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Jon Krawczynski / AP Sports Writer, Published November 28 2012

Timberwolves guard Rubio cleared to start practicing

MINNEAPOLIS – Ricky Rubio is one major step closer to returning to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rubio got the green light from doctors on Wednesday for full-contact practices, the last major hurdle he needed to clear in his recovery from torn ligaments in his left knee. The team still has not set a timetable for his first game action, but just the thought of getting the dynamic point guard back in uniform is a big lift to a team that has been beset by numerous injuries early this season.

“Life is good!” Rubio tweeted on Wednesday evening.

His slick passing, sunny attitude and overlooked defense on the perimeter energized the Timberwolves last season, helping a long-suffering franchise climb into the playoff picture in his first year in the United States after coming over from Spain. But he tore his ACL late in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9, and the Wolves’ season quickly unraveled after that.

Even with Rubio expected to be out until mid-December, this season started with hopes of the team’s first playoff appearance since 2004. Then All-Star Kevin Love broke his right hand in the preseason, Chase Budinger tore the meniscus in his left knee early in the regular season and Brandon Roy’s knees continued to give him problems. Love made his season debut just last week, but the Wolves lost the first three games in which he played while they got acclimated to having him back on the court.

Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds in a win over Sacramento on Tuesday night to snap a five-game skid, and now the Wolves receive word that Rubio’s return is just around the corner.

“He’ll be eased in,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in remarks on the team’s website. “The likelihood is he’ll play his first game around 16-18 minutes and then from there the medical staff and Ricky will determine on a game-by-game basis what to do next.”

Rubio started participating in walk-through portions of practice early last week and coach Rick Adelman said it was clear in those situations that he has not lost his aptitude for the offense and what will be asked of him when he returns.

Just when that first game comes is still to be decided. The Wolves played the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, meaning a practice back home today was highly unlikely before they host Milwaukee on Friday. Minnesota has a three-day break between games after the Bucks come to town, so Rubio likely will get his first contact work in practice sometime this weekend.

They have a back-to-back at Philadelphia and Boston next week on Dec. 4 and 5 before another home game against Cleveland on Dec. 7.

The Timberwolves have said all along that they are going to be cautious with Rubio’s recovery and not rush him back. He is too important to the franchise’s future to risk further injury by running him out there too soon. At the same time, it’s clear the Wolves desperately need their playmaker to get the offense flowing more smoothly and to tighten up some porous perimeter defense that has led to some huge nights from opposing backcourts in the last week.