In one of the most shocking turn of events from the young 2012-13 NBA regular season, Kevin Love made his surprise return to the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. Although his return could not prevent the Denver Nuggets from winning 101-94, Love posted 34 points, 14 rebounds, two steals and one block.
The question is, could K-Love's return be enough for Minnesota to make some playoff noise?
Prior to the evening, Love had been in the midst of a recovery process that had him sidelined since October 21. The prognosis was that he would miss six to eight weeks due to a broken hand that was suffered while Love performed knuckle-down push-ups.
Love appeared to be right on time.
As for how the T-Wolves fared without their leader, they started the year 4-1. Unfortunately, they've lost four of their past five games and dropped to 5-5.
As we evaluate whether or not Love can lead the Timberwolves to the postseason, it is important to acknowledge how well the team has performed in his absence. By "well," of course, we're talking about their performance in the key categories that Love will or will not contribute.
Specifically, their performance on the glass and the defensive end of the floor.
So how have they fared and where will Love help them most? Those questions will be answered immediately.
Dominant on the Glass, Better with Love
Contrary to popular belief, the Minnesota Timberwolves are a dominant force on the glass when Kevin Love is absent. Don't believe it? Check the numbers.
Prior to Love's return, the T-Wolves ranked ninth in the NBA with an average of 43.3 rebounds per game. They're also averaging the same 12.1 offensive boards per game as they did in 2011-12.
Just don't think they wouldn't be better with Love active.
The promising fact about the T-Wolves' rebounding ways is that they have not achieved said feat by having one player step up and fill his shoes. Instead, it has been a group effort in which four separate players are averaging at least 5.7 rebounds.
That includes Andrei Kirilenko's 8.3 per game. An additional four players are averaging at least 3.0, which displays how balanced this glass attack has been. With Love returning to the lineup, one can only imagine how much more dominant this team will be in the rebounding department.
His first night back, Love had 14 rebounds and five offensive boards. This begins their path to the postseason.
Elite on Defense, Not Because of Love
Kevin Love is an offensive wonder and a rebounding aficionado. What he is not, however, is a dominant defensive player.
No matter how hard he tries on that end, calling him "solid" would be a compliment.
Love is a virtual non-factor in terms of blocking shots. He also struggles to alter a slasher's attempts at the rim, thus enabling opposing defenses to drive the lane and overcome his greatest efforts. He works his behind off on the defensive end of the floor—that effort simply lacks results to go along with it.
Such was on full display against the Denver Nuggets. Despite Love's 34 points and 14 rebounds, he allowed his assignment to be just as dominant on the glass. Kenneth Faried pulled down 14 boards, including three offensive rebounds. Not so coincidentally, the T-Wolves also allowed their third 100-point game of the season.
The D at least displays promise, however.
Entering the T-Wolves' 101-94 loss to Denver, the T-Wolves ranked third in the NBA by allowing 90.4 points per game. Although they've collapsed on defense over the past two games, Minnesota has a legendary defensive mind at head coach in Rick Adelman.
This level of play will continue. Just don't look to Love as the reason why.
Coach to Get It Done
I hate to be the one who states the unpopular, but if the Minnesota Timberwolves make the playoffs, it won't be Kevin Love's doing. It will rest directly upon the shoulders of head coach Rick Adelman.
As for those who oppose said belief, answer me this: How many times have Love's marvelous statistics brought the T-Wolves to the playoffs? I'll give you a hint, it's the same amount of times as Love has led Minnesota to a record of .500 or better. None.
Love will perform at the caliber that will keep the Timberwolves relevant, but that doesn't mean they'll win. It is up to Adelman to execute when need be.
Fortunately for Love's deserving soul, Minnesota finally has the firepower. Even without Ricky Rubio.
Can Win Without Him, Can Dominate With Him
Say what you will about a 5-5 start, but there is reason for optimism in Minnesota. That, of course, comes by virtue of the fact that they have not finished above .500 since Kevin Garnett left town in 2007.
And to think, they've responded by going 5-4 without their elite power forward in the lineup. 0-1 with him.
This is not to paint an ill picture of Love, as he is one of the top individuals in the game. The truth of the matter is, this team will only go as far as the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and company enable them to.
Love is simply the star who will step up with the game on the line. We've come to learn that the era of hero ball has ended. Love on his own will do nothing but pad his stat sheet and provide the T-Wolves with some highlight-reel appearances.
With Kirilenko and the supporting cast continuing to step up, however, Love can be placed in the position to win games for his team. As long as the role players perform to an adequate level, he'll do just that.
In turn, Love will keep the Timberwolves in postseason contention.