MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A different Minnesota Timberwolves player seems to go down with an injury every night these days, and the losses that were once spiritedly competitive are growing more and more decisive.
Leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Pekovic has joined All-Star Kevin Love on the sideline, coach Rick Adelman isn't expected to rejoin the team anytime soon and the Wolves are mired in a five-game losing streak, leaving team president David Kahn and star point guard Ricky Rubio to offer words of encouragement to try to hold things together.
Pekovic will miss the next seven to 10 days with a badly bruised right quadriceps, joining Love (broken hand), Alexey Shved (ankle), Chase Budinger (knee), Brandon Roy (knee), Josh Howard (knee) and Malcolm Lee (hip) on the list of limping Wolves. Pekovic and Shved were both injured Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers and acting head coach Terry Porter only had seven healthy players for practice on Friday.
The team is scrambling to get enough healthy bodies to compete. The Wolves received an injury exception from the league that will allow them to add up to two more players to the roster, moves Kahn said he expected could happen as soon as Saturday. French forward Mickael Gelebale is expected to finalize a 10-day contract by Saturday if the Wolves can gain clearance from FIBA in time, and they could bring in another player on a 10-day deal from the D-League or elsewhere to supplement a banged-up roster that is running out of gas.
"We've had a very difficult run of bad luck," Kahn said Friday. "However, as I said to the players today, there is still in that circle of players that are available, a lot of talent. And I imagine all of them, at some point of their career, have been on teams less talented that have won games. So I don't think this is a time for us to feel sorry for ourselves. Or to panic, or begin to do anything but simply play better, smarter, more together and try to win some games."
The Timberwolves (16-20) are three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But Kahn pointed out that they are only one game back in the loss column because they've played fewer games and tried to resist depictions that the Timberwolves season is swirling down the drain.
"I walk back in the training room some days and it's like watching an early episode of 'M-A-S-H,'" Kahn said. "They're soldiering through it, but it's hard. But we can't let that define what is occurring right now."
Rubio, who made his first start of the season on Thursday night but still is not the dynamic player he was before injuring his left knee last March, is pressing his team not to give in to the injury excuse. He is frustrated with his own gradual recovery.
"I mean, I'm not going to hide. It's tough when you're playing, and there's no more bodies over there," Rubio said. "You have to remain doing new things every single game, and we can't get the rhythm. But that's no excuse. We are professionals. I think that players that are healthy have to step up and start doing a better job."
Fans seem to be wearing down as well. Considerable buzz surrounded the long-suffering franchise before the season began, with most expecting the team's first playoff appearance since 2004. Then Love broke his hand for the first time before the season started, Roy's chronic knee issues returned and Rubio has taken longer to shake the rust off from a nine-month hiatus than those fans had hoped.
It was a sullen crowd at Target Center on Thursday night for a nationally televised game against a high-profile opponent, and the Timberwolves followed suit with a lifeless performance born of sheer exhaustion.
"Yeah it's a domino effect," forward Derrick Williams said. "I've never seen anything like it. We've just got to work through it, man."
Kahn said he is having discussions with other teams about more significant trades to really give the team a jolt. But the Feb. 21 trade deadline is still more than a month away, and few teams throughout the league are motivated to pull the trigger on significant roster moves this early.
That means if the Wolves are going to get things turned around in the short term, the players currently on this roster are likely going to have to be the ones to do it.
"Sometimes when you start seeing injury after injury, there's a point there where you say, okay, how are we going to keep this together?" Porter said. "We have to believe that we have enough, that we do have enough to win games."
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