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[T-Wolves Preview] Cautious Optimism to Start the Season

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves made several off-season moves that has brought renewed optimism to a club that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.

But, that optimism has been tempered by the hand injury to Wolves all-star forward Kevin Love who is out until early December. The Wolves are already missing point guard Ricky Rubio as he continues his rehabilitation from ACL surgery. Rubio won’t be back with the team until late December or early January.

None-the-less, this Wolves team has a new look and a new feel to it. They traded away former first round picks Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley to the Phoenix Suns. They added small forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger. They also added guards Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved. The Wolves added to their frontcourt by signing Louis Amundson, Greg Steimsma and Dante Cunningham.

Head Coach Rick Adelman wanted to add pieces to the team that reflect his style of play which preaches good defense and a good shooting team. With the additions of Roy and Kirilenko to a solid frontcourt of Love and Nikola Pekovic and playmaker Rubio handling the point, this Wolves team should be a playoff team in 2012. However, the Timberwolves can’t fall too far behind in the standings in the tough Western Conference while the wait for Love and Rubio to return.

The Wolves will most notably need to replace the 26 points and 13 rebounds per game that Love brings to the table. Look for Roy to pick up some of that slack. In his five years with Portland, Roy averaged 19 points per game. But, Roy was out of basketball last year after retiring because of degenerative knees. He is attempting a comeback after an off-season procedure that the Wolves are hoping will keep him healthy throughout the season.

Also, look for Kirilenko to pick up some of the slack while Love is out. The lanky Russian can play either forward position and averaged more than 12 points a game in 10 years with the Utah Jazz. Kirilenko played in his native homeland last year.

The Wolves also have more depth to this team. Chase Budinger will be called upon to provide a spark off the bench. The sharp-shooting guard/small forward combo averaged just over 9-points a game in a limited role with the Houston Rockets in his first three years. But, Budinger is a perfect fit for Adelman’s back-door cutting offense and has the ability to shoot the lights out if left open.

Wolves fans should see their favorite team back in the playoffs this year if the team can hover around the .500 mark until Love returns. A soft schedule in the first month of the season should help.

If the team can get healthy and the reserves buy into their roles on the squad, look for the Timberwolves to make the playoffs as a 7th or even 6th seed in the West.

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