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He’s one of the most popular players in a tight-knit locker room and has helped forge chemistry with the team that has paid dividends through the first 41 games this season.

“Everybody feels bad about this,” center Nikola Pekovic said. “He is a rookie, a new player, but he’s also been the leader in so many ways.”

Rubio is averaging 2.2 steals per game and is one of the better help defenders on the perimeter in the league.

Most importantly, Rubio’s play has translated to victories. The Timberwolves were eighth in the West, putting them in position to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2004, before losing to the Lakers on Friday night to fall a half-game behind Houston.

It wasn’t just the Timberwolves and local fans that were taking notice.

“He just has great anticipation defensively,” Bryant said. “He reads the floor extremely well, he’s extremely patient. He’s developing more and more confidence with his jump shot. I don’t know what … they’re doing in Spain to develop their individual talent, but they’re doing something right.”

Several of the game’s biggest stars, including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul tweeted well wishes to Rubio on Saturday.

Ricky Rubio’s injury isn’t 1 that any basketball fan wanted 2 C,” Dwyane Wade tweeted. “He’s had an amazing rookie season & has brought life back 2 a franchise.”

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is recovering from a torn ACL himself, tweeted a note of encouragement as well.

“Just want to wish Ricky Rubio a quick and healthy return from his ACL injury,” Peterson tweeted. “I can’t wait to see him return.”

Guard J.J. Barea is also injured, with a sprained left ankle keeping him out of the last two games. That means Luke Ridnour, who has been starting at shooting guard with Rubio at the point, is the only player with experience playing the point guard on the roster.

The Wolves called up second-round draft pick Malcolm Lee from the D-League on Friday, but he has yet to play in a game in his rookie season because of a knee injury.

Kahn said the team was assessing its options in advance of the March 15 trade deadline, but wanted to see how Lee played before making any decisions.

The immediate challenge is not letting the injury deflate the significant progress the team has made.

“We are still in the thick of things,” Kahn said. “I’m very optimistic based on the competitiveness of the team, which is seen almost nightly, that we’ll continue to be competitive night after night after night.”

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