MINNEAPOLIS – It’s been 280 days, 16 wins, 25 losses, three trades, seven signings and too many injuries even to count. It’s been worse than the Timberwolves expected, and then better, and now, finally, Ricky Rubio is back.
The point guard, who has not played since a March 9 loss to the Lakers in which he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee, will return to the court for Saturday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Rubio was cleared to practice on Nov. 28, and he has ramped up his activity levels since, remaining in Minneapolis on Friday while the team traveled to New Orleans in order to work out and complete the evaluations of his knee.
“I’m excited to get back on the floor with my teammates and play in front of the best fans in the NBA at Target Center,” Rubio said in a statement. “After a long recovery, this is the first step in me getting back on the court and helping my teammates. Thank you to the fans for their support over the last nine months.”
Rubio will come off the bench in his season debut, and coach Rick Adelman said he’ll likely be limited to 16-18 minutes. Adelman also said that he doesn’t think Rubio will play in back-to-backs to begin the season; the team has one such stretch Monday and Tuesday in Orlando and Miami, but its next back-to-back after that is not until Jan. 2 and 3.
With Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour starting at shooting guard and point guard, respectively, Rubio will likely play alongside J.J. Barea when he first takes the court. Adelman said he’s confident that all four of his healthy guards can play together in different combinations; they’ve worked well together in practice thus far.
“Offensively, they all play well together and they’re all compatible,” Adelman said. “So I think that’s going to be an easy thing. … The only difference is he’s going to have the ball in his hands, and these other guys are going to be playing off the ball a lot more.”
Adelman said he’s been encouraged with everything he’s seen Rubio do in practice. He’s been physical, the coach said, and he still manages to get around defenders and run the floor. With Rubio back, the team will have 10 healthy options against the Mavericks; Kevin Love is out with flu-like symptoms, as are Malcolm Lee (right knee), Josh Howard (hyperextended right knee), Chase Budinger (torn meniscus in left knee) and Brandon Roy (right knee).
By all accounts, the rehab process went smoothly and without any major setbacks, and the main reason Rubio’s debut comes later than some may have expected was due to scheduling. With his return coming when it is — on the second game of a back-to-back, with another such stretch looming — some careful monitoring will be necessary. The team’s schedule eases next week; after playing Oklahoma City on Thursday, its sixth game in nine days, it enters a stretch in which it has just three games in 12 days.
Before his injury last season, Rubio averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds. This season, the team’s two primary point guards, Ridnour and Barea, have averaged 10.9 points, 4.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds combined. With Rubio back, the team will have more options, better ballhandling and the intangible spark it was missing at the end of last season.
“I just think we have to be very observant of what he’s going through,” Adelman said. “He’s going to have his ups and downs. It’s just good having him back.”