MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio's sensational rookie season came to an abrupt end.
The Timberwolves point guard will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, the team announced Saturday. Now Minnesota, which already has surpassed last season's win total, will have to chase a playoff berth without one of the players most responsible for its resurgence.
"His work ethic knows no bounds," team president David Kahn said. "If ever there was a player that was ticketed to have not just a full recovery but to come back better than ever, stronger, it's Ricky Rubio."
The injury also means Rubio will miss the upcoming Olympics. He was set to play a vital role for Spain, which is expected to contend for the gold medal.
"All my support to my big friend and teammate @rickyrubio9," tweeted Raptors guard and fellow Spaniard Jose Calderon. "Hard news about his knee. He'll be back stronger."
Rubio was not at Target Center for Saturday's game against the Hornets. But he tweeted several messages of thanks and encouragement for his teammates:
"Thank you everybody for ur support. I promise I will be back soon and stronger. There is only one way to take: move forward and stay positive."
Rubio was hurt during the closing seconds of Friday's loss to the Lakers when his knee buckled as he tried to help out on defense against Kobe Bryant. He immediately clutched his knee and had to be carried off the court by teammates Martell Webster and Derrick Williams.
Rubio had an MRI exam on Saturday that revealed the torn ligament, sucking the wind out of a team that had been brimming with confidence thanks, in part, to his flashy passing that energized a club that lost 132 games over the previous two seasons.
"It's just too bad," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "He was having such a great year. He had such a great influence on our team and the way our team was playing and, I think, the league. It's too bad any time you see a young player go down like that with an injury like that. You feel for him more than anyone else."
In his first season after coming from Spain, the 21-year-old was averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals. But his impact has been so much greater than his numbers.
The floppy-haired point guard changed the dynamic of a rebuilding team almost from the moment he set foot in Minnesota. His unselfish play galvanized his teammates, and his fun-loving nature has been an immediate draw at the box office. The Timberwolves already have sold out seven games this season, their most since 2006-07.
His lob passes have dropped jaws, and his behind-the-back assists in transition get the home crowd on its feet on a nightly basis, making Target Center the place to be in the Twin Cities for the first time since Kevin Garnett played there.
Chants of "Ole!" have filled the arena, which just last season was half-empty almost every night as the Timberwolves fell to the bottom of the league.
"It's a big emotional shock," teammate and All-Star forward Kevin Love said. "He makes winning plays. He's a winner. We love having him around; on and off the court. We hope for a speedy recovery so he can help this team next year. It's a big loss for us."
Rubio was the fifth overall pick in 2009 but stayed in Spain for contractual reasons. His decision to come over this season is one of the biggest reasons for the franchise's quick turnaround — along with the addition of Adelman and Love's emergence as an elite player.
It wasn't just the Timberwolves and their fans who noticed Rubio.
"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 talent, but they're doing something right."
Minnesota guard J.J. Barea also is injured, a sprained left ankle keeping him out of Friday's game against the Lakers and making him questionable for Saturday. That means Luke Ridnour, who has been starting at shooting guard with Rubio at the point, is the only healthy player on the roster with experience at point guard.
"We have 25 games left this season," Kahn said. "And I look for our team to continue to play hard and fight for a playoff spot."
Game highlights: LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 10 rebounds to lead the visiting Blazers past the Wizards 110-99.
Around the league: Bulls forwards Luol Deng and Joakim Noah did not play against the Jazz. Deng, an All-Star, has a sore left wrist. Coach Tom Thibodeau was evasive when asked when he would return, indicating only it would be a game-to-game decision. Noah, a former Florida standout, had the flu. … Knicks guard J.R. Smith was fined $25,000 by the league for tweeting "inappropriate pictures." He sent out a picture Friday of a scantily clad woman in his hotel room in Milwaukee. … Raptors guard Jose Calderon left Saturday's game with a sprained right ankle sustained when he stepped on the foot of Pistons guard Brandon Knight. His status has not been determined.
Blazers 110, Wizards 99
PORTLAND (110): Wallace 5-12 5-5 15, Aldridge 12-15 6-6 30, Camby 3-6 0-0 6, Felton 6-14 9-10 21, Batum 5-10 0-0 11, Ja.Crawford 7-13 6-6 23, Matthews 1-5 0-0 2, Przybilla 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 40-78 26-27 110.
WASHINGTON (99): Singleton 5-8 0-0 12, Booker 3-5 3-5 9, McGee 7-10 1-1 15, Wall 9-19 7-10 25, Jo.Crawford 3-10 2-4 8, Young 4-16 1-3 10, Blatche 1-2 0-0 2, Mason 3-5 0-0 8, Seraphin 2-3 2-2 6, Mack 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 39-82 16-25 99.
Portland 27 28 27 28— 110
Washington 27 25 24 23— 99
3-Point Goals—Portland 4-17 (Ja.Crawford 3-6, Batum 1-4, Wallace 0-2, Felton 0-2, Matthews 0-3), Washington 5-16 (Mason 2-4, Singleton 2-4, Young 1-6, Jo.Crawford 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Portland 43 (Aldridge 10), Washington 48 (Booker 10). Assists—Portland 19 (Felton, Ja.Crawford 5), Washington 17 (Wall 8). Total Fouls—Portland 20, Washington 22. Technicals—Jo.Crawford, Seraphin, Washington defensive three second 3. Flagrant Fouls—Camby. A—18,071 (20,278).