short takes

Into the Rookie of the Year void steps …

With the clear favorite now absent for the season's remaining four months, the "race" might not be much of a race in a season filled with injured rookies.

Here's a look at the early leader(s) in the clubhouse:

1. Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves: He's THE favorite now that the Bucks — the Wolves' opponent on Friday — are without Jabari Paker, a player instrumental in their dramatic turnaround from last season's 15 victories.

He's the one both because of the playing time he gets and his increasingly consistent production as he learns to assert himself night after night.

2. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago: A 23-year-old rookie who was drafted in 2011 but stayed in Europe, he might be the most NBA-ready rookie, but the Bulls' depth and an unpredictable role probably will keep him from seriously contending.

3. K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia: A second-round pick playing for a lousy team started fast, but he could fade just the same as the season progresses.

4. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia: A sleeper pick before the season began, he started as slowly as teammate McDaniels did quickly, but he has the kind of talent and shot-blocking to play himself back into the conversation.

Runners-up: Boston's Marcus Smart, Orlando's Elfrid Payton, Houston's Kostas Papanikolaou , Houston/L.A. Lakers' Tarik Black, Wolves' Zach LaVine.

Cavaliers need some Love

Relegated largely to a third wheel, it's time for former Wolves star Kevin Love to step forth in Cleveland now that LeBron James is out for the next two weeks because of back and knee injuries.

James already had missed two games and the Cavaliers already had lost four of its past five games when the team announced on Thursday his upcoming absence. He'll miss a testing trip to Dallas, Houston, Golden State, Phoenix and the L.A. Clippers.

Love, who has been bothered by back spasms himself, stepped up Friday night, scoring 27 points in a victory over Charlotte.