Posts Tagged ‘Luke Ridnour’

Bucks’ Wolters Isn’t In South Dakota Anymore

VIDEO: The Prospect Profile on Nate Wolters

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MILWAUKEE – Caron Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star in his 12th professional season, did all he could to avoid looking into the stands at the BMO Bradley Center Saturday night in Milwaukee. Butler, even now, said he gets “too excited” at times and the Bucks’ home opener against Toronto was one of them, the guy from nearby Racine, Wis., playing in front of “mama, Grandma, aunts, uncles … children, all five of ‘em.”

So, imagine what it was like for Nate Wolters, Milwaukee’s unheralded rookie — the No. 38 pick in June out of South Dakota State — the guy commonly thought of as the fifth guard on Milwaukee’s roster.

Four nights into his NBA career, in this third game, Wolters was on the floor at the beginning and at the end. With Brandon Knight (hamstring) and Luke Ridnour (back) ailing — and with point guard fill-in O.J. Mayo showing up late for the team’s shootaround that day — Wolters was tabbed by coach Larry Drew for the starting role against the Raptors. He wound up on the floor longer than anyone else Saturday, playing 36 minutes that included the final 10 when Drew settled on his closing crew (at least for the night) and Milwaukee erased a 12-point lead to briefly tie.

What must have been going through Wolters’ head, running the Bucks’ offense from tipoff in front of 16,046 people after playing his college ball in a 6,500-seat gym?

“Everything,” Butler said. “He was [extremely raw] at times. I tried to continue to stay in his ear and motivate him and encourage him.

“It’s been tough. Luke’s been out and obviously Brandon. But I thought Nate did a great job filling in that role to the best of his ability. That’s a lot to ask for a first-year guy, but I thought he did a great job hands-down.”

The 6-foot-4 Wolters scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for 10 assists with one turnover in his splashy home debut. He also played well enough off the bench in his first two games staged at virtual NBA shrines — at Madison Square Garden and on the parquet floor of the Boston Celtics. He might look like an extra from “Hoosiers” running around out there, but he is averaging 10 points and 6.7 assists, while giving Drew a little of the playmaking the coach craves.

“What I like about what he did [in Boston] was he came in and got us organized,” Drew said. “We’ve had problems with that … I’ve got to have organization at the very beginning. I can’t have guys just everybody looking for their shots. He’s been in this situation before. He knows the position. And he’s starting to get more and more comfortable at the position.”

“More comfortable” as in, equally nervous regardless of level or challenge.

“Even before every game — even high school and college — you get nervous,” Wolters said after the loss Saturday. “It’s just one of those things, once you get out there playing, it’s basketball. Get used to it. Once I get going, I’m fine.”

Wolters, a high school hotshot in St. Cloud, Minn., helped South Dakota State make the first two NCAA appearances in school history. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists for the Jackrabbits and scored 53 points (with nine 3-pointers) — the top points total in Division I last season — in a game at Fort Wayne. Wolters was a third-team AP All-America selection and a finalist for the Wooden and Cousy awards.

Just a month into his Bucks experience, he’s got the “we” part down. He is developing a little on-court chemistry with Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. He knows he needs to shoot better (11-for-30 so far). And he said he feels no overload in his NBA orientation-slash-immersion.

“No, not at all,” Wolters said. “In college, I played every minute. So I’m used to these kinds of minutes. I didn’t expect to be playing anywhere near this many minutes, but it is what it is. I’m enjoying it and treating it like a learning experience. … I’ve got a good group of veterans who can help me out.”

Though the Bucks played a preseason game in Sioux Falls, within an hour of Wolters’ old campus, and Drew showcased him in the fourth quarter that night against Cleveland, he is quite aware he’s not in Brookings, S.D., anymore.

“It kind of helped that we played in the NCAA tournament, so I played in this type of atmosphere before,” Wolters said. “But obviously, the NBA’s a little different. It’s just been an amazing experience, especially going to New York and Boston, those type of places. It’s been fun.”

And fortunately for Milwaukee, he’s been up to it.

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

Timberwolves Dread ‘Next Man Down’ Repeat of Injuries

Luke Ridnour played 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season – yeah, he was the one – and 206 of a possible 230 in three seasons there, qualifying for some sort of iron-man award.

Owing perhaps to his relative lack of time in the Wolves’ trainers room, the Bucks’ 10-year veteran guard had no theories about that team’s miserable run of injuries and bad luck. But he wasn’t exactly surprised, either, when he learned Monday afternoon that his former teammate, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger, was hurt again.

“When I was in Minnesota, everyone was hurt,” Ridnour said. “I don’t know what the deal is but … we had a good team but when you get banged up, it’s hard to do anything.”

