|Kevin Love's injury leaves the Timberwolves in need of production. (Getty Images)|
This was supposed to be the season "it" finally happened for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After 16 seasons, the team was projected to reach the playoffs again and, depending on seeding, maybe even play in multiple rounds.
That scenario — although not ruled out completely — is now in jeopardy with the news that All-Star forward and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Love is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after breaking two bones in his right hand during a pre-practice workout at his condo Wednesday morning.
There is a lot of work to reconcile the absence of one player. Love is top-five in the NBA in scoring; free throws attempted and made; every rebounding category; and player efficiency rating. He's also fourth in win shares, just behind the likes of Finals duelers LeBron James and Kevin Durant. CBSSports.com's Royce Young further notes how integral Love is to all aspects of T-Wolves basketball:
"Love has emerged as a premier player, averaging 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game last season. He's expanded his game to become a deadly 3-point shooter while maintaining his impressive work on the glass. The Wolves are essentially losing 26.5 percent of the points per game and more than 30 percent of their rebounding production."Essentially, Love is a really good basketball player. The injury to his shooting hand comes at an unfortunate time for the T-Wolves not only because there is never a good instance for a small market team's undisputed superstar to miss games, but because there is no definite timetable for Ricky Rubio's return after tearing the ACL in his left knee during a game in March.
Technically, last season was supposed to be the Timberwolves' first chance to break back into the postseason, and that very realistic possibility was sliced apart along with Rubio's crucial joint. This year, the healthy remainders of the team will have to open the season and compete for one or two months before either player rejoins them on the court.
The long side of 6-8 weeks is nearly 20 games, and as Young points out, is nearly 25 percent of the NBA season. Before Love can conceivably come back, the T-Wolves play away games against the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks during a four-game road trip.
If the two bones — those in his hand below the middle and ring fingers, or third and fourth metacarpals, to be exact — take a full eight weeks to heal, Love could also miss road dates against the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and the retooled New Orleans Hornets, plus two contests against the always-improving Denver Nuggets, and the playoff-hopeful Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.
What good news is to be had resides in Minnesota's new-look roster, a rebuild that Love's offseason criticism surely helped along. Former All-Star Brandon Roy and experienced Russian combo guard Alexey Shved, in his first NBA season, add backcourt depth. Andrei Kirilenko, a teammate of Shved's on the bronze-winning Russian national squad, can add firepower and strong defense at the wing. Greg Steimsma and all-around hard worker Lou Amundson are new additions to a frontcourt that already includes second-year pro Derrick Williams, who has the opportunity to grow his game and become a high caliber player as Love sits in street clothes.
Whether or not these guys — plus the incumbent players and minus Michael Beasley using over one-quarter of all possessions during his playing time — can collectively make up for Love's absence is debatable, but not likely.
Minnesota's playoff push does not die with this injury, but I wish godspeed to the Timberwolves who have to find a way to win without two leaders for a significant period — and to Love and Rubio's repaired body parts if the losses outweigh the wins when either is ready to play.
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