ORLANDO – Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio sat slumped at his locker after Saturday’s 100-92 loss at Orlando that in every conceivable way did not resemble a double-overtime victory at Miami the night before.
Two large ice bags covered his knees while he soaked his feet in ice. A smaller ice bag wrapped his right shooting hand.
Not him, too?
“Well,” he said, looking up, “It has been a long season.”
It grew noticeably longer for at least one evening when the Wolves on Saturday turned the clock back to a season ago and a time when they regularly played with as few as nine healthy players.
On Saturday, they began without starters Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic — just their three leading scorers — as well as Shabazz Muhammad and then lost Chase Budinger a minute into the game when he turned his ankle after he was fouled on a dunk attempt.
Just one night earlier, the Wolves beat the two-time defending champion Heat 122-121 by working overtime twice. This time, they led by 13 points in the third quarter and were still ahead by five points before the Magic overcame them with a 29-11 run that ended the third quarter and began the fourth.
“We beat the champs last night, come and get beat by the Magic,” Wolves veteran forward Corey Brewer said, referring to an Orlando team that after winning Saturday owns the NBA’s third-worst record, at 22-55. “It’s a tough loss for us. We feel like we were playing well, up in the fourth, and we let it go.”
Love was a late scratch, pulled from the lineup about 30 minutes before the game because of back spasms one night after he played nearly 45 minutes and delivered a 28-point, 11-rebound game that beat the Heat.
“We didn’t know about him until the game,” Brewer said. “It has been a tough year for Kev, so he deserves a little break. Yeah, it was a tough night, but you’re in the NBA. This is what we get paid to do. We should have gotten a win, but we didn’t.”
Wolves coach Rick Adelman called upon little-used reserve forward Robbie Hummel for more than 33 minutes and veteran Luc Mbah a Moute played 31-plus minutes on a night when backup forward Dante Cunningham joined the team in Orlando and not only played but started and logged nearly 34 minutes when Love couldn’t go.
Cunningham was released from jail Friday afternoon, the same day he was charged on a felony domestic assault count after an altercation with his girlfriend at their Medina home early Thursday morning.
Under the NBA’s labor agreement with its players, Cunningham has a right to go back to work while the legal process plays out in his legal case filed Friday in Hennepin County Court.
The NBA or its teams doesn’t discipline or suspend players for off-court legal matters until the legal process is finalized, which conceivably could play out longer than Cunningham remains a Timberwolf. His contract — at a $2.2 million annual salary — expires after this season and he will be a restricted free agent in July.
Cunningham declined to comment through a team spokesman, citing those legal issues.
The Wolves consulted with the league on the matter and Cunningham met the team in Orlando Saturday afternoon.
“I talked to him and Dante said he wanted to play,” Adelman said. “I didn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t at this point.”
Cunningham was one of six Wolves players who scored in double figures Saturday. That number included every starter except for Budinger, who started for Martin against Magic guard Arron Afflalo and played exactly one minute before he was injured.
“We’re just missing a lot of people,” Adelman said. “We were playing combinations we hadn’t played before. Then you get to the fourth quarter and those things really start affecting you at that point. We had the lead going into the fourth quarter and just couldn’t finish it.”
Not again …
Budinger shot two free throws after he was injured while going for a dunk and then immediately limped to the locker room with an injury that frightened teammates who’ve seen him undergo two knee surgeries in the past 18 months.
“Not again,” Rubio said when asked what he immediately thought. “I thought it was a knee, so I was super scared. I was feeling bad, then I figured out it was an ankle. I feel bad anyway, but I feel a little better. You always have to look at the good part.”
• Martin missed his second consecutive game because of a stabbing pain in his heel that he felt after Wednesday’s game against Memphis. “The next day it felt like a knife in the bottom of my damn heel with every step,” he said. “I’m just trying to get that pain out. I don’t know what it is, I don’t need to know. It might just be an old man injury.”
• Muhammad missed Saturday’s game with what he called a sprained knee sustained when Miami’s Chris Andersen clipped his leg. He said he’s hopeful he can play within a week in a season that now has just 11 days left.