The Minnesota Timberwolves have spent most of the season trying to stay afloat as they waited on two returns.
They’ll likely finally have their two centerpieces back together Monday night as they visit the Orlando Magic.
Star point guard Ricky Rubio returned Saturday, helping Minnesota (12-9) to a 114-106 overtime victory against Dallas in his first game since tearing two knee ligaments in March. Rubio posted nine assists and eight points while having his minutes capped at 19, but the emotional lift his return provided may have been even bigger for the Timberwolves as they captured their fourth straight win.
“Just because his talent and who he is,” coach Rick Adelman told the team’s official website. “Our guys watched him work and get ready for this game. They know what type of player he is. He just rubs off and we found that out last year when we lost him.”
All-Star teammate Kevin Love, who missed Minnesota’s first nine games with a broken right hand, sat out Saturday because of flu-like symptoms, but is expected to play Monday. Despite their absences, the Timberwolves have managed to stay in playoff position in the Western Conference.
The expectations should instantly rise with Rubio and Love back on the court together. Minnesota was in contention for a playoff spot last season before Rubio’s injury, then went 5-20 to finish 26-40.
The Wolves won Saturday without either player on the floor in overtime after Rubio missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer late in regulation. Andrei Kirilenko scored five points in OT.
“I think we’re going to do big things with this team this year,” said Rubio, who averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists in 2011-12.
“Just showing how we played in the overtime … it was amazing.”
Dante Cunningham started in Love’s place but Derrick Williams gave the Wolves the bigger boost at forward. Williams, averaging 8.8 points, scored 16 in 19 minutes, his second-highest point total of the season.
“With Kevin out, you’ve got to be aggressive,” Williams said. “That man puts up a lot of numbers, and we’ve got to be able to match that with myself and Dante Cunningham playing the 4.”
Neither Love nor Rubio played in the Timberwolves’ first meeting with Orlando on Nov. 7, but Luke Ridnour scored a game-high 19 points to help Minnesota snap a seven-game skid in this series with a 90-75 home win.
The Magic (10-13) have been trying to forge a new identity after the departure of Dwight Howard, something they’re having more success with of late. They finished with a 15-5 run Saturday for a 107-98 win at Charlotte, their third victory in four games.
Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis have shouldered much of the scoring load, averaging 16.2 and 15.7 points, respectively. They each scored 20 against the Bobcats.
“This is a new team and we’re still finding each other,” Davis said. “As a team, we’re learning and this was a game where we learned from our past experience.”