Monday, March 12, 2012

Rubio Roller Coaster

By Jonathan Lowe

I've lived in the Twin Cities for the last five years, and I can tell you that all the talk across the nation is true. Ever since Ricky Rubio stepped foot on the concourse at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, there's been a rock star atmosphere surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The rookie point guard has teamed up with all-star Kevin Love and new head coach Rick Adelman to create something that hasn't been around much since I took up residence here: hope. I had only been here a few months when Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston in the famed "7-for-1" deal. The result was the result of another famous Minnesota trade (the "Great Train Robbery" Herschel Walker deal). The team with the superstar won instantly, while the rebuilding franchise tumbled for years.

But this season, the mood was different. The power forward the Wolves got in 2008 finally started to play at an all-star caliber. The organization brought in a head coach with a proven record of not only winning, but winning and building young talent. And we finally got the opportunity to see if the Spanish ignitor could actually play at the top level.

Through the first 40 games of this condensed season, it was working. The Wolves had already amassed as many victories in 34 games as they had in each of the last two 82-game seasons. Going into Friday's game (with the Lakers), they were tied for the eighth spot out West. I even got off my duff and shuffled down to Target Center for a game.

This past Monday, the Wolves hosted Lob City (a.k.a. the Clippers). I put some money down and found myself in the upper bowl of the arena, watching the action live. This was my first chance to see the young magician in person. He wasn't at his best. He hadn't been at his best for a couple of weeks. But he still controlled the flow of the game. You could see the hustle. You could feel the effort. And you could hear the enthusiasm from the fans that filled 90 percent of the building (at least). The only way you could get that turnout over the last few years was if LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or K.G. were traveling through on a road trip.

Rubio was finally the answer to the question, "How many point guards do you have to draft before David Kahn can find a reliable one?" The play of No. 9 had elevated all of his teammates. And the results were showing on the court.

Then it all came crashing down.

With one innocent double team of Kobe Bryant, the lights faded and the fire was extinguished. A torn ACL will keep the rookie on the shelf for the rest of the season. Now I'm sitting here with and early spring on the horizon and a team still at .500. However, the dark clouds of another late-season swoon threatened to hover over Minneapolis.

It's not that the Wolves have trounced the bottom feeders of the league this season. But it seemed that they were a bit more lost while dropping 95-89 home decision to New Orleans on Saturday. Sure, the team has capable backup points (Luke Ridnour and J.J. Berea, if healthy). But the spark won't be as potent, and that's the sad thing.

This town has been in need of some good sports mojo. The Vikings couldn't get any traction in a 3-13 campaign. The Twins suffered through an injury –filled, cellar-dweller season. The Wild reached the top of the NHL standings, only to swan dive out of the postseason picture. There was some life this winter with the Wolves actually becoming relevant again.

Whether this team would have made the playoffs or not with Rubio in the lineup, it would have been fun to see the effort. Now, unless they rally and recover, those hopes have to wait until November.

Pity. I'll miss the hype until then (and you don't get a second chance to make a first impression).

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