Rubio's recovery from knee injury is due for a little push

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2012 - 8:57 AM

Five games into his comeback, Ricky Rubio says his surgically repaired knee can handle a bump in minutes, and the Wolves trainers appear to be on board.

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Ricky Rubio has tried to push himself since his Dec. 15 season debut, but his strength and stamina aren’t all the way back yet.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The Timberwolves thus far have been disciplined and uniform in their plan to carefully bring precocious point guard Ricky Rubio back from March knee surgery, limiting him exactly to his 18-minute target three times and 16-plus minutes once in his first four games.

Is it time to loosen those limitations?

"I hope so," Rubio said.

Rubio will meet with management and the team's medical staff Wednesday, and all three parties likely will agree to begin increasing his minutes starting with that night's game against Houston at Target Center.

"Well, the trainer is the one who follows the rules," Rubio said, "and I'm going to try to increase more minutes every game and try to get to point where we don't worry about it."

Fueled by adrenaline and emotion, Rubio startled nearly everyone with his season debut against Dallas on Dec. 15. Then, the reality of his nine-month layoff and the nature of his injury became apparent as Rubio's legs and body didn't follow exactly what his mind told him to do.

He was encouraged by Sunday's 18 minutes in a 94-91 loss at New York in which he got to the basket twice for made layups with moves when he trusted his healing left knee and moved better defensively than he had in games last week against Orlando and Oklahoma City.

"Best I felt on defense because I was feeling slow, but [Sunday] I felt pretty good on defense," Rubio said. "I tried to get to the basket a little more. I wasn't afraid as other days, but I still have a way to go. I've been afraid to attack the rim. Sometimes I still do, but it's going to come."

Teammate J.J. Barea knows a thing or two about getting to the rim. He says he sees the changes in Rubio by the game.

"The thing I told him is, he looked better than the game before," Barea said after Sunday's game in which the Wolves led by as many as 11 points but were outscored 19-18 by Knicks star Carmelo Anthony alone in the fourth quarter. "He was moving better. That's a good sign for him. He got to the basket twice. That's good. He just has to move better."

And he has to remain patient.

"I talk to him," Barea said. "I'm keeping him positive no matter what happens. It's not easy, the way back. You know he wants to come back and be himself again. I'm just telling him to be patient. I think he's doing a good job of that."

Rubio scored five points -- and had five turnovers, too -- on Sunday after going scoreless against the Magic and Thunder. His two field goals made against the Knicks doubled his season total of one until then.

That one made field goal came in his impressive season debut, an eight-point, nine-assist, three-steal game against Dallas in which a big, loud home crowd that had waited nine months for his return pushed him on.

"He didn't play as well as he did the first game and that's to be expected," Wolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn said. "There's not as much adrenaline, and he still has a long ways to go with endurance and timing. We knew it would take a while. We expected that. I'm sure everything will work out in the end."

The next step in the process is increasing his playing-time limit and allowing him to play in back-to-back games, which could come as soon as next week's two-game, two-day trip to Utah and Denver.

"He wants to have everything happen at once, or a lot of it," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "After six minutes or so, he gets tired. He has to keep fighting through that. He hasn't really had any setbacks. He feels good. That's a positive. He hasn't played in nine months, and he's playing some pretty quick guards who've been going at it for 25 games, plus a month [of training camp], and he's just starting.

"He's got to keep that in mind, that he'll have these ups and downs."

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