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Updated: February 8th, 2014 11:29pm
Reserves give injured Wolves major boost, but get same end result

Reserves give injured Wolves major boost, but get same end result

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic sat behind the Minnesota Timberwolves' bench Saturday, all three donned in suits and subdued expressions.

It wasn't a comforting sight for the Wolves, who have struggled to stay upright in a season ripe with inconsistencies even with a fully healthy roster.

With Martin, Love and Pekovic all sidelined due to injuries, and one of the Western Conference's top teams, the Portland Trailblazers, in town, it all seemed to indicate a deflating result was forthcoming for the Wolves.

Ultimately, the final outcome wasn't the surprising -- a 117-110 loss that sent the Wolves hurtling three games below the .500 mark for the second time this season (24-27).

But if there was any silver lining to take from the game, it was that the Wolves and their reserve-heavy lineup ended up giving the Trailblazers more of fight than they probably expected. It took yet another slip in the fourth quarter to overshadow the Wolves' impressive shorthanded effort -- a two-point lead early in the final frame quickly became a 10-point deficit.

"We played our butts off tonight," said Corey Brewer, who was one of four Wolves players to notch double-digit scoring numbers with a team-high 26 points. "We just had some tough breaks in the fourth quarter. We just couldn't win."

It came as a surprise the Wolves were depleted to the degree they were Saturday.

Pekovic has been out for nearly two weeks nursing nagging soreness in his right ankle. The absence of the Wolves big man in the paint has been a major blow - Minnesota is 2-5 in seven game without him. But the Wolves already knew not to expect him back until some point after the All-Star break.

The bad news began to add up when they learned Saturday morning the hit to the hand guard Kevin Martin had taken in the fourth quarter Friday at New Orleans had resulted in a fracture in his left thumb. The diagnosis: Out indefinitely.

It went from to worst when coach Rick Adelman got word All-Star Kevin Love, who has taken a beating over the last week, was out with a left quad contusion. Adelman said afterward he heard the news about 30 minutes before tip-off, forcing the Wolves to adjust on the fly.

Take out Love, Pekovic and Martin, and the Wolves are missing the trio responsible for 56 percent of their scoring (2937 of 5275) and 52 percent of their rebounding numbers (1201of 2291).

That's not exactly the recipe for success.

"It's tough. It's tough having all those guys out," said Chase Budinger, coming off by far his best game post-knee surgery (19-points). "Those guys are huge impact guys for us. We were hoping Kevin was able to go, but he was really struggling and hurting. He tried to get himself going but just couldn't do it."

But the Wolves adapted as best they could, and it resulted in stats that haven't been seen much from the rest of the roster.

At the forefront was Ricky Rubio, displaying an aggressive edge and willingness to create his own shot that has been an in-game rarity for the young point guard. Rubio went off for a career-high 25 points to go with nine assists.

Without Love or Martin, Rubio knew it was imperative he take the lead when it comes to scoring.

"There were more shots to take," Rubio said. "When you have big scorers like them go out, others have to step up and I did my thing out there."

Rubio wasn't alone. He joined Budinger and even rookie Shabazz Muhammad in picking up either season or career scoring highs - Muhammad shattered his previous mark of six with a 12-point outing. Ronny Turiaf missed a double-double by two points after pulling down 13 rebounds.

There were handful of unexpected, but positive signs to be found. But it couldn't take away the fact the Wolves still lost a game they were well in striking distance of stealing away. A series of missed stops midway through the fourth quarter rapidly snowballed into a deficit Minnesota didn't have the firepower left to answer.

The faces were different, but the fourth quarter woes were the same. Injuries or not, the Wolves are running out of time to rely on "moral victories," though the output from the bench was a positive that was tough to overlook.

"You look at a game like this you're hoping it's a catalyst for a lot of those guys to keep moving forward," Adelman said.

For the Wolves' sake, they better hope that is true. Love's status for the final two games before the All-Star break is questionable, but it is a fairly safe bet both Pekovic and Martin won't be back until some point after the season's second half resumes on Feb. 19.

Until then, the Wolves have to find a way to win without them in games against Houston (Monday) and Denver (Wednesday).

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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