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Kevin Love: After Olympic fun, back to the NBA

by: COUTESY OF THE LOVE FAMILY - Kevin Love, with actress Cody HornAt the tender age of 24, Kevin Love’s basketball resume is in rarified air.

Two-time NBA All-Star. Member of the U.S. gold medal-winning teams at the World Championships (2010) and Olympic Games (2012). NBA rebounding king in 2010-11. Led the league in double-doubles (48), second in rebounds (13.3 per game) and fourth in scoring (26.0) last season.

One major omission: NBA playoff experience.

Entering his fifth season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love hasn’t had a sniff of the postseason. Minnesota, in fact, has finished fifth and last in the Northwest Division in each of his four seasons. That could change in 2012-13 as the Timberwolves have beefed up a roster that has their Western Conference competition on notice.

“It would be a big surprise to me if we didn’t make a huge leap this year and make it to the playoffs,” the Lake Oswego native told me Wednesday.

With Hall of Fame-to-be coach Rick Adelman and rookie phenom Ricky Rubio at point guard, the Timberwolves nearly made it there a year ago. They were 21-19, but a game later, Rubio was lost for the season with an ACL knee injury.

Thus began a progression of injuries that saw the Wolves without their top five scorers — including Love — at one point. They went into free-fall, losing 13 of their last 14 games to finish 26-40.

That’s all in the rear-view mirror now. During the offseason, General Manager David Kahn bolstered a returning nucleus of Love, Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams by signing free agents Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Stiemsma and Russian guard Alexey Shved and trading a first-round pick for Chase Budinger.

“We’re going to have a chance to be very good,” Love said. “We’re hoping Brandon can stay healthy through 82 games. Kirilenko is a big addition. Shved hopefully is going to be a big deal for us.

“We’ll have more firepower in terms of veterans. Brandon and Andrei will help our locker room and on the court. It will make Coach Adelman’s job a lot easier.

“If everything is put together, if Ricky comes back healthy, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Love is right about that, especially with Adelman masterminding the impressive blend of talent. He and Kevin have known each other since Adelman’s youngest son, Patrick, were teammates at Lake Oswego High.

“Rick’s been really great to play for,” Love said. “He’s a players’ coach. He knows exactly what he wants and gets the most out of his players. There is always that mutual respect. You can talk to each other and work things out.

“He’ll throw you on the court and let you make mistakes and learn from them. We have a pretty young corps, so it works well for us.”

Love’s role as a key reserve with the U.S. team at the London Olympics this summer was typically understated, but important. He wound up as the team’s No. 5 scorer, averaging 11.6 points in the eight games. He was the top rebounder (7.6) despite playing only 17 minutes per contest, shot .630 from the field and was often on the court in the final minutes with the likes of Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.

After the U.S. had beaten Spain 107-100 for the gold medal, coach Mike Krzyzewski paid tribute, calling Love the team’s “unsung hero.”

“That meant a lot to me,” Love said. “I’m playing with the best players in the world. To be in there with the final group ... I was glad to be able to play well and produce for the team.”

The overall experience, Love said, “was unbelievable — a dream come true.”

“I was a kid who grew up watching the Olympics, and not just basketball,” Love said. “Gymnastics, swimming, track and field — I loved all the sports.

“I remember watching my first Olympics (the Atlanta ‘96 Games as a 7-year-old), and thinking it would be so much fun to be a part of the USA team. And there I was, living a dream.”

During the time in London, Love attended several other events.

“Got to see Usain Bolt,” he said. “We were sitting midway through the 100-meter dash, 10 or 15 rows up, when he won the gold. Saw (swimmer) Michael Phelps win a couple of gold medals. Watched tennis, beach volleyball. It was special.”

Love said the camaraderie among the U.S. players was “great.”

“There was never a doubt it was going to happen,” he said. “It was a younger group of guys mixed with an older, veteran group, and we had to mesh. It started during training camp. That’s when we took off and became a strong unit. We felt we were all there as one in London.”

Love caught some good-natured grief from his teammates while using his Instagram app on Twitter, sending out a photo of napping Paul, James, James Harden, Deron Williams and Anthony Davis during the team flight to London and tweeting it — accompanied by the hashtag “#GotEm” — for the world to see.

Williams got payback later when he snapped a dozing Love and tweeted the solo shot of the initial perpetrator.

“It was all in fun,” Love said. “We’re like everybody else. Some guys take on that persona that we’re larger than life, but we still have the same type interactions with people.

“After (the original tweet), everybody wanted to catch me at that point. We always sat in the same spot on the team bus. I knew somebody was going to get me.”

The entire Love family — parents Stan and Karen, brother Collin and sister Emily — made it to London for the Games.

“That was very cool,” Kevin said. “They were able to take in a lot of different events as well as our (basketball) games. It was fun to see that and party with them after we won. The whole thing all the way through was a family affair.”

Two days after London, Love was back at the home in Santa Monica, Calif., he shares with his girlfriend, actress Cody Horn (“Magic Mike”).

“Our townhouse is five minutes from where I was born — St. John’s Hospital,” he said.

When he turned pro in 2008, Love worked with a personal coach on his basketball skills. He has expanded his entourage to include a teacher of yoga (“after my rookie year”), strength and conditioning (“the last two years”) and biomechanics.

“Just started that two weeks ago,” Love said. “I’m learning to move the right way. It’s going to be better for my body. All of the stuff I do is hard work, but it’s my job. I love putting in the work and seeing the results. It pays off. It’s worth it.”

Love flies on Friday to Minneapolis to begin preparation for his fifth NBA season, one he hopes will reap the fruits of playoff action.

“I’ve worked a lot on my post game to try to be more of an inside/outside threat,” he said. “I want to be a leader even more so than I was before with this new group of guys.”

It won’t be easy. But I’m thinking that, when the 2012-13 campaign is in the books, Kevin Love will have something more to add to that already glitzy resume.