So which team looked like it had something to play for Wednesday night at Target Center?
The game began with the Timberwolves and the Atlanta Hawks under .500, with each squad riding a three-game losing streak. The difference? The Hawks were still in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference while the Wolves were all but out of the race in the West.
So it’s difficult to explain Minnesota’s one-sided 107-83 blowout of the listless Hawks (31-39), one perhaps kick-started by Ricky Rubio’s chair-kicking reaction to needing 15 stitches to close a gash in his upper lip that appeared after a first-quarter collision with Hawks forward Mike Scott. In any event, the game ended with a rather magnificent second-half run in which nearly everything went well for the Wolves (35-35).
“We want to finish the season strong,” said Rubio, who winced every time he smiled. “We know our chances to [make] the playoffs are almost done. But we want to fight all the way through.”
Just about everybody in a Wolves uniform did.
Rookie center Gorgui Dieng had 15 points and 15 rebounds, his fifth double-double in six games while starting for the injured Nikola Pekovic. Kevin Love also had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) and the Wolves also got double-digit scoring from Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer (18 each) and from Chase Budinger (12) off the bench.
Up 48-41 at halftime, the Wolves really kicked it into gear in a second half in which they shot 51.2 percent, got 12 steals and turned 16 Hawks turnovers into 22 points. For the game, the Wolves held the Hawks to 37.8 percent shooting and shared the ball so well that six players had multiple assists, led by Rubio’s 10.
“We needed it after the last few games,” said Love, who had eight third-quarter points as the Wolves pushed their lead to 75-61 by the end of the quarter. “We needed this in order to get our spirits up. It goes to show you that we’re down but we’re not out.”
The Hawks are in eighth place in the East, but they didn’t play like it And having to play without Al Horford (out for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle) and shooting guard Kyle Korver, who missed his fourth game because of a sore back, doesn’t completely explain their lethargic play. Atlanta shot poorly, defended even worse and turned the ball over 26 times.
But the Wolves might have had something to do with that.
Both teams started slowly in the first quarter, which included Scott running into Rubio, who was called for a block. Rubio kicked over a chair as he left the court to get stitches, not returning until late in the half.
“I was upset about the call,” he said. “But it was so much pain, I had to kick something before I punched somebody.”
Over the final 24 minutes, the Wolves basically punched the Hawks in the mouth. Even the much-maligned bench came through, expanding the team’s lead in the fourth quarter and allowing Love, Brewer and Martin to sit and watch.
“We are going to keep working the rest of the season,” said guard J.J. Barea, who came off the bench to score eight points with eight assists.
Even with the playoffs all but out of the picture.
After the game Rubio joked he’d have to grow his facial hair even longer to cover up his latest wound. Love, meanwhile, poked a little fun at his teammate.
“Hopefully that heals up quick for him,” Love said. “He won’t have to wear a mask or anything. But he’s not going to be as pretty as he usually is, I guess.”