With the game on the line, Wolves lacking a go-to guy

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2013 - 7:21 AM

Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham both had their chances in the final seconds of Monday's loss.


Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio (9) drives to the basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the second quarter at the Target Center on Tuesday, January 8, 2013, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Mct - Mct

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Back for four games after three weeks away, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman mostly has settled on lineup combinations and rotation tinkering.

But the final seconds of Monday's two-point loss to Portland demonstrated once again that he and his team still search for just where the ball should go when the game's in doubt, at least until Kevin Love returns from his twice-broken hand.

Trailing by 19 points after three quarters and by 13 with four minutes left, the Wolves had two opportunities in the final seven seconds to tie Monday's game, and failed both times.

"This is the problem area that we knew we were going to have," Adelman said. "The game's on the line. What are you going to do?"

Love isn't the classic kind of superstar -- if you consider him one at all -- who can create his own shot and win games all by himself. Not yet anyway, although Adelman foresees him growing into such a role when he's healthy again.

With Love sidelined until well into March, Adelman deems placing the ball in point guard Ricky Rubio's hands as his next best option. He did so in Monday's fourth quarter, when Rubio ran one pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop play after another.

By game's end, Rubio had tied a franchise record he already shared for most assists in a quarter with 10 and Dante Cunningham had scored 17 of his 23 points in those 12 minutes.

By game's end, though, each player missed a shot that could have forced overtime.

Each time Adelman allowed Rubio to create for others, as he had all quarter, because the Wolves have no one who can create his own shot.

"Well, of course, we are missing Kevin Love in that part," Rubio said. "He is a leader, and he's a guy who takes those shots. But he's not here. We have to step up, and I think we run a good play. We didn't make it."

Rubio also pointed out that it'd help if the Wolves didn't fall behind by 11 points by halftime and by 19 entering that fourth quarter.

"If we do it 48 minutes, I don't think we need the last bucket to win," Rubio said.

Rubio had the ball in his hands and the chance to tie the score with fewer than 10 seconds remaining. He dribbled all around underneath the basket looking for an open teammate or an open shot before forcing up a short jumper with 7.9 seconds left that Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge partially blocked.

Afterward, Adelman said Rubio needed to bring the ball -- and by doing so, Aldridge -- out away from the basket instead of remaining so close underneath it.

"He has the advantage when he has it out on the floor, not when he's three feet from the basket, shooting over a 7-footer," Adelman said. "He knew that."

Rubio said Tuesday he planned to study that play with coaches.

"I was trying to find someone, I couldn't find him," Rubio said. "It was a bad decision for me. I take the blame on me and learn from that, but if you don't take the shots -- you have to take them. I'm going to look at the play and try to learn from that."

The Wolves had one more chance after that, but Cunningham's 18-foot shot at the buzzer missed badly after he followed Saturday's perfect 9-for-9 game by making 11 of his first 16 shots Monday.

Cunningham assumed such an important role in each game not because he has been designated the team's go-to guy, but because the opposing defense left him open time and again.

"Dante made a lot of shots, but when we had Kevin out there, spacing the floor, now they've got real decisions to make then," Adelman said. "Because now you can make the three, now you can do a lot of things. ... We have to find a way. Our team can't exist on one or two guys having big nights. It's got to be four and five guys, stepping up, giving us something different."

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