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Timberwolves play spoiler by beating Grizzlies

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MINNEAPOLIS — For one night the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to stave off playoff elimination while at the same time playing the spoiler. In a season that hasn’t gone as planned, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.

Power forward Kevin Love had his third career triple double — and his second in four games — and point guard Ricky Rubio led the third-quarter charge as the Wolves took control en route to a 102-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Target Center Wednesday. The victory kept the Wolves (37-37) from mathematical playoff elimination, if only for a short while.

“I know it’s hard, but our mentality has to be the same,” said Rubio, who scored 13 of his 14 points and had two assists in the third quarter, when the Wolves turned a seven-point halftime lead into a 16-point cushion. “To try to win. To try to build something. … Our goal was to get to the playoffs, but we couldn’t. Our goal now is to get 40-plus wins.”

Love had 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Rubio had 14 points and seven assists and guard Kevin Martin also had 21 points as Minnesota broke a two-game losing streak against Memphis, getting just their third victory against the Grizzlies in the last 19 games.

Center Marc Gasol had 18 points and guard Courtney Lee had 14 for Memphis (44-31), which ended its five-game road trip with a 2-3 mark, keeping it embroiled in a battle with Dallas and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.

The Wolves ended a two-game losing streak. After the game was over, it sounded like they were beginning to embrace their position as a spoiler.

“That’s what we told ’em this afternoon,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “Everybody we play (down the stretch) is playing for something, except for maybe two teams. We want to go out and play as well as we can and spoil it for ’em.”

Up seven at halftime, Rubio came out blazing, attacking the Grizzlies, scoring while putting Memphis point guard Mike Conley both on his heels and in foul trouble. Rubio scored six points as that lead grew to 10. Then Rubio hit a three-pointer, fed Love for a layup and hit two free throws with 7:26 left that pushed the lead to 13.

Up 16 entering the fourth, Martin scored eight points in the fourth as the Wolves kept the Grizzlies at bay.

“It was one of those games to end a road trip,” said Memphis forward Zach Randolph, who was held to four points by Love, with a little help from his teammates. “Can’t feel your legs, trying to push through it. Just felt like we were running in the mud.”

Rubio’s aggressive play was one key. But Love’s defense against Randolph was just as important, as were his points, rebounds and assists.

That said, Love’s game – especially his outlet passes – were a sight to see.

“Between coach and (president of basketball operations Flip Saunders), they asked a lot out of me at the beginning of the year. I always mention the word ‘facilitate.’ The fact I’ve been able to do that is nice. It’s just as gratifying scoring the ball as it is making a good pass.”

For the Grizzlies, meanwhile, there is a day off to regroup, then a hard push to the end, with every game carrying playoff ramifications.

“We’ve been playing with a playoff focus, or each game has meant so much, since Christmas,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “You are starting to see the effects of it.”

NOTES: Memphis coach Dave Joerger admitted he didn’t really know which team to root for while watching Golden State’s thrilling victory over Dallas Tuesday. The Mavericks, Grizzlies and Warriors are all locked in a battle for playoff position in the Western Conference. “I didn’t know who to cheer for,” Joerger said. “But, just as a fan of NBA basketball, I loved the competition. It was a heck of a game.” … After missing 19 games with a bone bruise on his right knee, Wolves backup center Ronny Turiaf returned to action Wednesday. It has been a very frustrating season for Turiaf, who missed 31 games earlier in the season with an elbow injury. “When something is taken away from you, you realize how important it is,” Turiaf said. … Wolves C Nikola Pekovic missed the game with ankle bursitis, an injury that has dogged him in the second half of the season. Wednesday’s game was the 20th he has missed this season, and the possibility remains that he will not play again this season. … Wolves C Gorgui Dieng was named Western Conference rookie of the month for March.