Without Kevin Love, Wolves put scare into Thunder but fall short again
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For the third time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves gave the Oklahoma City all they could handle on Saturday night. And for the third time this season, the Wolves came up short in the fourth quarter, losing 115-110.
Unlike a week ago, when the Wolves mailed in a performance against the Phoenix Suns, the injured bunch -- once again playing without Kevin Love -- showed fight and resolve against a clearly superior opponent that is playing to lockup the top overall seed in the Western Conference.
"Give our guys a lot of credit," coach Rick Adelman said. "We played with a lot of energy (Saturday). That's a great team and we competed the whole time."
The sellout crowd inside Target Center got their moneys worth to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the best players in the game.
Durant finished with 43 while Westbrook was right behind him with 35. Combined, the two scored 78 while the rest of the team managed to score 37.
"We haven't had much success on those guys," Adelman said. "We were trying to find answers but they've been together now for three years. They know what they're going to do durin the game and these guys are very smart."
"(Durant) is a great player," Nikola Pekovic said. "What can you say?"
"Durant is just the best," Michael Beasley said.
Last time out against the Thunder, J.J. Barea put up his first career triple-double and his numbers were once again impressive, scoring 24 points and dishing 10 assists. The lone healthy point guard played 39 minutes and also grabbed three rebounds and picked three assists in the loss.
The losing streak now grows to nine, but the general consensus in the Wolves' locker room is that if they keep playing like they did Saturday, they'll find a win along the way.
"We won't end this season on a losing streak," Pekovic said.
The Wolves were not only without Love, but they still had to make do without point guard Luke Ridnour, who once again sat out with a sprained right ankle. Adelman joked before the game that he counted bodies and had 11 so he figured that was good enough.
But as Adelman has stressed all season, and particularly the past weeks, other players have opportunities to step up and assert themselves to show they should be a part of this franchise's future. On Saturday, it was Anthony Randolph and Beasley who rose to the coach's challenge.
Randolph put in his third consecutive strong performance as he makes a late push to secure a job next season. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting in 34 minutes, one game after scoring 14 points in 31 minutes in a loss against the Clippers.
"(Randolph) played really well the last three games," Adelman said. "He has been given an opportunity and he is making the most of it."
Added Barea, "(Randolph) has been playing great. Hopefully, he can keep it going."
Beasley, meanwhile, scored a team-high 26 points off the bench, combining with Randolph to help outscore the Thunder bench 54-18. He also added six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 39 minutes.
What made Beasley so effective was the way he attacked the rim -- a skill really only he possesses on the team.
"We wanted (Beasley) to attack the basket," Adelman said. "I didn't think they had anybody that could guard him if he was aggressive."
Adelman went to Randolph and Beasley off the bench early in the third quarter after the Thunder opened up the half with a 10-0 run.
"They came out third quarter hot and (Randolph and I) just put our heads down and played hard," Beasley said.
The Wolves got within a point in the fourth quarter and showed resolve until the end, but Durant and Westbrook were simply too much in the final frame. Durant scored 20 points alone in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves threw everything at Westbrook, including putting Randolph on him at times in the fourth quarter, but he and Durant were simply too much for the outmanned Wolves.
11: Sellouts this season after 19,552 fans went through the turnstiles Saturday. This makes the most sellouts since the Wolves had 14 in 2003-04 -- the year they made their run to the Western Conference finals.
64.7: Free-throw percentage for the Wolves, who shot 22-of-34.
10: Assists in the second half for Barea after having zero in the first half.
• Kevin Love sat out his second consecutive game because of the concussion he suffered Wednesday night in a loss at Denver. Adelman wasn't able to give much of an update on his All-Star forward, other than that he is at home and still showing symptoms and there isn't a timetable on when, or if, he will return.
"I have no idea, I just don't know," Adelman said. "We'd like to see him come back for whatever he can play. But the doctors, trainers and Kevin himself will be the ones to who finally make that decision."
With only five games left in the season and Love not even able to make it to the arena on Saturday to watch the game, the smart money says the Wolves make the wise move and just shut him down for the rest of the season, but Adelman wasn't ready to make that ruling quite yet.
• Adelman was originally hopeful that Ridnour would return against the Thunder, but the veteran missed his sixth consecutive game because of a sprained right ankle he suffered at Sacramento on April 2.
He is getting closer to returning, Adelman said, and they don't plan on shutting him down for the season.
"He wants to play," Adelman said. "Maybe next week."
• Darko Milicic sat out his eight consecutive game with a strained hamstring.
"What does that make me? 6-foot?"
-- Beasley on Durant claiming he is only 6-foot-7.
Sunday is a travel day for the Wolves as they head to Indiana to take on the Pacers Monday.
This originally appeared to be an intriguing game after Love made no secret that he isn't a fan of the Pacers (37-22) after a 109-99 loss at Target Center in Feb. But now the Wolves are out of the playoff hunt and Love likely will be watching from his couch.
The Wolves then return home Tuesday to face the Memphis Grizzlies at Target Center.