(Eds: Updates with details, quotes and background. With AP Photos.)By JON KRAWCZYNSKIAP Sports Writer
There was a time in Minnesota when Kevin Love was openly disappointed about the lack of playing time he was getting with the Timberwolves.
Now he can hardly get a moment’s rest.
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Love is averaging a league-leading 39.8 minutes per game this season. He’s also fourth in the league in scoring with 26.3 points per game and second in rebounds with 13.8.
”You’ll never hear me complain about minutes again after this season,” Love said on Monday. ”It’s definitely different than it was a few years ago.”
Love started only 59 games in his first two seasons in the league, and clashed in 2009-10 with former coach Kurt Rambis, who didn’t want to play both him and Al Jefferson together in the frontcourt at the same time.
Timberwolves President David Kahn shipped Jefferson out that summer and chose to build around Love, and the minutes started coming last season. He averaged nearly 36 per game and started all 73 in which he played, but it’s been even more apparent this season how indispensable Love has become to this team.
He played 41 minutes on opening night against Oklahoma City and has hardly stepped off the court since. He’s topped 40 minutes in a game 28 times and has played fewer than 37 minutes just eight times in the grueling condensed schedule.
With Ricky Rubio out for the season with a knee injury, Nikola Pekovic slowed by an ankle injury and J.J. Barea unable to stay healthy for most of the season, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman simply can’t afford to sit him down.
”I worry about him all the time because we play him so many minutes,” Adelman said. ”He seems to get through it pretty good. … He’s just been so consistent for us, rebounding the ball, shooting the ball, making plays.
”He’s so important to what we’re doing and when you’re this late in the season, you need that rhythm as a team. He’s a big part of that.”
It’s the reason Love is starting to hear his name brought up in MVP conversations. But at 24-26, he thinks the Wolves have to win at a little higher clip before he has a shot at winning it.
”We’re in the playoff hunt, but if we were very high in the standings and I was playing like this, maybe so,” Love said. ”I don’t know if that’s for me to decide.”
Love took the day of practice off on Monday after playing 94 minutes in the previous two games. He played 49 minutes – scoring 51 points with 14 rebounds – in a double-overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Friday night, then racked up another 44 minutes, 30 points and 21 rebounds in a win over the Nuggets on Sunday.
”Our training staff does a good job of keeping us ready,” Love said. ”I feel pretty dang good for playing so many games and so many minutes in such a condensed season. I just try to get as much rest as I possibly can on days like today and keep it moving.”
The game against Denver was the perfect example. Love played the first 16 minutes of the game, helping the Wolves take a 21-point lead early in the second quarter when he went to the bench.
But rookie Derrick Williams got into foul trouble, and even with the cushy advantage, Adelman went right back to Love after a rest of just 1:14 rather than go to the less reliable big men Darko Milicic or Anthony Randolph.
”He seems to be handling it OK but it’s something you’d like to know you can put other people in the game and you’re not going to have any type of down time,” Adelman said.
With the Timberwolves 2 1/2 games out of the eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs and with only 16 games to play, any lull during any game could be the one that costs the Wolves a playoff berth.
So Love plays on.
And so do the other healthy Wolves. Luke Ridnour has an achy groin, back and nose, but is playing heavy minutes because Barea is out with a bruised right thigh that prevented him from making the two-game road trip to Memphis and Charlotte this week.
Michael Beasley is also playing through a painful sprained big toe on his left foot and Love is seeing more time at center with Pekovic out.
In a schedule where the games come one on top of the other, there’s no time for rest, no time for rehab and no time to sit.
”It’s been a little tougher,” Ridnour said. ”You don’t have two or three days in between that you might usually get.
”Either way, it’s been a lot of games and it’s been a lot of games quick. Everyone’s probably banged up right now. You just have to find a way to get through it.”
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