From Comcast SportsNetMINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- If the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to chase down their first playoff berth since 2004, they're going to have to do most of the work without Kevin Love.Unfortunately for this hard-luck franchise, they know what it feels like to play without their All-Star and Olympian.Love will miss the next eight to 10 weeks after needing surgery to repair a right hand that is broken for the second time this season, the team announced on Wednesday.It's the latest in a long line of injuries to Minnesota's key players that have threatened to derail a season which started with postseason aspirations. It's also the latest chapter in what has been a nightmare season for Love in the first year of the 62 million contract extension he signed last January.Love missed the first three weeks of the regular season after breaking his right hand in the preseason. He returned faster than most expected, played for about a month and then broke two bones in his shooting hand in a game last week against Denver. The team said a date for the surgery would be announced Thursday."We're going to miss him a lot, but there's nothing we can do about that right now," point guard Ricky Rubio said Tuesday night before knowing the full extent of Love's injury. "We just have to keep moving forward."The timeframe would put Love back on the court possibly around mid-March, about a month before the playoffs begin. The Wolves (16-15) started the day in ninth place in the Western Conference, one spot out of the playoff field.Love was averaging 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds after helping Team USA to the gold medal in the London Olympics, but he hasn't been the same player who emerged as the best power forward in the game last year.Needing more time to rest after the Olympic grind, Love showed up to training camp knowing he would need to push himself to get into the shape he was accustomed to playing in. That process was halted late in the preseason when he injured his hand the first time, a break that didn't need surgery and allowed him to return about 10 days earlier than expected.Once he was back in the lineup, Love struggled to recapture the shooting form that made him such a unique problem for opposing defenses. He was shooting just 21.7 percent from 3-point range and 35 percent from the field, with his hand not allowing him to get the feel on his shot."I think this time, he needs to do it right, to recover fully, recover all the way to the end," center Nikola Pekovic said before the team played Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. "The last time, the previous time he got hurt, he kind of hurried. So maybe, I'm not a doctor, I don't know. Maybe that's the reason: it's not healed all the way. I'm sure this time he'll heal it up all the way."Love also drew scorn from a Timberwolves fan base that had adored him shortly after returning when he made some critical remarks about the organization to Yahoo! Sports and renewed his complaints about getting a four-year contract and not the five-year deal that he wanted.Now the Wolves will have to play on without him again.They've also lost Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Josh Howard to knee injuries this season and been slowed by Rubio's gradual return from a torn ACL in his left knee last March. Rubio returned for five games in mid-December, but had to sit out four games with back spasms, as well, and said after dishing out eight assists in a win over the Hawks on Tuesday night that he's still working to get his conditioning back up to speed.Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour have also been dealing with minor injuries, a run of health issues that has left coach Rick Adelman without a full bench for almost the entire season.Even Adelman has been absent lately, missing the last two games for personal reasons. It's not immediately clear when the coach will rejoin his team."The NBA doesn't stop for us," said assistant Terry Porter, who is filling in for Adelman. "I wish I could make it stop and just twist the schedules a little bit. I don't want to stop seeing somebody but I just want to re-shift when we see them. Like OKC, we want to see them in March maybe."
Position: Power forward
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.
Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.
But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.
He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.
Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.
In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.
Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.
How he’d fit with the Sixers
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.
The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.
Another day, another mailbag.
I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done.
Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back.
Today, I'll answer some more:
At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time.
In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field.
I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle.
The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones.
Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense.
Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks.
The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016.
If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle.
As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes.
I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher.
And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher.
Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.
Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.
Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.