DENVER — Forward Kevin Love kept shaking his head with every 3-pointer the Denver Nuggets made.
The Minnesota Timberwolves would hit free throws and the Nuggets would respond with another bomb to chip away at a double-digit lead.
“I’ve never seen anything like that where a team hit that many shots, contested or uncontested, at the end of a game,” Love said.
What seemed like a typical mop-up ending turned into a closer-than-expected finish for the Timberwolves, but they survived four Denver 3-pointers in the final 23 seconds to pull out a 132-128 win Monday night.
Love had 33 points and 19 rebounds, and guard Kevin Martin added 22 points, hitting eight clutch free throws in the final 27 seconds to seal the win.
Minnesota made a franchise-record 52 free throws on 64 attempts. It was the most foul shots made in an NBA game since the Phoenix Suns hit 61 against the Utah Jazz on April 9, 1990.
The 64 attempts were the highest by a team since the Los Angeles Lakers went 43-for-64 against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 19, 1999.
“That’s pretty bizarre,” said Martin, who finished 16-for-17 from the line to compensate for 3-for-11 shooting from the floor. “I was glad we were the ones shooting the free throws and not them.”
The strong foul shooting helped Minnesota win for the sixth time in its past seven games. The Timberwolves (30-29) are making a postseason push but face tough odds in a stacked Western Conference. They are 10th in the conference, five games behind the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, who occupy the last two playoff spots, with the Memphis Grizzlies in between.
Minnesota went 4-1 on the road trip that ended Monday. The Timberwolves open a four-game homestand on Wednesday.
“If we lost tonight, it would be tough,” Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer said. “We need to keep going, keep moving. Teams aren’t losing, and we have to keep winning until they start losing.”
Denver guard Ty Lawson finished with 31 points and 11 assists in his return to the lineup. Forward Wilson Chandler had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, whose recent slide ended any hope of extending their playoff streak to 11 seasons.
Denver (25-34) lost its sixth game in a row despite scoring 45 points in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously you score 128 points, that’s great. You don’t expect to score 128 points and lose,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “But our offense has been lethargic, and I thought it was lethargic even in the first half.”
Denver nearly made an improbable comeback during Lawson’s first game in a month. They trailed 125-116 when Lawson started the long-range barrage.
Chandler followed with a long 3-pointer, and Martin hit two free throws before Chandler sank another 3-pointer to make it 126-122.
Two more free throws by Martin with 12 seconds remaining seemed to ice it, but after guard Evan Fournier’s corner 3-pointer cut the lead to two, Martin was fouled again.
“Usually in that situation you can make one out of two and be fine, but the way they were shooting 3s, they were putting pressure on me,” Martin said.
He hit both free throws with 5.7 seconds left to end the drama.
The Nuggets are 1-11 since early February, and they lost their fifth consecutive home game. The absence of Lawson, among other injuries, hurt the team, but Denver’s defense has been poor since mid-January. It was bad against the Timberwolves, who shot 54 percent in the first quarter and took a 15-point lead.
Minnesota cooled off in the second quarter but still outscored the Nuggets by two to take a 66-49 lead at the break.
Love, whose streak of 11 straight games of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds ended Saturday, had 16 points and 14 rebounds at intermission.
Minnesota used an 8-2 run to go ahead 74-51 early in the third.
Lawson looked rusty at the start in his first action since suffering a fractured rib Feb. 8 in Detroit. He had three turnovers and two points in the first half before getting aggressive in the second half.
“I was still worried about my rib until I got hit one time at the end of the second quarter and that’s when I was like, ‘I’m just going to go all out,'” Lawson said. “It felt all right. It was starting to get a little sore at the end, but other than that, it was cool.”
The Nuggets had a chance to cut the deficit to single digits in the final minute of the third, but Fournier’s turnover led to a fast-break dunk, and the Timberwolves took a 98-83 lead into the fourth.
The margin grew to 21 on two free throws by Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, but Denver got within 117-107 on guard Aaron Brooks’ 3-pointer with 3:25 left.
NOTES: With PG Ty Lawson back after suffering a fractured rib, the Nuggets had 12 players available for the first time in a month. … Timberwolves C Ronny Turiaf missed his fifth straight game with a bone bruise on his right knee. Turiaf will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Minnesota. He is out indefinitely. … Nuggets G Randy Foye entered Monday averaging 18.3 points while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range in his last six games. … Minnesota F Kevin Love recorded his 13th consecutive double-double. … Denver has lost at least 16 home games for the first time since going 13-28 in 2002-03.
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