T’wolves dangerous despite a slow start

MINNEAPOLIS — Gusting near 50 miles per hour, a howling wind that originated in Canada roared into the Twin Cities and greeted the Spurs when they stepped off their charter aircraft Sunday afternoon.

Presumably, the entire team traveling party took comfort in the fact its members could hole up in hotel rooms a few blocks from the Target Center, where they are to play tonight and where the Timberwolves had to report for a Sunday night game against the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

That cold blast from the Arctic had nothing on the NBA’s schedule makers when it came to putting a big chill on the Wolves and their fans early this season.

New coach Rick Adelman may have reconsidered signing on in Minnesota had the post-lockout schedule been out before he agreed to undertake a major rebuilding project. Three of his team’s first four opponents included both teams in last season’s Finals, along with the Thunder, who gave the Mavericks a tough go in the Western Conference finals.

Tonight Adelman and the 1-3 Wolves face the 3-1 Spurs, with a starting lineup that produced the best record in the West last season and a coach, Gregg Popovich, who just joined him in the select company of NBA coaches with at least 800 victories.

But long-suffering Wolves fans can expect excitement in any given game because forward Kevin Love is always a threat to deliver a 20-point, 20-rebound performance and Ricky Rubio, at long last, is on the roster.

Minnesota general manager David Kahn made Rubio, then just 19, the fifth pick of the 2009 draft. Rubio opted to continue his career in Spain until December, when he signed a rookie-scale contract with the Timberwolves after the lockout was lifted.

Now Rubio, whose passing skills have been compared to those of Pete Maravich and Chris Paul, is coming off the bench behind veteran Luke Ridnour. It seems only a matter of time before he is Minnesota’s starter at the point, especially after his performance in an oh-so-close loss to the Heat on Friday. He had 12 points and 12 assists in that one, but lost track of LeBron James on an in-bounds play in the final seconds when Miami produced the winning basket.

Acknowledging Rubio’s talent, Spurs star Manu Ginobili said he won’t be waiting in anxious anticipation for Rubio’s appearance tonight.

“Anxious?” Ginobili said. “He’s one more player. Of course, I’ve heard a lot of things, and I’ve played against him a couple of times with the national team.

“I know he’s gifted. He’s very talented. But he’s doing his first games. He’s feeling comfortable. Of course, he has a bright future ahead of him.”

Ginobili is more eager to see the development of his own backup point guard, T.J. Ford. The former Texas Longhorns All-American has struggled with his shot in his first four games, but Ginobili understands Ford is a true point guard who allows him to play off the ball much more than his predecessor, George Hill, did.

So does Popovich, who likes Ford’s aggressive approach, both to the game and to learning the Spurs’ offense.

“T.J. is doing a good job of trying to learn our system,” he said. “He really has no clue where other players will be now in the motion offense. He’s just trying to get used to that. It’s really tough for him at this point for that reason. But he’s an aggressive player, he’s highly coachable, and he’s busting his butt to figure it out. He’s important to us.”

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