Rubio cleared to start practicing with Wolves

Ricky Rubio is one major step closer to returning to the court
for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rubio got the green light from doctors on Wednesday for
full-contact practices, the last major hurdle he needed to clear in
his recovery from torn ligaments in his left knee.

The team still has not set a timetable for Rubio’s first game
action, but just the thought of getting the dynamic point guard
back in uniform is a big lift to a team that has been beset by
numerous injuries early this season.

”Life is good!” Rubio tweeted on Wednesday evening.

His slick passing, sunny attitude and overlooked defense on the
perimeter energized the Timberwolves last season, helping a
long-suffering franchise climb into the playoff picture in his
first year in the United States after coming over from Spain. But
he tore his ACL late in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on
March 9, and the Wolves’ season quickly unraveled after that.

”We just have to have him practice for the next couple of weeks
and see how he responds,” coach Rick Adelman said. ”We’ve missed
him a lot. Once we lost him we saw the impact he had on our group
because of his leadership – and not just at the offensive end. He
defended people better than most point guards.”

Even with Rubio expected to be out until mid-December, this
season started with hopes of the team’s first playoff appearance
since 2004. Then All-Star Kevin Love broke his right hand in the
preseason, Chase Budinger tore the meniscus in his left knee early
in the regular season and Brandon Roy’s knees continued to give him
problems. Love made his season debut just last week, but the Wolves
lost the first three games in which he played while they got
acclimated to having him back on the court.

The Wolves were without forward Andrei Kirilenko against the Los
Angeles Clippers on Wednesday because of back spasms.

Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds in a win over Sacramento on
Tuesday night to snap a five-game skid, and now the Wolves receive
word that Rubio’s return is just around the corner.

”He’ll be eased in,” Timberwolves president of basketball
operations David Kahn said in remarks on the team’s website. ”The
likelihood is he’ll play his first game around 16-18 minutes and
then from there the medical staff and Ricky will determine on a
game-by-game basis what to do next.”

Rubio started participating in walk-through portions of practice
early last week and coach Rick Adelman said it was clear in those
situations that he has not lost his aptitude for the offense and
what will be asked of him when he returns.

”Anybody who’s going through an injury like that is going to
have his ups and downs, and I was aware of that,” Adelman said.
”So we don’t want him to push himself. This is for the long
haul.”

Just when that first game comes is still to be decided. The
Wolves played the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night,
meaning a practice back home on Thursday was highly unlikely before
they host Milwaukee on Friday. Minnesota has a three-day break
between games after the Bucks come to town, so Rubio likely will
get his first contact work in practice sometime this weekend.

They have a back-to-back at Philadelphia and Boston next week on
Dec. 4 and 5 before another home game against Cleveland on Dec.
7.

The Timberwolves have said all along that they are going to be
cautious with Rubio’s recovery and not rush him back. He is too
important to the franchise’s future to risk further injury by
running him out there too soon. At the same time, it’s clear the
Wolves desperately need their playmaker to get the offense flowing
more smoothly and to tighten up some porous perimeter defense that
has led to some huge nights from opposing backcourts in the last
week.

With Budinger out for three to four months, Adelman has been
forced to use a small backcourt of Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea for
large stretches of games, which puts the team in a bind defensively
against bigger guards. Rookie Alexey Shved has been a pleasant
surprise after coming over from Russia, but the Wolves are still
sorely missing Rubio’s size and feel for the game.

And while Rubio no doubt will immediately make the Timberwolves
better, Adelman cautioned last week that fans have to be patient
while he works his way back.

”We have to be careful about the expectations,” he said. ”He
had a serious injury. You want him on the court and everything but
you’re going to have to judge how quickly. … He’s going to have
his ups and downs. But he’s just the type of young man that he’s
going to get through it. He’s just going to have to have the type
of patience himself.”

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