Ricky Rubio searches for the magic he's lost

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 16, 2014 at 5:55 pm •  Published: January 16, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In the back alleys of Target Center, Ricky Rubio walks down a colorless hallway and steps into a side room. As he lowers himself into a black folding chair, he lets out a sigh and starts to untie his shoelaces.

Nothing is coming easily these days for the Spanish wunderkind that once lit the NBA on fire with his behind-the-back passes and reinvigorated a downtrodden franchise with a shot of sunshine right to its heart. In his third season, which was supposed to be the breakout year for him and his young team, Rubio has lost the sizzle that made his game so unique.

His Minnesota Timberwolves are off to a disappointing 18-20 start, and Rubio places much of the blame on his shoulders. He's shooting 34.6 percent and averaging 8.6 points per game, the two lowest numbers of his NBA career. But even worse, the energy, the optimism, the unbridled joy that he brought to the team has gone missing as well.

"I'm going to be honest. I'm not feeling comfortable out there," Rubio told The Associated Press after a light practice on Thursday. "I'm not being myself and the team is noticing. I just have to be back where I was, be myself. I'm working on that. It's something that's missing. It's tough for me, too."

Rubio's shooting numbers have never been great, but harping on that always seemed to be nitpicking for a player who sprinkled magic point guard dust all over the court — slipping passes through a defender's legs for an open 3-point shot, picking a player's pocket to start a fast break and seeing windows open before the defenders knew what hit them.

Even when he wasn't starting his rookie season, the arena would crackle when he stepped to the scorer's table to check in and his teammates' eyes would widen in anticipation of a passes that came from impossible angles. It was still there last season when he returned from a torn ACL in December, even though his body took some time to ramp back up to the NBA's pace of play.

"It's basketball. I love it," Rubio said. "But I'm just not having as much fun as it used to be. I know it has to be professional. But I just want to have fun. It's hard to find it right now."

Having fun may sound trite in the big business world of the NBA, but there is no denying that the Timberwolves derived a certain confidence from the flair, the flash and the precision that come when he's humming. And the Timberwolves' once promising foundation is starting to crack beneath his feet.

The Wolves are 0-11 in games decided by four points or fewer, with the offense getting stagnant down the stretch and opposing defenses daring Rubio to shoot while doubling Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. The struggles on the court have leaked into the locker room, fracturing the team.

Rubio watched the entire fourth quarter of an ugly home loss to the Kings on Wednesday night from the bench after turning the ball over five times in the first three quarters.

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