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Published February 21, 2011, 08:06 AM

Love makes rebounding fashionable again

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On the long list of Kevin Love's accomplishments this season one stands out: He's made rebounding cool again.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On the long list of Kevin Love's accomplishments this season one stands out: He's made rebounding cool again.

Not since Dennis Rodman prowled the paint with a different hair color every night has the dirty work of rebounding received so much attention. Love is averaging 15.5 rebounds, nearly two more per game than second-place Dwight Howard.

If he maintains this pace through the final 26 games, he would have the highest rebounding average since Rodman pulled down 16.1 in 1996-97.

"I just think somebody has to love rebounding. They have to really love it to put up the numbers he's putting up," Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "Guys can go in and rebound and have their decent games and their really good games every once in a while, but to do it consistently, you have to really love it."

Unlike Rodman, however, there is so much more to Love's game than rebounding.

His accomplishments — the first 30-30 game since 1982, 42 consecutive double-doubles — put the power forward on the All-Star team despite the Timberwolves winning only 13 games.

He leads Minnesota with 21.1 points per game, is shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range and single-handedly proving that it is possible to do the blue-collar work and get some of the glory.

After helping the United States win a gold medal at the world championship in Turkey last summer, Love returned to the Timberwolves with a newfound determination. He had 31 points and 31 boards against the Knicks in November, 32 points and 22 rebounds against the Spurs a few nights later, and 43 and 17 against Denver in December.

Love might not be able to jump out of the gym like Blake Griffin or have the sculpted physique of Howard. Instead, the doughy grinder who dunks about once a month just produces. He leads the league with 51 double-doubles, including 42 in a row, the longest streak since Moses Malone's 44 in 1982-83.

His numbers were simply too good to ignore. After Love was passed over by the Western Conference coaches for a spot as a reserve, Commissioner David Stern appointed him as the injury replacement for Yao Ming.

"The rebounding is something that's always going to be there for me," Love said. "If I'm having an off night offensively, I can always go out there and do that. I've done a good job scoring the ball, found different ways to score."

In the process, he's becoming a household name, which is amazing considering he toils for the worst team in the Western Conference and in the small market of the Twin Cities. He's a regular on syndicated talk shows, has a blog on GQ's website and even got a cameo appearance in HBO's hit series "Entourage."

"We never thought he'd make the huge step he made from last year to this year," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "This is incredible. But he's one of these guys that I don't think is going to go away. I only think it's going to get better. He's going to get stronger, he's going get smarter."

Truth be told, Love isn't surprised at all. He expected this, which is why he butted heads so often with Rambis last season over his role as a sixth man. Now that the minutes are coming, though, Love has been a revelation, just like he said he would be.

"I thought if I had the opportunity, I was going to take full advantage of it," Love said. "Luckily I've been given the opportunity with a lot of minutes and have been playing well. To me, I just think I've been put in the right spots, my teammates are finding me and I've worked my butt off all summer to take advantage of an opportunity like this."

All that hard work may be changing the way the next generation of NBA stars look at rebounding.

For most of the league's history, rebounding has been the grimy way to carve out a career. Rebounding highlights don't lead SportsCenter. The And1 mixtape tour doesn't feature street-ballers who have a knack for the geometry of a carom off the rim.

"I think it's important for young players to understand that getting to this level, it's not all about scoring," Rambis said. "That's kind of the mentality coming up. You can be an elite ballplayer in this league and play the way you want to play. That's an extreme rarity. More often, guys have to find their niche in this league."

This All-Star berth only serves to validate Rambis' theory and bring a smile to the faces of old-school mavens such as Paul Silas, who think that today's game is too much style and not enough substance.

"You just don't see that today; that's what's remarkable about it and is so gratifying to me that there is a guy that is kind of old school," said Silas, the Charlotte Bobcats coach. "Rebounding is important. Everybody today is about scoring and that kind of thing. But rebounding is something unusual."

Silas made two All-Star games in his 16-year playing career, but the annual showcase has become more about glitz and glamour than ever, leading some to wonder if there is a place for Love's no-frills type of game in the event.

"He rebounds, and he's scoring," Silas said. "His double-doubles are like off the charts. I certainly think if they can start looking at that and getting a guy like him in the All-Star game, then more guys will opt to do that."

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