Kevin Love did not play the final 16 minutes, 15 seconds of last night's game at Denver. He left the game with a sprained finger on the same right hand that has been plaguing him all year. At the time, the Wolves looked completely flummoxed. They weren't moving the ball. They weren't getting back on defense. They had watched a 47-43 halftime lead dissolve into a 66-56 deficit.

Without Love on the court, the defense (at least in transition) looked better. J.J. Barea took over the offense and various players started making all kinds of shots they weren't making before. There was a renewed energy, and the result was an important 101-97 that kept the Wolves (15-14) from dipping under .500.

The fashionable question last night on Twitter was this: Did the Wolves win in spite of missing Kevin Love (and Ricky Rubio) or BECAUSE Love left the game?

It's a complicated question, but here's how we see it:

For 16 minutes and 15 seconds, the Wolves were a better team without Love on the floor. It was apparent. His missed shots and constant referee battles have become a team-wide energy drain at times, at least when viewed from afar. The Wolves naturally thrive on ball movement; when Love is in the game, there is a (correct) tendency to get him the ball more than others. When he is not making shots, everyone suffers. When he went out, the "best shot possible" theory came back into the mix, with guys like Alexey Shved, Luke Ridnour, Daunte Cunningham and Barea stepping up.

For the future, however, it is ridiculous to say the Wolves are better off without Love. They absolutely need him -- but they absolutely need him to get his head, lungs, hand and whatever else is ailing him back into 2011-12 form. This version of Love is slumping. We're not sure if it's more mental or physical, but he is shooting 35.2 percent from the field, including 21.7 percent on threes. His rebounding numbers are still there. His defense has been atrocious at times, and his slow lopes back to the defensive end -- often after arguing a call or at least being upset -- need to stop. But please don't forget that he averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds last season. If he wants to be here -- and he had better want to be here because it's his only choice for multiple years still -- he is an essential piece toward building a very dangerous team.

All the 2012-13 Wolves need is the 2011-12 Love -- even if Love isn't all they need (hey, how about a real two-guard and a little bit of health fortune?)

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