MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love is allowed to find the silver lining.
He no longer has to be repentant to Luis Scola, or even to his team. He’s lucky in that respect, benefiting from a good reputation and teammates who managed to get by — however briefly — without him.
From this end of Love’s suspension, things don’t look so bad. The Timberwolves went 1-1 without their star in a two-game stretch where maintaining the status quo was exceeding expectations. Now, going into Friday’s game against Dallas, the team is even more aware of what it has in Love, who is rested and ready for his comeback.
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“Playing the most minutes in the league, especially with this condensed schedule, your body can get worn down,” Love said. “So I was able to get some workouts in, get up and down the floor, and also get a few lifts in.”
That’s the upside of all this: a short respite in a season where rest has no place. Love said he’s started to think of the suspension as a blessing in disguise, and though it might take him a moment to get his competitive edge back, missing two games shouldn’t take much of a toll.
Love may be able to see the benefits of time off now, when he’s back on the court at shootaround, sweating and joking with his teammates as if he were never gone. But he was, for two long games that seemed close to interminable from the confines of Love’s couch.
During the suspension — levied by the league for stepping on Scola’s face during an entanglement under the basket — the forward wasn’t allowed to attend Timberwolves games. He wasn’t on site at the Target Center on Tuesday for their matchup against the Kings, and he didn’t travel to Memphis on Wednesday.
He was forced to watch the games on television, taking out his pent-up angst on Twitter with a running commentary that might just foreshadow a career as a commentator. He didn’t call his teammates or even text very much. It was the most removed Love has been from the Timberwolves since his career began.
“You feel like you could go out there and do so much, and there you are sitting on your couch,” Love said, adding that he felt helpless during the two missed games.
He was at his most vulnerable in the moments when he could have helped, on broken plays and mistakes that he knew he could have fixed or even prevented. The only time Love stood up and yelled at the television was on Tuesday at the end of the Timberwolves’ win over Sacramento, when a broken play allowed Donte Green the chance at a game-winning shot. Love cranked the volume up so high during that sequence that he broke the speakers in his kitchen, and even three days later, the emotion of that moment sticks with him.
“It was one of those where you’re like, ‘Oooooh thank God,'” Love said. “I was happy that he missed the shot.”
The long, drawn out “oh,” closer to a moan or a scream of despair than a word — it was the cry of a tortured fan, not a basketball player. Love isn’t accustomed to being on the other side of things, and he didn’t like it. But for the forward, who’s not known to cause trouble or pick fights, this week’s suspension could realistically be his only such brush with powerlessness.
For some players, a suspension is nothing more than a break. The repercussions are meaningless. When they talk about feeling rested and refreshed, it’s insincere. They don’t care that they’ve missed time. They don’t realize that they’ve let their teammates down.
Love isn’t one of those players.
He’s grounded enough that he can find the benefits. He didn’t mope or complain. He worked out, lifted weights, greeted fans. He did all the right things. But he also worried and tortured himself just a bit, and that’s the mark of a player who’s truly been punished. Love can talk about the positive side of a suspension only because he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to turn around and stomp on someone else’s face in three weeks. He’s smarter than that.
“Overall, that was a little bump in the road,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. “You read his apologies . . . That’s not his nature. It was just probably in the moment that he got a little upset and let himself get beyond who he really is. I don’t think you’ll have any problem from him over the rest of his career because of things like that.”
The real victim of this suspension isn’t Love. It’s not his teammates, either. It’s the Dallas Mavericks, who will face the forward at perhaps his most relentless. His return couldn’t come at a better time, as the Timberwolves are looking for the season sweep of the defending champions on Friday.
“I think he’s going to come out tonight and have a good 48 minutes,” J.J. Barea said. “I think we’re going to have to play him 48 minutes tonight.”
Love knows he’ll be needed more than ever, and his teammates will breathe a sigh of relief when his 25 points and nearly 14 rebounds return to the lineup. But more important than Love’s contributions on the court is his reaction to the past week, to a suspension that was for the most part unexpected, even surprising.
It wasn’t unfair. It wasn’t silly. It wasn’t wrong, or a pain, or a hassle. Love didn’t blame anyone or complain, and he didn’t emphasize what he thought about the ruling. Instead, he remembers how it felt to sit on his couch, helpless.
“It was very strange,” Love said. “I didn’t like it.”
And if that’s how this week sticks in his mind, Love is a better player for it.