Wolves need a late burst to beat Nuggets, and get it

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2012 - 6:19 AM

Andrei Kirilenko's breakaway jam iced it, after Kevin Love struggled and another late double-digit lead became shaky.

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The last time these two teams played, the Timberwolves surfed the energy and emotion of Kevin Love's sudden, surprise season debut to an early 17-point lead before they eventually lost to Denver three weeks ago at Target Center.

This time in the same place, they were the team that stayed patient -- perhaps to a fault -- and persevered for a 108-105 victory over a road-weary Nuggets team that refused to go quietly into the night until the final five seconds.

The Wolves overcame Kevin Love's 3-for-17 shooting performance; his day began with him explaining to reporters at a morning shootaround his incendiary comments published by Yahoo!Sports the day before and ended with a few hometown fans heckling him after he was pulled from the game for three minutes down the stretch.

They also overcame a 5-seconds violation on an inbounds pass after calling a timeout with 34 seconds left -- "That was a three-second call," Love said -- just when the Nuggets quickly had slashed an 11-point deficit with two minutes left down to just 103-100.

"I didn't draw it up that way," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said.

He managed a smirk afterward because his team survived that mistake when three of his players -- most notably all-everything defender Andrei Kirilenko -- converged on Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson and forced a turnover that Kirilenko turned into a slam dunk at the other end for a 105-100 lead with 21 seconds left.

"He's everywhere," starting center Nikola Pekovic said of Kirilenko's defensive presence, which produced four steals and a blocked shot Wednesday. "Trust me, it helps a lot."

The Nuggets ended a five-game road trip Wednesday one night after they had played at Detroit, while the Wolves had four days' rest and practice since Friday's victory over Cleveland.

The Wolves now have won four of their past five and five of their past seven and, don't look now, but if the season ended now they'd be the Western Conference's seventh-seeded playoff team.

The Wolves’ 10-9 record matches their best record through 19 games since the 2006-07 season, Kevni Garnett’s final season in Minnesota.

"It's a game we've got to have," Adelman said about beating a conference foe with whom the Wolves will compete for a playoff spot.

Nuggets second-year forward Kenneth Faried battered Love in the power-forward matchup, outscoring him 26-8 and tying him in rebounds with 14.

But the Wolves compensated with Pekovic's most active game in weeks -- a 22-point, 11-rebound performance that showed no signs of the sprained ankle that slowed him all last week. In addition, reserve guard J.J. Barea (17 points, eight assists) is starting to play like the guy they signed from Dallas last season now that his sprained foot is healing.

"I'm moving a lot better," Barea said.

The Wolves won the free-throw battle, outscoring the Nuggets 30-14 one game after Love shot twice as many free throws as the entire Cleveland team did Friday. They forced Denver into 19 turnovers, one fewer than it committed in a 101-94 victory over the Wolves at Target Center last month.

And the Wolves survived a lousy shooting night by their two-time All-Star and won anyway.

"I mean, I was ready for anything," said Love, who said he heard jeers from a smattering of fans. "It's all good. I've heard worse. I have pretty thick skin. I can get through it. ... That's not why I shot poorly, though. They were good looks that I just missed. Some were short, some were long.

"But if I can struggle certain nights against good teams and we can win, so be it. It's a good win for us tonight."

  • WOLVES 108, DENVER 105

    Up next: 7 p.m. Friday at New Orleans • TV: FSN (830-AM)

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