Ricky Rubio knows he has to improve late in games

MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio hates it.

But he gets it.

With a game on the line in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman is going to go with the hot hand — not necessarily the top player. For Rubio, that has meant fourth-quarter benchings against Cleveland, Washington, Miami and, most recently, Boston this season.

“I always want to play,” Rubio said. “I understand. The players who are playing a good night, that’s the players (Adelman) goes with. I accept it and I’m gonna try to play good every night to be on the floor in the fourth quarter.”

Problem is, that strategy hasn’t produced a desirable outcome.

In those four aforementioned contests, including a 101-97 setback Monday in Boston, Minnesota is 0-4. Rubio has shot a combined 5-for-28 in those games — 2 for 12 on Monday — and hasn’t displayed the rhythm or energy Adelman desires, prompting him to insert J.J. Barea.

In an ideal situation, Adelman prefers to stick with his core players rather than picking and choosing who to play in the fourth quarter on a nightly basis. But sometimes, he doesn’t feel he has a choice.

“You get to trust people out there, and you’re not gonna go away from them very often,” Adelman said. “If it’s your best group, I think, it’s an unusual situation not to go back with those people.

“You want one or two guys who you know you can leave in the game if you really need to, based on matchups.”

Decisive and elusive, Barea can drive and create. He can hit 3s. But he is also capable of big-moment blunders, including a widely-errant 3 with 24.9 seconds left against the Celtics as the Timberwolves trailed by just a point.Before Monday, Rubio was making Adelman’s decision on whom to play at the point late a no-brainer.

Rubio scored at least 12 points in each of his previous four outings, including a 21-point outburst last week against Philadelphia. In three of those four games, the distributor-defender had six or more assists; in all four, he recorded at least two steals.

It’s up to him to replicate such performances if he wants to play — not watch — during crunch time, Rubio said.

“I want to get that feeling out of me by taking more shots (in practice), doing extra work,” said Rubio, whose 8.0 assists per game are tied for fourth in the NBA. “That’s what I’ve been doing all of my career.”

Cunningham, Martin suit up:  Kevin Martin and Dante Cunningham dressed Wednesday night against Portland, and Martin started at shooting guard after missing Monday’s contest.

Martin sat out against the Celtics with left knee soreness, and Cunningham rolled his ankle late in the loss. Both participated in the Timberwolves’ shootaround Wednesday morning, and Adelman said pregame “as far as I know, they both think they can go. We’ll see how they feel when the game starts.”

Cunningham told reporters Wednesday morning his ankle is “feeling pretty good, but it’s still a little swollen.” He wore a brace underneath his left shoe against the Blazers, while Martin sported a long, black sleeve under a brace on his left knee.

Around the 4-minute mark in the fourth quarter Monday, Cunningham and Celtics center Jared Sullinger both skied for a rebound near the perimeter. Cunningham came down on Sullinger’s foot and rolled over the outside of his ankle, falling and writhing in momentary pain.

“I let out a little war cry,” Cunningham said Wednesday, a small brace on his left ankle. “I did. I’ll admit that. Honestly, it was more the shock than anything. I knew I was in the air. I knew I had a lot of pressure going down on it.”

But team trainers told him his fall, in which he didn’t try to remain upright, prevented any serious damage.Cunningham shot, ran and jumped like he normally would during shootaround and described his status as a game-time decision.

“If I can run, if I can move, if I can benefit this team, I’m gonna play,” said Cunningham, who scored a season-high-tying 12 points Monday.

Martin’s knee began nagging him in Detroit last Tuesday. In his three previous games before Monday, he went 5-for-24 from the field and scored 19 points combined.

Budinger cleared to practice: Chase Budinger is running out of suit combinations.

They’ve been his garb of choice during every Timberwolves game he has been a part of this season, sitting and watching while he tries to come back from a second meniscus surgery in a year.

Wednesday, he got some good news.

The small forward learned he has been cleared for full-contact practice, meaning he can now concentrate on getting back into game shape while continuing to keep an eye on his left knee.

“It’s going very well,” Budinger said. “There’s been no setbacks. The biggest thing is there hasn’t been any swelling.”

Budinger had been working out with the team in a limited capacity since Nov. 18. During pre-training-camp workouts this fall, he reinjured the left-knee meniscus he tore last season and underwent surgery to remove part of it Sept. 30.

A few weeks rehabbing in Florida followed, and he has yet to don game threads this season, but no-limits practice is the next benchmark on his road to recovery. Last week, he made his first road trip of the season when Minnesota traveled to Detroit.

“Very excited,” Budinger said. “It’s the next step for me. We’ll see how that goes and see how good my wind is, which I feel is gonna be pretty tough.”

Both Budinger and Adelman said they had no idea when Budinger would be able to come back. “At least he can get out there and we can get some work done and see how his knee responds,” Adelman said.

When Budinger was cleared for full-contact practice last season, it took him about a week to return to game action March 21 at Sacramento. He’d torn the meniscus six games into the 2012-13 campaign and missed 59 games.

Adelman added that center Ronny Turiaf, who has missed all but two games with a right elbow fracture, is still “a ways away” from returning. He has only been able to participate in light shooting workouts since injuring the elbow in the second game of the season against Oklahoma City.

Love praises Aldridge: Kevin Love isn’t arrogant or naïve enough to think he doesn’t have competition as the NBA’s premier power forward. With Wednesday’s matchup comes a stark reminder.

Trail Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge has inserted himself into the conversation this season, displaying an ability to take over games and helping Portland to a startling 22-4 start that has it atop the Western Conference standings. He entered Wednesday scoring 23.6 points per game — second among league power forwards behind Love’s 25 — and shooting 48.6 percent to Love’s 44.3.

That’s partially a product of an offensive skill set that resides almost exclusively inside the 3-point line. Aldridge has developed a deadly midrange jumper to go with his long, 6-foot-11 frame.

“I think point guards and power forwards are probably the two best positions at this point,” said Love, who has attempted 156 3-pointers to Aldridge’s two. “LaMarcus and myself are right up there with the best power forwards. I always have respect for what he’s able to do. We all make our impact on the games in different ways but are almost equally effective.”

Portland coach Terry Stotts went so far as to call Aldridge the game’s best power forward at the moment.

Adelman disagreed.

“He’s gonna say that. I think Kevin Love is the best power forward,” Adelman said, adding with a grin, “who’s the tiebreaker?”

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