MINNEAPOLIS – Heavy are the shoulders that wear the cape.
Kevin Love has been doing it all in Minnesota this season, leading the league in minutes played and hoisting the once-lowly Timberwolves back to relevance. Over the last month, five of his best teammates have gone down with injuries, forcing him to carry even more of the load on a nightly basis.
His numbers still jump off the stat sheet, but the mental and physical toll is starting to catch up to the All-Star power forward.
"It's tough to try and play Superman every night," an exhausted Love said after putting up 29 points and 12 rebounds in 43 minutes Wednesday night in a loss to Golden State.
Ricky Rubio has been out since March 9 with a torn ACL in his left knee, Nikola Pekovic has been severely limited by bone spurs in his right ankle and an illness, J.J. Barea has missed all sorts of time with a variety of ailments, Michael Beasley has been out six of the last eight games with a sprained toe on his left foot and Luke Ridnour is out indefinitely with sprained right ankle.
Love has been the one constant, and coach Rick Adelman has struggled to take him off the floor while the team tried to stay in the playoff hunt. He's spending more time at center, a more physically demanding position and opposing defenses are able to throw more of their attention at him everywhere he goes.
"He's played huge minutes all season long," Wolves guard Wayne Ellington said. "I know his body's probably pretty beat up right now. I feel for him."
Love had a monster March, averaging better than 30 points and nearly 14 rebounds per game and becoming the first player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring, rebounding and 3-pointers for an entire month. But the Wolves have lost 12 of 16 games since Rubio went down, including four in a row to fade from contention in the West. And Love's legs might be going right with those playoff hopes.
"I don't like to use that as an excuse, but I can feel it," Love said. "My body and my legs, especially on my shot, they aren't under me right now. With that said, that's not an excuse on the defensive end for every single one of us."
Love needed 28 shots to score those 29 points against the Warriors. He also went 0 for 7 from 3-point range, unable to get a decent look from the elbow with 0.7 seconds left that could have put the game into overtime. His lack of energy was also evident on defense, where counterpart David Lee went for 31 points and eight rebounds to all but nullify Love's big night.
Before his league-leading 46th double-double on Wednesday, Love had 26 points and nine rebounds in a loss at Portland and 23 points and seven boards in a loss at Sacramento. Most players would be ecstatic with those numbers, but it was the first time all season that Love has failed to get a double-double in two straight games.
It's taking him a little longer to pull himself up off the court after fighting for a loose ball; a little longer to get back into transition when an opponent hits the break and a little longer to rise up out of the chair in front of his locker and hit the showers after another long night's work.
"I've felt my whole career I've been fighting an uphill battle, whether it's been with (the media), coaches or players, system, no matter what. I like that. I embrace that," Love said of the responsibility. "Now it's a little bit of both, mentally and physically (draining).
"The minutes are definitely catching up, but we have 10 games left and I'm 23 years old so I'm not complaining about it. I'm just going to keep going out there and fighting. We just need to all-around have a better defensive effort."
The Wolves have given up 332 points over the last three games. They look a step slow and are lacking the fire and energy on that end of the floor that made them one of the surprise teams in the league through the first two and a half months of the season.
For a team that was showing so much promise earlier in the season, it's the renewal of a troubling trend. The Wolves have shown a propensity to plummet in the final weeks of the season over the past few years, having lost 15 in a row to finish last season and 29 of their final 31 games in 2010. The Wolves have not won a game in April since 2009.
"It's effort. They beat us to every loose ball, they beat us to every play, they beat us off the dribble, every play," Adelman said. "If things start turning a little bit south on you and you're just going to quit at that end, you're never going to win. You're never going to change the mentality."
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