On Nov. 12 against New York at home in Minneapolis, Love grabbed the nation’s attention â€“ as well as a few rebounds â€“ and never looked back. In the T-Wolves’ 112-103 win, Love devoured the visiting Knicks for 31 points and 31 rebounds, becoming the first player to go for at least 30-and-30 since Moses Malone in 1982. That same year, Malone was also the last player to average at least 20 and 15 for an entire season â€“ the same averages K-Love matched in 2011.
He’s rebounding at such an incredible rate â€“ almost a board every two minutes he plays â€“ that you might have overlooked the fact that the 6-10, 260-pound forward has also increased his offensive output from everywhere on the floor, including shooting 45 percent from three. And while he finished second to Dwight Howard in double-doubles with 64 on the season, it’s astounding to think what he can accomplish in the future. But more than any accolade or statistic, Love showed that there is promise in the struggling Timberwolves. He has demonstrated that there is light at the end of a tunnel that hasn’t seen anything remotely luminous since Kevin Garnett was shipped off to Boston in 2007.
Despite Minnesota only winning 11 of their first 47 games this season, Love’s monster effort was codified when Commissioner David Stern selected him to replace Yao Ming in the All-Star Game in mid-February. Bucking the trend that team success trumps personal achievement, Love’s selection could be the catalyst to a winning record in the North Star State. And as he prepares to bring the T-Wolves past the bleakness of Lottery selections and complacent fandom to a land of sell-outs and playoff programs, there will be only one number the kid from Lake Oswego, Ore., cares about: championships.
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Dime: There have been lots of new faces in Minnesota this year. How’s the season been so far in your eyes?
Kevin Love: It’s definitely been up and down. You know obviously the win column isn’t as high as we’d like it to be, but we feel like we’re playing good basketball. We’ve had a bunch of games where we’ve played three to three-and-a-half great quarters of basketball and we kind of lose it there at the end of the game. So it’s been a little bit up and down, but we’re very excited about the young team that we have. We have a ton of cap space and obviously we have another draft, so things are looking up for us and we’re only going to get better from here on out.
Dime: So what’s changed with you now that you’re in your third year?
KL: I just think more than anything it’s been opportunity. You know with Al Jefferson leaving, it opened up a lot of space for me to work and grow as a player. And obviously I’m playing seven, eight extra minutes so there’s a lot to do in those seven, eight extra minutes that you’re out there. Most of the time that you get better is not only in practice, (it’s also) out there in a game. So I’ve really taken just a leap in my confidence and a leap in my game through all of those different things.
Dime: You worked out with trainer Rob McClanaghan in the offseason. How did your game and game preparation change coming into this year?
KL: Well Rob has been huge for me. I’ve put a lot of work in with Rob during the summer with guys like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. And for myself and Rob, he throws me in with the guards on certain days doing their drills, from the perimeter and also from the high post, and he also throws me in with the bigs as well. So he’s been really great for helping my game and taking it to the next level, and I look forward to working with him the rest of my career. But I think more than anything this summer, he really worked on my shot. And that’s why you see guys like Derrick Rose shooting the three-ball so much better and Russell Westbrook with his pull-up jumpshot and me kind of with my all-around game shooting the ball.
Dime: Your three-point shooting has added a whole new dimension to your game, but your bread and butter remains your rebounding. Is that where you take the most pride in your game?
KL: Yeah definitely. I mean if I didn’t stay out and shoot some of those threes that I do, I probably could average maybe 16 or 17 rebounds. Depending on how much I’d be in the game still. But with that said, I figure my bread and butter has always been rebounding. I think coming into the League, I wasn’t featured as much on the offensive end, so I thought one thing that I could always do to stay in the game was rebound â€“ and that’s always on my mindset. Just go after every ball and assume (every shot) is a miss. Just try to get every single ball.
Dime: You grew up in a basketball family, as your father Stan [Love] was a former NBA player. Were you always groomed to be a rebounder coming up through the ranks?
KL: (laughs) Yeah I actually was. Funny story is that I would always throw fits and beg my dad to let me play football and he would never let me play. He would say, ‘you’re gonna get hurt, your future’s going to be in basketball, we’re not going to let you play,’ and so I threw all these fits and one day he finally grabbed me and took me into the paint when we were in the gym and said, ‘this is going to be your football. And this is going to be where you draw blood from guys’ elbows and you’ll have your chance to take out all your anger right here in the paint.’ So that’s kind of what my mentality has always been and that’s why when you see me get elbows to the face or I draw blood or that sort of thing, it doesn’t phase me at all, I just keep going in there and keep trying to get every single board. So that’s kind of been my mindset and the process for me rebounding from an early age. I learned it all through my dad.
Dime: In that mold of tough, physical rebounders, who were the guys you watched and idolized growing up?
KL: I really like guys like [Charles] Barkley and Karl Malone. I used to watch old school tapes of the Showtime Lakers and the Boston Celtics. I was a really big fan of Kevin McHale, who I was lucky enough to be coached by and picked by my rookie year, so I was very, very excited about that. I think old school players like that are the ones that I kind of look at and try to emulate.