OAKLAND, CALIF. - Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio returns to his Vail, Colo., knee surgeon Monday for what he believes will be a final three-day visit that gets him back on the practice floor with his teammates by week's end.
"I hope so," he said. "But you never know..."
It's the next hurdle in a still unspecified return trajectory that certainly won't be as sudden and unexpected as Kevin Love's was last week.
But it sure will be welcomed -- and not a moment too soon, though, when Rubio does play his first game since tearing knee ligaments last March for a team that now has lost its past five games.
Famed since he was 14 for his court vision and playmaking gifts, Rubio's presence might be felt most on the defensive end, particularly for a Wolves backcourt that was exploited in losses Friday at Portland and Saturday at Golden State.
On Friday, Portland's starting backcourt -- rookie Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews -- combined for 68 percent shooting from the field and 58 points. On Saturday, Golden State starters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson outscored Wolves counterparts Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee 44-2.
Rubio's presence -- in time, but not right away -- will allow Ridnour to return to a reserve role and/or positioned playing off the ball.
It also will give the Wolves an on-ball backcourt defender who usually seemed to be in the right place during his rookie season.
"When he was healthy last year, he was very good keeping people in front of him," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "He was able to control the guy he was guarding and not let him get around him. He was in the top five in steals. He was always in the right spot as a team defender, too.
"He'll help us. He'll give us a little more size there. His instincts will help us a lot."
The Wolves have played the past two games with four guards, five if you count the minutes forward Josh Howard has played there. Barea isn't yet fully recovered from a sprained foot that caused him to miss two weeks, and Ridnour continues to play with a bad back that needs daily treatment.
Love took responsibility for Saturday's loss and defensive problems against pick-and-roll plays on a night when the Wolves were outscored 26-11 in the fourth quarter after the Warriors went on a 21-4 run. Those 11 points were a season low for a quarter this year.
"A lot of it is the bigs have to play better defense, myself mostly," Love said. "A lot of that is me getting into practice, working on defensive schemes and all of us helping each other. They [the guards] can't take the blame, mostly me. I have to take the blame. Some of the other bigs do, too, because we have to help each other."
Lillard hurt the Wolves all night Friday, scoring almost at will on pick-and-roll plays until Adelman finally asked the 6-7 Howard to defend Lillard some in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors used that most basic of all plays frequently to exploit the Wolves defense as well.
"We've got to defend better in pick-and-roll situations," Ridnour said. "We all have to step up. Everyone has to step up and get a hit. It's not just guards, it's bigs, it's everybody. We're battling. We've just got a bad stretch here right now. We've got to figure this thing out and turn it around."