TIMBERWOLVES: Love, Minnesota running low on time for playoff push

April 01--It wasn't a statement of concession from Kevin Love, but reality is telling the Timberwolves forward that injuries and inexperience might keep the team from making the NBA playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42)may be out for the rest of the season due to a strained left groin.(Pioneer Press: John Autey)

April 01--It wasn't a statement of concession from Kevin Love, but reality is telling the Timberwolves forward that injuries and inexperience might keep the team from making the NBA playoffs.

"However this season ends up, we can hold our heads up," Love said late Friday night, March 30, after a 100-79 loss to Boston at Target Center. "It's definitely a different feeling this time of the season than last year. People can tell this franchise is headed in a different direction."

If the Wolves don't make the playoffs, their consolation will be that they were in contention, after five consecutive seasons with a won-lost percentage below .400.

The Wolves (25-28), who play at Portland on Sunday, have 13 games remaining to make up a 3-1/2-game

deficit on Denver (28-24) and Houston (28-24) for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.


Love took a realistic view of the Wolves' playoff chances after their demoralizing loss to the Celtics. The playoff push is even more challenging with the injury troubles becoming a major factor.

As well as Love has performed this season -- he's averaging 26.5 points and 13.8 rebounds per game and earning most valuable player consideration -- Boston exposed a lack of depth on the Wolves' roster when Love's production is limited. It was the first time Love expressed serious concern about not having center Nikola Pekovic (ankles), guard J.J. Barea (bruised thigh) and forward Michael Beasley (sprained big toe) to help take pressure off


Pekovic and Barea will not play at Portland, and Beasley is doubtful. Throw in point guard Ricky Rubio's season-ending knee injury, and the Wolves are battling for a playoff spot without four significant players.

The Wolves were 21-20 when Rubio went down. They have not been above .500 since.

"We don't want to make excuses, but when you look at the guys we're missing, and now we go back on the road, definitely a lot of things are starting to add up," Love said.

Since a three-game winning streak in early March -- two wins over Portland and one over the Los Angeles Clippers -- the Wolves have not won consecutive games. They are 4-9 since that streak, including a 1-3 stretch in their past four home games.

"We have not won the games we needed to win at home," coach Rick Adelman said.


Adelman is beginning to see the impact the injuries are having. The Celtics seemed to gear their entire defensive game plan to limiting Love, and it worked. Love finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds but was just 5 for 18 from the field. It's a game plan the Wolves might see more often in the final month of the season, particularly if Love doesn't get consistent support.

"Kevin's not going to score 40 points every night," Adelman said. "Your team has to be playing well, too. You have to get contributions from other people who will be a threat out there. We haven't had that kind of balanced attack."

In spite of the injuries and condensed schedule, Adelman appears to have shortened his rotation to eight players. Center Darko Milicic and forward Anthony Randolph are not in that rotation.

Adelman is content to keep both players on the bench at a time when the Wolves could use every available body. Milicic has sat out the past six games. Randolph has played a total of 44 seconds over the past six games.

If the Wolves regroup and make a playoff push, it likely will be with Love, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, Martell Webster and Luke Ridnour -- with Anthony Tolliver, Wayne Ellington and rookie guard Malcolm Lee coming off the bench.

This question has yet to be answered, however: Can that group be productive enough to ease the burden on Love?

"We're trying to replace so many points, assists and rebounds with those guys out," Love said. "It's a tough situation for us. We're down but not out. We still have something to fight for. Hopefully, we can get those guys healthy. Our window is closing in on us."

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