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How Ricky Rubio Will Punch Minnesota Timberwolves' NBA Playoff Ticket

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How Ricky Rubio Will Punch Minnesota Timberwolves' NBA Playoff Ticket
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Coach Rick Adelman's Minnesota Timberwolves have been plenty of things already in this 2012-13 NBA season.

Unlucky is the first that comes to mind. The team has been decimated by injuries, highlighted by the fact that Minnesota's starting lineup has featured 10 different players through the season's first 14 games. In fact, only one player (Luke Ridnour) has started in every one of their games.

But out of their unluckiness they have emerged optimistic. Adelman's team had every reason to collapse minus team leaders Kevin Love (who's played in just five games) and Ricky Rubio (who has yet to play a single minute while rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered in March).

When faced with adversity, this team has responded with a strong enough start (6-8) to stay relevant in a Western Conference playoff race they'll factor heavily in with a healthy Love and Rubio. They've even racked up quality wins along the way with victories over the Pacers and Mavericks (both 2011-12 playoff participants) along with a much-improved Nets club.

With reports stating that Rubio has been cleared to return to practice (according to Zach Harper of cbssports.com), Minnesota is now well-positioned for the playoff push that they seemed destined for last season.

The former Barcelona star's arrival coincided with Minnesota's best season since 2005-06, back when Kevin Garnett was the Target Center's biggest draw. With Rubio and Love on board, the Timberwolves flourished with a passing game worth the price of a League Pass subscription.

Love has wasted little time re-acclimating with his teammates (23.0 points and 15.6 rebounds). According to John Krawczynski of the Associated Press, it sounds as if Rubio is eager to remove his own injury shackles.

Rubio is the type of player that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. In other words, he's not going to post the kind of numbers that leap out of a box score (10.6 points, 8.2 assists in 2011-12).

Rubio's game is as flashy as it is productive.

His poise and understanding of the game goes well beyond his 22 years. Perhaps that's because he's been playing professional basketball since the age of 14. He seemingly walked into Minnesota's locker room and understood the strengths and limitations of his teammates.

He's brought the sexy side of passing back. He understands the effects of spin or velocity on his passes. He pokes and prods defenses, freezes them with a look-away, then delivers bullets into the hands of open shooters or lobs for alley-oop finishes.

But his defensive ability might be even more impressive than his offensive exploits. His 2.2 steals per game last season trailed only Clippers star Chris Paul. Like Paul, Rubio makes up for a lack of elite athleticism by using good angles and a high basketball IQ to keep his man in front of him.

Minnesota's eight losses have come largely as a result of their inability to stop opposing point guards. Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker each scored 22 against them. Chris Paul topped that mark with 23. Rookie Damian Lillard torched them for 28 points and eight assists.

Timberwolves point guards have sputtered offensively as well. Ridnour has averaged just 11.3 points and 4.6 assists in 31.5 minutes. J.J. Barea has shot just 35.4 percent from the field.

Minnesota entered the season with genuine playoff hopes, provided they could withstand the injuries to their two young stars. Love returned from his injury ahead of schedule, and Rubio appears well on his way to doing the same.

A healthy Rubio won't just end a Minnesota playoff drought that's eight years long and growing. He could help make their postseason stay a lengthy one.

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