Upcoming All-Star break to provide much-needed reprieve for ailing Wolves
When the Timberwolves lined up to play against the Trail Blazers on Saturday, they were without their top three scorers, their two best three-point shooters, their only two post threats, roughly half of their nightly rebounding average, three of their lowest-risk shot creators, and three essential rotation components with clean replacements hard to come by. Under those circumstances a seven-point loss was a perfectly respectable outcome, though Minnesota’s schedule rolls on with all three of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and now Kevin Martin still sidelined by injuries.
These are the pains of the NBA at midseason, though the Wolves are relatively lucky in that their latest rash of injuries coincides with the league’s only scheduled, in-season recess. All-Star Weekend is very nearly upon us, and with it comes four days absent of regularly scheduled games. That break stretches to six days for the hobbled Wolves, who neither play on the Thursday preceding the break nor the Tuesday following it.
That’s a strangely prescient gift from the NBA’s schedule makers, as is the fact that Minnesota will play just a single set of back-to-back games between now and Mar. 19. Judging from current reports on all three injuries, every break will likely be much needed; while Love’s thigh injury may be subdued to the point that he can suit up against Houston on Monday night, the absences of Pekovic and Martin seem more likely to be a matter of weeks.
Pekovic has missed seven straight games to date with ankle bursitis, an nagging injury that can only be addressed through rest. Because of that, it’s difficult for even those within the Wolves organization to gauge his progress; without full-speed court time with which to assess the mobility and pain level of his starting center, head coach Rick Adelman told reporters last week that he “[doesn't] assume any timeline at all,” with regard to Pekovic’s injury. The most encouraging news thus far is that Pekovic has moved beyond the need of a walking boot, though Adelman noted before the game against Portland that Pekovic has not yet experienced any “strenuous activity,” since his injury — an obvious precursor to a full return.
Martin’s injury was among the quieter developments of the weekend, as he actually played through a broken thumb to finish Friday’s loss against the Pelicans. It wasn’t until the following morning that the Timberwolves announced Martin had suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left thumb, though the team only went as far as to rule Martin out indefinitely. On Tuesday, Sam Amick of USA Today reported that Martin had seen a hand specialist, and that he would be set for reevaluation in 2-3 weeks.
As a point of comparison, San Antonio’s Danny Green was given an initial four-week timetable for return after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his second metacarpal. His actual return to the team was right in line with that projection — just two days short of the four-week mark.
That’s a long time to go without such an important perimeter scorer, though Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer (who combined for 45 points on 35 shots against Portland) fared rather well in their initial foray as a starting tandem. That pairing has seen just 53 minutes together all season due to Budinger’s prolonged absence and their similar roles within Minnesota’s rotation, but Rick Adelman can only hope that both hold up to produce at a level that could help offset some of his team’s other losses.
Even with Budinger and Brewer’s success against the Blazers understood, that seems like a stretch — as does any kind of sustained offensive success without both Martin and Pekovic in the lineup. Minnesota’s scoring efficiency has generally taken a sizable hit whenever either Martin or Pekovic has stepped off the floor this season, and that general trend could be compounded by the inability of Minnesota’s interim starters to manufacture clean shot attempts. Even at their best the Wolves have struggled to keep their half-court offense flowing consistently this season, and replacing both Martin and Pekovic with players (Budinger and Ronny Turiaf) who are less creatively capable won’t likely help matters. Follow through the depth chart to those spots vacated by Budinger and Turiaf — now filled by the likes of Alexey Shved, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad — and things get even more challenging for the Wolves’ second unit, which at this point has been thoroughly compromised.
Still, Minnesota doesn’t have to blow the doors off over the next few weeks, merely subsist. Any win will do for an 11th place team clawing to keep within striking distance of the playoffs, and the combination of Love (supposing he returns on Monday as expected) and Ricky Rubio alone gives the Wolves a baseline pulse while their teammates rest up. From there it’s largely a scheduling game, with every day off doubling as a short-handed game not played and an opportunity for Martin and Pekovic to inch along their recovery timelines. Get well soon, Wolves.