Sorry, this isn’t going to be any Love fest

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2008 - 7:13 AM

The UCLA rookie hasn't even played a regular-season game yet, but it's already painfully obvious he faces an uphill battle.

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Wolves rookie forward Kevin Love faces a steep learning curve on how to score against NBA big men.

Photo: Frank Gunn, Associated Press file

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The Wolves, less than a week away from their season opener, finally got in an exhibition game at Target Center, losing to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. Rashad McCants (above) scored 19 points. The Wolves close out the preseason tonight. C7 Ø

There were unhappy Twins fans when it was suggested in print on May 10 that the trade for Delmon Young had the makings of a disaster.

Numerous respondents chided (heck, they even insulted) the author of that opinion for rushing to a conclusion on a 22-year-old outfielder. The explanation offered by Delmon's defenders was that he simply was going through the notorious "sophomore jinx."

The Young experience guarantees there is going to be a real problem with those faithful fans out there in Timberwolves Square Block.

That's because your always-cautious Star Tribune commentator is ready to declare the trade for Kevin Love a budding disaster -- and it's being done a week before the start of his rookie season.

The Wolves had the third selection in the June draft and took O.J. Mayo, the dynamic scoring guard from Southern Cal. The dozens of Minnesota fans following this drama seemed more than satisfied that the Wolves had chosen the remaining player with the ability to cause some excitement.

And then before midnight, Mayo was traded to Memphis for Love, a big man by position if not height (he's 6-8, according to some NBA sources).

There were benefits to the trade for the Wolves, such as unloading Marko Jaric and obtaining Mike Miller, but the key elements were Mayo and Love.

Mayo is stuck with a dreadful cast in Memphis, but already in exhibitions he has served the purpose of creating offense. On Tuesday night, he went 12-for-28 from the field and scored 28 points in a loss to Miami.

He was a modest 3-for-9 for 10 points for the Grizzlies on Wednesday, putting his average at 16.1 points for the exhibitionschedule.

Meantime, the Wolves made their Target Center debut in their seventh exhibition on Wednesday night against Chicago. They scored nine points in the first quarter, duplicated that in the fourth and lost 85-75 in a display of NBA basketball (by both teams) that was beyond ugly.

And when it came to ineptitude, no one compared to Love. The rookie played 24 minutes and went 1-for-10 from the field. He was credited with five rebounds and two turnovers.

There was one glaring impression from the time Love spent on the offensive end: How is this rookie going to get the ball in the basket against NBA big men?

He's undersized and he has no lift. When he tried to go up in traffic, he was able to get the ball somewhere around the chins of Aaron Gray or Joakim Noah or Drew Gooden.

Coach Randy Wittman was asked the question about Love being able to score in the NBA.

"Trust me, he doesn't miss most of those shots that didn't go in for him tonight," Wittman said. "He had a couple of baby hooks that came out tonight. He usually makes those shots. He's an excellent offensive rebounder.

"When Al [Jefferson] is being guarded by the big man, he'll be able to take that other defender in the post. I'm not worried about Kevin being able to score."

OK, coach, but when Love was in traffic inside, he couldn't get the ball over anyone to get an easy bucket.

"He's aware that he's facing size and speed that he didn't face at UCLA," Wittman said. "He's going to figure out what he has to do in the post. He's the type of player that's going to figure that out."

Love is advertised as a capable mid-range shooter. That and his passing ability are supposed to create easier baskets for Jefferson than Big Al was able to get working with last season's power forwards.

When it comes to Love contributing points, the problem is he's unlikely to get the ball back at the 17-foot range when Jefferson is double-teamed inside. Big Al dishes out assists like teams score goals in the World Cup.

There's a final issue for Love:

Even if it was the sophomore jinx that defeated Young -- rather than a lousy swing and general indifference -- the opponent facing Love is more formidable.

The basketball man who was dedicated to bringing Love to the Wolves was Kevin McHale. And these days, there's nothing in professional sports more devastating for an athlete to encounter than the McHale Jinx.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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