Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Rockets

Alex Conover
Web Editorial Associate

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Shootaround: Andrei Kirilenko

After missing Sunday's flight to New York due to an eye injury sustained against Oklahoma City, Kevin Love confirmed at today's shootaround that he would indeed play against the Rockets.

"Yeah, I'm playing tonight," Love said. "Eye feels good, got it checked out Monday and I'm all good to go."

For a player who has already missed games due to a broken hand, bruised thumb and food poisoning, Love chuckled at the timing of his latest medical setback. His new-year's resolution sounds like he wants a clean bill of health.

"It's just one of those things where the doctors take precautions," Love said. "I'm back tonight, and hopefully in 2013 and heading forward there will be no more flu-like symptoms or nagging injuries for me and the rest of the team."

Facing Houston

The Rockets are red-hot coming into Target Center tonight. They've won their last four games, and their last three victories have been by more than 20 points.

Needless to say, the rest of the league has noticed, including the Timberwolves.

"I think they’re very dangerous on any given night," Andrei Kirilenko commented. "You see the last game, 120 points and they play very (high) scoring games. And I think we have to put our running shoes on and be ready to match up."

Houston shoots well from outside—they've made the second-most 3-point shots in the league this year with 262, and they rank 11th in percentage (.362). According to Ricky Rubio, Minnesota's guards need to be ready to defend out on the edge.

"They score a lot, and we have to be ready for that," Rubio said. "Most of their points coming from the perimeter, and we have to stop them. They’ve been scoring a lot the last 3-4 games, and we have to stop that with our defense."

And you can't talk about Houston without giving proper dues to James Harden. Largely used as a sixth man during his time in Oklahoma City, Harden was traded in late October to Houston and has emerged as the star of their offense, averaging 25.7 points per game (fourth-best in the NBA). He's also excellent at drawing fouls in the paint, as he leads the league in free throws made (227).

"He's very unorthodox," Love said of Harden. "He's got a lot of Euro game, the Euro steps and the bumps. He plays like a more physical Manu Ginobili in a lot of ways. He's a big shooting guard, a good player. He's a tough test for anybody in the league."

Love on loss of McHale's daughter, Sasha

Tonight will be the first time that Love will see Rockets coach Kevin McHale since McHale lost his daughter, Sasha, in late November. McHale traded for Love on draft night in 2008 when he was part of the Wolves’ front office and coached Love in Minnesota. Although the two haven’t spoke since Sasha’s passing, Love said he’s kept the McHale’s in his thoughts.

“It’s hard to put into words, especially being so young and losing a daughter like that,” Love said. “I can’t even fathom what he’s going through. He’s got a big heart to come back and coach, because I know his team feels like his family.”

Love and McHale have maintained a strong relationship since their time in Minnesota, and Love said McHale is someone he’ll continue to stay close with throughout his career and beyond.

“It will be great to see him,” Love said. “It’s always tough going against him on the other side. I’ll give him a big hug, tell him sorry for his loss and then go out and try to kick his team’s butt.”

Rubio’s minute count

Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said he anticipates staying on a similar minute count for tonight’s game, and he’s unsure when he’ll begin seeing more regular minutes as well as insertion into the starting lineup or playing in back-to-back games.

For now, he’s just happy to be back getting the minutes he can.

“It is what it is. If it’s two minutes [more than his current 16-18 minute restriction], it’s two minutes,” Rubio said. “I appreciate everything because I’ve been out for nine months. Every minute I’m on the court, I want to be back and healthy as soon as possible, but I’m working on that.”

Rubio said his issue is not his knee but more so how the rest of his body is responding to jumping into the NBA season after nine months off the court. He’s going through what most players feel during training camp.

While he is anxious for more minutes, the most important thing to him is that he’s back.

“It’s Christmas time. I’m happy and we have a huge game tonight,” Rubio said. “It’s a game we want to win.”

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