MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Love won’t let the Minnesota Timberwolves go down without a fight.
The Denver Nuggets could use a little of the same punch right now.
Love followed up his 51-point game with 30 points and 21 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves to a 117-100 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday.
“I think we used to call him kind of a poor man’s Larry Bird,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I think you can take ‘poor man’s’ off that comparison now. His ability to rebound is incredible and his offensive tools and skills are growing.”
Luke Ridnour had 25 points and six assists, and Wayne Ellington added 17 points for the Timberwolves, who are trying to stay relevant in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Wolves entered the game 3½ games behind Denver for the eighth spot.
“You see all these teams ahead of us,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Teams get a nice margin when they go out and win three or four in a row. That’s what we have to do.”
JaVale McGee had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets.
Denver trailed by 28 points in the first half and lost its second straight game. The Nuggets played without starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who was suspended for throwing an elbow at Jazz forward Gordon Hayward’s head on Friday night.
Kenneth Faried had 17 points and Andrew Miller added 14 for Denver.
“We can’t put it in cruise control anymore,” Karl said.
Love is in overdrive after scoring 51 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a double-overtime loss at Oklahoma City on Friday night.
Minnesota has struggled since point guard Ricky Rubio was lost for the season March 9 to a torn ACL in his left knee. They were in position to make the playoffs — sitting eighth in the West — when they played the Los Angeles Lakers that night, but have since gone 3-6 to fall to 11th in the conference.
To show how important this game was for the Wolves, they never led by fewer than 16 points in the second half, but Love did not sit until 2:40 was left to play.
“I worry about him all the time because he plays so many minutes,” Adelman said. “He seems to get through it pretty good.”
Love had his seventh career 30-20 game, which leads all active players. At 23 years old, he already has done that more times than Tim Duncan (six), Kevin Garnett (five) and Dirk Nowitzki (two).
It was also his ninth this season with at least 30 points and 15 boards. Atlanta’s Josh Smith is the only other player in the league who has done it more than once this season. Smith has done it twice.
“Just another night for him,” said Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who had 10 points and six boards.
Nikola Pekovic missed his third straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. Guard JJ Barea also missed the game with a bruised right thigh.
The Nuggets have basically been treading water for most of March, trying to get new faces Wilson Chandler and McGee up to speed.
They are 2-6 in their last eight road games and are two games into a seven-game road trip that could decide their season. They entered the game eighth in the West, a half-game ahead of Houston and 1 1/2 ahead of Phoenix.
“We might not be in the place where we’re going to play well all the time,” said Karl, whose team has given up 117.3 points per game over the last three. “But if we fight the right way, we’ll find ways to get wins.”
The game got off to a sluggish start. Problems with the shot clock caused three delays in the first five minutes and led to a 40-minute first quarter.
The Nuggets had far more difficulty making the adjustment than the Wolves did. They outscored Denver 39-9 in a 12-minute bridge of the first and second quarters to blow the doors open.
Playing with a gimpy groin, Ridnour hit all seven of his shots in the first half, the last a 3-pointer from the corner that gave Minnesota a 68-41 lead just before halftime.
“This giving up 115 points a game the last three or four has got to stop,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said.
NOTES: The Wolves had 20,023 fans in attendance, the first time in franchise history they’ve drawn a crowd of more than 20,000 in three straight games. … Timberwolves rookie Malcolm Lee scored the first points of his career on a driving runner in the second quarter. Lee missed most of the first two months of the season with a knee injury. … The Nuggets outscored Minnesota 29-2 in fast-break points and 64-38 in points in the paint.
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