four players on the All-Star ballot. Three are injured. Two haven’t played at all this season. Six of their seven top players were out Wednesday.

Their best healthy player, Kirilenko, is surviving with brains and elbows, surviving by reminding his teammates that 95 percent of the game is played below the rim and between the ears. Thursday, the day after Williams faded, the Wolves signed small forward Josh Howard as a (luke)warm body to help spell Kirilenko.

Williams should be embarrassed. Apparently, he is not.
“I think we all struggled,” he said, referring to all of the Wolves who had shots blocked.

Asked about his progress, he said: “I’m feeling a lot better. I’m not worried about misses and makes like that. If you play the game going off misses and makes it’s going to be a long season.”

Williams’ 8.8 point per game scoring average is identical to last season, while his field goal percentage has dropped from a poor 41.2 to an abysmal 32.4. He has the athleticism and the skills to get to the rim, but can’t finish. He has scored in double figures only three times thus far and shot just 9-for-33 in his last three games.

He watches veterans like Andrei Kirilenko throw his body all over the floor at both ends and does not join him. At a time when Williams’ hustle and attitude should be forcing Adelman to give him more playing time, he still spends more than half of every game on the bench.

Rubio, Love, Roy, Budinger. It’s an injured list that almost hurts just to read.

Ndudi Ebi, Rashad McCants, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson. It’s a list of washout first-round draft picks by the Timberwolves that is painful in a different way and that Williams keeps inching closer to joining.

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.

Dirk Nowitzki: Recovery Taking Longer Than Expected

DALLAS — Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who continues to rehab from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, said the recovery process is taking longer than he expected.

Nowitzki spoke for the first time since shortly after the Oct. 19 procedure during the Mavs’ broadcast Monday night of their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Fox Sports Southwest. Team doctors initially said Nowitzki would be able to resume basketball activities in six weeks.

“At this point, I’ve got stay patient and do what the doctors and trainers tell me; just keep rehabbing and see how long it is,” Nowitzki said. “When I originally heard three-to-six weeks, in my mind I’m thinking ‘in two weeks I’m back.’ But unfortunately, this is not how it happens. My first knee surgery of my career and unfortunately this stuff takes longer than we expected.

“So I’ve got to be patient, do the smart thing and keep working.”

The Mavs need the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, badly. Also without forward Shawn Marion (left MCL sprain) for a third consecutive game, Dallas (4-4) lost its third in a row, 90-82, to a limping, but game T’Wolves squad that played without J.J. Barea, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger, and then lost center Nikola Pekovic to a sprained ankle in the third quarter. Pekovic led the Wolves with 20 points. Of course, Minnesota was already without stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, yet is off to a 5-2 start.

Nowitzki was in the Mavs’ pre-game locker room briefly Monday between workout sessions. He said on the broadcast that he recently started running in the pool, adding the activity to riding a stationary bike. He said he was hopeful of increasing his exercises next week.

Nowitzki has been incredibly durable throughout his career. He’s dealt mostly with ankle sprains at points during his previous 14 seasons, but he always managed to return to action quicker than expected.

He began to have trouble with his right knee at the start of training camp last season. He believed the quick start to the season after the lockout and a brief training camp irritated his knee, causing swelling and discomfort. He missed four games early on to help strengthen the knee. He suffered similar issues early during this training camp and hoped to avoid surgery.

Nowitzki, who did not indicate that he’s had any setbacks, said it’s been difficult from a mental standpoint to be patient during the rehab process when he’d prefer to be on the floor with a team that is blending nine new players.

“I just want to be out there,” Nowitzki said. “To me, the recovery is not as quick as I was expecting. I had some down days, so I’m working on being in a good mood and still firing the guys up and being there every day, working out and working hard on some other stuff.”

Timberwolves’ Roy Adjusts To Knees, Basketball Mortality





First there’s the instinct. Then comes the caution. The NBA season is young, but already it’s been a succession of green lights and yellow lights for Brandon Roy – things he wants to do, things he maybe shouldn’t do – followed over the weekend by a unnerving red light that shut him down after just a half of basketball for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Roy experienced soreness in his knee Friday against Indiana and was shut down by the Wolves’ coaches and trainers for both the second half that night and for the game at Chicago Saturday. He was considered a game-time decision for Minnesota’s game at Dallas Monday.

None of this was unexpected – Roy and the Timberwolves knew the basketball world would be monitoring the shooting guard’s knee health the way paparazzi watch Donald Trump’s coiffure for a brisk wind. He is, after all, the former NBA Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star for the Portland Trail Blazers whose basketball career appeared to be over at age 27. Early retirement had been thrust on Roy 11 months ago by bone-on-bone agony in his knees, the deterioration of cartilage seen as incurable, irreversible and, for someone expected to perform at the highest level 82 nights a year, unendurable.

