Rubio injury halts Wolves’ renaissance

AP Photo/DayLifeA month ago in a hotel room in Orlando, the Timberwolves were buzzing. The team had a reason to be excited for the first time in a very long time. At .500 and the Playoffs within site, the Timberwolves actually mattered at the All-Star Break for the first time in a long time.

I talked with Timberwolves media relations staff at the All-Star Weekend and they were ecstatic with having some actual work to do shuffling Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams to the various events. Love won the 3-point shootout and Williams could have very easily won the slam dunk contest that weekend.

If anything re-introduced the Wolves to the national spotlight or cemented the work the franchise has done to get back to this point after years lost in the wilderness of bad coaching and poor management, it was this weekend.

There was finally hope in Minneapolis for the city’s basketball team.

“It feels good to continue to get better,” Kevin Love said at All-Star Weekend. “Obviously Ricky is a big part of that. But we’ve had other guys step up in Nikola Pekovic and Luke Ridnour. We feel good about how things are going.

“I think with Rick Adelman and kind of changing the landscape there, it has been tremendous for us. Obviously Ricky and Derrick and the youth movement that we have had has been great for us. We continue to put ourselves in positions to win basketball games. We’re at .500 now and looking to get better the rest of the season.”

The Timberwolves were amazingly 17-17 at the All-Star Break and 10th in the West. On March 9, Minnesota was a game below .500 and ninth in the West. Of course, March 9 was a night that would change the Wolves season. That was, of course the night that Ricky Rubio was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the closing moments of the Wolves’ loss to the Lakers.

Minnesota has not lost any games in the standings since the injury — the team is still one game below .500 — but the team has lost ground on that elusive Playoff dream. The Wolves sit a game and a half behind the Rockets for the final Playoff spot.

And the cracks are beginning to show.

In a show of frustration, Kevin Love and J.J. Barea needed to be separated during a timeout late in Sunday’s 115-99 loss to Sacramento. The two brushed off the incident soon after.

“Frustration,” Barea told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Part of the game, competitors trying to win. We’re frustrated that we’re losing, but it happens, every basketball team. We just got into it. It’s all right. He said something I didn’t like, I said it back and we’re all good. Nothing against him.”

Things seemed back to normal after Minnesota held on for a win in Golden State on Monday night. I guess things were Kosher.

Likely this was a moment caught on TV that was just taken a little further than it needed to and was blown a bit out of proportion. Still, the Wolves lack that something they had with Rubio in the lineup.

Now this young Minnesota team is learning how to grind. And that is not something young teams typically do very well. The Timberwolves are learning again.

“We just need to continue to get better,” Love said back on that sunny Friday afternoon in Orlando a month ago. “The more time that we have on the floor together, the better we’re going to be. If we just get more time on the floor together and just win basketball games, that’s what’s going to help us.”

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily