The Wolves started the game on a 9-0 run and by about four and a half minutes in the lead had ballooned to 17-3. It was pretty clear after that first quarter that the way this Wolves squad was shooting the ball, they were more than likely going to end their four-game losing streak.
The Wolves led by 12 after the first quarter; 31-19. Rubio led all scorers with 8 of his 11 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting to go along with 5 assists--all of that despite only playing the first 8 minutes or so after taking a Randy Foye elbow in the chin that required stitches. Midway through the second quarter with his chin stitched up, he was back on the floor. After one, Love had 7 points & 5 rebounds.
With Rubio having to head to the locker room early than usual in this one, Barea thusly got into the game a bit sooner. Usually, having Barea on the court this season has led to disaster, but tonight was undoubtedly his best game of the season. J.J. had 9 of his 18 points in the second quarter en-route to a perfect shooting night from the field in 18 (unusually) efficient minutes. My initial thought after two quarters of great play from Barea, 'hopefully this helps his trade value for next week!' Probably wishful thinking.
The Wolves scored 31 & 30 in the first two quarters and another 28 apiece in the final two frames to finish with 117 on the night and a 27-point victory over a Nuggets team that had defeated them in their first two meetings earlier this season.
That Nuggets team that handed them those losses is certainly not the same one we saw tonight. The Nuggets are an injury-riddled squad. They're missing three players that are likely starters and another two guards that could both be seen as 'sixth men'. The Nuggets were without Ty Lawson (broken ribs), Nate Robinson & Danilo Gallinari (torn ACLs) and JaVale McGee (broken leg). Because of disagreements between veteran player and rookie coach, Andre Miller has been excused from the team indefinitely. I find it quite insane that they don't bring him back considering they're playing basketball without a point guard right now! Nonetheless, it sounds as though Miller will be moved at the deadline and the Wolves are one of the interested parties (maybe they liked what they saw from Barea tonight?!....doubtful).
The Wolves had injuries of their own, with two of their starters and primary scorers watching from behind the bench in street clothes. Nikola Pekovic missed a ninth-straight game with bursitis in his ankle, while Kevin Martin missed his third-straight game with that broken thumb. Both are hoping to return shortly after the All-Star break. Stay tuned to the Injury Report on HOWL for updates on both early next week!
With the Wolves struggling the past couple weeks this was the ideal opponent to face before taking a week off for the All-Star break. They cruised to an easy win courtesy of big nights from Love, Brewer, Rubio & Barea and the hope is that they can carry that momentum into the final 29 games of the season.
I've been asked a few times if I think the Wolves' season is over (ie: they're not going to make the playoffs). I think deep down I may agree with that, but hopefully they make things interesting the next couple months. Can this team that has lost so many close games and been so inconsistent all season long really expect to reach that 46-48 win mark that most anticipate will be the cutoff for the West's 8th seed? That means losing only six or seven more games this season! Not impossible, but as of right now, not probable.
Nonetheless, I'm going to take it one game at a time and hope the Wolves do the same. This team has a lot of talent and for that reason alone, I can't quite entirely dismiss making the playoffs quite yet (though my tune will most certainly change after another double-digit loss...say...2/19 vs. the Indiana Pacers?).
Tonight's box score...
I do find it a bit surprising that Alexey played only 7 minutes despite the Wolves having this one well in hand throughout. I was asked the other day which 'Wolf' is most likely (if any) to be moved by next week's trade deadline. J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute & Dante Cunningham all sound as though they're available. I honestly don't think the Wolves will make a move...but I wouldn't mind trading Barea or Shved for a more consistent presence in that reserve backcourt.
With Denver playing without a true point guard, they certainly had trouble taking care of the basketball. They turned the ball over 20 times for 29 MIN points, compared to just 10 for 10 DEN points! The Wolves also nailed 12 triples (they were 8-15 in the first half) and shot 52% from the field.
If only Minnesota's last 29 games consisted of matchups against the Nuggets, Jazz & Sixers. The Wolves now have a full week off. They don't play again until the 19th vs. the Pacers. Here's hoping that Pekovic is back by then. Stay tuned for updates (in the News section) this weekend on Kevin Love at All-Star weekend and how he fares in the Three-Point Contest (Saturday) & All-Star Game (Sunday).