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                 === 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview ===
 
 By Jason Quint, Contributing NBA Editor
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - Injuries are not an excuse in sports.
 
 It seems like an annoying mantra, but blaming your team's struggles on
 injuries is a cop out. Every team has to deal with players getting hurt. It's
 part of the game.
 
 Just don't tell that to Minnesota.
 
 The Timberwolves limped through 2012-13 more than any team in the NBA. The
 franchise that hadn't made the postseason since trading Kevin Garnett to
 Boston in the summer of 2007 went into the year with a talented young core of
 Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
 
 The trio played just two games -- and 13 minutes -- together a season ago.
 
 Rubio missed the early stages of the year while rehabbing from a torn ACL,
 which he suffered midway through his rookie campaign in 2011-12. Love was in
 and out of the lineup battling through a twice-broken hand and played just 18
 games, while Pekovic missed time with a thigh injury.
 
 "We all know what happened last year," said Love, who has a career record of
 113-281 since getting picked fifth overall in 2008, on media day. "We just
 want to move forward and take care of the unfinished business."
 
 Injuries aside, Minnesota had trouble shooting and defending 3-pointers last
 season. The Wolves ranked dead last in the NBA, hitting just 30.5 percent from
 behind the arc, while opponents knocked down threes at a 36.9 percent clip.
 
 Two key offseason acquisitions, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, will help
 address those issues. Martin is a notorious marksman who has made a career of
 knocking down shots. The 30-year old out of Western Carolina made 42.6 percent
 of his outside shots a season ago while playing with OKC, good for 10th best
 in the league and fourth among players who made at least two triples a game.
 
 Brewer, a respectable shooter in his own right, brings good size and
 athleticism to the small forward spot. His ability to defend perimeter players
 will help make up for the loss of last year's best defender Andrei Kirilenko,
 who signed with Brooklyn this offseason.
 
 Minnesota also needs the 2011 No. 2 pick Derrick Williams to make strides from
 last season. Unsure whether he should play the role of stretch four or
 big, physical three, Williams has been wildly inconsistent in two seasons in
 the league.
 
 But at the end of the day, the Wolves will go as far as Rubio's brilliant
 passes, Love's inside-outside dominance and Pekovic's assertiveness on the
 block will take them.
 
 "Right now, talking to Rick (Adelman), we feel comfortable with the roster we
 have," President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders told the Star Tribune.
 "Not only is it balanced, but we feel we have talent at every position."
 
 Expectations are high in Minnesota for the first since Garnett's departure.
 Now they have to capitalize.
 
 
 2012-13 Results: 31-51, 5th in Northwest, Missed playoffs.
 
 ADDITIONS: G Lorenzo Brown, G Kevin Martin, G/F Shabazz Muhammad, F Corey
 Brewer, F/C Gorgui Dieng, C Ronny Turiaf
 
 PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
 
 PG- Ricky Rubio
 SG- Kevin Martin
 SF- Corey Brewer
 PF- Kevin Love
 C- Nikola Pekovic
 
 KEY RESERVES: G J.J. Barea, G Alexey Shved, G/F Chase Budinger, G/F Shabazz
 Muhammad, F Derrick Williams, F Dante Cunningham, C Ronny Turiaf
 
 
 FRONTCOURT: The strength of this team, both literal and figurative, lies
 on the mammoth-sized shoulders of its starting frontcourt. Love has been a
 double-double machine since joining the league, posting averages of 17.3
 points and 12.2 rebounds per contest in five seasons.
 
 Pekovic, a 27-year old Yugoslavian native, was an early second-round pick of
 the Wolves in 2008 before debuting with minimal results in 2010-11. Pekovic
 emerged last season as one of the league's most powerful interior scorers who
 routinely causes defenders fits. If his talent ever meets his physical
 attributes, the rest of the league should be on alert.
 
 
 BACKCOURT: Rubio began his professional career in Spain at the age of 14 and
 became a YouTube sensation shortly after thanks to his dazzling passes and
 ball-handling ability. Fast forward eight years, and Rubio is one of the most
 electric floor generals in the NBA. Still a dynamic passer, Rubio has improved
 his on-ball defense every year and has added a respectable jumper to his
 offensive arsenal.
 
 Martin and Brewer will play similar roles for the starting unit. Neither will
 be asked to create much with Rubio and Love on the court, although Martin is
 certainly capable. Expect both to move relentlessly off the ball to find space
 so that Rubio, who will make sure they get their share of open looks from
 outside, get them involved.
 
 
 BENCH: The loss of Chase Budinger, who inked a three-year extension with the
 club this summer, is a big one. Budinger is a high-flier and prolific outside
 shooter who had nearly one-quarter of his lateral meniscus removed and will
 miss a large chunk of the season. His injury opens the door for rookie first-
 round pick Shabazz Muhammad to play minutes immediately.
 
 Muhammad was a highly regarded high school prospect who excelled as a scorer
 in his only season at UCLA, but a series of red flags hurt his draft stock.
 First, Muhammad lied about his age, making his high school accomplishments
 less impressive. He was also a ball-stopper in college, collecting just 27
 assists in 32 games. There is certainly room for growth, but Muhammad has to
 buy in.
 
 "I'm gonna do the things everyone needs me to, when coaches tell me, whether
 that's passing the ball, rebounding," claimed Muhammad. "I'm bringing
 heritage to this team and that's what I'm gonna do to help us win,"
 
 Two key members of this bench unit are guards J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved.
 Barea made a name for himself helping the Dallas Mavericks beat LeBron James
 and the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, and has brought a grit and savvy to the
 Wolves. Despite being listed at a generous 6'0, Barea routinely find ways to
 score on bigger opponents.
 
 Shved brings international experience to Minnesota. Returning for his second
 season, the combo guard hopes to build off a positive rookie campaign in which
 he netted 8.6 points per game to go with 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 23.9
 minutes of action.
 
 Williams will also be leaned on heavily. Entering the last guaranteed season
 of his rookie deal, the time is now for Williams to prove he belongs in the
 Wolves' rotation.
 
 Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf are stable veterans who bring mid-range
 shooting and toughness, respectively, to the second unit. Anything Minnesota
 can get from rookie Gorgui Dieng will just be a bonus.
 
 
 COACHING: Rick Adelman has accumulated a 1,002-707 record in 22 years as an
 NBA head coach. He's missed the postseason just six times. The future hall-of-
 famer returns to Minnesota for a third season, hoping this year's club can
 break Adelman's strings of four straight years without a playoff birth.
 
 "Things have happened over the two years that were out of everybody's control
 and I wanted to finish it," said Adelman. "We had more pieces, we've changed a
 lot of people, so I think the organization is going in the right direction."
 
 Adelman is known as one of the game's best teachers, making him a crucial
 ingredient for this young Wolves team.
 
 
 OUTLOOK: If Love or Rubio go down for an extended period of time, it will
 certainly be an uphill climb to the postseason. But the optimism surrounding
 the Wolves is real. This team has a balanced starting unit, versatile reserves
 and a coach who knows what it takes to win in this league.
 
 
 10/15 13:02:52 ET