Kevin Love's Broken Hand Is Pivotal Blow to Minnesota Timberwolves Playoff Hopes

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2012

Oct 12, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) guards Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The Minnesota Timberwolves were already planning to live without point guard Ricky Rubio for another couple of months.

That's not an ideal scenario for a team looking to end its postseason drought, but the club could take some solace in the fact that Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea could pick up the backcourt slack in the meantime.

It's a lot harder to remain positive in the wake of news that Rubio won't be the only Timberwolves star missing in action to start the season (via Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski):

Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love has suffered a broken right hand and will be out 4-to-6 weeks, league sources tell Y! Sports.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 17, 2012

That may not sound like an especially long absence, and in a vacuum it really isn't. In a world where you're also missing your best playmaker during the very same stretch, we have a problem.

According to the Associated Press, Love broke the third and fourth metacarpals on his shooting hand during a Wednesday morning workout.

You can see why so many clubs are letting their stars take it easy during the preseason. These are precisely the kind of freak catastrophes they're trying to avoid.

It goes without saying that Kevin Love's production is irreplaceable. Even if you had your pick of the litter from any NBA roster, you probably wouldn't come up with a guy who can score 26 points, grab 13 rebounds and make a bunch of three-pointers in the process. 

Good luck trying to bridge the gap with the likes of second-year tweener Derrick Williams and Lou Amundson.

Head coach Rick Adelman will likely go with some relatively small lineups, perhaps making the most of the situation by playing some small ball. Williams played some minutes at the power forward spot as a rookie, but he's slimmed down precisely to make himself a better fit at small forward.

Adelman could also turn to the lanky Andrei Kirilenko, who's spent time at both forward positions over the course of his 10-year career.

In either case, the Timberwolves would be looking at a lineup that relies more on quickness and length than Love's strength in the painted area. That might even be a somewhat palatable game plan if Rubio were around to push the tempo.

But there are no circumstances in which this kind of lineup looks like a playoff team. The temporary rotation will still include some impressive talent, but its most established scorer (shooting guard Brandon Roy) is returning from medical retirement.

Kirilenko is more of a defensive specialist, and Williams remains relatively unproven at the pro level. Center Nikola Pekovic will certainly take on more responsibility on both ends of the floor, and Minnesota's guard tandem at the point isn't half-bad.

Who are we kidding, though?

This club wasn't a good defensive team to begin with, ranking 25th in the league last season by giving up over 100 points a game. Its only hope has been making up for that subpar defense with Love doing the scoring and Rubio doing the facilitating.

Those points will be hard to come by now, leaving the remaining crew looking more like the Sacramento Kings than a threat to snag that last playoff spot in the West.

Hope isn't entirely lost, of course. Until everyone's healthy, the Timberwolves' approach will be one of triage, making the best of winnable games while understanding that it will take some time before the team begins living up to its potential. 

No, Minnesota won't lose every game in November, but it won't win every game after that either. The real problem is that this team just has very little margin for error. Even if it were healthy all season long, it'd be eyeing a seventh or eighth seed at best.

It would also be contending with the much-improved Golden State Warriors and the reigning eighth seed Utah Jazz. The stark reality is that a .500 record from December or January onward might not be nearly good enough to make up for the hole Minnesota digs itself early on.

The Timberwolves could use some good news (and luck) as much as any franchise in the league, but chances are they'll have to wait a couple more months before finding any.


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