NEW YORK — Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio on Sunday played for the first time in New York City and at Madison Square Garden, the place Knicks fans once clamored for him to call home.
Rubio finally did sign with the Timberwolves in May 2011, nearly two years after the team drafted him fifth overall and patiently held his rights while so many believed Rubio and his agent would force a trade to play in the big city rather than ever launch his NBA career in snowy, cold, small-market Minnesota.
Last season's lockout-shortened 66-game schedule meant the Wolves never visited New York last year, so Sunday's game was Rubio's first in the building self-proclaimed as the "World's Most Famous Arena."
As a Timberwolf, of course.
He played just under his 18 minutes, his playing-time restriction these first four games back from knee surgery and said he felt more mobile defensively than his past two times out.
He even went to the basket twice and scored twice, doubling his field-goal total from his first three games when he went 0-for-3 twice and made a single basket the other time.
"Today I tried to get to the basket a little more," he said. "I wasn't as afraid as other days, but I still have a way to go. Better than the other day, best I felt on defense. Before, I was feeling slow, afraid to attack the rim. Sometimes I still do, still a little afraid, but it's going to come."
Wolves coach Rick Adelman said before Sunday's game that all parties concerned will discuss increasing Rubio's minutes before the team next plays, Wednesday against Houston at Target Center.
"I hope so," Rubio said. "We'll try to get to the point where we don't worry about it."
Earning his money
Wolves veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko drew his third consecutive demanding defensive challenge and fouled out for the second consecutive game, this time trying to guard Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony after he defended LeBron James on Tuesday and Kevin Durant on Thursday.
He and Dante Cunningham limited Anthony into 10-for-25 shooting, but Anthony persevered and scored 19 of his 25 points -- including his team's final 12 -- in Sunday's deciding fourth quarter.
Weighing their options
The Wolves played on without injured Kevin Love -- out because of an eye injury sustained Thursday against Oklahoma City -- and with just a 14-player roster.
They have not signed anyone since waiving injured Josh Howard on Thursday and will continue auditions after Christmas before they sign a free agent such as former Wolves forward Lazar Hayward, James Anderson, Shaun Livingston or perhaps find a way to get Raja Bell out of exile in Utah in their search to find a wing player, preferably one who can defend.
"If you're going to add somebody, you need to add somebody who will have a legitimate chance to help you," Adelman said. "Just to bring a body in ... I'm probably not going to play him, unless we have another injury. We'll play the guys we have."
Adelman is giving the team both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. They next play Houston at Target Center on Wednesday.
"It's a time where if you don't have to play a game, you should have time away with your family," Adelman said.
The Wolves should savor their Christmas break: If they continue to win, they will likely play a Christmas Day game for the first time in franchise history next year both because they are relevant again and because they'll probably have at least five international players on a day the NBA targets a worldwide audience.
It's also likely the Wolves will make an international trip to Russia and Spain next fall.
• Wolves guard J.J. Barea, when asked if he will still be playing at age 39, like former Dallas teammate Jason Kidd is with the Knicks: "I'll still be playing, but it won't be in the NBA. I'll be a player-coach in the Puerto Rican league by then."
• You know the Wolves are injury prone when even the GM is out. President of Basketball Operations David Kahn didn't travel with the team, as he often does, because he underwent hernia surgery last week and can't fly for now.
• The Knicks were scheduled to fly right after Sunday's game to Los Angeles, where they will spend Christmas Eve before starting a three-game Western trip against the Lakers on Christmas Day.