Kevin Love stakes claim as NBA's best power forward, scoring 39 in win
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The debate may be over.
Kevin Love staked his claim as the best power forward in the NBA on Monday night, scoring 39 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in a 95-94 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The win was the Wolves' third this season over the Clippers and, much like the teams' first meeting this season, this one came down to the wire in a contest Ricky Rubio likened to a playoff game.
"That is a good team," coach Rick Adelman said. "To beat them three times says a lot."
With the Wolves (20-19) leading by three points, rookie Derrick Williams fouled Chris Paul on a 3-point attempt with 2.7 seconds left. Paul made the first two foul shots, but the third rimmed out. Rubio grabbed the rebound and was instantly fouled.
Rubio missed both free throws, but the Clippers (22-14) were out of timeouts and could only manage a full-court heave that wasn't even close as the Wolves win their fourth straight game at home and seven of their past 10 overall.
"Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good," Love said. "Chris Paul doesn't usually miss that, so for us to have him miss that and get the rebound, it was big for us. We needed that."
Said Rubio, "If we want to be in the playoffs, we have to play at this level."
Love scored the final four points and continues to show he is a player capable of taking over the game in the fourth quarter -- something Adelman has been urging him to do.
"Unbelievable. (Love) is playing amazing," Rubio said. "He seems like he can't miss and he is doing unbelievable work."
Love's big night came one game removed from scoring a career-high 42 points in a win over the Portland Trailblazers.
At one point in Monday's first quarter, Love went on an 11-0 run by himself in less than two minutes to give the Wolves a 13-8 lead they doubled by the end of the first quarter.
"I thought the way he started the game was really crucial," Adelman said. "He started his game the way he did against Portland (Saturday night) -- he was very active. They lost him a few times when he got his threes. That kind of set the tone for us."
The Wolves led by as many as 15 points in the first half but couldn't step on the Clippers' neck and allowed them back into the game. The Wolves were 1-of-9 shooting in the final 4:58 of the second quarter.
Darko Milicic made his first start since Feb. 3 because Nikola Pekovic was inactive with an inflamed foot and had one of his more productive games in recent memory, scoring 13 points in 29 engaged minutes.
"He stepped up (Monday)," Love said. "He played great defense, but he hit a lot of big shots, too. He helped us, stepped up big time."
Rubio checked back in the game with 3:49 left after struggling most of the game. The rookie continued to struggle shooting, going 1-of-7 from the field and only scoring six points. He added six assists and five rebounds, none bigger than the one he grabbed after Paul's miss to secure the game.
No ill intent
The game was a physical contest overall, but things turned nearly ugly when Blake Griffin horse-collar tackled Luke Ridnour with 2:22 left in the game on a fast-break underneath the hoop.
Griffin -- who scored 26 points for the Cippers -- got a technical for his efforts but afterwards the Wolves didn't think there was any ill intent.
"Just one of those plays. He didn't mean anything by it," Ridnour said.
Said Love, "Like Forest Gump says, (expletive) happens."
Paul at the line is almost a guarantee -- he entered the game shooting 85%. But his miss and Rubio's subsequent rebound allowed the Wolves to escape with a victory.
6: Sellouts this season after Monday's 19,509 fans showed up to Target Center. That's the most since 2006-07.
13: Games with 30-plus points this season for Love. The franchise record is 14 by Tony Campbell in 1989-90.
9: Unofficial airballs in Monday's game.
Pekovic was a surprise scratch. Adelman said before the game Pekovic was going to warm up and they would make a decision from there, but the big man ended up being ruled out 40 minutes before the game.
The foot injury is a separate problem from a sprained ankle Pekovic suffered before the All-Star break.
The emergence of Pekovic has a lot to do with this team being two games out of the final playoff spot coming into Monday's game. The second-year player has scored in double-digits in 18 of the last 21 games and he currently ranks second in the league in field-goal percentage at .571 (144-for-252).
Martell Webster struggled on Monday, going scoreless in 12 minutes. But he has put up double-digits in three of the last five games, including a season-high 21 points against Portland on 7-of-10 shooting.
"I thought on the road trip he actually played pretty well the whole trip and really had a terrific game in Portland," Adelman said of Webster who missed the first 18 games of the season while recovering from microdiscectomy surgery.
"He shot it well, was active on the boards and defended well. So hopefully he is going to be more consistent as the game goes on."
Webster admittedly had trouble getting his legs underneath him and getting back into game shape after the long layoff. Prior to the last seven games, Webster had scored in double-digits in only one game and had very inconsistent playing time.
The most glaring weakness on the roster is lack of a shooting guard who can be reliable enough to be a fixture in the starting lineup every night.
Wesley Johnson has started 37 of the team's 39 games this season while the Wolves hope they can get anything out of last season's No. 4 overall pick. But Johnson has struggled mightily, scoring just 9.8 points on 39.1% shooting from the field and 24.2% from behind the arc.
Johnson said he is feeling more confident than he had earlier in the season, but if he continues to struggle, the team may have an upgrade on the bench in Webster if he continues to show improved production.
The Wolves will have Tuesday off before a rematch with Portland (18-19) on Wednesday night at Target Center, where the Blazers have an eight-game winning streak.
The Wolves wrap up their four-game homestand later in the week with games on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers and Saturday against the New Orleans Hornets. From there, the Wolves depart from the state of Minnesota for an 11-day, seven-game road trip.