Wolves start slow but fast finish enables them to end four-game skid
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS -- As has so often been the case this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves took some time to get started on Wednesday night at Target Center. Fortunately for them, they were facing the Charlotte Bobcats.
The NBA's worst team held a two-point lead at halftime, but eventually proved to be no match for a Wolves team that was able to end a season-high four-game losing streak with a 102-90 victory.
Wolves All-Star forward Kevin Love finished with 30 points and 18 rebounds to lead both teams.
The loss extended Charlotte's losing streak to 16 games -- the longest in franchise history -- and was their 13th consecutive defeat on the road.
"It was a key game for us," Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said.
The Wolves had their issues but their offense flowed far more smoothly than it did during the losing streak. That was in part because coach Rick Adelman emphasized ball movement and mixing up the pick-and-roll that the Wolves rely so heavily on.
The results showed, as the Wolves had a season-high 26 assists and 13 turnovers. The Wolves had been plagued by turnover woes during their skid.
"Offensively, we executed a lot better," Adelman said. "Especially into the third and the fourth quarter, we really followed through on what we worked on yesterday. You get 26 assist and 13 turnovers, that is a pretty big difference."
Charlotte fell to 3-26 with the loss, but that didn't stop the Bobcats from taking a 9-point lead early with a 15-2 run against the flat-footed and disinterested Timberwolves.
"After the first quarter, I was really pleased with the way we played," Adelman said. "They came out and shot the ball well and we were slow getting into it. We gave up 30 points in the first quarter. After that we were pretty good defensively."
The Wolves rallied against the Bobcats -- who got D.J. Augustin back for the first time since Jan. 22 -- thanks largely to Love. He had 18 of his points in the opening half.
The Wolves, however, did not wake up as a team until the second half. They closed the third quarter on a 10-0 run to take a 76-66 lead.
"We talked about not just being happy with that lead but to build on it," Adelman said.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as the Wolves got up by as many as 19 points and ran away with the game.
"We knew if we were able to go on one of our runs, they weren't going to be able to fight back," Love said. "We were happy to get this one."
In a somewhat surprising move, Adelman left Love in the game even when it was well in hand. Love dropped to No. 7 in minutes played in the NBA after his recent two-game suspension, but he has played a healthy amount of minutes.
Adelman said he left Love in the game in part because he liked what he saw out of guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea and the front court of Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and Love. It was first time this season that group had gotten extended time together.
"I liked the way those five guys were playing, and that is going to show that that is how we have to play," Adelman said.
Ridnour said a discussion in practice Tuesday focused on freshening up the offense and not being so predictable.
"We have done so well in the pick-and-roll that we kind of made it easy for teams to guard us because we run it so much," said Ridnour, who started at shooting guard and had 10 points and five assists. "But we moved the ball side-to-side and got everyone involved and made some plays tonight."
Rubio was given the entire fourth quarter off after struggling, scoring only six points on two of seven shooting. He had seven assists and turned over the ball three times.
Rubio was happy to get the rest, in part because the Wolves have a tough stretch of games coming up. "Especially since they were playing so good, and J.J. and Luke they play great today," Rubio said.
The game was tied at 66 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter before the Wolves went on a 27-4 run. Barea hit a long three-pointer as the shot clock was expiring with 7 minutes, 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter to put the Wolves up by 19 and all but end Charlotte's hopes of rallying.
• 4: Number of times this season Love has had 30-plus points and 15-plus rebounds after he finished with 30 points and 18 rebounds Wednesday.
• 0: Minutes in the second-half for Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams. Before the game, Adelman said he was toying with the idea of mixing up rotations and those two got lost in the shuffle.
• 13: Turnovers for the Wolves after averaging 22 the past three games, including a 27 turnover game last Friday in a loss to Dallas.
• 8: Assists for Barea, a season-high. He added 12 points off the bench and had no turnovers.
• 7: Double-doubles for Pekovic in his past 11 games. Pekovic finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Rookie guard Malcolm Lee, who was recalled from his rehab stint in the NBA Development League on Tuesday after three games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, was inactive against the Bobcats. It sounds like he will remain off the court for a while.
"He went down and had a nice stint down there, but you can't just grab somebody and throw them out there because then somebody else has to sit down," Adelman said. "The purpose of that was to get him some playing time, see how he responded.
"He got through it, he played pretty good and we will just evaluate him this week. If the knee is stronger ... just keep monitoring it and see how he is doing."
Lee averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 25.3 minutes while recovering from December surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament.
Per NBA rules, first and second-year players are allowed to go to the minor league up to three separate times, and Adelman wouldn't rule out another stint for Lee after they re-evaluate his progress.
Practice makes ...
Although it wasn't officially announced until Wednesday, Love already began preparing to compete in the three-point contest during All-Star weekend on Tuesday.
After practice, Love had ball-racks set up at the corresponding stations on the court and he worked on moving from station-to-station, much like how the contest works.
Love entered Wednesday shooting .361 percent from behind the arc and, not surprisingly, the All-Star likes his chances.
"I always like my chances in any competition," said Love, who made two of five three-point attempts Wednesday. "Maybe not in the slam dunk. They didn't invite me."
Love will face James Jones and Mario Chalmers of Miami, Orlando's Ryan Anderson, New Jersey's Anthony Morrow and Joe Johnson of Atlanta. Jones is the defending champion.
This is Love's first appearance in the competition, which will take place Feb. 25 in Orlando. It isn't exactly common for a power forward to be invited to this portion of the All-Star events. "I'll just enjoy the three-point (contest) and kick back and be the dark-horse in the competition," Love said.
He just shouldn't expect his coach to be watching on television. "I don't really watch (All-Star weekend)," Adelman said. "It is such a production. It is always kind of fun to go there when you are part of it, but other than that I take a weekend to get away from it."
"You knock down some shots and now everybody wants to talk to you,"
-- Brad Miller kidding Ridnour after the media swarmed his locker following his 10-point game Wednesday.
The Wolves will face the Rockets (17-13) in Houston on Friday for the fourth and final time this season.
The Wolves have won two in a row vs. the Rockets after losing their first meeting against Houston coach and former Wolves executive Kevin McHale on Jan. 23.
The Rockets won that game, 107-92, at Target Center. The Wolves then beat the Rockets 120-108 on Jan. 30 in Houston and 100-91 on Feb. 4 at Target Center.
That was the game in which Love drew a two-game suspension for stepping on the face and chest of Houston's Luis Scola. Love said there are no hard feelings between he and Scola but it will be something to watch for nonetheless.
The Wolves will return to Target Center on Sunday to face the Philadelphia 76ers at 6 p.m.