Love is back, now he has to fit in

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2012 - 11:33 AM

The Wolves are unquestionably better off with Kevin Love in the lineup, but now they have to get reacquainted.

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Kevin Love warmed up before a game against the Denver Nuggets.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Timberwolves two-time All-Star Kevin Love made his season debut in a stealthy attack launched under the cover of darkness as night fell over Target Center on Wednesday.

Now, as funny as it might seem, a Wolves team that played defense so passionately and moved the ball so freely in building that 5-2 season start and now is .500 must learn again how to play with him.

The Wolves surfed the emotion of Love's unexpected return to a 17-point lead just before halftime against Denver before it all fell apart in a 101-94 loss.

"Little different," said Wolves reserve point guard J.J. Barea, who along with starting center Nikola Pekovic also returned from injury Wednesday. "Trust me, we're happy he's back."

Greeted by a standing ovation when he was introduced as a surprise starter, Love scored 16 points in an opening 21-10 run and 22 points in the first half alone. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds and still talked mostly about the things he didn't do.

Love surprised even some of his teammates when he showed up ready to play Wednesday even though he hadn't practiced fully. He had his right shooting hand x-rayed again Tuesday and a New York City hand specialist determined the hand had healed enough for Love to play again whenever he felt he was ready.

That came one night later.

"I've done all I could do to strengthen the hand and prepare for this," Love said after Wednesday's game, "and I'm still not where I want to be. It's going to be a process and I'm not where I want to be right now."

So if he put up 34 and 14 and still isn't where he wants to be ...

"With my stats, I could have lost the game, too," he said. "Eight-for-14 from the free-throw line, 2-for-9 from the three-point line. It's uncharacteristic of me."

Uncharacteristic, but understandable for a guy who only participated in 5-on-0 offensive walkthrough with teammates for a couple days since breaking his hand five weeks ago.

"I'm sure his emotions were there," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "He got tired as the game went on."

Love played with that right hand wrapped in a protective, fingerless glove that he says he expects to wear into perhaps January until his bones completely heal.

"A lot of soreness," he said after playing nearly 35 minutes Wednesday. "I just have to keep fighting through that. Luckily, I laid down enough bone where I will not hurt it again."

Now Adelman must integrate Love back into a team that learned for a month to play without him, starting when the Wolves begin a four-game West Coast trip on Friday at Portland.

And just when Adelman does that, he'll have to do it over again once Ricky Rubio returns from last March's knee surgery.

Yes, you can call those good problems to have, even if it likely will leave 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams on the outside looking. With Love back and Adelman preferring the experience provided by forwards Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson, Williams went from starting power forward to not playing a second Wednesday night.

"Not much," Love said when asked about any adjustment period. "I think the biggest thing will just be me getting back in game shape, knowing that when we have a [scoring] drought to play through me. I just haven't been there. The hand, it has only been five weeks. When it gets to eight weeks, hopefully I'll be back to the real Kevin Love."

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