SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe Kevin Love should play center more often.
The All-Star posted his first career triple-double and the Minnesota Timberwolves opened a five-game road trip with a 121-104 blowout victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Love, starting at center because of Minnesota injuries, finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He did not play the final nine minutes and only logged 33 minutes, allowing him to get some rest for a Sunday night game at Phoenix.
“Kevin Love was unbelievable,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s incredible.”
Love, who participated in his third All-Star Game last Sunday, hit 6 of 10 3-pointers and drained 9 of 10 free throws while leading the Timberwolves (27-28) to their third consecutive victory.
“It just shows, at least for this year and through my first six years in the league, how my game has progressed,” Love said. “Being able to find different guys, I think it’s a product of these guys being out, we have to step out different ways.”
The Timberwolves played without center Nikola Pekovic (ankle), center Ronny Turiaf (knee) and guard Kevin Martin (thumb) because of injuries.
Even so, Minnesota shot 51.2 percent from the field, including 11 of 23 from long range, and outrebounded Utah 49-34.
Utah again struggled mightily without starting center Derrick Favors. He missed his third straight game since the All-Star break with a right hip sprain. The Jazz, losers of three straight since a three-game winning streak, have now lost all nine games without him on the court this season.
“It wasn’t a lot of positives tonight in this game, and that’s the disheartening thing about it,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’ve got a lot of basketball to play. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to come back and try to get another win streak going.”
Fill-in starting center Enes Kanter topped Utah (19-36) with 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field, but the 6-foot-11 third-year pro struggled to contain Love on the perimeter. Kanter also had seven rebounds.
“He’s a really good player. He’s an All-Star,” Kanter said of Love. “In the end, he made some crazy shots. I just can’t do nothing about it.”
Point guard Ricky Rubio contributed 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds, forward Chase Budinger drilled 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points, forward Corey Brewer also had 13, and forward Dante Cunningham added 11 points as all five Minnesota starters scored in double figures.
Love helped the Timberwolves gain a big advantage over Utah with some long-court passes to start fast breaks. Minnesota scored 24 points in transition compared with 13 for Utah.
“We’ve been talking about it all year that my parents never let me play football. It was my way of being quarterback out there,” Love said of his long passes to Brewer and other teammates. “Tonight, they (the Jazz) didn’t do a fantastic job of getting back.”
Or much else, really.
Point guard Trey Burke finished with 16 points and six assists, backup guard Alec Burks had 15 points and Richard Jefferson contributed 14 points. Leading scorer Gordon Hayward only had five points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field and quickly exited the locker room as reporters entered after the loss.
But the Jazz dropped to 5-11 on the second night of back-to-backs after losing for the second time in as many nights.
Utah played with very little energy a night after losing 102-94 Friday in Portland. The Timberwolves jumped ahead 26-21 after the first quarter and the visitors went into the locker room ahead 59-49.
Minnesota, which also posted lopsided victories over Utah in their first two meetings this season, took control for good late in the first half.
Jazz forward Jeremy Evans tied the score at 41, but the Timberwolves closed the half by outscoring Utah 18-8 in the final 3:31.
Love scored eight straight Minnesota points to open the third quarter, including two 3-pointers, and the Timberwolves quickly increased their lead to 17 — and eventually 21 — moments into the second half.
The Jazz were never within single digits the entire second half.
Center Gorgui Dieng had a nice game with eight points and eight rebounds off the bench for Minnesota. Dieng and forward Shabazz Muhammad were drafted by Utah last June and then traded to Minnesota in exchange for Burke.
NOTES: The Jazz are not sure how long C Derrick Favors will be out with his hip injury. He has missed the past three games. “He tried to come back and practice a couple of days,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, “and it just didn’t get better. … It hasn’t responded yet.” … Likewise, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman is not sure when injured C Nikola Pekovic will return to action. He has been out for 11 games with bursitis in his right ankle. “I really have no idea,” Adelman said. “He hasn’t really ran or practiced or anything. When he is available, I don’t know what his condition will be or what he can take.” … G Gordon Hayward is on track to become the second player in the Jazz’s 40-year history to average 16 points, five rebounds and five assists. Pete Maravich accomplished that in 1974-75 (21.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.2 apg) and 1976-77 (31.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.4 apg). Hayward is averaging 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
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