DENVER – You can quibble with how the Timberwolves got there Monday after a 132-128 victory at Denver that just never would end, but there’s no mistaking they completed the season’s longest road trip with a 4-1 record.
With six weeks left in the season and their margin of error to reach a distant playoff spot so slim, the difference between 4-1 and 3-2 on a trip that started nine days earlier in Utah means everything in the world.
“Huge difference,” Wolves forward Corey Brewer said. “We couldn’t lose tonight. If we lost tonight, it’d be tough. Every game counts from now on for us to get in the playoffs.”
The Wolves have won six of their past seven games. Monday’s victory moved them back over .500 at 30-29 for the first time since they beat New Orleans at home on Jan. 29.
They won Monday by once again scoring 40 first-quarter points that helped them build a 23-point, third-quarter lead. Then they held on tight until the very end against a Nuggets team that made four three-pointers in the final 23 seconds and chopped a nine-point deficit down to just 130-128 with 5.7 seconds to go.
Before it was over, the Wolves set franchise records for free throws attempted with 64 and made with 52. They outscored the Nuggets 52-16 at the free-throw line.
Denver welcomed back star guard Ty Lawson after nine games out because of broken rib. Lawson scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half before he and Randy Foye both fouled out.
The Wolves started the game by outscoring Denver 40-25 in the first quarter — their third time with 40 this season and the 10th time in franchise history — and the Nuggets finished it by scoring 45 points in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves shot 26 free throws in the fourth quarter alone when the Nuggets were forced to foul repeatedly.
Wolves guard Kevin Martin shot 10 of those himself, and he made each one to keep the Nuggets just far enough away. He scored 22 points, 16 on free throws.
“I’ve never seen something like that, where a team hit that many shots at the end of the game,” Wolves star Kevin Love said after delivering a 33-point, 19-rebound performance. “It was a wild finish, to say the least. It had to be some kind of record. … I kept walking to the bench like, ‘This is crazy.’ I really didn’t have any words for it.
“I guess it doesn’t matter how you do it. All that matters is if you win and we won tonight.”
Those 64 attempts are the most by an NBA team since the Los Angeles Lakers shot that many against Chicago in November 1999. The 52 made are the most since Phoenix made 61 against Utah in April 1990.
The Wolves’ 132 points scored were a season high, the third-most in franchise history and the most since they scored 140 in a two-overtime loss at Oklahoma City in March 2012.
They flew to Salt Lake City 11 days earlier to begin that five-game trip and then proceeded to win at Utah, Phoenix, Sacramento and finally Denver. The only loss came at Portland after they led by 18 points on the second part of back-to-back games.
They now play nine of their next 13 games at Target Center, starting Wednesday against New York.
“It’s big,” Love said about that 4-1 trip record. “It sounds a lot better than 3-2.”
Despite that 6-1 record in their past seven games, the Wolves still trail Phoenix and Dallas for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot by five games.
“Teams aren’t losing right now,” said Brewer, who banged his hand during the game and had X-rays taken that were negative. “We’ve got to keep winning until they start losing.”