That’s why the latest about Budinger was so potentially demoralizing: The Wolves announced Tuesday that the small forward underwent surgery on his left knee for a meniscectomy, performed by noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. Last November, Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in the same knee and missed 59 games, returning only for the final four weeks of the season. He was thought to be nearly full strength for camp but now will be out indefinitely.

And it’s only natural that, given the recent snake-bit history, other Wolves might be glancing sideways, wondering who’s next. Coach Rick Adelman talked at Media Day Monday about the road – to emergency rooms and operating arenas – that none of them wants to go down, as reported by Mark Remme on the team’s Web site:

On Monday at Target Center, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Budinger is a tough loss at small forward to start the season. That entire crew projected to play the 3—Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad—is either new to the team or to the position. Budinger was the most experienced player at that position within Adelman’s system. Brewer is the favorite for the starting nod.

“I just felt so bad for [Budinger],” Adelman said. “He’s the type of player who can really add to what we do offensively. I feel bad for him, and I really don’t want it to become a trend. With last year it really became a trend.”

To be specific, Minnesota lost 341 “man games” to injuries in 2012-13, led by Brandon Roy‘s 76, Kevin Love‘s 64, Malcolm Lee‘s 63 and Budinger’s 59. Point guard Ricky Rubio missed 24 in his return season from ACL/LCL surgery the previous spring. Even Adelman, who cobbled together 16 different starting lineups, missed games in midseason while attending to his wife Mary Kay‘s medical condition.

High hopes of ending an eight-year playoff drought fizzled into a 31-51 record and 12th place finish in the Western Conference.

“Basketball, [injuries are] part of the game,” said Ridnour, who started all 82. “A lot of ours, they were just freak deals. A broken bone? You can’t do anything about that. Bone spur, you can’t do anything about that. Kevin Love’s [twice-broken] hand – it wasn’t even during practice. So it’s just freak deals.”

Various tongue-in-cheek theories about the franchise’s bad luck have been floated at moments of past breakdowns, such as here and here. Several NBA teams, including the Wolves this season, have bulked up their strength and conditioning staffs, and some are exploring advanced analytics that might apply to training and physiology. But good fortune and pacing might play considerable roles, too.

Said Ridnour: “You look at the teams that do well, they stay healthy. Most of the time – the top seven guys play the majority of the season. It’s a grind. That’s something that’s made San Antonio so successful, knowing how to keep their older guys fresh. You look at ‘em, those guys stay healthy. They don’t care what [resting guys] looks like.”

Some of the biggest storylines in the NBA as camps open involve injury comebacks, from Love and Chicago’s Derrick Rose to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Boston‘s Rajon Rondo and Lakers star Kobe Bryant. And just for the record, none of the 30 organizations is immune.

Moments after Ridnour talked about the Wolves, an old pal from his first stint in Milwaukee ambled out of the locker room. Small forward Carlos Delfino, who fractured a bone in his right foot during Houston’s first-round series, signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract as a free agent to return to the Bucks. He still was in a walking boot Monday, will miss all of camp and has a return date as indefinite as Budinger’s.

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.)

Rubio’s Rise Will Again Raise Hope

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Nothing can change this lost season for Ricky Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves. His first career triple-double Tuesday night reminded what might have been, but more importantly, what’s still to come.

Look no further than Chicago and the ongoing road to full recovery for Derrick Rose to understand the complications and fears associated with a return from reconstructive knee surgery. While Rose still has yet to make his season debut, Rubio is three months into his return from a torn ACL in his left knee that short-circuited the end of his 2011-12 season and the start of this one.

It’s been just the last four to six weeks that the 22-year-old Spaniard, who acknowledged early on the mental strain of coming back, has started to resemble the tantalizing floor magician who awes fans and inspires teammates.

He pulled a rabbit out of his hat and more Tuesday in a blowout win against the San Antonio Spurs, producing season-highs with 21 points and 13 rebounds, plus 12 assists. He was playing with full confidence, dribbling behind his back to beat defenders into the paint, dropping no-look passes, firing baseball passes, lobs and spotting cutters with lightning-quick bounce passes that somehow skip into the hands of his target.

“That’s the first one of many to come in his career,” teammate J.J. Barea said of Rubio’s triple-double.

The first was just a matter of time. Over the last 15 games, Rubio has eight double-doubles. He twice missed a triple-double by two rebounds and once each by three rebounds and one rebound.

“Yeah of course,” Rubio said afterward when asked if it feels good to notch the triple-double. “It’s good to have a triple-double, but especially a win against [the Spurs]. I know they got Tim Duncan, [Kawhi] Leonard and Tony Parker out, so a lot of players, but they are a great team and we played great.”

Before anybody discounts Rubio’s performance and the Wolves’ 107-83 win against the shorthanded Spurs, let’s just remember that this was a Minnesota team playing without Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger as part of an injured list that keeps on going. It’s been a carousel of devastating injuries since the start of the season and the result is a 22-39 record when a return to the playoffs was the predominant offseason forecast.

