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Updated: January 21st, 2013 5:45pm
Zulgad: Timberwolves' luck proves to be the same as it ever was

Zulgad: Timberwolves' luck proves to be the same as it ever was

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Three months ago it appeared the stars were finally aligned in the Minnesota Timberwolves' favor.

Not only was it expected the Wolves would be a legitimate playoff contender in Rick Adelman's second season as coach, but they also stood to be the marquee attraction among the winter sports teams in Minnesota.

The momentum the Wild created by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching $98 million, 13-year contracts on July 4 had been lost to the NHL lockout, and while forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio weren't ready to start the season, their inevitable returns left many feeling that if the Wolves could tread water early on they would be in excellent position to make a quick move in the Western Conference standings when the two did get back on the court.

These expectations did not seem far-fetched.

In retrospect, we all should have known better. After all, we are dealing with the Timberwolves.

To say things haven't gone as expected would be an understatement of epic proportions.

To the surprise of no one, the Wolves blew an 18-point lead on Monday afternoon in Atlanta, losing to the Hawks 104-96. It was their sixth loss in the past seven games and seventh in their past nine.

That left the Wolves with a 17-21 record and in last place in the Northwest Division, 13.5 games behind Oklahoma City. The Wolves are in 10th place in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot.

The deficit feels more like 12.5 games and there is a good reason why.

If there was an Exhibit A for how wrong the Wolves' season has gone, it would be Love.

The two-time All-Star power forward broke his right hand while doing knuckle pushups at his home on Oct. 17, but managed to return early from the injury. The problem is it might have been too early. Love reinjured the hand on Jan. 3 at Denver and underwent surgery that will keep him out until sometime in March.

Before he hurt the hand again, Love had problems staying on the court, missing games after being poked in the eye, because of a thumb injury and an illness.

Love also did not help his cause by airing his frustrations with the Wolves to an NBA columnist from Yahoo! Sports. Love never did find his shooting touch during the 2012 portion of the season and now there appears a good chance the entire 2012-13 campaign will be a lost one for him.

While Love's season might best represent the Wolves' woes, he certainly isn't the only player to battle injuries. The Wolves ended a five-game losing streak on Saturday with a 92-79 victory over the slumping Rockets at Target Center, while having only nine players available.

Two of them - Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale - signed 10-day contracts on Saturday morning and then contributed a combined 26 points that night. There was a time when the Wolves were winning around 20 games a season when this might have been considered an amusing storyline for the franchise.

But there was nothing amusing about the 2012-13 Wolves having to rely on Johnson and Gelabale. It was just another reminder of how wrong things have gone.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that guard Brandon Roy's knees did not hold up after he attempted a comeback this season. Roy still hasn't given up hope of returning but the odds seem against him.

In this case, the Wolves took a gamble on a veteran and appear to have lost.

But coach Rick Adelman and David Kahn, the Wolves' president of basketball operations, likely thought that even if Roy did not make it through the season they still would be in fine shape.

They were wrong.

Center Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves' leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a badly bruised right quadriceps and rookie guard Alexey Shved twisted his ankle last Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers. They will be back.

Josh Howard (knee surgery) and Malcolm Lee (hip surgery) are lost for the season and Chase Budinger is in the midst of an absence that will last at least three months because of knee surgery he underwent in November.

This does not include the fact that Adelman has been away from the team for the past 15 days to be with his wife, Mary Kay, who has been hospitalized. The Wolves are 2-6 in that time under assistant coach Terry Porter.

Rubio also has had the misfortune of returning from reconstructive surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the same season that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson nearly set the NFL single-season rushing record while coming back from the same injury.

Rubio, playing a very different sport, has not had the same quick success that Peterson had. In fairness, Rubio's slow progress is the norm; Peterson's success was anything but normal.

Regardless, it's the Wolves' luck that the Vikings superstar would raise expectations just as Rubio attempts to return. It also is the Wolves' luck that the NHL lockout has been resolved, the league will now have an exciting race-to-the-finish 48-game season and the Wild is off to a 2-0 start.

The Wolves?

The assumption is that they will now miss the playoffs for the ninth season in a row. They stand to pay a price on many levels for doing so.

In early January, the franchise unveiled a ticket campaign that promised anyone who renewed their season tickets or bought a new one for next season would get a 10 percent discount if the team did not make the postseason. Love, Roy and Budinger already were injured at that point.

Team officials probably thought it couldn't get any worse. They should have known better. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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