A year away from the game soothed his aching joints, however, and made him miss it in ways he never imagined, leading to what now is a tentative, potentially feel-good story for Roy, respected and well-liked throughout the NBA. If, that is, his knees don’t feel bad.

Roy had some soreness in the team’s final preseason game against Milwaukee. That’s what flared up on him Friday, he said, and it was Wolves coach Rick Adelman who put the brakes on any rush Roy felt to play through the pain. “He’s been the best,” Roy said as the visitors’ dressing room at Chicago’s United Center cleared late Saturday. “Coming to me with, y’know, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ The other day when I wanted to rush back and play, he was like, ‘No, no, we expected this.’ He said, ‘We’re going to sit you this game and see how you feel.’ Especially with this being a back-to-back.”

The schedule is friendly enough short-term. Minnesota’s next set of games on consecutive nights comes Nov. 23-24 at Portland and Golden State. A betting man would expect Roy to play, and play hard, against his former team in the first of those. Same guy probably would anticipate a little aching and swelling the next night in Oakland.

“He’s figuring that out,” Adelman said, as Roy navigates the physical and mental demands of his comeback. “He hasn’t been as effective as a lot of people thought he should be, but they’re thinking about the guy three years ago. He’s so used to just letting guys come to him and taking ‘em off the dribble and finishing plays.

“Y’know, he’s just coming back after being off a year and he’s just not as sure of himself right now. [Friday] he came out and took three quick jumpers and knocked ‘em down. Everybody who comes back from knee surgery or major surgery, if they’re smart players, they figure out how to get to their strengths. He still can do that. It’s just going to take time.”

The numbers are not pretty. In five appearances, Roy has averaged 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 24.4 minutes, while shooting 31.4 percent and 0-for-9 from the arc. Over his first five season, his numbers in those same categories were 19.0, 4.3, 4.7 and 35.6. He was a 46.0 percent shooter, 35.2 percent on 3-pointers.

This isn’t just a matter of Roy being productive. It’s a question of how he’s productive. Without explosiveness, without the carefree and pain-free abandon with which he used to play this game, Roy’s identity of the court is changing. In baseball terms, he’s the equivalent of a thrower who loses a few miles-per-hour off his fastball and has to learn how to be a pitcher, hitting his spots.

“But once they do that, a lot of those guys, [Greg] Maddux, [Tom] Glavine, can pitch till they’re 45,” Wolves teammate Kevin Love said. “He’s not – and he knows this too – he’s not quite ‘Brandon Roy, the past superstar.’ But he makes great plays, he plays good defense. He doesn’t have that explosiveness, that dancing in the lane that he used to have. But he’s still effective. He plays like a veteran.”

Love mentioned Grant Hill, “a guy who played at the top of the backboard, really energetic guy, very, very bouncy” who had to adjust after injury setbacks. Adelman in Houston coached Tracy McGrady through physical ailments that hampered and changed his game. It basically is a premature aging, a loss of marvelous powers. For so many of these guys who go through it, it’s like asking Superman, post-Kryptonite, to find some way to be happy merely as Batman.

Wolves guard Luke Ridnour has known Roy “since about fifth grade” and has his eye on this downward transformation. “He had so much talent – he could do everything with the ball,” Ridnour said. “But his basketball IQ is so high. He understands angles and where you get shots from and how to make passes. He’s such an unselfish player. Obviously, he’s still finding his game as far as shooting and just playing, but he’s looked great to me the whole two months I’ve seen him.” (more…)

Budinger Latest Man Down As Injuries Zap 5 of Timberwolves’ Top 7





CHICAGO — When it snows, it blizzards. Or whatever the rains-pours parallel would be for the frosty Upper Midwest, where the Minnesota Timberwolves are getting buried by enough injuries to bring out the plows.

Chase Budinger, the hero 24 hours earlier for his cut-and-layup in the Wolves’ buzzer-beating defeat of Indiana, was the latest to fall, getting helped off the court early in the fourth quarter of their 87-80 loss to the Bulls at United Center. Budinger went down not far from the Chicago bench, given a little extra push according to Minnesota teammates who saw it. All the 6-foot-7 forward knew was that his foot got caught beneath him, putting torque on his left knee.

“It was one of those crazy plays where my foot got stuck,” Budinger said, pausing as he exited the visitors’ dressing room on crutches. “It got tangled up. I felt my leg twist.”

