MINNEAPOLIS Barring some other setback, Ricky Rubio will return to the Timberwolves' lineup on Tuesday against Atlanta. The point guard has missed the past four games with back spasms, but he practiced Monday and said he's ready to go. Nikola Pekovic, who sat for most of the second half of Saturday's game with a left hip strain he sustained Thursday, did not practice Monday but is also expected to play Tuesday.
Rubio said he felt good after Monday's practice, and he isn't feeling any pain in his knee or his back. His conditioning has suffered after more than a week of limited activity, but coach Terry Porter said he doesn't expect the point guard's minutes limitation to fall back into the 16-18 minute range, which is where it stood initially after he returned. In the five games in which he's played this season, Rubio has played 18, 16.5, 18, 17.5 and 21.5 minutes.
Rubio did not seem overly concerned about the bout with back spasms. They're part of a normal training camp, he said, and Rubio is still in his version of training camp. Right now, he has to focus on the things he can control, finding the rhythm that's so far eluded him in limited games this season.
"There are things you can control," Rubio said. "There are other things, injuries and all this stuff. You have to deal with it. There are two ways to do it. One, put your head down and let the other teams beat you. The other one is just, with the players (we have), step up and try to win as many games as we can."
Brandon Roy update: Brandon Roy practiced in a limited fashion with the team on Monday. Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said that there's no update to his status, and he's still in the midst of the three-week window of his mystery treatment (the team will not give any details as to what Roy is undergoing).
"Brandon will play when if and when he's ready to play," Kahn said. "I think the last thing we do, as I said to you all before, is to expect him to play, necessarily, and secondly to put some sort of pressure on him. I just think that it's important. He's been practicing everyday, so we'll see what happens."
Malcolm Lee update: Kahn confirmed that Lee, who is out for the season with an injured right knee, has opted to undergo surgery. The team has not set a date.
No Rick Adelman: The Timberwolves' head coach missed Monday's practice for personal reasons, but Porter, who spoke in his absence, said to expect Adelman back for Tuesday's game. It's the second time Adelman has been absent from a practice this season; he also missed the team's workout on Dec. 9.
Where things stand: The Timberwolves went 1-2 last week, with two bad losses. (Yes, Saturday was still a bad loss, in spite of the comeback.) They seem tethered to .500, having not gone more than three games over the mark all season, and with Kevin Love's second hand injury in four months, that could remain the status quo unless other players step up like they did at the very beginning of the season.
Here's what the playoff picture looks like after Sunday's games:
East: (1, tie) Heat, (2) Knicks, (3) Hawks, (4) Pacers, (5) Bulls, (6) Nets, (7) Bucks, (8) Celtics. On the bubble: The 76ers are two games out of eighth place.
West: (1, tie) Clippers and Thunder, (3) Spurs, (4, tie) Grizzlies and Warriors, (6,) Rockets, (7) Nuggets, (8) Trail Blazers. On the bubble: The Timberwolves are 1.5 games out of eighth place, the Jazz two games out.
- Five of last year's playoff teams, the 76ers, Magic, Mavericks, Jazz and Lakers, are currently among the league's 14 worst teams. That's been the status quo for several weeks now, and it's looking more and more like all of their playoff chances, save maybe Philadelphia's in such a weak Eastern Conference, are slim.
- Of the teams currently among the top eight in their respective conferences, the Bucks (-1.3), Celtics (-1.5) and Trail Blazers (-2.2) have negative point differentials. (The Celtics also have a losing record.) This is the first week in which a team in the top eight in the West has had a negative point differential.
- Of the teams currently among the bottom seven in their respective conferences, only the Lakers (2.1) and Timberwolves (0.2) have positive point differentials.
- The days of the long winning streaks are over, at least for now. Currently, Houston has a four-game streak and Brooklyn a three-game streak; those are the best in the league.
- Same goes for the uber-long losing streaks, at least for now. The Bobcats managed to finally win (twice, actually, in three games), and so the Magic have taken up their futile cause, having now lost eight in a row. With games against the Trail Blazers, Clippers and Nuggets coming up this week, it's going to be tough for Orlando not to extend their streak to 11. In other news, the Wizards have lost five straight, the Bucks four straight.
- The Western Conference sits at 126-83 against the East so far this year, off to a dominant start. The Timberwolves are 6-7 against Eastern Conference teams.
- The Western Conference is beginning to show some more separation at the top, with the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs perhaps pulling away a bit from the Grizzlies and Warriors.
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