A sinister curse is causing players to drop like flies, yet the Wolves are hanging in there.
The Timberwolves' worries continued to pile up Tuesday like sandbags around a storm-ravaged town.
Their coach, Rick Adelman, missed the game for personal reasons, while Kevin Love awaited another opinion on his broken hand, and Ricky Rubio, trying to adapt to his repaired knee, treated the lane the way student drivers treat downtown traffic. J.J. Barea even acknowledged after the game that he's playing with a troublesome back.
The Wolves entered training camp with a deep, talented roster. With a star player fresh off playing a key role in the Olympic gold medal game. With a team that promised to make the playoffs for the first time since the last time Latrell Sprewell smiled.
Then Love fractured his hand, Chase Budinger blew out his knee, Brandon Roy found his surgically repaired knees not surgically repaired enough to stay on the court, Rubio's return from knee surgery made him look, at times, like a novice ice skater, and Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee were lost for the season because of knee injuries.
"When you talk about key guys, I've never faced anything like this,'' said Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter, who filled in for the missing Adelman on Tuesday night.
Porter has been in the NBA since 1985. The man played against Julius Erving. He remembers when players wore shorts that were actually short.
It's early January, and the Wolves have more talent today on their injury list than they've had on their roster in many seasons. If they were followed by a more self-absorbed fan base, they would have created a legend about a billy goat or a Bambino; they would have turned their misfortune into a long-running narrative that begs for attention and sympathy.
It's not too late. Wolves fans should embrace the one legend that would explain their team's unique combination of historical mismanagement and recent misfortune.
Wolves fans should popularize the legend of Joey Two Step.
Joey Two Step (not his real name) worked for the Wolves as an in-game entertainer. The camera would scan the arena and find him sitting, disguised as an average fan, in the stands. Joey would bob his head to the music, then break into a funky dance.
It was a pretty good bit that ended when Joey failed to control his amorous nature when he encountered female employees. The Wolves' bosses called him into a meeting and fired him.
JTS said: "Curse you, Timberwolves! No one fires Joey Two Step! I'm putting a hex on you!''
The hex has traveled like an insidious disease through the body Timberwolf. It began in the brains of key decision-makers. Last year it spread to Rubio's knee. This year it has attacked body parts indiscriminately.
Tuesday night, the Wolves were even missing their coach. With Porter calmly running the show, the Wolves beat a good Atlanta team, 108-103.
The Wolves continue to win games they shouldn't. Tuesday, they won because of Nikola Pekovic's dominance inside, and Andrei Kirilenko's all-around game, and Alexey Shved's deftness, and Derrick Williams' scoring, and Dante Cunningham's last-minute shot and steal.
Their roster is decimated, yet they are 16-15. If they can survive without Love and if Rubio gains confidence in his knee and Roy ...
But can this really be their year, with so many key players out? People who roller-skate drunk down stairs have a lower injury rate.
"I'm not surprised,'' Kirilenko said. "Even though we lose a few key players, we have guys who are able to perform at a high level. This is why you like to play on this team right now. Even if someone isn't playing, you have somebody else stepping up.''
Kirilenko praised his healthy teammates, including fellow Russian Alexey Shved. The Russians are the key, right?
"The Russians,'' he said with a smile, "are always the key.''
The Wolves play intelligent, cohesive basketball. This is turning into the year they earn our sympathy instead of our ridicule.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com
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