J.J. Barea came up big down the stretch after the All-Star forward had to depart in the third quarter with the Wolves down 10.
DENVER - Trailing by 10 in the third quarter when Kevin Love went to the locker room again clutching that troublesome right hand, the Timberwolves reversed course abruptly from just 24 hours earlier and won 101-97 over Denver, a team that just doesn't lose at home.
Well, OK, now the Nuggets have lost twice in 12 games at Pepsi Center.
Tuesday, Denver ended the Los Angeles Clippers' 17-game winning streak at their arena a mile high. Thursday, the Wolves played on without their All-Star forward and resident lightning rod after Love sprained a finger in the same shooting hand he broke in October.
And they thrived while he underwent X-rays that came out negative, erasing most of that 10-point deficit by the end of the third quarter and then outscoring Denver 32-27 in a final quarter when they improved their transition defense and actually made some clutch three-pointers.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman called Thursday's game a test of his team's resolve after Wednesday's putrid 22-point loss at Utah.
"See how you respond, and we responded pretty good," he said. "It's one of those games that you don't expect with everything that's gone on, go on a trip to Utah and Denver and they're rested and we come in and win."
Love returned to the bench in the fourth quarter and told Adelman he could play, even though he couldn't shoot with his right hand. So Adelman went elsewhere, depending on Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea for all or much of the fourth quarter.
Cunningham and Williams provided the transition defense, and offensively the Wolves cleared the floor for Barea and got out of his way. He scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Backcourt mate Luke Ridnour and Barea hit consecutive three-pointers that turned a 91-91 tie with 3:09 left into a 97-91 lead with 1:54 remaining that the Wolves never lost.
The NBA's worst three-point shooting team when the night began, the Wolves made those two threes in the fourth, five in the second half and six on the night, a success rate that Adelman afterward called "amazing."
"It's way easier when you score some three-pointers," said center Nikola Pekovic, who played little in the fourth quarter because he had five fouls.
Denver coach George Karl raves about Barea before nearly every game, marveling at his fearlessness, and he did so again Thursday night after watching the smallest player on the floor get to the basket time and again.
Adelman, too, was impressed about a 5-9 player -- the world's smallest shooting guard -- who went 1-for-8 and saw his double-digit scoring streak end at 13 games in Wednesday's loss.
"He was unbelievable," Adelman said. " He's so tough. He just keeps dogging people and keeps getting there."
Love appeared to sprain the third metacarpal in his right shooting hand. That's one of two bones he broke in October, when he said he fractured them while doing knuckle pushups.
His shooting woes continued Thursday, as he shot 4-for-13 but also had 17 rebounds in 23 1/2 minutes. He declined to speak to reporters after the game.
"Obviously, he's a big part of what we do," Ridnour said. "But we were able to get out, run some pick-and-rolls, get some stops. Our defense picked up and we got some big stops off their transition."
Said Karl: "I think Minnesota at times plays better without Love. They're kind of a machine-like offense. They give guys different opportunities. But they're pretty good."
The victory lifted the Wolves back above .500 at 15-14, even though young stars Love and Ricky Rubio have been mostly footnotes at best this season.
"It means a lot," Pekovic said of the victory. "It shows we can play against anybody."
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