MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - At one point in his first real practice in nine months, Ricky Rubio zipped a pass through defender Josh Howard's legs to an open teammate.
It may take some time for his surgically repaired left knee to get back up to speed. The instincts and court vision that made him such a crucial part of the resurgent Minnesota Timberwolves haven't gone anywhere as far as Rick Adelman is concerned.
Rubio practiced on Sunday for the first time this season and said his knee responded well. There is still no timetable for his first game, and Rubio is trying to be patient to make sure that he is completely ready when he does return after the first major injury of his career.
``After a long time, I'm on the court again,'' Rubio said. ``It felt pretty good to start knowing my teammates again.''
The Timberwolves have been banged up all season and Kevin Love (illness), Malcom Lee (groin) and Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) all missed practice on Sunday. Getting Rubio back sometime soon would be a huge lift to a team that has managed to hang around .500 even with all the absences.
Rubio participated in five-on-five work in practice on Sunday, then stayed after for nearly an hour to do some more running and catch-and-shoot work as he tries to get his legs back underneath him. He said he felt some discomfort in the knee on occasion, but team trainers expected that as some scar tissue from the surgery breaks up.
``It will feel weird for a while. Until I'm feeling great and nothing at all about my knee, I'm not going to play,'' he said. ``Actually, I'm happy about today.''
The mental recovery may be nearly as important as the physical for Rubio. He said he wants to get to the point where he's not wondering what will happen every time he makes a cut or plants on it on a drive to the basket. That will just take some time, and he knows it.
``I felt pretty good, but I want to be perfect,'' Rubio said. ``I have to work hard. I have to keep working and see where I'm at.''
The Timberwolves will practice again Monday before a back-to-back at Philadelphia and Boston starting on Tuesday. It would seem to be asking a lot for Rubio to return that quickly. The Wolves are off Thursday and then host Cleveland on Friday night, but it's still far too soon to predict when he will play.
A big indicator could be how his body responds on Monday to the strenuous workout. Adelman said it was already clear that Rubio still has a good handle on the offense and his responsibilities running the show.
``That's there. He showed that today,'' Adelman said. ``He passed the ball very well, got to spots. That's always going to be there. It's just going to be his conditioning and his legs and how long can he go? That's going to be the biggest thing.''
And it didn't hurt to see a few of those flashy passes he's known for, either.
``Today we didn't have any alley-oops,'' Rubio said, with a smile. ``But I hope soon we have some of those.''
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APkrawczynski

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