Wolves losing offensive punch amid injuries
MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Tolliver has seen this before — the scrambling and renegotiating, the rehab and health updates. Injuries were his ticket to an NBA career in Golden State, and they've allowed him more minutes recently with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Warriors acquired Tolliver, a backup center, in 2010 when they played for about half their season with only six or seven truly healthy players. Although injuries haven't hit the Timberwolves as hard this season, they've redefined the team's performance in March. In the month's final game, three key players — in addition to Ricky Rubio — are still out for Minnesota.
Center Nikola Pekovic, guard J.J. Barea and forward Michael Beasley will all sit out Friday night's game against the Boston Celtics. Pekovic has missed the past five games with bone spurs in his right ankle, and though he'd hoped to play against the Celtics, the center hasn't progressed to the point where that's possible. The team has not updated the time frame on Pekovic's recovery, and he said on Sunday he's hoping to return this season before possibly having offseason surgery.
Barea was injured in the fourth quarter of last Friday's double-overtime loss in Oklahoma City. He's suffering from a thigh contusion and hasn't played since. With Rubio out for the remainder of the season, Barea's injury has been all the more devastating for the Timberwolves.
In the two games before his injury, Barea averaged 21.5 points and had a season-high 10 assists as part of a triple-double in Oklahoma City. After battling injuries for most of the season, Barea was finally becoming an offensive weapon before the latest setback.
"I was feeling great. I was playing good," he said. "This one was just a hit. I got hit in my quad. There's nothing I can do about it. It's frustrating. It's disappointing, but I've got to fight through it."
Beasley's sprained left big toe has sidelined him for two of the team's past four games, and he's played more than 20 minutes just twice in March. Without his scoring and the offensive spark Pekovic and Barea add, the Timberwolves have been forced to redefine their offense, adding Tolliver and guard Wayne Ellington into the mix. Both have risen to the occasion, and Kevin Love said the injuries have also contributed to the incredible numbers he's posted in March.
"I think with Pek out, J.J. out, Mike out, there's less firepower," Love said. "So, I'm having to take a little more of the reins on the offensive end."
The Timberwolves are fortunate they have Love, who's averaging 31.3 points and 14.1 rebounds this month, to pick up some of the slack. And though Tolliver emphasized how powerless a team can be in the face of injuries, the Timberwolves don't have to feel so impotent with Love in the lineup. Right now, they can rely on their All-Star to carry them, but how much and for how long remain to be seen.
Until Rubio's injury on March 9, the Timberwolves were fortunate they hadn't faced nearly the number of injuries they might have expected with this season's compact schedule. But with those expectations now becoming a grim reality, Tolliver said every player on the team needs to feel like he's ready to be called on at any time.
Against Boston on Friday, it will be a fight to win without a starter and two key bench players they thought might be playing earlier in the week. But the Timberwolves have done it before, in Charlotte most recently. More important, they played without both Pekovic and Barea in a big win against Denver on Sunday, and though that guarantees nothing, it at least gives them hope that a win is within reach Friday night.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter