Kevin Love returns but it's not enough as Wolves fall to Suns
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Kevin Love returned to the lineup Thursday but it wasn't enough for the Minnesota Timberwolves after another ugly second half led to a 104-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Love was back on the court after missing Wednesday's game because of the flu but appeared sluggish in the defeat. He scored 22 points but needed eight of 25 shooting to get there; he also added 14 rebounds in 40 minutes.
The Wolves appeared to be coasting with a double-digit lead in the second quarter but much like their loss 24 hours earlier to the Lakers, having tired legs caught up with them in their third game in three nights against a Suns team that hasn't played in eight days.
The Suns took their first lead since the first quarter on a fast-break dunk by Shannon Brown with 2:02 left in the third quarter to make it 73-72. It was part of an 11-0 run that came before Luke Ridnour hit two free throws that gave the Wolves a 77-74 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Wolves lingered throughout the fourth until Grant Hill converted a layup plus the foul after a Michael Beasley turnover to put the Suns up by 11 with 6:31 remaining. The Wolves would get it as close as six points on a few occasions but could never get back into the game.
The Wolves (18-19) have lost the past two games of their four-game road trip after their victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
Coach Rick Adelman went with what has become his normal starting line up of Love, Ricky Rubio, Ridnour, Wesley Johnson and Nikola Pekovic, but Adelman had to alter his rotations because of J.J. Barea's absence that was caused by a calf injury suffered Wednesday.
Martell Webster got the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard, so Adelman could split up Rubio and Ridnour without a backup point guard on the bench. Adelmen also went with a short bench, playing just Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Webster a night after clearing the bench so that even seldom-used Anthony Randolph got some run.
All five starters were in double figures for the Wolves,, but nobody was able to step up and play a leadership role in the fourth quarter when the Wolves desperately needed a basket to keep their heads above water.
What killed the Wolves was their shooting, they shot just 39.5 percent from the field and a horrendous one of 13 from behind the three-point. Love was the only person who connected on a three-point but even he missed four other shots from behind the arc.
To make matters worse, the Wolves were beat by a pair of players who were in the NBA while many on the Wolves were still teenagers.
Grant Hill, who is 39, and 38-year-old Steve Nash turned back the hands of times to beat a much-younger Wolves team in Phoenix's first game since before the All-Star break.
Nash did it with his trademark passing by contributing 17 assists -- three more than the entire Wolves roster combined -- in 34 minutes. He also added 13 points and was only two rebounds away from a triple-double.
Hill did it by scoring a team-high 20 points on his six-time surgically repaired ankle. He shot eight of 12, grabbed five rebounds and had a pair of assists.
The Wolves were trailing by four -- a situation they are quite used to this season -- heading into the fourth quarter but they allowed the Suns to extend their lead to 10 points inside of seven minutes remaining and they were never able to get back into the game against a team that shot 53.2 percent to their 39.5 percent.
7.7: Percent from behind the arc for the Wolves -- a season-low.
12: Points for Johnson, his first double-digit performance since Feb. 3 at New Jersey where he put up 10 points.
9: Consecutive losses to the Suns for the Wolves. The Suns also have won 10 of the last 11.
J.J. Barea was listed as inactive for Thursday's game after leaving Wednesday's loss to the Lakers after straining his right calf.
Barea has now missed 17 of the 37 games this season and it may be time to officially begin wondering if the former Dallas Maverick was worth the four-year, $19 million contract he signed during training camp after Mark Cuban and the Mavs only offered him a one-year deal.
Injuries have been on the upswing this season with the shortened schedule and days off being few and far between. But Barea seems to have been especially hampered by injuries. He has been slowed by separate issues with the same hamstring early in the season, as well as a sprained ankle.
Lee back to the D-League
Rookie Malcolm Lee started his second stint with the NBA Developmental League's Sioux Falls Skyforce in Thursday's 115-102 loss to the Bakersfield Jam. Lee scored 12 points on five of 15 shooting, including 0-for-4 from behind the arc. He also added nine assists and six turnovers in 32 minutes.
Lee is fully recovered from a procedure to repair a torn meniscus on his left knee on Dec. 30, but there simply isn't room for him in the rotation right now and Adelman has stressed the importance of being patient with the second-round pick out of UCLA.
Lee's first stint with the SkyForce earlier this season lasted three games and he averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds in 25.3 minutes.
The Wolves will get a day off Friday after playing three games in three nights but the road trip isn't quite over. The Wolves play their first game of the season against Portland before returning home to Minneapolis for a week-long four-game homestand that will begin Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
From there, adreaded seven-game, 12-day road trip begins with stops in Phoenix, Utah, Los Angeles (Lakers), Sacramento, Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.