Kevin Love leads Wolves past Blazers, into eighth spot in West
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If the season ended today, the Minnesota Timberwolves would be in the NBA playoffs.
Kevin Love scored 29 points in Wednesday's 106-94 win over the Portland Trailblazers, which moved the Wolves into eighth place in the Western Conference standings.
"Now, it doesn't really mean (expletive)," said Love, who has 100 points in the Wolves' past three games, two points shy of the most prolific stretch in team history.
"It doesn't really mean (expletive) if we don't continue to win and continue to keep playing better. So, it is great that we are there now, but we still have what, 26 games left? When we get through those 26 games, then we will talk, but as far as right now, we just need to keep playing well."
Martell Webster added 10 points off the bench in the victory, which combined with the Houston Rockets' loss at Toronto put both teams at 21-19. The Wolves own the tiebreaker because they won the season series against the Rockets 3-1.
"Who cares? We have to keep playing the games," Webster said. "We are in the eight spot, but we all know that can be taken away with one game. So, we all know we have to handle our business on the court."
Low-key veteran Luke Ridnour had a bit of a sunnier take on his team's newfound spot.
"It is fun to be in the hunt," he said. "You hear the crowd and the energy."
It was a three-man show at Target Center for the Wolves, with Wesley Johnson, Ridnour and Love combining for 70 points. The Wolves have now won five straight at home and beat the Blazers for the second time in five days after losing the previous 16 meetings.
Love picked up right where he left off after scoring a career-high 42 on Saturday against the Blazers and 39 on Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers. The All-Star connected with all three 3-point attempts in the first quarter, including one just near the buzzer, to score 15 points on 6-o- 8 shooting overall.
"He got us going again in the first half. He made shots," Adelman said.
Added Webster, "Kevin has 'NBA2K' numbers right now. It is crazy. Kid is playing out of his mind right now but everybody else is feeding off that."
One player who definitely fed off of Love was Johnson, who put his early-season struggles behind him at least for one night -- scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 29 minutes.
Johnson made just about everyone in the arena do a double-take when checking the scoreboard at halftime to see he matched a season-high 14 points in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
He did it in a variety of ways, too. He knocked down 3s, he drove and dunked and he even put the ball on the court for a pull-up jumper.
"We were happy with the way he played," Love said. "He really stepped up (Wednesday). You could tell with the energy from the beginning that he was ready to go."
Johnson had scored in double-figures in just two of the past 22 games, a run that also included getting skunked twice. The Wolves are 9-2 when Johnson scores nine points or more.
"Wes was huge. He hit shots," Adelman said. "He had a solid game."
Ridnour added 22 points, including nine points in the fourth quarter alone after J.J. Barea went down with yet another injury and continued to play defense against shooting guards much bigger than him.
"Ridnour is huge for this team, Love said. "I hope I play with him for a long time, until the wheels fall off. So, he is a guy I love playing with, grew up watching. He is just efficient. He makes big shots and nothing seems to rattle him."
Love scored just four points in the third quarter but bounced back in the fourth quarter by taking the game over.
After the Blazers cut the lead to five points, Love drove to the basket, got fouled and made both free throws to put the lead back to seven. Webster would add a 3-pointer to make it 10 and the Wolves never looked back as they laid claim to a playoff spot with 26 games to go.
3,000: Career rebounds for Love, who needs just 19 to overtake Sam Mitchell for No. 2 place on the Wolves career list.
0: First-quarter turnovers for a Wolves team that is displaying much improved fundamentals from earlier in the season.
7: Seconds for Wayne Ellington off the bench after drawing the old "Did not play -- coach's decision" for nine of the past 16 games.
Pekovic missed his second consecutive game with a sore right foot after he was ruled out by the training staff before the game.
Pekovic said he doesn't know exactly when he suffered the injury but first noticed his sore foot in Saturday's win at Portland. He had X-rays after the game but everything came back clean and he doesn't expect this to be a lingering issue.
"No, no, no," Pekovic said. "For sure just a few days. Little rest and it will be fine. See how it feels (Thursday)."
It is a small bone on the inside of Pekovic's right foot that is causing the 6-11 center from Montenegro pain. He believes it was caused from extra pressure after spraining his ankle just before the All-Star break.
Adelman is no stranger to big men having trouble with their feet after seeing Yao Ming retire because of fractures in his feet and ankle while coach of the Rockets. But Adelman, like Pekovic, doesn't believe this is something that could turn into something serious.
"No, because (Tuesday) he seemed to be a lot better, but they just said there is still some swelling and soreness there and we don't want to do anything else to it," Adelman said. "There is a back-to-back Friday and Saturday, so I think we will just see if we can get through (Wednesday) and have him back for Friday."
• Barea left the game with in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle and did not return. After the game, Barea confirmed he sprained the same ankle that gave him trouble in the first weekend of the season. X-rays came back negative but he said he sprained it worse than he did the first time.
"It is just a sprain," he said. "(I am) frustrated but you know what? We are winning so I just got to get healthy again and come back as quickly as I can."
Barea said he will ice it after the game and stay off of it (Thursday). Ever the optimist, Barea refused to rule himself out with Friday's showdown against the Los Angles Lakers.
The injuries continue to pile up for the man the Wolves gave a four-year contract to in December. He is officially listed as day-to-day moving forward.
The fans in section 121 chanted "M-V-P" while Love was at the line in the third quarter. He missed both free throws.
The Wolves will practice on Thursday before returning to the Target Center on Friday night for another game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers (23-15) have won the last 17 games against the Wolves and the last eight at Target Center. There isn't a single Wolf on the roster that has beaten the Lakers during his time in Minnesota. The last victory over the Lakers came in a 117-107 on March 6, 2007, while a good portion of the roster was still in high school or college.
The Wolves had a chance in their first game against the Lakers, narrowly losing 106-101 at home before they were blown out of the water in last week's 104-85 defeat at Staples Center.
From there, the Wolves wrap up their four-game homestand on Saturday against the New Orleans Hornets before embarking on a seven-game road trip that could go a long way in defining what kind of season this is for them.