MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Love started practicing early for All-Star weekend, making six of 11 shots from 3-point range and totaling 32 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 117-90 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Love, chosen as a first-time starter for the Western Conference team, will also take part in the 3-point shooting contest this weekend in New Orleans.
In five February games, Love has averaged 32.6 points. He sat out twice last week, once because of a stiff neck and again with a bruised left quadriceps, but his banged-up body hasn’t hindered his production when he is on the court.
Injuries have affected the Nuggets all season. Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee are hurt, and Andre Miller is on leave from the team because of a strained relationship.
Denver (24-27) has dropped nine of 13 and four in a row to fall behind Minnesota (25-28) and into 11th place. The Wolves trail eighth-place Phoenix by six games.
Jordan Hamilton led the Nuggets with 16 points and seven assists, and J.J. Hickson added 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Corey Brewer added 22 points, J.J. Barea pitched in 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting, and Ricky Rubio had 11 points and 12 assists for the Wolves, who had coach Rick Adelman back on the sideline. He missed the previous game on Monday, an absence he said was related to his wife’s health.
Rubio was inadvertently elbowed in the chin in the first quarter by former Wolves first-round draft pick Randy Foye, who has been forced into a point guard role because Lawson and Robinson are out. Rubio showed the officials the blood in a fruitless after-the-fact plea for a foul before receiving five stitches and returning soon after.
The Wolves, still missing Nikola Pekovic (right ankle bursitis) and Kevin Martin (broken left thumb) stopped a four-game losing streak.
In this matchup of two of the NBA’s most disappointing teams, only the Timberwolves showed some life.
Coach Brian Shaw pined before the game for a more-spirited effort on defense by the Nuggets, who have given up the third-most points per game, but they didn’t exactly comply. They left shooters all over the court, and the Wolves made them pay with one of their stronger shooting nights of the season (52.3 percent from the floor) and 20 fast-break points.
The Wolves were ahead 19-3 before the Nuggets were even warmed up, and they built their lead as big as 61-37 late in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Chase Budinger, who finished with 12 points.
The Nuggets never came closer than 17 after halftime, and the Wolves looked like the Harlem Globetrotters on their 9-0 run to start the fourth period. Brewer threw down another uncontested dunk and then caught another laser-like outlet pass from Love like a wide receiver streaking down the football field. Brewer’s twisting layup rolled off the rim, but Rubio stole the ball right back and gave him another try that he converted for a 98-64 lead.
Shaw started Darrell Arthur at small forward and moved Wilson Chandler to shooting guard, but the Nuggets didn’t have much offense to counteract the lax defense. After winning 57 games last season, the most in their history as an NBA franchise, Shaw’s first year on the job has been rough.
NOTES: Adelman has no special plans for the All-Star break. “I’m just going to sit here and watch the snow,” he said. Pekovic will be ice fishing again, but Adelman expressed no interest, only a bit of advice: “I hope he puts his foot in the water and ices it a little bit.” … Hickson has a double-double in 16 of the last 29 games. … Martin said his hope is to be cleared to play on the five-game trip that starts Feb. 22. He will be re-evaluated the day before.
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