MINNEAPOLIS — When the Target Center lights go down and Ricky Rubio hears his name over the public address system Wednesday night, it’ll be the Timberwolves point guard’s first full immersion in the season-opener experience.
As a rookie, he began the year coming off the bench. Last season, he sat next to fellow superstar Kevin Love in street clothes and enviously took in pregame opening-night introductions.
“I remember sitting on the side with Kevin watching the video,” Rubio said. “I remember watching him and feeling a little painful watching our teammates going out there, and we couldn’t be with them.”
Not a problem this time around.
Love is back from a broken hand and knee surgery, and Rubio’s torn ACL that kept him out of the first portion of last season has fully healed. Together, the pillar pair leads Minnesota into its 13th straight curtain-drawing contest at home Wednesday, a 7 p.m. clash with the Orlando Magic.
A busy offseason and up-and-down preseason have the new-look Timberwolves “geeked up” to open the franchise’s 25th season, Love said, but not overly so.
“I think we have a pretty calm attitude heading into tonight,” said Love, who will make his first regular-season start since Jan. 3. “Don’t take that the wrong way, but we’re just really ready to play.”
They face a rebuilding Orlando team saddled with back-to-back road games to commence its season. The Magic come off a 20-62 mark last year — their worst since the club’s inaugural season in 1989-90, the same year the Timberwolves were founded — and are still a year or two away from frightening anyone.
But guard tandem Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson can be dangerous. Same with big man Nikola Vucevic.
These are the kind of games Minnesota must win if it hopes to snap a nine-year skid of playoff-bereft seasons. The Timberwolves didn’t perform well in home preseason losses to CSKA Moscow and Toronto, and the top half of the Western Conference is stacked.
Defending champ Miami got off to a slow start Tuesday night against Chicago, and it nearly cost the Heat victory in one of three marquee games to tip off the NBA season.
Coach Rick Adelman harped on the importance of domestic efficiency in practice this week.
“If we want to have a lot of success this year, we’ve got to play good on our home floor,” Love said. “I think you saw last night — I watched all three games — teams come out on their home floor, and it can be tough for them. They just want to play so well in front of their home crowd. We’re hoping that they got all the misses out of the way and got all that poor play out of the way that first night of the NBA.”
While Love and Rubio soak up their first opening-night hoopla together as starters, small forward Shabazz Muhammad will absorb the entire aura of his first NBA game. He’s not in line for many minutes — Corey Brewer is listed as a probable starter at the three, but that’s mere public-relations guesswork, as Adelman hasn’t yet revealed who will start on the wing opposite shooting guard Kevin Martin. Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham are also in the mix.
Muhammad, the 14th overall pick in this summer’s draft, may not see the floor, but there were still some nerves after the team’s morning shootaround.
“I’ve always been nervous about games,” said Muhammad, who averaged 4.4 points and 11.4 minutes while appearing in all six of the Timberwolves’ preseason games. “Once you get in that grind, the nerves don’t happen anymore.”