His return to the Minnesota Timberwolves may have ended in a 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night, but Kevin Love still managed to send a message. In a 34-point, 14-rebound effort, the 6'10" forward made it clear that he was back at full force, ready to get the Timberwolves back to the playoffs where they belong.
Love's return won't necessarily help Minnesota get into first place, but it will certainly establish the young and scrappy team as one that could make a lot of noise in the postseason. Keep in mind, second-year point guard Ricky Rubio will soon return from an ACL injury and bring his pass-first approach back to the offense.
While that is all well and good, Minnesota's success starts and stops with Love. He has been an automatic double-double for the past two seasons, averaging 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds per game over that stretch, and 17.3 points and 12 rebounds for his career. He has also been a valuable three-point threat, making 37 percent of his career shots from downtown.
Most important of all, Kevin Love's return gives the Timberwolves their leader back. Every NBA playoff team has an unquestioned leader behind whom the team rallies, and such will be the case for the Timberwolves. Love is never hesitant to come through in the clutch, and his no-mercy style of play clearly motivates his teammates to play well alongside him.
That all being said, look for the rest of the Timberwolves to rally behind the former UCLA Bruin as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Nikola Pekovic will help Love form a deadly tandem under the basket and also play a fine low post game. Andrei Kirilenko will be fully focused in playing some tough D and doing it all on offense.
Love is also going to serve as a mentor to second-year man Derrick Williams, who has struggled to find consistency in the NBA, and also rookie guard Alexey Shved.
In practicing with these two every day, Love is going to constantly drive home the message that they are a talented team and each man is valuable in his own right. With a positive attitude and balanced approach, they can do great things both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
The team will respond to Love and start playing some great basketball in the immediate future. Once Rubio comes back, they'll be all the better.
The fact is that while the Timberwolves didn't look at all bad without Love, there was clearly something missing. The team was playing well, but there was no leader and no voice in the locker room.
They now have that back in Love, so start the countdown. The Timberwolves are about to become strong playoff contenders, and Love is going to make sure that they don't go down without a fight.