The floppy hair is back. The behind-the-back pass is back. Ricky Rubio is back.
Rubio was cleared to play in his first game in more than nine months and was expected to be in the lineup against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced.
Rubio has not played in a game since tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee in March. He averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists as a rookie last season, energizing a previously downtrodden franchise and helping it to return to the thick of the playoff race before he went down.
“After a long recovery, this is the first step in me getting back on the court and helping my teammates,’’ Rubio said in a statement issued by the team.
Rubio had surgery on March 21 and then started the first major rehabilitation process of his career. He has said the most difficult part has been remaining patient throughout the program, never more so than the last two weeks after he was cleared for full-contact practice. Rubio returned to work out with his teammates on Dec. 2 and watched the Wolves play five more games without him while he worked his way back into shape.
The Wolves have gone 11-9 without Rubio this season, impressive considering they’ve also dealt with injuries to All-Star Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, JJ Barea and Nikola Pekovic, among others.
They’ve been waiting for their floor leader to come back and make things easier on everyone. Rubio’s passing, perimeter defense and infectious personality helped make the Wolves one of the surprise teams in the West last year before his injury. After some time to get his rhythm back, they are expecting their point guard to give them just as big of a boost this season.
Rubio did not make the trip to New Orleans in hopes of getting himself ready to play the Mavericks, then was cleared by the team’s medical and training staff on Saturday morning.
Coach Rick Adelman has said they will be careful with his playing time early and see how his knee responds. Rubio is expected to get somewhere between 16 and 25 minutes in the first few games back to ease him back into action.
Victory thrills Lakers
Has it come to this?
Following Friday’s 102-96 win over the woebegone Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center, Los Angeles Lakers perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I actually am happy to win one damn game,” Bryant said, laughing.
And he wasn’t kidding.
That win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Lakers, who take a 10-14 record into the game at 6 p.m. today at the Wells Fargo Center against the 76ers.
A team that won back-to-back NBA titles as recently as 2009 and 2010 was happy for a win over a Wizards team that has played all year without injured guard John Wall and fell to 3-17 heading into Saturday’s game at Miami.
That shows the fortunes of the Lakers, who, despite their struggles, continue to be one of the most popular teams in professional sports.