Wolves start road trip with gritty win over Suns

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 5:50 AM

Life without point guard Ricky Rubio began with a wild-west shootout, including season highs for points, assists and threes.

PHOENIX - With Ricky Rubio back home tweeting daily pictures chronicling his knee rehab, the Timberwolves on Monday began a seven-game, 13-day road trip that could define their season with an emphatic 127-124 victory over the Suns at US Airways Center.

Implored by coach Rick Adelman to deliver all the passion and persistence they lacked in Saturday's home loss to New Orleans, the Wolves shook off Rubio's season-ending injury and without their most creative playmaker on the floor simply recorded season highs for assists (30), three-pointers made (14) and points scored on an evening when defense seemed optional all evening.

"If you score 124 points, you expect to win," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said afterward.

Not on Monday.

At least not when Wolves two-time All-Star Kevin Love attempted nine threes without ever putting the ball on the floor and made five of them, not when the Wolves shot 56.2 percent thanks to a productive bench that made 20 of 29 shots all by themselves if you discount Anthony Randolph's 0-for-3 night.

The Wolves moved back over .500 after consecutive home losses to the Lakers and Hornets last weekend and now head to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City with one big victory behind them and six more to go before they return home.

"It's a good win," Wolves point guard Luke Ridnour said, "but we've got a lot more to go."

They persevered Monday in what Adelman called a "terrific win" after Kevin Love set a franchise record for most 30-point games in a single season with his 15th -- hit right on the nose -- while five other players scored in double figures.

"We've had a few disappointments the last few days," Adelman said.

Not on Monday.

The Wolves summoned everything they couldn't find against New Orleans and built a six-point lead that seemingly had them right where the Suns wanted them: Until Monday, the Suns had overcome double-digit deficits in five consecutive home games and beat some pretty good teams -- Memphis, Dallas, the L.A. Clippers and the Wolves among them -- doing it.

This time, the Wolves might have avoided such a fate by building their lead to only nine points -- not 10 -- in the second quarter.

They trailed by as many as five in the third quarter when the Suns embarked upon yet another second-half comeback. Then, after leading by as many as seven points again, they fell behind by a point with as little as 2:20 left before Ridnour hit a running shot from the lane and Love made two free throws for a 123-120 lead with 37.8 seconds left that they never would completely lose

They got some help when Suns center Marcin Gortat missed two free throws that would have brought his team back within a point with 12.2 seconds left, made a meaningless shot with his foot on the three-point line just before the final buzzer.

He acknowledged making a long shot that didn't matter and missing two shorter ones that did with an exasperated swipe of his hand at the final buzzer.

"Tough game," said Gortat, who got outscored 24-8 by Wolves starting center Nikola Pekovic and outrebounded by him 8-4. "I wasn't ready to play."

Love started the game and played all night despite a hurting back that caused him to miss Friday's game against the Lakers because of spasms.

He scored 23 of his 30 points after halftime, including 13 in the fourth quarter alone when the Wolves held off Phoenix by making every one of their six free throws in the final 38 seconds.

"When you start hitting shots, you just kind of go numb," said Love, who made 11 of 23 shots, including 8-for-14 in the second half. "It hurt until then."

Love might have showed it early in the game, but he sure didn't late in the game.

"I couldn't tell," Ridnour said. "Could you?"

His teammates helped plenty, too.

Pekovic scored all of his 24 points in the first three quarters, rolling hard on pick-and-rolls and seemingly scoring at will around the basket on a night when Ridnour had nine assists, J.J. Barea had eight in his first game back after two away because of a sprained ankle and Martell Webster had a career-high six assists.

"If they play together and make the right play, we'll be OK," Adelman said.

Derrick Williams scored 19 points off the bench and Wayne Ellington and Michael Beasley each had 15 off the bench.

Beasley scored his 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in 11 first-half minutes and then he played just four more minutes in the second half because of a sore toe.

"We've just got to find a new way to win games," Ridnour said, "and we're going to need everybody."

The Wolves now share the NBA lead for most victories this season by three points or fewer with seven. They also lead the league in games decided by three points or fewer with 13 (7-6).

Love also became the Wolves' second-leading career rebounder.

He now has 3,035 rebounds, second only to Kevin Garnett, who had 10,542 in his 13-year career with the Wolves.

"Only 7,500 more to go," Love said. "That's it?"

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