Wolves follow familiar script in victory against injury-ravaged Lakers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A quick look at the media contingent piled into the Target Center, one would have thought Tuesday night's game was of heightened importance.
Instead, on one side you had a team, in the midst of a year of pronounced ups and downs, which labored to once again resurface at the .500 mark for the 12th time this season. Meanwhile, on the other end was a squad that continued its slog along the bottom reaches of the Western Conference standings with its seventh straight loss.
It just so happened the latter team was the Los Angeles Lakers, who arrived with their always bountiful traveling media brigade.
Apart from another display of resiliency from Kevin Love, there was nothing particularly eye-catching about the Timberwolves 109-99 defeat of the Lakers. In fact, it was far from glamorous. It was a scenario they have been through almost ad nauseam this season -- rebound from a brief losing stretch to take down a low-tier opponent.
Even with the win, Tuesday only served to reinforce the inconsistency that has hung around the Wolves (24-24) all season. Ultimately, the Wolves did what they had to, but they made it more difficult than it seemingly should have been to put away a sorely depleted Lakers team.
A rout appeared to be in the works when the Wolves pulled out to a 25-point lead in the second quarter. But the Lakers rallied, fueled by a few well-timed shots by fill-in guard Manny Harris, to cut the deficit to 16 by the half. The Lakers drew as close as seven points by the fourth quarter, though the Wolves did just enough to keep them at bay.
"That's the area that we have to stay with the mindset that we're not going to give in and not give them any runs like that," coach Rick Adelman said.
Minnesota averted what would have fallen into the "disastrous loss" category thanks in large part to Love. In the last four games Nikola Pekovic (ankle) has been sidelined, Love has taken a beating inside, subjected to the bulk of opponents' defensive efforts.
In the course of his franchise record-setting 25th career 30-point, 15-rebound game (31 points, 17 rebounds), Love found himself knocked to the ground multiple times. In a particularly scary moment in the fourth quarter, Love got tangled up with Robert Sacre going up for a shot and came down on his hip with an audible thud, his head whipping back against the hardwood.
After several moments, he finally rose to his feet, reassured Adelman he was fine and returned to take his free throws. Postgame, Adelman said at no point did he consider pulling Love to avoid further harm to his star player.
"He has incredible toughness," guard Kevin Martin said. "He got back up and finished the game off. That's why he's the player that he is. It's those intangibles."
Despite a slight limp and a vast collection of bumps and bruises afterward, Love was low-key about his particularly physical game.
"I've taken a few shots here and there, but tonight I just wanted to stay in the game," Love said. "With Pek out it's been tough, but with both of us that's about 45 points and 25 rebounds. So I just want to keep playing and giving this team all that I can."
On Tuesday, the Wolves needed Love's best, and they got it. But with a daunting match-up at Oklahoma City awaiting them Wednesday, struggling to put the game out of reach and needing Love and Kevin Martin to each log 41 minutes was not a prime way to start off a stretch of four games five days.
Fourth quarters continue to be a major sore spot. For a moment, the Wolves were perilously close to adding another chapter to their growing list of late collapses.
When bluntly asked if he has ever had a team as bad in the fourth quarter as this one, Adelman didn't pull any punches.
"No," Adelman replied. "There's reasons for it. When the game gets tough in the fourth quarter, teams turn it up defensively. No. 1, we don't get enough stops defensively. We let them back in the game ... It's just been a problem area for us all year long."
Any struggles the Wolves battled through obviously were lessened by the fact they survived to push their record back to .500 and stay locked into 10th place in the Western Conference. As guard Ricky Rubio put it, "When we end up winning it's not disappointing."
However, the reminder was there that the diminished resolve that tends to pop up toward the end of halfs will likely be a crippling blow to their playoff chances if it continues to go uncheck when they encounter higher-caliber teams.