MINNEAPOLIS – Coming off their 100-92 win in Cleveland Monday night, the Timberwolves did not practice Tuesday, getting the customary day off after a back-to-back. But to tide you over until Wednesday’s home game against the Jazz, here’s a list of five things that have become increasingly apparent about this team over the past week or two:
1. Ricky Rubio will continue to improve. And he’ll have off nights. The point guard is now almost two months removed from his comeback, and in his past nine games he’s averaging 12.6 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 8.4 assists. It’s a small sample size, but he’s finally beginning to approach (and exceed) last season’s numbers. Sure, Rubio will still have off games, like last Wednesday against San Antonio when he shot 23.1 percent, or Sunday when he logged only four assists, but he is looking more and more like the player Minnesota came to love last season. It may seem like it’s been forever since the point guard took the court Dec. 15, but remember this: He’s still just less than a month away from the one-year anniversary of his injury, March 9.
2. Float a trade rumor about Luke Ridnour, and he’ll start playing like a maniac. Okay, I have no idea if there’s any connection here at all. But just look at the numbers: Since a few rumors popped up late last week about Ridnour being dealt, he’s averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds on 59.5 shooting in the past three games. He’s been playing more minutes, consequently, and has been the lynchpin of the teams’ offense with J.J. Barea’s foot sprain and Andrei Kirilenko sitting with a quad strain.
3. The Timberwolves need Andrei Kirilenko. He’s been out since the second half of the team’s Feb. 4 loss to Portland, and over that time the Timberwolves have gone 1-4. There’s no one statistic you can circle and say, “Ah, that’s where AK’s presence is most felt,” but across the board, the team is simply better with him in the lineup. Even if he isn’t by nature a high-scoring offensive weapon, he’s one more option for the team late in close games.
4. Signing Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson was the right way to go. Sure, Johnson isn’t going to get the playing time many fans want him to, but he’s no starter or big-minutes guy. Gelabale, though, is filling in for Kirilenko and has played more than 25 minutes in three of his last four games, all starts, and he’s doing is well. Sure, the team sat him in the second half last Wednesday and deferred to a three-guard lineup, but on the whole it needs his shooting skills, especially from long range. He’s shooting 45.8 percent on 3-pointers this season and 56.9 percent overall, and his numbers haven’t fallen off to the extent one might have expected now that the sample size has grown.
5. The playoffs look more like a pipe dream at this point. The Timberwolves are 12th in the West, 20 games behind the Spurs, and with one game remaining before the All-Star Game, they’ll likely remain in that place through the break. They’re seven games out of the Rockets’ eight seed, and with the Lakers, Trail Blazers and Mavericks all in front of them jostling for that last spot, it’s going to take some mammoth losing streaks and a nearly perfect end of February and beginning of March for Minnesota to even begin to claw its way back into position. All that without Kevin Love.
Another award for Kirilenko: Andrei Kirilenko was honored Tuesday with the 2012 FIBA Europe men’s player of the year award. While in Russia during the 2011-12 season, the forward led his team to the EuroLeague Final, and in 17 Euroleague games, he averaged 14.1 points on .598 shooting (.417 from three). Kirilenko also finished EuroLeague play averaging 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.9 blocks.
Kirilenko won the FIBA Europe award once before in his career, in 2007. Fellow Timberwolf Nikola Pekovic finished ninth in the 2012 voting, as well.