MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves set out upon the rest of their season Wednesday night, aiming to play for pride and professionalism now that their playoff aspirations are all but gone.
By doing so, they produced a 107-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Target Center and individually delivered what backup point guard J.J. Barea terms “swag.”
The Wolves ended a three-game losing streak that left star forward Kevin Love down and distracted following Monday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman reminded his players that it is a privilege to play in the league even at the end of a disappointing season that will end without a playoff appearance for the 10th consecutive year.
The Wolves surrendered 129, 127 and 109 points during their losing streak, but Wednesday, they held the injury-depleted Hawks to just 83. It was the fewest points Minnesota allowed since the Utah Jazz scored just 72 on Jan. 18.
The 24-point victory was the Wolves’ 11th this season by 20 or more points. That is a franchise record, the third most in the NBA this season and Minnesota’s first since the All-Star break.
“It’s a good win for us,” Wolves veteran small forward Corey Brewer said. “We’re just trying to finish the best we can, try to win every game. I feel like this team is fighters and we’re going to fight to the end.”
Brewer and shooting guard Kevin Martin led the Wolves with 18 points each, while rookie center Gorgui Dieng provided his fifth double-double game in six career starts with a 15-point, 15-rebound night.
Forward Mike Scott led the Hawks with 15 points, and forward Paul Millsap had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Hawks, who were missing injured swingman Kyle Korver, center Al Horford, forward Gustavo Ayon and guard John Jenkins, suffered their fourth consecutive loss and their 18th defeat in 23 games.
“Obviously not one of our better performances,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I don’t think we played well: Turnovers, missed shots, all those things are just examples of where we didn’t play to the standards we expect.”
The Wolves made a season-high 17 steals while forcing 26 Atlanta turnovers and converting those giveaways into 32 points.
Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio had six steals — the third time this season he reached that figure — on a night when he missed time in the first half because he needed 15 stitches to close a laceration in his upper lip.
Rubio knocked over two chairs on his way to the locker room for the stitches after he was called for a blocking foul when he thought he drew a charge from Scott.
“I was upset about the call,” Rubio said, “but it was so much pain I had to kick something before I punched somebody.”
He returned to finish with 10 assists and four points.
The Wolves extended a seven-point halftime lead into a 17-point advantage by late in the third quarter. The margin grew as high as 28 in the game’s final minutes.
Dieng is averaging 12.7 points and 14 rebounds in six games since he replaced injured Nikola Pekovic as the team’s starting center.
“He plays very hard,” Love said after a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double. “He looks like me out there stealing rebounds.”
Dieng is playing with a confidence that Barea suggests borders on something else.
“He’s a smart kid, he knows how to play, and he’s got a little swag to him,” Barea said. “He thinks he’s really good. That’s going to take him far. You need that.
“Corey Brewer has it. I got it a bit. G (Gorgui) has it. He really has it. That’s something you need. I call it swag, but it’s confidence in yourself and your game, and it’s something that’s going to help him in the long run.”
NOTES: Wolves C Nikola Pekovic missed his sixth consecutive game because of a sore right ankle. Coach Rick Adelman said Pekovic is doing more court work and intends to play this weekend, which means either Friday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers or Sunday at the Brooklyn Nets. … Wolves backup PG J.J. Barea played Wednesday after he missed Monday’s game at Memphis because of a sprained foot. … Hawks swingman Kyle Korver missed his fourth consecutive game because of back spasms. Atlanta C Al Horford, F Gustavo Ayon and G John Jenkins all remain out for the season. … Hawks rookie C Mike Muscala, signed in late February after he started the season in Spain, returned home to Minnesota on Wednesday. He played at nearby Roseville, Minn., High School.
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