MINNEAPOLIS – Tuesday morning after shootaround, Ricky Rubio took jump shots for the first time since his surgery. He wasn’t exactly springing from the floor, but his feet were leaving the hardwood as he shot 3s from different angles around the basket.
Before Tuesday’s game, coach Rick Adelman either was unaware of the development or played dumb, but he did acknowledge that Rubio is on schedule with his rehab and said that he’ll be checking in with his doctor soon. Rubio has been running for several weeks, though he isn’t doing lateral movement yet.
Pregame update: Adelman reiterated what he said at Monday’s practice: Everyone will be available for the game against Maccabi Bazan Haifa, although he’s unlikely to play Malcolm Lee, who’s only practiced once since returning from his groin injury. Adelman wouldn’t say much about his plans for the game, and it seems like he’ll wait and see how things play out. What he does know is that he wants to get the players who’ve been playing a lot some quality minutes, which will mean mixing in guys like Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko who have seen sparse preseason action.
Opponent irrelevant: The Timberwolves are making Tuesday night about themselves.
It’s their second preseason game at the Target Center, and they’re facing off against Israeli team Maccabi Bazan Haifa (and its glaringly green uniforms). If this game mattered, it would have involved a ton of scouting and film work – after all, the best exposure Haifa had came last week, when it nearly beat Golden State.
But really, scouting doesn’t matter so much for this game, at least not in terms of who the opponent is and devising plan to beat them. The Timberwolves are the unquestioned favorites, and right now, their biggest concern lies in testing out different lineups and combinations and seeing what their team looks like when completely healthy.
If they do all that successfully, a win should come.
“It’s our chance, especially after yesterday’s practice, to go through our sets, be crisp,” Kevin Love said. “Our defense has been there, and more than anything, just go out there and free flow and play with confidence.”
Assistant coach Bill Bayno has led the team’s Haifa-specific preparation, which is similar to the prep work the team would do in advance of any other opponent. The Timberwolves have watched a highlight film and walked through the team’s high-volume plays, but more than anything, they’ve focused on the improvements they need to make, regardless of opponent or familiarity.
“You can’t overload them with scenarios that you have to stop,” Bayno said. “It’s more three or four things, this is what we have to do to win the game, and then we have to get better at what we do, regardless of who we’re playing.”
Bayno’s biggest takeaways from watching Maccabi Bazan Haifa on tape come in the form of warnings about two players: small forward Donta Smith and point guard Paul Stoll. Both have the green light, Bayno said, and they are the most productive players on the team.
So is this a must-win game for the Timberwolves? Of course. It wouldn’t look good to lose, not to a team with a combined four years of NBA experience. However, the Israelis have had four days of rest since playing in California last Thursday, and they’ll be ready.
“They play hard, and this is like the Super Bowl for them,” Bayno said.
The NBA abroad: Although a game like Tuesday’s might seem pointless in the grand scheme of things – why not play an actual NBA squad instead? – it does have its benefits. Bayno said he hopes the game, which will be televised in Israel, will bring the Timberwolves some Israeli fans. At the very least, it will increase the exposure of the NBA game in Israel.
“(David) Stern had a lot of high hopes for expanding his game to Europe and everything and really saw where the game was in 2008 in Beijing, how global it’s become,” Love said. “Being around the guys this summer, seeing what kind of international stars and I guess celebrity that they hold, is pretty special. To have our game probably only second to soccer worldwide as the most popular sport is great.”
Having a team like Maccabi Bazan Haifa come to the United States and play both broadens and highlights that popularity. More Israelis will see the game, of course, but it also offers a chance for international players in the U.S. to see former teammates and opponents. Years ago, if this game had somehow happened, there would have been little familiarity. Now, there are Americans on the Israeli team and Russians, a Montenegrin and a Spaniard on the Timberwolves. The international focus really is a two-way street.