Nets flourish in playoff push while Wolves flounder

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2014 - 6:17 AM

Brooklyn is gearing up as the playoffs near, while Minnesota will again be on the outside looking in.

– You can still see some of the 15 stitches protruding from Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio’s upper lip, which were needed to close a laceration the other night against Atlanta.

“It’s something I try not to think, but it’s hard,” he said. “It hurts when I smile and I want to smile all the time, but I can’t.”

In one respect, Sunday’s 114-99 loss at Brooklyn helped ease his pain.

Two nights after the Wolves scored 143 in a rout of the Los Angeles Lakers, they didn’t reach 100 points Sunday — not enough for free frozen yogurt if it were a home game — and managed only 17 fourth-quarter points against the Nets, who tied a franchise record with their 13th consecutive home victory in a season that started with so many expectations and so few results.

The Nets are 29-12 since Jan. 1 and on Sunday they won for the 12th time in March, even with former Timberwolves Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, as well as starting center Brook Lopez, still sidelined because of injuries.

This time, the Nets won with a decisive 13-4 run early in the fourth quarter while Wolves coach Rick Adelman once again tried to get his starters — including a fatigued Kevin Love and recovering Nikola Pekovic — some rest without any success.

The Nets’ bloated $102 million payroll is filled with rich contracts and famous names, but it was an unsung pro’s pro — Minneapolis’ own Alan Anderson, who kicked around Italy, Russia, Croatia, Israel and Spain before finding his way back into the NBA — who provided three damaging three-pointers in that 13-4 run.

Rubio had seen that all before: He and Anderson played most of a season together in Rubio’s final season with Regal Barcelona in Spain’s top league.

“He’s a good player, I played with him with Barcelona and I knew him and I tried to get a hint to my teammates,” Rubio said. “He can hit big shots, you know?”

Anderson did so while Love scored only two of his 14 points after halftime and not a single one in the fourth quarter when the Nets outscored the visitors 29-17 to win running away.

After a 5-14 start, the Nets — dripping with former All-Stars and NBA luxury-tax commitments — are now 39-33 and aimed at the Eastern Conference playoffs, where Atlanta has lost six consecutive games, is 10 games under .500 and still would make the playoffs, too, if the season ended today.

“It was never just making the playoffs with this team,” Anderson said. “You see the names in this room, you can’t just make the playoffs.”

Anderson stood at his Barclays Center locker stall late Sunday night as he said that. His stall is next to Joe Johnson’s. Across the room to his left are stalls for Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Kirilenko. To his right is Lopez’s locker.

“Nobody thought we could do it and now we’re just doing what we’ve been doing,” Anderson said, referring to the Nets’ lousy start and renewed play that arrived with the new year. “When we were losing early real bad, they were talking about us. They can talk about us. We’ve got guys with so many years in the league — just playing all around the world, just playing in the NBA — we didn’t have no choice but to come around.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’re having fun doing it. We know what each guy in this room has and what each guy has been through. It’s going fun for us. It’s going to be a fun journey.”

That journey will include a trip the playoffs, while the Wolves will be headed home after another 10 games.

“They’re a good team,” Love said. “Their vets are healthy. They’ve got guys who can step up and hit shots and they’re in the East.”

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  • Brooklyn's Joe Johnson was fouled by the Wolves' Corey Brewer while driving to the basket Sunday.

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