Timberwolves-Wizards Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 24, 2013
The Washington Wizards have found some stability since John Wall returned from injury. Getting Ricky Rubio back hasn't had that effect for the injury-plagued Minnesota Timberwolves. Back from their western swing, Wall and the Wizards will try to extend their season-high home winning streak to four on Friday night when the Timberwolves try to get on track with the first of two straight against the Eastern Conference's two worst teams. Since making his season debut seven games ago following a stress injury to his left kneecap, Wall is averaging 14.0 points and 6.9 assists off the bench as the league-worst Wizards (9-31) slowly work him back into game shape. That cautious approach has worked so far, as Washington has won four times since the former No. 1 overall pick returned. The Wizards are scoring 98.9 points per game on 46.0 percent shooting with Wall, improving their league-low averages to 90.9 and 41.7. "The last eight games we've built a good, solid round of basketball, and we've got to continue to build on that and not take any steps backward, moving forward when we get back from the (2-3) trip,'' coach Randy Wittman said after that stretch ended with a 92-88 loss to Utah on Wednesday. Washington begins a three-game homestand with a chance to win four straight in the nation's capital for the first time since the last four of 2010-11. The Timberwolves (17-22), meanwhile, have lost their last five on the road by an average of 15.0 points. They've dropped eight of 10 overall since Kevin Love re-injured his right hand, and they've played the last three without point guard Alexey Shved (left ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (right quadriceps). Shved and Pekovic did not travel with the team, which also plays at Charlotte on Saturday. The loss of Shved leaves few backcourt options for Terry Porter, who has led the team to a 2-7 record since coach Rick Adelman left to be with his sick wife. Rubio wasn't Porter's choice for the entire fourth quarter of Wednesday's 91-83 loss to Brooklyn, and the Spaniard didn't hide his displeasure about J.J. Barea staying in the game. Rubio slightly backed off those comments after Thursday's practice, but added: "I always want to play, even when I don't deserve it." Rubio returned to the starting lineup four games ago, but his play in 14 games since returning from a torn ACL and LCL doesn't scream for more playing time. He's shooting 24.6 percent and averaging 4.2 points and 5.0 assists. Rubio missed a four-game stretch from Dec. 29-Jan. 5 with back issues, and he's clearly not 100 percent after admitting this week there is still pain in his surgically repaired knee. Teammates, though, respect his competitive nature. "He wants to play," forward Derrick Williams said Thursday. "We were both in that situation (in the fourth quarter) yesterday. You've just got to keep your head high, stay focused. We've got more games to win.'' Rubio came off the bench Jan. 8, 2012, and finished with 13 points, a career-high 14 assists and six rebounds in a 93-72 victory that ended the team's seven-game skid at Washington. Wall missed seven of 10 shots and scored 10 points in that contest as the Wizards shot a season-low 34.5 percent at home. Washington set season highs for points and shooting percentage (56.1) in its last game in the nation's capital, a 120-91 victory over Orlando on Jan. 14.
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