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."
Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.
1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.
They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.
To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?
2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.
In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.
They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.
3. Something's gotta give.
Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.
Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford.
The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).
Who's going to crack first?
The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.
Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.
The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.
It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.
"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."
Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.
It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.
"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."
Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.
"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."
Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.
We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.
That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.
And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.
In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.