Rubio Back At Practice; Magic Shocks Lakers By Hacking Howard

It won’t be long until Ricky Rubio is back, flinging passes through his legs and behind his back to astonished teammates. Rubio is way ahead of schedule (we were guessing Christmas) in his recovery from knee surgery, and took part in the T-Wolves’ practice on Sunday. Decimated by knee injuries to Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy, with Andrei Kirilenko (back) day-to-day, the team can use any healthy body.

While it may take some time before the flashy Spaniard plays a game, and conditioning will be a factor after nine months off, Rubio should be picked up if he’s a free agent in your league. Just be aware that FG% is not his strong category (just 35% as a rookie) so all those points, assists, rebounds and steals will come at a price. His return will complicate an already crowded backcourt situation, with Luke Ridnour sure to take a minutes hit. J.J. Barea has been playing hurt, but even at less than 100% was the starting SG last game. Rookie Alexey Shved and Malcolm Lee (currently sidelined with a sore groin) will be the fourth and fifth guards. I’d be trying to trade Ridnour and Shved ASAP, but you’ll need to find an owner who isn’t following the Rubio story. Good luck with that.

December 1 Games

ORL @ LAL: The NBA, where amazing happens, and sometimes the impossible. First of all, the Orlando Magic weren’t even supposed to have Jameer Nelson, whose Achilles flared up last week. In a minor Jameeracle, he was brilliant — 19 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals — and sparked one of the biggest upsets of the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn promised to employ the Hack-a-Howard strategy, and it worked; Dwight Howard (21 PTS, 15 REB) missed 12 free throws on the night, including 7-of-14 in the decisive fourth quarter. Sophomore C Nikola Vucevic (17 PTS, 12 REB, 4 BLK) more than held his own and former UCLA star Arron Afflalo (30 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST) had his best game of the year.

For L.A., Kobe Bryant scored 34, but the struggles of Pau Gasol continued (11 PTS, 7 REB in 29 minutes) and Antawn Jamison (10 PTS, 5 REB in 28:29) returned to ‘normal’ after one huge game. The biggest problem for the Lakers was allowing 40 points in the fourth quarter, when Glen Davis scored 9 of his 23 and Chris Duhon couldn’t stop an inspired Nelson. Big Baby added 12 REB, 2 BLK and finished +22, then was snubbed for a post-game handshake by a subdued Howard. Quite a night.

PHO @ NYK: The Sunday matinee wasn’t nearly as exciting. Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points as the Knicks remained unbeaten at home. There was good news and bad for Raymond Felton; 23 points, 7 assists and zero turnovers is great, but a jammed left thumb was painful and his entire hand was swollen. An MRI found a bone bruise, leaving his status uncertain for Wednesday. J.R. Smith had a horrible shooting day (1-for-11) and while he is supposedly partying less, perhaps he’s not a morning person. Rasheed Wallace picked up two technical in 1:25 (what a surprise!) so Steve Novak (12 PTS on 4 triples) was the best bench player. Tyson Chandler (15 PTS, 13 REB, 2 BLK) had a slight edge up front against Marcin Gortat (18 PTS, 10 REB, 4 TO) and nobody else stepped up for Phoenix. Shannon Brown scored 17, but Michael Beasley (9 PTS) was -20 in 21 minutes.

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