Sid Hartman: Wolves must get healthy if they're to make playoff run

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2012 - 11:31 PM

That they remain in contention despite missing so many players shows just what a great job Rick Adelman is doing.

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It's tough for the Wolves to contend if they continue to play without second-year center Nikola Pekovic, among others.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Based on the fact that Rick Adelman took over a team that won only 17 games last season and has it in contention for the playoffs despite missing many of his top players because of injuries, the new Timberwolves coach should be considered for NBA Coach of the Year.

Adelman said the Wolves haven't won the games at home that they should have, but when four of your top six scorers are missing significant time, it is difficult to win, home or road. The Wolves' bench isn't that good.

The one fortunate factor is that Mr. MVP, Kevin Love, has missed only four games -- two to suspension, two to injury. He continues to play through pain.

When point guard Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury in a 105-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9, the Wolves' record fell to 21-21. With Sunday night's 119-106 loss at Portland, they are 4-9 since, a stretch that included a tough seven-game road trip. They are 3 1/2 games behind Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but Utah, Phoenix and Portland are ahead of them, too.

But it hasn't been just Rubio missing for the Wolves, who played again Sunday without Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea.

Beasley has missed six of the previous 13 games -- the Wolves going 1-5 with him out of the lineup.

The Wolves have also played a lot without Pekovic, the strong second-year center whose 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game make him invaluable in helping to get defenders away from Love. He has missed eight of the past nine games, and the Wolves are 2-6 without him in those eight games. Pekovic's presence might have been enough for the Wolves to beat Oklahoma City or Memphis in some of their recent close losses.

Then there's Barea, the point guard who was clearly going to be crucial to the Wolves' success after Rubio went down. He has played in only 30 games this season and has missed the past five, including Sunday. Barea seemed to be coming into his own before bruising his thigh last week, posting 18 points and 11 assists against San Antonio and then recording a triple-double in the Wolves' 149-140 double-overtime loss to Oklahoma City.

In all, of the 13 games since Rubio's injury, Beasley, Pekovic and Barea combined to miss 20 player-games. Pekovic is the Wolves' second-leading rebounder and scorer, Beasley is the team's fourth-highest scorer and Barea is the team's sixth-highest scorer.

If they are going to have any chance of sneaking into the playoffs this year, they will need those three players to get back to form for the final games of the season.

And while Love has put up some of the best offensive and rebounding numbers in basketball history over the month of March, they will also need point guard Luke Ridnour to continue the stellar play he's shown in the absence of Rubio and Barea. Ridnour averaged 13.3 points in the first 12 games after Rubio's injury to go along with 8.1 assists per game. Those numbers, if played out over an entire season, would both be career highs.

Only six of the Wolves' remaining games are against teams with a winning record, and they also face the Denver Nuggets, in eighth place in the West, twice. After this mini-road trip to Portland and Sacramento, seven of the remaining 11 games are at home, a fact that might help the playoff push. If they can find a way to get on a decent winning streak and also win some home games, the Wolves still have a good chance of getting in.

Huge month for Love

Love had 491 points and 222 rebounds in March, the second time in three months he had at least 450 points and 200 rebounds in a month. ESPN.com said that according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other players to have 450 points and 200 rebounds in a month over the past 20 seasons are Shaquille O'Neal (three times) and Patrick Ewing (in January 1994).

Love needed 31 points and eight rebounds against the Celtics on Friday to surpass O'Neal for the highest totals in both in a single month over the past 15 seasons; O'Neal had 499 points and 288 rebounds in March 2001. With 22 points and 11 rebounds, he passed Shaq in rebounds but not points. It was, however, his 45th double-double of the season, leading the league.

Jottings

• What does sports do for business downtown? It's too bad that House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who apparently is the big gun in holding up the passage of a Vikings stadium bill, wasn't on First Avenue on Friday night to have a drink or a sandwich after the Celtics-Wolves game. I checked after the game and nearly every establishment in the area had a long line outside the door. Rest assured, the revenue taken in on sales tax Friday night was a huge total, like it has been almost every home game the popular Wolves have played of late.

• Speaking after he sparked his Celtics to a big victory over the Wolves, Kevin Garnett said: "I know [the Target Center] very well and I'm very comfortable in this building. So I sort of reverted back to '04, if you will. They say I'm an old man, huh? In basketball terms I am; in everyday life I'm just an everyday man." On his status in Wolves history, he said: "My time has past, it's Kevin Love's time now. I understand that. But I am gracious of the applause of all the fans and very appreciative of the Twin Cities. I've always had a special place for all the people here, and they know that."

• The year before Jerry Kill became coach, about 400 high school football coaches attended the Gophers' annual football clinic. Friday night, more than 1,400 were registered.

• The website for Slam magazine reported that Gophers recruit Wally Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis., was the surprise of the High School Dunk Contest held Friday in New Orleans. Reported Slam: "He landed a dunk that sent the gym into a frenzy when he tossed the ball behind his back, caught it in midair and did a 180-degree two-hand slam."

• State 400-meter track champion Austin Salargo of Hopkins will join the Gophers this fall.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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