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Injury-plagued Wolves try to hold things together

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Injury-plagued Wolves try to hold things together

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) A different Minnesota Timberwolves player seems to go down with an injury every night these days, and the losses that were once spiritedly competitive are growing more and more decisive.

Leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Pekovic has joined All-Star Kevin Love on the sideline, coach Rick Adelman isn't expected to rejoin the team anytime soon and the Wolves are mired in a five-game losing streak, leaving team president David Kahn and star point guard Ricky Rubio to offer words of encouragement to try to hold things together.

Pekovic will miss the next seven to 10 days with a badly bruised right quadriceps, joining Love (broken hand), Alexey Shved (ankle), Chase Budinger (knee), Brandon Roy (knee), Josh Howard (knee) and Malcolm Lee (hip) on the list of limping Wolves. Pekovic and Shved were both injured Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers and acting head coach Terry Porter only had seven healthy players for practice on Friday.

The team is scrambling to get enough healthy bodies to compete. The Wolves received an injury exception from the league that will allow them to add up to two more players to the roster, moves Kahn said he expected could happen as soon as Saturday. French forward Mickael Gelebale is expected to finalize a 10-day contract by Saturday if the Wolves can gain clearance from FIBA in time, and they could bring in another player on a 10-day deal from the D-League or elsewhere to supplement a banged-up roster that is running out of gas.

``We've had a very difficult run of bad luck,'' Kahn said Friday. ``However, as I said to the players today, there is still in that circle of players that are available, a lot of talent. And I imagine all of them, at some point of their career, have been on teams less talented that have won games. So I don't think this is a time for us to feel sorry for ourselves. Or to panic, or begin to do anything but simply play better, smarter, more together and try to win some games.''

The Timberwolves (16-20) are three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But Kahn pointed out that they are only one game back in the loss column because they've played fewer games and tried to resist depictions that the Timberwolves season is swirling down the drain.

``I walk back in the training room some days and it's like watching an early episode of `M-A-S-H,''' Kahn said. ``They're soldiering through it, but it's hard. But we can't let that define what is occurring right now.''

Rubio, who made his first start of the season on Thursday night but still is not the dynamic player he was before injuring his left knee last March, is pressing his team not to give in to the injury excuse. He is frustrated with his own gradual recovery.

``I mean, I'm not going to hide. It's tough when you're playing, and there's no more bodies over there,'' Rubio said. ``You have to remain doing new things every single game, and we can't get the rhythm. But that's no excuse. We are professionals. I think that players that are healthy have to step up and start doing a better job.''

Fans seem to be wearing down as well. Considerable buzz surrounded the long-suffering franchise before the season began, with most expecting the team's first playoff appearance since 2004. Then Love broke his hand for the first time before the season started, Roy's chronic knee issues returned and Rubio has taken longer to shake the rust off from a nine-month hiatus than those fans had hoped.

It was a sullen crowd at Target Center on Thursday night for a nationally televised game against a high-profile opponent, and the Timberwolves followed suit with a lifeless performance born of sheer exhaustion.

``Yeah it's a domino effect,'' forward Derrick Williams said. ``I've never seen anything like it. We've just got to work through it, man.''

Kahn said he is having discussions with other teams about more significant trades to really give the team a jolt. But the Feb. 21 trade deadline is still more than a month away, and few teams throughout the league are motivated to pull the trigger on significant roster moves this early.

That means if the Wolves are going to get things turned around in the short term, the players currently on this roster are likely going to have to be the ones to do it.

``Sometimes when you start seeing injury after injury, there's a point there where you say, okay, how are we going to keep this together?'' Porter said. ``We have to believe that we have enough, that we do have enough to win games.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY