Lakers 116, Timberwolves 94: Change your face, be happy
I’ve got a big three-part breakdown of Ricky Rubio starting Friday, and it’s a lot of writing so I don’t want to put too much thought into this blowout loss. Plus, how many ways can you state that the Wolves lost another key player to injury, tried to fight the best they could, Ricky Rubio played really well and encouraging basketball, and it wasn’t even close to enough to earn a victory.
Nikola Pekovic went down with an abdominal strain and found himself out the rest of the game with the ailment. He played nine minutes in the game and then for the remaining 39 minutes of action against a surging Western Conference team, Minnesota found themselves once again without four of their five ideal starters. Kevin Love was out, obviously. Chase Budinger is still out, although he’s running now and will be reevaluated in two to three weeks. Andrei Kirilenko missed the game with a calf injury.
The only player there in the starting lineup and getting regular minutes is Rubio. He was spectacular with his passing for much of the game, and he even made a few jumpers. He finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, but he wasn’t good enough to lead second and third stringers to victory on the road. Kenny Smith talked about how Rubio has to learn how to score and dominate the game in other ways.
While The Jet missed on his analysis of Rubio not being able to take over the game with his defense or by stealing the ball (27 steals in previous six games heading into tonight), the point he makes about scoring the ball is valid. Rubio will eventually need to be more of a threat. It doesn’t mean he has to drop 30 points every three weeks. It doesn’t even mean he needs to be a 20-point per game scorer on the regular. It just means he needs to eventually get to the point where an open jumper is a mistake by the defense. It means he has to finish around 55% of his shots in the restricted area and at the rim.
And I think he’ll do that. We’ve already seen a change in him with the way he’s attacking the defense (again, more on this tomorrow). What’s hard to do is be patient with Rubio in the way we analyze his game and his place in the league. He’s played in 71 NBA games. That’s it. It’s just 71. It feels like he’s been a part of this franchise for a lot longer because of the emotional ties that came along with his draft selection and studies abroad since 2009. Considering 42% of his NBA career has come with him recovering from an ACL injury, I’m willing to not feel pressured into placing him with the league’s best at the point and trying to figure out where he stands.
I know I like what I see so far, and I like where he seems to be taking his game. It would help to get a better assessment of him with a healthy Wolves team, but much of this season has been a case of “if only we could see these guys healthy and playing together.” Until that happens, we’re left in the dark on a lot of subjects with this franchise.
For the time being, I’m happy to just appreciate what he’s doing on the court and take it for the entertainment it is. He’s getting better and the team’s draft odds are getting better. When they’re healthy again (hopefully the last couple weeks of the season), then I’ll be hungry for wins to see how this team responds to playing together. Until then, change your face and be happy.