On Tuesday night, starting along with Rubio was Luke Ridnour, Mickael Gelabale, Derrick Williams and Greg Stiemsma, mostly a decent lineup of backups on any other team, in fact, on this team with a full roster.

That won’t happen until next season when playoff hopes will again rise. Rubio’s gradual improvement and more recently his sudden leaps are the greatest hope of all. In the last 15 games he’s averaging 13.6 ppg and 9.0 apg to lift his season averages to 9.2 and 7.3.

The most gratifying number, however, just might be 34.9. That’s his average minutes in that span, raising his season average to 28.9 mpg. Since Feb. 1, Rubio has logged at least 30 minutes in 14 of 19 games and at least 35 minutes nine times. Prior to Feb. 1, when he was often limited by a minutes restriction, Rubio hit the 30-minute mark twice (30 and 31 minutes) in 17 games while averaging 23.9 mpg, much of it coming off the bench.

“He is playing with such resolve trying to get us over the hump,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He has had that effort but we had so many people step up [against the Spurs]. It really made a big difference. I thought he was going to expire in the third quarter when I took him out. He just played so hard in those first six minutes.”

With this disappointing season winding down, nothing can be more meaningful to the Wolves than Rubio’s rise.

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.

Point Guard Problem In Dallas?

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday face old pal Jason Kidd and the New York Knicks for the second time in less than two weeks. In the time between, the drastic decline witnessed at point guard must be unnerving for Dallas.

The promising start Darren Collison rode into the Big Apple on Nov. 9 is swerving amid a mess of poor decision making, poor shooting and perplexing turnovers. After Monday’s 105-101 overtime home loss to the Golden State Warriors in which Collison was terrible offensively (seven points on 2-for-11 shooting, five assists and five turnovers) and torched defensively by Stephen Curry (31 points, nine assists), his quickest move was exiting the locker room before the media was granted entrance for post game interviews.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle addressed his point guard’s spotty play by saying he must help Collison snap out of it.

“Right now, he’s our starting point guard,” Carlisle said. “I know he can play better. I know he’s frustrated with how things are going. Right now, I’ve just got to help him get better. When players struggle, it’s on the coach. I don’t dodge that responsibility.”

Even if Carlisle wanted to make a switch, he has no realistic option. Dallas waived the disgruntled Delonte West before the start of the season. Roddy Beaubois continues to be disappointingly ineffective and third-year guard Dominique Jones, while flashing potential in his recently increased role, is reckless handling the basketball and unreliable shooting it.

This isn’t to suggest the Mavs would be better off with Kidd, who is off to a strong start with the Knicks in his 19th season. Dallas wanted the 39 year old back, but he spurned its offer to join New York, the right move for him and the Mavs, regardless if Collison ultimately becomes Dallas’ long-term (not to mention the short-term) solution or not.

The Mavs were 4-1 when they headed to Madison Square Garden and gamely competed against the then-undefeated Knicks before falling late. The loss started this current 2-5 stretch that has Dallas, still without star Dirk Nowitzki, at .500 (6-6) and backed into a corner with the revenge-minded Los Angeles Lakers following the Knicks into town Saturday night.

It was in L.A. on opening night that the speedy Collison carved up Steve Nash and Dallas’ new cast surprisingly revved up an uncertain offense. In the first five games, Collison averaged 16.2 points on highly efficient shooting at close range, and 7.2 assists, while committing just six total turnovers.

In the last seven games, he’s averaged 11.2 points and 5.9 assists with 21 turnovers. In just the last four games, he’s shooting 30.8 percent while averaging 10.0 points, 5.5 assists and 3.3 turnovers.

At the other end, it’s been a scorched trail of point-guard destruction: Kemba Walker, Luke Ridnour, former Pacers teammate George Hill, Kyrie Irving and finally Curry’s explosion for a season high in points and assists. The Mavs have yet to see All-Star point guards the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook.

“Stephen Curry just didn’t outplay one player,” Mavs shooting guard O.J. Mayo said. “He outplayed the Dallas Mavericks.”

Maybe so, but Collison was on the floor for 38 of Curry’s 43 minutes and served as his primary defender. Offensively, Collison was ineffective, at best. He did hit the game-tying jumper with 36 seconds to play to force overtime after Curry’s fourth-quarter blitz, but even that was a broken play in which he failed to get the ball into center Chris Kaman on a mismatch.

If not for Mayo’s late scoring takeover — hero ball, as they like to say nowadays, at its essence — the Mavs might not have even reached overtime. Mayo had 18 of his team-high 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and accounted for all 11 of Dallas’ points in OT on just one assist.

“I had the opportunity to have the ball in my hands,” Mayo said. “I didn’t have to depend on someone creating a shot for me.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for your point guard. And that’s a problem.

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…)

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.