MINNEAPOLIS -- Seems lately the Timberwolves make things a bit harder than they need to.
Take Tuesday night, please.
The Wolves were hosting a Los Angeles Lakers team that, though it got Steve Nash and Steve Blake back from injury for the first time in ages, was still without Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and lost Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill during the game with an ankle and neck injury, respectively. Even Blake played most of the game after rupturing an ear drum.
So why was this 109-99 victory so hard against a team with a revolving door to its training room?
The Wolves opened the game looking like this would be a blowout, up 12 after a quarter and up by as many as 25 in the second quarter. But, against a Lakers team far feistier than expected, it took all of Kevin Love's 31 points and Kevin Martin's 32 for the Wolves (24-24) to break a two-game losing streak and return to .500 yet again entering Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City.
With the Wolves' lead down to seven early in the fourth quarter after Nick Young's three-pointer, the Wolves retook control with a 7-1 run that was ended by J.J. Barea's three-point play.
Love added 17 rebounds to his night. Ricky Rubio scored only four points, but he had 13 assists and six rebounds. Barea scored 11 off the bench.
Young came off the bench to lead the Lakers with 24 points, leading a bench that scored 72 points. Manny Harris scored 19 for the Lakers and Wes Johnson had 15. Center Robert Sacre had 14. Nash, who was supposed to be on a strict minutes limit, played 25 minutes, scoring seven points with nine assists.
The Lakers lost their seventh straight game and their 13th in 15 games. They have now allowed 110 or more points all 15 of those games.
Up 10 mid-way through the fourth quarter, Dante Cunningham blocked Johnson's layup attempt, and Martin scored at the other end. Young hit a three-pointer, but Love, after a very hard foul by Sacre, hit both free throws. After a Lakers turnover, Love was fouled and hit one of two free throws with 3:45 left, putting Minnesota in the lead by 12.
Johnson scored on the break, then Young hit two free throws with 2:31 left to cut the lead to eight. But the Lakers did not seriously threaten again.
Martin started out strong, hitting three of four three-pointers and scoring 14 points as the Wolves grabbed an 12-point lead after the first quarter. Love had 11 points and 5 rebounds in the quarter, during which the Wolves went 4-for-7 from three-point range.
The Wolves reserves just kept it rolling, pushing the lead to 25 with a 14-1 run that featured five points from Chase Budinger and four each from Gorgui Dieng and Dante Cunningham. Finally, though, the Lakers found their range. With reserve guard Manny Harris scoring 13 second-quarter points on 5-for-5 shooting the Lakers closed that lead to 16 by halftime.
That lead kept shrinking in the third. To 15 on Ryan Kelly's trey, to 11 after the Lakers opened the quarter on a 9-4 run. To 10 on Wes Johnson's fast-break and to seven on three straight free throws by Nick Young, the one with 5:09 left.
The Wolves pushed back. A quick 9-2 run started by a Love trey pushed the lead back to 15 before the Lakers scored the final four points of the quarter, putting the Wolves lead at 89-78 entering the fourth.
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