Although they played a total of 15 minutes together last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic can stay on the court long enough to help the franchise end its lengthy playoff drought.
Finally healthy, the Timberwolves should be feeling confident about getting off to a good start Wednesday night when they host the rebuilding Orlando Magic.
With a 15-14 start last season, Minnesota (31-51) believed it was in position to reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Those hopes, however, essentially ended when Love was lost for the season with a broken hand as the Timberwolves lost 37 of their final 53 games and finished last in the Northwest Division.
'We all know what happened last year," said Love, a two-time All-Star who averaged 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds in 18 games, "and we just want to move forward and take care of the unfinished business."
Rubio didn't show signs of returning to his prior form until early February as he recovered from the torn ACL in his right knee suffered the previous March, while Pekovic missed a total of 20 games with a variety of injuries.
The center finished second on the team with 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game before signing a five-year, $60 million deal this summer, showing that Minnesota believes he's part of its promising core.
Now the Timberwolves are counting on the talented trio to lead them to the postseason for the first time since Kevin Garnett took the franchise to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
'It's great to play with those guys,' Rubio said. 'They have a lot of talent. It's easy to play with them. We just have to get back our chemistry that we had. Last year we couldn't play a lot of minutes because of the injuries. But we are on the same page, and that's going to help.'
Since they shot a league-worst 30.5 percent from 3-point range, Minnesota sought to improve in that area by acquiring Kevin Martin in a three-team trade and signing Corey Brewer away from Denver.
Martin, who has been limited this preseason due to a sore Achilles, shot 42.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. Brewer hit a career-high 91 3s, while Love's return should help since he's a career 35.2 percent 3-point shooter.
The Timberwolves also are looking for a breakout season from former second overall draft pick Derrick Williams after picking up his contract option for next season, guaranteeing the $6.3 million on the deal.
Williams, who averaged 15.2 points over the final 33 games last season, has a chance to be the starting small forward while Chase Budinger recovers from a knee injury.
After finishing with the NBA's worst record last year, Orlando (0-1) continued its losing ways in a 97-87 defeat at Indiana in its season opener Tuesday. The Magic trailed by five at the end of the third quarter before the Pacers went on a decisive 17-4 run to break open the game in the fourth.
Andrew Nicholson had a team-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting Tuesday, while Maurice Harkless added 14 points. Playing close to where starred in college, No. 2 overall draft pick Victor Oladipo scored 12 on 4 of 11 from the field in his debut.
'There were a lot of Hoosier fans in there,' Oladipo said. 'I would have liked to have won, but overall it was pretty cool.'
Tobias Harris, who averaged 17.3 points in 27 games with Orlando last season, did not play due to a sprained ankle and is questionable for this contest.
After shooting 38.7 percent against defensive-minded Indiana, Orlando might be able to get better looks versus a Minnesota team that lost its defensive stopper when Andrei Kirilenko signed with Brooklyn.
The Magic have won eight of nine meetings with the Timberwolves, but lost 90-75 in their only trip to Minnesota last season.
The Associated Press News Service
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