Timberwolves throttle Nuggets, take place in standings

The Timberwolves and the Nuggets met on Wednesday in a matchup of two teams clinging to the fraying ends of their playoff hopes with just a half a game separating them in the standings. To add a sense of urgency to the evening’s contest the Mavericks held a seven game advantage over the Timberwolves with the season over the halfway point. Minnesota was faced with having to do this without the services of Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, adding to the degree of difficulty.

The Nuggets began the game eager to hand the Timberwolves easy opportunities with three turnovers in the first 1:40 of the game. With Chase Budinger starting in place of the injured Kevin Martin, Budinger dropped a quick three to put the Timberwolves up early. The Timberwolves would however build their lead behind Ricky Rubio’s strong play. Rubio not only assisted on Budinger’s three, but a Kevin Love basket while dropping four points of his own. Denver, meanwhile, remained hellbent on making everyone hate basketball. Minnesota would carry this to a 31-19 advantage after one.

If the second quarter belonged to anyone, it belonged to JJ Barea. Love may have began the quarter with a pair of threes, but it ultimately was Barea’s time on the court while Rubio rested that allowed the Timberwolves to continue to ride their momentum. The Nuggets struggled to find an answer for Barea as he scored in his typical crafty fashion, including one play in the high post where he handed it off to Turiaf, ran around the baseline and took the  hand off back for the longest two possible. Hey, I don’t condone it, but it went in. What can ya do? By the end of the second quarter, the Love-to-Brewer connection had netted them several points and the Timberwolves had led been as much as 20.

Down big on the road, the Nuggets were going to have to chip away gradually if they wanted to have a chance. Instead, they started the second half with two Randy Foye misses and a turnover, though Jordan Hamilton’s three gave them the first points of the quarter. Wilson Chandler would manage to cut the deficit to under 20, but Love and Rubio each hit a pair of free throws to bring it right back up. At 89-64 it appeared the Timberwolves were going to get some extra rest going into their all-star break.

The Timberwolves began the fourth quarter with an opportunity to put their opponent away for good. Love assisted on a pair of baskets, and Brewer scored on a pair of plays at the rim and found themselves with a 34-point lead with just under 10-minutes to play. Before long, both teams pulled their starters and the Timberwolves left it to Barea and Dante Cunningham to put the Nuggets away. Denver would score four points in the final minute to avoid a 30-point blowout and Minnesota claimed the 117-90 victory at home.

Love had another huge game with 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Barea added 18 points in 18 minutes on eight shots off of the bench. Of course, you can’t go without mentioning Rubio’s 11 points and 12 assists and seven steals in the win either.

Jordan Hamilton led the Nuggets with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

The Timberwolves will have the week off for the All-Star break and resume against the Pacers (****) on February 19th.

Notes:

- Shabazz Muhammad, everyone’s favorite fourth string shooting guard, scored five points tonight. Do I need to mention that one was a long two or a contested floater in the lane? Probably not. Do I need to mention that he struggled catching some passes? Do I need to mention it’s good to see him doing good things? Yes.

- “Hey, Jerry! What do our playoff chances look like?”


- Corey Brewer’s 22-point performance was his fourth 20+ point game of the year and second in the last three games.

- The Timberwolves moved to 6-0 when shooting over 50 percent. More impressive to do it without two of their top players. It does help that JJ Barea had the best shooting night of his career, though. Conversely, the Timberwolves are now 8-0 when holding their opponent under 40 percent. What this really proves is that if you score more than the other team you’re probably going to win.

- Ronny Turiaf, everyone’s favorite Timberwolf of all-time, grabbed double-digit rebounds for the third straight game, but also added four blocks tonight.

- Gah. The Timberwolves finished with 29 points off of 21 Nuggets turnovers while Denver was only able to get 10 off of 10.

- Quote of the Night:

“Yeah, like I was saying after the last game if you keep pushing and doing the little things that you’ve been doing

you might not see success right away but you’ll see success. It was definitely a great win for us, for our team.”- Ronny Turiaf

To me this really reflects how the Timberwolves have done in  overcoming their own built in roster limitations (the bench and defense, mostly) and now the injuries to still have a pretty successful season. It’ll take a lot for them to climb back into the race, but they will have time to get their once the season resumes in a week.