PHOENIX (AP) — Andrei Kirilenko and the Minnesota Timberwolves were content to let the Phoenix Suns settle for jumpers and dig an ever-deepening hole.
Kirilenko scored 20 points and the Timberwolves routed the slumping Suns 117-86 on Friday night to snap a nine-game road losing streak.
“We kind of prevented them to score from inside and forced them to take shots outside,” Kirilenko said. “They took a lot of shots that they couldn’t make.”
The Suns came into the game with only one true center on the roster, little-used Hamid Haddadi, who has averaged 18 minutes since starter Marcin Gortat went out on March 6 with a Lisfranc strain in his right foot.
Jermaine O’Neal, Gortat’s regular backup, was out with a combination of a strained left calf muscle sustained in the Suns’ loss to Washington on Wednesday and a case of the flu.
Phoenix used 6-foot-9 Luis Scola as its nominal center, and Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic wasted little time taking advantage of the Suns’ smaller lineup. Kirilenko scored five points to spark an 18-4 run as Minnesota extended an 11-10 lead to 29-14 with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
Overall, the two scored a combined 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting in the first half as Minnesota opened a 67-39 lead at the break.
“Regardless of who’s not here, this is an opportunity for some of our guys,” Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity to play and I don’t think guys did that.”
Reserve Dante Cunningham added 18 points, Greg Stiemsma had 14 and four others were in double figures for the Timberwolves, who won for the fourth time in 16 games.
Cunningham took over the Timberwolves’ offensive load in the third quarter, scoring 12 of his points on 5-of-5 shooting as Minnesota took a 95-69 lead after three.
“We just kept attacking,” said Minnesota guard Luke Ridnour, who had 12 points and seven assists. “We did a good job just to continue to run the floor and get midrange and inside shots.”
Minnesota set season highs for total points, first-half points (67) and second-quarter points (35) in snapping a 13-game road losing streak against Western Conference opponents.
“We had it going,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “We haven’t had a lead like that in a long time. You start getting worried, but we built it back up again and I thought from start to finish they did a great job.”
Scola had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Goran Dragic added 13 points and 10 assists for the Suns, who have lost six of seven and eight of their past 10.
Phoenix’s last three losses have come by an average of 21 points.
“This is an embarrassment,” said P.J. Tucker, who finished with 11 points, one of four Suns in double figures. “There’s no way we can play like that, with no energy, and have to come in here and talk to be able to go out there and play hard. We’ve got to be able to do it from the beginning.”
NOTES: With the loss, the Suns officially have been relegated to the lottery for the third consecutive year. … The Suns are 2-7 without Gortat. … Phoenix will finish with at least its ninth-worst record in the team’s 43 seasons and needs to win seven of its final 12 to avoid the team’s fifth sub-30 win season. … The Timberwolves’ 95 points through three quarters were more than Minnesota has scored in 31 full games this season. … Phoenix also was without G Jared Dudley, who also was out with the flu.
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