Wessel: In lost season for Wolves, Ricky Rubio continues to get better
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A team employee was asked how things were going this week and they just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Just playing out the string."
Playing out the string is phrase used for a team that has no chance at making the playoffs and is just waiting for the season to finish in April. That definitely pertains to the Minnesota Timberwolves as they remain just two games out of last place in the Western Conference.
Only that memo hasn't gotten to Ricky Rubio yet.
Rubio played one of the best games of his career in Tuesday's 107-83 win over the San Antonio Spurs. He went for 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, finally getting over the triple-double hump after prolonged flirtation.
"Ricky was just terrific," coach Rick Adelman said. "He just set the tone, especially at the end of the first quarter and right on through the first half."
Rubio remains the lone reason to spend money on a ticket to see the Wolves this season (at least until Kevin Love and Chase Budinger return). If it wasn't for their second-year Spanish point guard, tickets to see the Wolves wouldn't be worth the penny asking price on StubHub before the game.
It wasn't just Tuesday, either. Rubio has been refusing to give up on a season where there is nothing to play for and refusing to give in late in the fourth quarter when there is no chance the Wolves can win. He has averaged 12.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 3.0 steals in his last 16 games and has been the lone spark for a team that has won just 10 of their last 40 games.
"He competes no matter what the score is," J.J. Barea said. "He motivates the rest of us. Everybody has to be like that. We have to play with that intensity and that energy. He does it, he does it every night, and I am glad he finally got that triple double."
There is no question this has been a trying year for Rubio. Absent for much of the year has been that happy-go-lucky, wide-eyed-wonderment of when he arrived in Minnesota last season. It has been replaced with fiery frustration of a competitor not used to losing. Rubio has lost more games in the last month than he did his entire final season at Barcelona, causing him to punch stanchions on his way off the court and fans to start a movement on Twitter to buy him nachos in an attempt to cheer him up.
But Rubio was all smiles despite sporting a big scratch across his chest after the first of what will likely be many triple-triples in his NBA career -- he also notched three as a teenager in Spain.
Predictably, however, the triple-double was the last thing Rubio wanted to talk about after the game, instead deflecting credit to his teammates for making shots and the bench for building the lead that ultimately won the game against the NBA-best Spurs, albeit a short-handed Spurs team without Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
"I try to be aggressive all the time and stats are the last thing I try to watch," he said. "Victories are the most important thing."
So with 21 games remaining, don't expect Rubio to slowdown or put it in neutral and let it coast like a lot of his now-jettisoned teammates did a year ago. He has likely never heard the phrase 'play out the string' and wouldn't understand it even if you tried to explain it to him. He has one speed, one way to play and only one goal in mind: to win.
Now the front office just needs to surround him with players with a similar mind and skill-set so his seasons can stop ending in April.