MINNEAPOLIS — Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio is expected to return from a two-game absence when Minnesota plays Orlando on Tuesday night, coach Sam Mitchell said.
Rubio missed the previous games at Sacramento and the Clippers with a sore left ankle, the same one that was surgically repaired in the offseason. Rubio practiced fully on Monday and Mitchell said that he will return to the starting lineup provided he suffers no setbacks before game time.
Rubio is averaging 10.7 points and 8.5 assists this season. He has missed six games because of injuries this season and only played in 22 games last year because of the severely sprained left ankle. In his first four seasons in the NBA, Rubio has only played one full one, leading some fans to express frustration about his inability to stay healthy.
But Arnie Kander, the Timberwolves vice president of sports performance, said it was his call to hold Rubio out of the previous two games in an effort to prevent any serious damage to his ankle. Kander said Rubio pressed hard to play both games and was upset when Kander overruled him.
Kander said he wanted to see Rubio participate in a full practice before signing off on the point guard returning to the floor. He called Rubio one of the toughest players he's ever been around in 25 years in the NBA, likening him to Isiah Thomas and Ben Wallace during Kander's time in Detroit.
Kander said Rubio's biggest adjustment has to be not pushing too hard in practice, instead knowing when to take time off to give his body the proper rest.
Kander also said center Nikola Pekovic is progressing well in his rehabilitation from a procedure to reduce irritation on his right Achilles tendon, which doctors believe led to chronic pain in his right foot. The Timberwolves hope to have Pekovic practicing on a limited basis in two weeks with the possibility of him ramping up toward game activity sometime in late December or early January.
Kander said Pekovic has been pain-free aside from the expected general soreness that comes with the strenuous workouts he is going through to get ready for practice.
Pekovic has played just 85 games combined in the past two seasons due to pain in his foot.