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Kevin Love.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Souhan: Love plays like a star on national TV

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • December 21, 2012 - 2:34 PM

It's been a rough few months for Kevin Love. He fractured his hand, publicly complained about his franchise, then slumped, probably because of the former and maybe because of the latter or perhaps because of a combination of both.

Earlier this week, Love pulled his teammates aside for a talk, stressing team unity and mental toughness. Wednesday, Wolves coach Rick Adelman pulled Love aside for a 1-on-1 meeting, trying to bolster his star's confidence.

Talk is not always cheap. Judging by the results Thursday night, Love should have the team over for coffee, muffins and daily affirmations every morning.

In a display of spectacular basketball against what might be the NBA's most spectacularly gifted team, Love returned to the living and the Wolves earned their most impressive victory of the season, beating Oklahoma City 99-93.

Love scored 28 points and made four of his nine three-point attempts. He collected 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, and only one turnover. Most impressive, his gaudy statistical line was the product of the Wolves moving the ball as if it were radioactive.

Love hopes he no longer is.

"Coach has stayed with me the whole time," Love said. "We met yesterday and just tried to kind of talk things out. He's looking for me to get easier shots and just shoot the damn ball with some confidence.

"It's been tough, trying to get my hand back to 100 percent. It's going to take a while."

Did Love call the meeting? "No, [Adelman] called the meeting," Love said. "He always meets with different players, pulls them aside. It meant something to me.

"I know I've mentioned it, but I pulled the team aside in Orlando and I said, 'Regardless of who said what and how different players have been playing, let's just get through this together because we're all in the same boat. And we're all in.' "

Love went on to gush about the play of his teammates Thursday. He also could have gushed about the quality of the drama.

The court often contained a handful of primo Olympians -- Americans, Spaniards and Russians.

The television network known as TNT had not broadcast a Timberwolves game since March 2006. The network set up shop at Target Center on Thursday night in the hopes that the injury-ravaged Wolves would put up a fight against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

TNT might want to leave a few cables connected in the building. What they saw should lead to more prime-time exposure for the formerly dormant franchise on the prairie.

In the first half, the Wolves provided basketball artistry. Love effortlessly flicked full-court passes and Alexey Shved made one blind pass backwards, over his head, and the ball traced triangles all over the court. "That's the best half we've had," Adelman said. "It was terrific, the way they moved the ball."

In the second half, the Wolves played with the kind of toughness that wins close games. "It was awesome to see a group of guys come together, and grind it out together," Love said.

This season Love has struggled, uncharacteristically, with his outside shot and finishing near the rim. He has also lagged on defense while complaining about calls, a display of carelessness that, if it continued, could damage the reputation of a player who says he wants to be known for winning.

Thursday, he looked like his pre-injury and pre-interview self. "I thought he was terrific," Adelman said. "He was really active and he was aggressive taking his shot. I think he has been holding back a bit, trying to make things happen and thinking too much instead of just getting around to playing. But I really liked the way he passed the ball tonight."

Love said his hand injury has left him feeling, some nights, "like I'm shooting with my elbow, or my wrist." He took a couple of pops to the face Thursday, and as he sat, still in uniform, at his locker, his arms bore deep scratches.

"Man," he said in what sounded more like an exhale than a sentence, "I needed a game like that."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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