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Sunday, January 1, 2012
W2W4: Love and Rubio make Wolves tough

By Jeff Caplan

Only the 0-3 record screams Minnesota Timberwolves. But, ask the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat how easy it was pull a victory from the teeth of these new and improved Wolves.

Rick Adelman has a a young, talented and intriguing cast to mold, and that starts with the long-awaited import from Spain, point guard Ricky Rubio. He has been impressive early with some dazzling passes that show of instinctual vision for the game that would make Jason Kidd proud. The 6-foot-4 throwback  is averaging 8.0 points, 7.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 28.3 minutes a night, and seems to be getting more comfortable with each game.

The Wolves have lost three games by nine points. The Heat on Friday needed a last-second alley-oop to pull out the 103-101 victory. On New Year's Day, Minnesota will desperately want to get that first win against the defending champs.

One player who would certainly enjoy handing Dallas a fourth loss in five games is guard J.J. Barea. He might not get the chance. He missed Friday's game with a hamstring issue and is questionable for tonight's game.

Records: Mavs (1-3); Timberwolves (0-3)

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Target Center

TV: FSSW

Radio: 103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: Dallas got their first win Friday night, mixing better offense and stronger defense against a Toronto Raptors team that ranks as the weakest of the four foes the Mavs have faced. Minnesota, a longtime doormat, will be a stiff challenge. Showing grit on the boards is a good place to start if Dallas wants to keep the Wolves down. Double-double machine Kevin Love (averaging 26.0 points and 14.7 rebounds) has Minnesota ranked fourth in the league in total rebounds per game (48.7) and eighth in rebound differential (plus-4.7). The Mavs have improved on the boards in the last two games, going a plus-2 against the Thunder and Raptors after a minus-30 against the Heat and Nuggets, which is why after four games they rank 26th in the league in differential at a minus-7.0 ... The schedule will always be a factor this season. Both teams had Saturday night off, but Dallas, by far the older team, is playing a third game in four nights. The Wolves will look to exploit that early.

Key matchup: Delonte West/Jason Terry/Rodrigue Beaubois vs. Ricky Rubio
How desperately has Minnesota needed a playmaker leading the offense? Rubio's first NBA double on Friday against Miami was the the first a Timberwolves player register 12 or more points, 12 or more assists and six or more rebounds in one game since Sam Cassell did it eight years ago (Jan. 21, 2004 vs. Toronto). Rubio's minutes have gone up in each game and he is garnering rave reviews and delivering a, wow-did-you-see-that moment at least once a game. The Mavs have had their difficulties over the years guarding quick and talented point guards and Rubio certainly fits the bill. Matching up against him will be an interesting challenge, at least early for Rick Carlisle, because Rubio has come off the bench in each of the first three games. Perhaps this is one of those situations where Vince Carter starts to defend Wesley Johnson and West jumps off the bench to match Rubio.

Injuries: Mavs - none. Timberwolves - G J.J. Barea (left hamstring) is questionable; G Malcolm Lee (knee surgery) is out; C Brad Miller (knee surgery) is out; C Nikola Pekovic (strained left adductor muscle) is doubtful; G Martell Webster (microdiscectomy surgery), is out.

Up next: Oklahoma City Thunder at Mavs, 7:30 p.m. Monday