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Updated: October 27th, 2010 11:33pm
Rambis: Love's 4th-quarter benching in loss to Kings 'not derogatory'

Rambis: Love's 4th-quarter benching in loss to Kings 'not derogatory'

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Love, entering his third NBA season, is the second longest-tenured player on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster.

Some might argue Love -- who averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds last season, and 18 points and 11 rebounds during the preseason -- is the best player on the team.

In Wednesday night's 117-116 loss in the season opener to the Sacramento Kings, however, Love sat on the bench for the final 8:39 while Anthony Tolliver played in his place.

"I thought that he was moving his feet well, he was challenging shots, blocking shots," coach Kurt Rambis said about Tolliver, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four blocks and a steal in 28 minutes. "He was doing a really good job defensively."

When pressed by a reporter why arguably his best player was on the bench during crunch time, Rambis calmly replied, "Who's arguing that?"

"That's your opinion," he continued. "Like I said earlier, with Anthony Tolliver, I thought Anthony was doing the things defensively that we needed at that point and time in the ballgame.

"It's nothing against Kevin. I thought A.T. was doing a good job. Rather than turning it into a derogatory thing with Kevin, it's a complimentary thing towards A.T."

The message was clear, both in Rambis' words and his choice of lineups in the fourth quarter: Defense is a huge focal point. And Love wasn't playing enough of it.

A message sent to the team?

"Absolutely," Tolliver said. "He's made it obvious to everybody that if you play hard you're going to play, and if you play defense you're going to play."

Love, who left the locker room after the game before reporters could track him down, scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and hit 2-of-3 three-pointers -- not a surprise, considering he shot 33% from downtown last season, and 58% in the preseason.

But as point guard Luke Ridnour put it, talking about why the Wolves couldn't pull out a victory, "Really, it's not about the offense. We scored 116 points."

The Kings scored 64 points in the second half and shot 47 free throws in the game -- both signs of what Rambis said was a poor job of weakside defense by his team.

"(The defense) has definitely got to get better," Ridnour said. "In order to win in this league, you've got to play defense. All preseason, that's kind of what carried us and what we hung our hat on. Then as soon as the lights came on, we just didn't execute and do the same things that we had been doing all preseason."

Rambis made similar comments about the Wolves' defense in the preseason, saying his team got away from the "principles" they practiced in early October.

Of course, the Wolves allowed more than 100 points in five of eight preseason games, so they weren't exactly imitating the late 80's Pistons.

Love might need to get in touch with his bad boy side.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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