MINNEAPOLIS There's a reddish scar snaking down the middle of Kevin Love's right hand. You see it a bit more, now that the swelling has gone down, now that the hand looks a bit more like a hand and less like an overfilled, lumpy balloon. It's been almost 10 weeks since Love's Jan. 15 surgery and the most conservative estimates of his return date are soon arriving, but the Timberwolves power forward has still yet to suit up.
Soon, he hopes, that will change.
Love will have a CT scan on his hand later this week -- he does not yet know the exact date -- and will send the scan to his surgeon in New York. Like two weeks ago, when he traveled to New York for an in-person visit, Love hopes this will be the final consultation before he's cleared to participate in full-contact practices.
When Love was cleared to return from his first hand injury this season, he surprised everyone and played that night, on Nov. 21. This time around, though, he says he'd want to get in a few practices beforehand, which with the team's upcoming schedule might just be a handful of one-on-one or two-on-two full-contact workouts. Regardless, even if everything goes perfectly to plan, it's hard to imagine Love returning before the weekend.
If he were to come back in time, say, for the team's April 1 game against Boston, that would leave 10 games remaining in Minnesota's season. It may seem paltry and insignificant amount, especially for a team that left its playoff hopes behind in early February, but it's Love's prerogative to return, and if he's cleared when he thinks he'll be, to return remains the plan.
This time around, though, the return will look drastically different.
When Love made his season debut in November, he felt that he needed to come back and immediately lead a team to the playoffs, despite its injuries and his own need to ease back into the game. He never felt as good before that comeback, he said, both mentally and physically, and he averaged 18.3 points on 35.2 percent shooting, his lowest scoring total since 2010 and the lowest field goal percentage of his career. Now, though, the pressure is off.
"It was a combination of a lot of things: not knowing where my hand was going to be, and having to lead the team right when I got back, (staying) in shape," Love said of his November return. "Just so many things added on to that. . . . But right now I'm just looking forward to coming back and easing my way into playing, playing hard, playing aggressive and just being myself."
There's still a fair amount of scar tissue built up near the third phalange in Love's hand, and so things aren't quite back to normal. That'll likely be there for some time, though, and Love said that until it goes away, he'll remain at 80 or 90 percent strength, where he says he stands now. Still, he feels that he's in a much better place this time around, and his confidence seems to be intact.
"I'm shooting the hell out of it," Love said. "I'm shooting a lot better. It's back to how it used to feel."
Asked whether he was ever shooting the hell out of it in November or December, the answer was a resounding no.
"I was a little nervous, that first time around, because I kept waiting (for the hand to feel better)," Love said. "Some days would be better than others. But now it's far more consistent. It feels great shooting the ball."
And as for this season, which from many a perspective might seem lost, for these Timberwolves and Love, there are still a few things to play for. There's coach Rick Adelman's 1,000th career win, for one (he's at 995 before Sunday's game), along with a desire, however irrationally, to see the team Adelman and president of basketball operations David Kahn built play at something close to full strength.
So maybe Love's return -- if and when it happens -- will do its part toward either or both of those goals. But no matter what, this season will have taught the 24-year-old a lesson or two, however painful, and now it's time to move on.
"Injuries happen," Love said. "It's been tough. But just want to bounce back from them. This being my fifth year in the league, I hope to play 10 years plus after this year. . . . Hopefully this is one of those years where you can scratch it and move forward from there."
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