MINNEAPOLIS – This time the Timberwolves came out hot. This time they established the tone. This time they left nothing to question. Better late than never? The final weeks of the season will decide that.
Two days after an inexcusable home loss to the slumping Knicks, the Wolves came out on fire Friday, taking a big early lead en route to a 114-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons at Target Center that kept them five games out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
“We learned from the other night,” said guard Kevin Martin, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter as the Wolves jumped out to an 18 point lead. “And coach told us in practice we’d better come out with energy because you can’t let a team get rolling.”
On Wednesday that’s exactly what happened. The Wolves came out flat, allowed the Knicks to find a rhythm and never really found one themselves. No so Friday. Martin and forward Kevin Love – who scored 14 of his 28 points in the first 12 minutes – pushed the Wolves to an early 21-4 run that turned a one-point Wolves lead into an 18-point bulge.
“We came out flat and they came out and jumped on us,” Monroe said. “That’s what happens when those two things happen. Especially when you play a team at home. That’s really it. We came out flat.”
The Wolves (31-30) won for the seventh time in nine games, staying within shouting distance of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Love also had 14 rebounds and five assists. Center Nikola Pekovic had 17 points and nine rebounds and point guard Ricky Rubio had 11 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. The Wolves shot 45.1 percent and had edges on second-chance points (25-17) and at the free throw line (26-21).
Minnesota led by 18 after one quarter, by 21 at the half and by 28 entering the fourth quarter. That was more than enough to withstand a 17-point fourth quarter blitz from backup Pistons guard Will Bynum. Detroit also got 20 points and 15 rebounds from forward Greg Monroe and 17 points from guard Brandon Jennings. But much of that damage came against the Wolves’ bench in the first half of the fourth quarter.
“Today I think we did a really good job, except for six, seven minutes,” Rubio said. “So we have to be very happy how we played today. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but we beat Detroit.”
Detroit (24-38), still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, lost for the sixth time in seven games.
“When you don’t guard you get so demoralized by watching them keep scoring,” Detroit coach John Loyer said. “Some nights your offense dictates your defense. Tonight our lack of defense dictated our offense.”
The Wolves had offense to burn for much of the night.
“I liked the way we moved the ball, the way we made hard cuts,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “It was a nice effort after the other night.”
It was about time. With time growing short and a lot of ground to make up, the Wolves can’t afford many more clunkers like Wednesday’s loss.
“We just wanted to come out with more energy,” Love said. “We felt we did that. We jumped on ‘em early. We played a good 3 ½ quarters.”
NOTES: At halftime of Monday’s game with the Knicks, New York center Tyson Chandler was asked by New York TV about how to play Kevin Love. “Go at ’em,” Chandler said. “Can’t play D.” Friday morning, Love was asked about those comments. “(To heck with) him,” Love said profanely. “I don’t give a (darn).” This was said slightly sarcastically, as Chandler and Love are friends. … Wolves G Ricky Rubio and F Corey Brewer had combined for 242 steals entering Friday’s game, making them the most prolific teammates in the NBA at that stat. … As proof of how mismatched the two conferences are, Detroit came into Friday’s game 13 games under . 500, having lost five of six games. And they were closer to a playoff spot than the Wolves. Detroit was three games behind No. 8 Atlanta in the East, while the Wolves were five games out of eighth place in the West.
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