The Timberwolves were without Martin & Pekovic once again and thanks to Kevin Love and some unlikely contributors, the Wolves handed the current 8th seed Suns a 110-101 loss.
The Wolves play on without two of their top three scorers and and such they've had to search from offense from other places. Love has been consistently amazing and tonight was no different as he finished just one assist shy of his second career triple-double and second triple-double in his last three games. It was also Love's 6th-straight 30+ point game and his 12th-straight 25+ point game.
The Wolves have had a number of players step up in Martin & Pek's absences. J.J. Barea put together a nice stretch of games a week ago. Dante Cunningham has been in and out of the starting lineup with all the injuries and he's consistently delivered. Ricky Rubio has been more confident & aggressive and wings Budinger & Brewer have had their nights.
Tonight it was Shabazz Muhammad. With all these injuries and the Wolves in dire need of offense, Adelman has (perhaps reluctantly) turned to his rookie swingman and these past few outings he's lived up to the billing of 'instant offense' off the bench. The rookie came off the bench for a career-high 24 minutes and delivered with highs in points (20), field goals made (8) & attempted (13), also getting to the line for a career-high 6 attempts & 4 makes and rounding out those numbers with 1 assist & 2 steals.
Bazz was incredibly aggressive all night long and it has become pretty clear these past few weeks that he's earned a spot in the rotation. He pulled down a couple of rebounds late that helped seal the deal and he said following the game that the rebounding was his favorite part of his career-night.
He also said after tonight's win that he's been working his tail off before, in and after practices. That work is certainly paying off and he's been rewarded with more playing time. If we continue to see these kinds of performances, he could/should continue to see more minutes.
The Wolves pounced on the opposition early (as per usual) and they took a six-point lead after the first quarter. That was thanks (mostly) to Kevin Love who scored 14 of his 33 points in that first quarter, Cunningham also added 8 of his 12 as all five starters played the entire first quarter.
The second unit came in, in the second quarter and that's where Muhammad began to take over, scoring half of his final point total. Unfortunately, Muhammad was one of the only reserves able to score any points. As such, the Suns outscored the Wolves 21-29 to take a two-point lead at halftime.
While Minnesota couldn't get much from anyone not named Shabazz, the Suns bench led by the Morris twins was rather impressive.
The Wolves played fairly well in the first half, but as we saw vs. the Blazers this weekend, it's all about how you finish these games. Unfortunately the third quarter was prototypical Minnesota Timberwolves as they continued to let the Suns get out on the break for easy uncontested layups. As such, the Suns , led by 8 third quarter points from former Wolf Gerald Green took a 6-point lead after three quarters.
I honestly wasn't so sure that the Wolves were going to be able to pull this game out. We've seen far too many games follow this pattern and end in a disappointing and humiliating loss.
Thankfully, Kevin Love got some help tonight. Love scored another 10 points in the fourth quarter, while Muhammad added the other half of his 20 and Brewer chipped in 7 of his 18.
Goran Dragic played just 25 minutes in this Suns loss as he dealt with an ankle sprain and foul trouble all night long. He eventually fouled out with just over three minutes to play (and the game still up for grabs). Ultimately, that along with some key late stops and big rebounds by Muhammad, the Wolves were able to defeat a team ahead of them in the standings.
The Suns are the 8th seed in the Western Conference as of Tuesday night, but the Memphis Grizzlies are nipping at their heels (just 1.5 games back) and our Wolves are ultimately 5.5 games out of that final seed.
In all honesty, I don't think the Suns will make the playoffs, unless Eric Bledsoe can return and help them make a late push in the final month and a half. I don't have the heart to completely rule out the Wolves, yet. These Suns have been the talk of the NBA. This was a team that everyone assumed was in competition with the Sixers for that #1 pick and instead they're jostling for position with the fringe playoff teams for a seat in the postseason. If they do make the playoffs, they could have that Golden State Warriors-upset kind of first round, but I doubt they'd make it out of the first round. It's incredible that they've been able to take a starting lineup of Dragic, Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee and parlay that into a 33-win season with 26 games to go.
I can't help but be bitter that the Wolves can't figure things out. On paper they're undoubtedly the far superior team talent-wise and yet they just can't win. Stepping away from the fact that I'm a huge Wolves fan, as an NBA fan, what the Suns have done this season is incredible. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would be my second-favorite team. Unfortunately they're in the West and in direct competition with the Timberwolves for a low West seed. If the Wolves end up on the outside looking in at the Phoenix Suns, I'll still be bitter, but at least I'll have a team to follow closely in the postseason.
Let's take a look at tonight's box score...
The Wolves left 11 points at the free throw line, shooting just 66%. They were out-rebounded by a +12 and they turned the ball over 15 times for 15 Suns points. They also allowed the Suns to score 28 fast break buckets and 60 in the paint.
So...how did the Wolves win?! Well, they shot 14 more free throws and ultimately made 7 more. They also held the NBA's best three-point shooting team (by makes a game @9.5) to just 3 threes on 15 attempts. Beyond looking at the box score, I think the Wolves simply had a go-to guy. With Dragic fouled out and Bledsoe still rehabbing the knee, that's something the Suns don't have.
My only other problem with declaring these Suns this year's Warrior team is their offensive diversity. They don't have any player that's a big threat to take you down on the block and play a back-to-the-basket game for easy buckets. They rely on a lot of three-point and mid-range shooting in addition to their transition game. It goes without saying that teams like OKC (Scott Brooks) & SAS (Gregg Popovich) are going to be able to take those areas away and force them to do things they just don't seem to have the personnel to do. Regardless (assuming the make the playoffs), I'm excited to see how they match up in a 7-game series with a team like the Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers or Blazers (amazingly, the current #1 seed [OKC--43 wins] is separated by the current #5 seed [POR--39 wins] by 4 wins).
FINAL THOUGHT: All I could think in the second half was: "If this game ends on another Gerald Green game-winner, I may just upload an image of a turd sandwich to the recap and call it a night." The Wolves closed it out so thankfully, no turd sandwich :)
UP NEXT: Minnesota has the next three days off before charging the gates of Sleep Train Arena to behead the Kings of Sacramento. That game is Saturday night and will tip at 9pmCST, enjoy!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!