Worn-out Wolves still stomp on Nuggets

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 6:36 AM

With a pieced-together lineup after a long road trip, Minnesota jumped Denver with a 39-9 first-half run.

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Before the Timberwolves crushed Denver 117-100 on Sunday, coach Rick Adelman, frankly, was fretting.

His team was coming off a heartbreaking and body-grinding double-overtime loss at Oklahoma City on Friday. J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic were out because of injuries. Luke Ridnour was hurting and Michael Beasley was hobbled. And Sunday's game against the Nuggets -- one of the teams the Wolves will have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- was only an hour away.

"I'm hoping we have some energy to start the game," Adelman said.

They did.

Shaking off shot-clock malfunctions that made for a choppy start, the Wolves spent the first half sweeping the Target Center floor with the Nuggets. Playing shut-down defense, moving the ball and getting scoring from everywhere, the Wolves used a 39-9 run that began in the first quarter and ended in the second to grab a 44-20 lead.

It was such a one-sided affair that even Adelman could hardly find fault, though he did make a half-hearted stab at his team's second-half transition defense. But, considering the health and weariness of the team after a just-completed seven-game road trip, it was an impressive performance.

"I have to give them a lot of credit for the way they responded after the game the other night," Adelman said. "I thought the first half, defensively in the half-court, we were really good. We were really active, we were helping each other out, we got out and ran."

They did all of that, getting a victory that was full of the usual suspects and a few surprises.

Kevin Love had 30 points and 21 rebounds, his third 30-20 game this season. Ridnour, battling a sore lower back and groin, scored a season-high 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting with six assists.

No surprises there. But how about Wayne Ellington, who came off the bench for a season-high 17 points? Or double-digit scoring off the bench from Anthony Tolliver (10 points) and, despite a super-sore toe, Beasley (11)?

"That's what we're here for," Tolliver said. "Guys keep going down. We come in every day and somebody new is down, it seems like. Everybody on the bench is taking pride in this, knowing they'll get an opportunity and take advantage of it."

And, perhaps surprising for a team coming off a 2-5 road trip, the Wolves (24-26) were talking about a playoff run. After Sunday's game, they were still 11th in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind No. 8 Houston (26-23) for the final Western Conference playoff spot. Utah (26-23) is in seventh, Denver (26-23) and Phoenix (25-24) in ninth and 10th.

"We're still chipping away," Love said.

"We are definitely in the hunt," said Ridnour, whose questionable status for Sunday's game became moot once it was learned Barea would miss the game because of a thigh contusion. "There is no doubt about this. We can win five, six in a row. We just have to go out and do it."

Pretty tough talk for a team already without Ricky Rubio and a full-strength Pekovic going forward. But remember. After this difficult stretch -- the Wolves head out for back-to-back road games at Memphis and Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday -- the schedule becomes a bit less grueling.

Once the Wolves return from Charlotte, they will have eight of their final 14 games at home, including five of their last seven.

"Teams are emerging when they go out and win three, four in a row," Adelman said. "That's what we have to do. We have to win three or four, get in shouting distance and see how it goes when the schedule turns more in our favor."

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