An X-ray was inconclusive, so the next step is a magnetic resonance imaging test Sunday in Dallas. The Wolves already were anticipating some word there on guard J.J. Barea’s availability for their game Monday against the Mavericks; the point guard suffered a left mid-foot sprain Wednesday against Orlando and didn’t travel to Chicago.

Shooting guard Brandon Roy also missed the Bulls game after developing soreness in his right knee Friday against the Pacers. Then there’s Kevin Love (broken right hand) and Ricky Rubio (rehab from knee surgery), putting five of Minnesota’s top seven players or so on the side or in the trainers’ room.

“It sucks,” Budinger said. “The injuries are tough. It’s frustrating because I’ve never had a knee problem [like this]. So getting all these questions about it, I don’t really know how to respond to ‘em. I’ve never had it before. So we’ll just wait till tomorrow, see what the MRI says.”

At 4-2, Minnesota had started well in its goal to stay at or near .500 until the heavy lifters got back sometime after Thanksgiving (Love) or Christmas (Rubio). But that chore gets tougher as the herd gets thinned. Forget the luxury of having a “go-to guy” — through six games, five different players have led the Wolves in scoring. It’s rapidly become a whoever, whatever, whenever situation. This latest might have team president David Kahn reaching out to available free agent Mickael Pietrus or someone else ambulatory and with a pulse.

‘That’s something that, as a team, we didn’t sit and talk about but it’s just the feeling in the room,” forward Dante Cunningham said of holding it together. “We’re just doing our part. Injuries happen, obviously, but you have to continue to strive for your main goal. Just because we lose a couple people, we can’t lose heart on the season.”

Said coach Rick Adelman, who coached through the injury hells of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady: “I don’t understand it … I thought maybe it was just in Minnesota, but it’s on the road, too. Other guys have to step up. The league hasn’t given us a reprieve till we get those guys back.”

Forget Holding the Fort, Timberwolves Fighting to Contend





HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — If the Los Angeles Lakers were the unlikeliest team to start the season 1-4, then the Minnesota Timberwolves had to be voted most unlikely to start 4-1.

Not with double-double machine Kevin Love, and their fancy-pants playmaker Ricky Rubio nursing injuries for who knows still how long. Yet here are those frisky T’Wolves, victorious in four of their first five games, winning dramatically, slapping high-fives and hugs all around beneath by a roaring — yes, roaring — Target Center crowd.

“We’re a really resilient team, we’re a deep team,” Wolves newcomer Chase Budinger said after Friday’s latest triumph, secured when he somehow slipped the Indiana Pacers’ defense and received a brilliant pass from Andrei Kirilenko for the game-winning layup with less than a second to spare. “What you are seeing right now is guys are stepping up as guys are getting hurt and going down. Each and every game it seems like there is a new guy stepping up for this team. That’s why we are getting wins.”

The 96-94 win over the Pacers is a prime example. Backup point guard J.J. Barea was out with a foot sprain, leaving coach Rick Adelman to turn to Malcolm Lee behind Luke Ridnour. Two guard Brandon Roy stayed in the locker room after halftime because of a sore right knee, a risk the Wolves accepted when they signed the 28-year-old out of early retirement, a predicament they will carefully monitor.

Budinger led the Wolves with 18 points, becoming the fifth player in five games to finish with the honor. Entering the game, six players were averaging between Barea’s 9.3 points and center Nikola Pekovic’s 13.8.

Five of the 10 players Adelman used Friday night scored in double figures, the Wolves shot 50 percent from the floor and trekked to the free throw line 28 times, making 24. And somehow Adelman didn’t use anyone as many as 37 minutes.

No, Minnesota’s early schedule hasn’t been a murderer’s row. But, Budinger’s right, they’ve been resilient, coming back from 22 to knock off the Nets in Brooklyn, shaking off injuries and winning three of four by no fewer than 11 points.

“I like to win,” Kirilenko said. “I think everyone here did such a great job in the preseason and did such a great job to get together as a team, and I guess this is the payoff. It’s just the start of the season and our two best players are out. We have to do something and get those wins no matter what.”

Think it can’t continue? Check out the schedule for the rest of November. At worst, it’s manageable. Of the 10 games left this month, four are against playoff teams, starting at the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. They play at transitioning Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki on Monday, and Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers are sprinkled in among a slew of lottery teams.

If this scrappy group brimming with confidence can keep it up until their two studs return, the T’Wolves won’t yet be hailed as the team to beat in the West, but you’ll certainly want to set your DVRs.