Ricky Rubio makes his first start as Wolves get past New Orleans
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Minnesota Timberwolves fans finally got what they had been clamoring for on Friday night.
Rookie point guard Ricky Rubio was inserted into the starting lineup and had 12 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals in an 87-80 victory over the host New Orleans Hornets.
Not only did Rubio start, he practically played the entire game. Wolves coach Rick Adelman played Rubio for 44 minutes, the most he has been in a game this season and the most minutes any player logged on Friday.
Victory did not come easy for the Wolves.
They held a 12-point lead at one point, but the Hornets were able to rally.
Rubio made all four of his free-throw attempts in the final two minutes during a 7-0 run that helped to seal the victory.
Rubio's performance got plenty of attention but it was forward Kevin Love who again put up big numbers. The All-Star had a season-high 34 points with 15 rebounds and made 17 of 18 free throws.
Adelman's hand in shuffling the starting lineup had been forced after the Wolves fell behind by 24 points in the second quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Chicago Bulls at Target Center.
Love made it pretty clear he was in favor of a change, but the timing couldn't have been worse for Adelman. J.J. Barea (ankle) and Michael Beasley (foot) both aren't on this two-game road trip, leaving the Wolves' already-thin bench without any real depth.
Nonetheless, Adelman started Rubio and Luke Ridnour in the backcourt and Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic and Love up front. Ridnour and Rubio are the team's only two points guards and the former is used as the shooting guard when the rookie is in the game.
Adelman put in Wayne Ellington for Ridnour midway through the first quarter to allow Rubio to be the sole handler of the basketball. Adelman, though, did not shy away from using the Rubio-Ridnour combination as Ridnour played 40 minutes.
Getting Rubio in the starting lineup did not have an immediate impact. The Wolves had only 16 first-quarter points and 37 in the first half, both season lows.
But Rubio led his team to a much better second half, as the Wolves scored 50 points in the final two quarters against the type of team they need to beat if they are serious about really turning around their franchise.
The Hornets made the Wolves work for it, erasing a 12-point deficit to start the fourth quarter. The Wolves held strong, making their free throws and coming up with stops when they need them to earn the victory.
• 133,520: All-Star votes for Rubio, who a distant third to the Lakers' Kobe Bryant (690,613) and the Clippers' Chris Paul (540,173).
• 37: Points in the first half for the Wolves, who shot 32 percent from the field.
• 17: Free throws made by Love, who had been struggling from the line
• 17: Points for Love in the third quarter - a season-high.
• 8: Missed three-pointers for Johnson, who continued to struggle and made only 4 of 13 shots for nine points in 34 minutes.
Barea and Beasley both were given the vague "day-to-day" listing by the team and no real date has been circled for either to return, although it is believed Barea's ankle sprain is less serious than Beasley's mid-foot sprain.
Brad Miller did some work in practice Thursday but there is still no timetable for when the veteran will return from microfracture surgery on his knee. Adelman said Miller is still a ways from playing.
Thursday's practice was the first in the month of January for the Wolves because the team has been playing so many games due to the lockout shortened 66-game season. Adelman thinks the schedule is at least partly responsible for the injury bug hitting his team so early.
"I think that is definitely part of it," he said. "When you look at the injuries we've had, we had guys hurt when the season started. Since then, with JJ and the pulled hamstring and the other night it was just a turned ankle."
Anthony Tolliver agreed with his coach. "I think this season throughout the league that a lot more players get hurt, get nicked up during this short season," he said.
The Wolves will play the Hawks in Atlanta at 6 p.m. Saturday before returning to Target Center to face Sacramento on Monday and Detroit on Wednesday. Friday's game was not televised locally and Saturday's also is not on the Wolves' TV schedule.