The Wolves have lost four of their last five games. They are 3-2 since Ricky Rubio returned from injury. (Ricky sat out against Miami, because it was the second game of a back-to-back.) Rubio’s role is going to get bigger, and soon. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: give the kid more minutes.
He’s the key to our winning. Not JJ, not Ridnour, not Mal Lee, not Brandon Roy. Certainly not Josh Howard, Will Conroy, Troy Hudson, Sam Cassell, or Pooh Richardson. Not Derrick Williams, and not Dante Cunningham.
Ricky. Just Ricky. Throw K-Love in there too.
That’s what the Wolves basically have: two stars. One is still having his minutes limited (he’s now cleared to play 24 minutes, up from 18), basically nullifying his ability to make an impact by doing what he does – help the team win in lots of non-box score ways while on the floor. The other is out of shape and acting pouty and playing poorly.
Neither star is playing well. The Wolves are losing. End of story.
No need to overthink it. It’s great when guys like AK47 and Pek can carry the team to wins, and we love seeing Shved outperform expectations, but that’s not going to be a blueprint for winning in the playoffs. Which is what we want to do.
So what can be done?
Love is reportedly doing extra work after practice, and that’s a good thing. But it’s impossible not to notice the difference between this year’s Love, and last year’s Love, who came in svelte, tanned, and ready to play. Will Love ever get back to that level – consistently – this season? It’s hard to say.
I’m more confident about Rubio. He’s clearly just shaking off rust. He has better teammates around him this season, even with Budinger and roy out. His point guard instincts won’t abandon after a prolonged layoff. He just needs time.
Tonight would be a wonderful chance for the Wolves’ stars to regain their rhythm. The 11-19 Phoenix Suns – they of Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, and Sebastian Telfair – come to town. They’re 26th in the NBA in points allowed and 28th in rebounding.
They’re not very good without Goran Dragic, their starting point guard, who averages just under 15 points and 6 assists per game, and whom ESPN lists as day-to-day with a hip injury (presumably not a broken hip, ’cause that’s an old lady injury). Telfair will start in Dragic’s place if Dragic can’t go. All of our point guards should plan to exploit that matchup.
At the shooting guard position, Shannon Brown has been playing well lately for the Suns. He’s strong and athletic, and is averaging 14.2 points over his last five games. Look for Brown to give Alexey a difficult task on defense, as Brown excels at finding seams in the defense and getting open for corner treys that Shved will have to close out on.
Ditto Suns small forward Jared Dudley, who’s a three-point shooting extraordinaire and a favorite object of Wolves trade discussions in comments sections over at Canis Hoopus. Dudley took the starting job from former Wolves forward Mike Beasley in early December. Or, rather, Beasley lost it. Beas is having another horrific season, looks as lackadaisical as ever, and has shown so little life in Phoenix that Andy G and I have quickly gotten over our collective grief him leaving the Wolves.
Luis Scola is having a down year, averaging only 11.7 points per. Just two seasons ago he averaged over 18 points a contest. He and Kevin Love have a history. Last time they met, of course, a thing happened:
Scola/Love is always a thuggish ruggish battle between grinders. It’s not pretty, but it’s there.
Speaking of thuggish ruggish grinders, if Love-Scola is the main attraction, Pekovic-Gortat is a hell of an opening act. Gortat is a beast, and I’m actually quite worried about him picking us apart around the hoop tonight.
In fact, there’s so much thuggish ruggish stuff going to be happening under the hoop tonight, I’m obliged to leave you with this to chew on: