MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves’ two stars are watching from the bench with injuries, and Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are seeing a deep team respond with some inspired defense and unselfish offense to make up the difference.
Orlando’s only star is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the young Magic are starting to find out that life without Dwight Howard will definitely take some getting used to.
Luke Ridnour had 19 points and five rebounds, and Greg Stiemsma got the rout started with six straight points to end the third quarter in Minnesota’s 90-75 victory over the Magic on Wednesday night.
Stiemsma finished with 12 points, five boards and two blocks, and Derrick Williams added 14 points and six boards for the Timberwolves, who are 3-1 for the first time since 2001. They led an ugly game by three points early in the third period before going on a staggering 28-6 surge that blew open the game.
“We’ve got a group of guys that is willing to work and wants to do the little things,” Stiemsma said. “We know we’re going to have to do it every night, especially now that we’re a little short-handed. We’re not going to make excuses and just go out and play our style.”
Defense has been out of style in Minnesota for the better part of a decade. But these plucky Wolves have made it the backbone to their early success. They blocked nine shots, made 11 steals and forced 20 turnovers to overwhelm the Magic.
J.J. Redick had 16 points, but the Magic shot just 35 percent, including just 3 for 12 on 3-pointers to lose their second straight game. Arron Afflalo added 12 points for Orlando.
“I wish the rim would’ve opened up and that ball would’ve slid through it,” coach Jacque Vaughn deadpanned. “That always helps.”
The Wolves deserve some credit for the Magic’s struggles. They contested shots, got into passing lanes and knocked driving Magic players to the floor to help them withstand an 0-for-11 start to the second quarter in which they scored just 13 points.
That’s the way it has to be without Rubio and Love. The Wolves were hoping to stay afloat thanks to a soft opening to the schedule, and they couldn’t have asked for much better than this. They began the season with a sluggish win over Sacramento, dropped a game in Toronto and then surprised the Brooklyn Nets with a big comeback on Monday night before burying the Magic in the final 14 minutes.
“Our defense has to be consistent every night,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said.
The Wolves and Magic were both awful in the second quarter, combining to miss their first 19 shots and turning the ball over virtually every other trip down the court.
Redick missed his first six shots from the field before getting going in the third, with his jumper off a screen cutting Minnesota’s lead to 62-55 with just over a minute to play.
That’s when Stiemsma took over. He scored the final six points of the period, then added a jumper to start the fourth, and the Wolves were off and running.
Despite the trade of Howard to the Lakers, the Magic got off to a surprisingly strong start in Vaughn’s first season. They beat Denver and Phoenix to open the season, then had a narrow loss at Chicago on Tuesday night. Afflalo, Glen Davis and Redick had the offense humming at 103.3 points a game and shooting nearly 49 percent from 3-point range.
That started to ground to a halt against the Bulls on Tuesday night, and it slammed hard into the wall in Minnesota. Davis was just 2 for 9 and Afflalo was quiet after scoring 28 the previous night.
“I’m more disappointed in tonight,” Afflalo said. “We didn’t have the energy level or the effort to win tonight’s game.”
NOTES: Wolves PG J.J. Barea left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained left foot and did not return. The team said he would be evaluated on Thursday … Mo Harkless made his season debut for the Magic, scoring seven points in 23 minutes. … Chase Budinger added 10 points and Nikola Pekovic had 11 points and five rebounds for the Wolves. … Pekovic and Magic C Nikola Vucevic were teammates on the Montenegro national team. Vucevic managed just two points and four rebounds and was bullied by the older, bigger Pekovic most of the night.
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