Howard, Rubio And The Road To Recovery

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Lindsey LaBelle
Web Editorial Assistant

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It didn’t take long for Josh Howard to see it.

During Ricky Rubio’s first full-contact practice since undergoing knee surgery in March, the second-year guard found a seam, tucked a well-placed pass between Howard’s legs and gave the veteran a sneak peek at what Timberwolves fans hope to see soon: Rubio’s magic back in action.

At this point, it’s not too far away.

“He’s a hell of a competitor and that’s what we need on this team: Guys that are able to compete, and he’s one of them,” Howard said. “Just to be out here on the same floor as him is great, so, looking forward to getting him back.”

Howard and Rubio have never played a competitive minute together as teammates. Just once, last Feb. 22, have they shared the same NBA court together. But the two have a common bond as Rubio makes his final push toward recovery. Two years before Rubio, Howard underwent surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee—sidelining him for the remainder of the 2010 season and putting him on a similar recovery route.

It happened just four games after Howard joined the Wizards from Dallas. He was averaging 14.5 points per game for Washington, but just like that he was done for the year.

“It was tough,” Howard said of his injury. “I knew what I could do; it kind of took away my explosiveness at the time, but I was able to work back to my old self and can give the Timberwolves what I used to be able to do.”

Rubio also knows what injury frustration feels like: Downtrodden fans, empty backcourt, somber Tweets. Rubio, who was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team a year ago, tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee March 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, he’s overcome one step in his rehab process after another: Beginning to walk, jog, run, jump and move laterally. On Dec. 2, he rejoined his teammates on the practice court and began getting re-acquainted with the NBA’s style and speed.

Along the way, Howard has been there to observe and help if necessary. If anything, Howard helped provide the outlook that when he gets back on the court, Rubio needed to forget about his injury and attack at full speed like he always has.

“He had the same surgery as me, and he’s been a good teammate,” Rubio said after his first practice. “He’s just like, he played hard and that’s what we need to do. When you come back from injury, you just want to play hard and forget about what you had and have your teammates play hard on you and not think about it. That’s what we did.”

Still, Howard has cautioned Rubio not to rush into play and risk further injury, because a torn ACL is not something to mess with.

“I’ve just been watching him,” Howard said. “If anything I just tell him to take his time. I rushed back kind of early and had a minor setback but I got over that hump, and it was smooth sailing from there. I just don’t want to see him rush back and hurt himself even further than what he’s done.”

Howard says two types of stamina come into play during this type of recovery.

“It’s a work in progress, you have to be mentally tough as well as physically tough to get through that injury,” he said. “You need to be able to do both of those, and accomplishing it well speaks a lot.”

Trusting his knee took time. He returned to play with the Utah Jazz in the 2011-2012 season, but it took a full year for him to return to fighting shape.

“When I came back that next year to Washington I had to shoot a little more outside, but it’s just a part of my game,” Howard said.

During his physical therapy, he was most eager to regain his explosiveness, and it’s something he continues to build upon.

“I like just seeing myself doing the old things I used to do in the weight room, being able to cut like I used to,” Howard said. “I’m one of those guys that cuts hard.”


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