Wolves coach Rick Adelman liked what he saw with Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea on the floor together Tuesday against Milwaukee. As a result, you might see more of it going forward.
It is one of the changes Adelman is considering as the season dwindles down, games have more importance and rotations tighten. It is also the end result of a difficult season in which Adelman has struggled to find a set rotation.
Tuesday against the Bucks, the two guards played together for a bit in the first half, then again for the bulk of the fourth quarter. The Wolves were a plus-17 when they played together. Rubio finished with a triple-double, and Barea was efficient on the offensive end.
It is a combination that gives the Wolves an extra ballhandler on the court and plays to Barea’s strengths.
For much of the season Adelman has used Barea as the backup point guard for the second unit. But that group has struggled, with injuries to Chase Budinger to start the season and to center Ronny Turiaf twice during the season. It has also put a lot of pressure on Barea to be both the ballhandler and the scorer for a second unit that has been very up and down this season.
“Sometimes I get in trouble when we struggle to score with that second unit,” Barea said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to score, and that’s when I get into a little trouble.’’
Adelman’s idea is to use a rotation of Rubio, Barea and Kevin Martin at the guard positions to get Barea more minutes with starting players and more time playing with Rubio.
“I think it’s better when Ricky has the ball to start with, and then when he kicks it to J.J., now you can get another pick-and-roll where [the defense] isn’t locked in on him,” Adelman said. “He doesn’t have great size, so when they lock in on him, he can’t see. … Any chance I get [to play them together] I’ll try to do that. Because it’s nice to have those two on the court together.’’
Part of the plan could be to get Barea into the game earlier, with the first team, in place of Rubio. That would allow Barea to get into a rhythm for when Rubio returns.
The problem is defensive matchups. Playing two point guards together — something Adelman was forced to do with Rubio and Luke Ridnour last season because of injuries — will only work when the defensive matchups work, as they did Tuesday, when the Bucks played much of the game with two point guards.
But, against smaller lineups, Adelman could see a three-guard lineup with Martin playing the three.
“One thing when you play the three guards, it’s an easy rotation,” Adelman said. “When Chase came back we tried to get him going. And then there is the matter of who is going to play behind Corey [Brewer]. I don’t know, it could be my fault, but we never got a rotation with any kind of consistency.’’
That could be changing. Budinger has struggled with his shot, and might see fewer minutes. Certainly until center Nikola Pekovic’s injury-induced minutes limitation is lifted, forward Kevin Love is going to be forced to play big minutes.
But it’s clear that, for the stretch run, Adelman wants to shorten his bench, and look for opportunities to get his two guards on the floor together.
“J.J. is a great scorer and sometimes he needs to play the two,” Rubio said. “It’s hard to do when they play two big guards. But I like playing with him.”
Turiaf gets back on court
Center Ronny Turiaf did some things in practice Thursday, his first on-court activity since sustaining a bone bruise in his right knee Feb. 19.
“I think they’ll start pushing him more and see what he can do,” Adelman said. “If we could get him back it would be so much easier for us.” Turiaf said he still feels pain in the knee when he bends it and when cutting and running. “I will see how I respond [Friday],” he said.