As Kevin Love picked up his 50th double double of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves once again above .500 this season, beating the Denver Nuggets 132-128 on the road, keeping their hopes of somehow making the playoffs alive.
Love finished with 33 points and 19 rebounds and got plenty of help from Corey Brewer, Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea, each of them scoring 16 points, while Kevin Martin added 22. Ricky Rubio hardly even looked at the basket, finishing with 5 points but also added 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
This was a stat padding night for the Nuggets, who are a very different team when Ty Lawson is playing. Lawson scored 31 points and had 11 assists after a long time off the floor, but it’s a bit too late for him and the Nuggets to somehow join the train that heads in to the playoffs.
The Timberwolves managed to hang on in a game that didn’t have too much defense from the moment the first jump ball happened. They didnt’ survive because of defensive stops and changing it up: They gave up 45 points in the fourth quarter, letting a double digit lead disappear. Luckily, they had no problem getting into the paint (scoring 52 points) and even more “impressively” going to the line almost at will, attempting 64 shots from the line, scoring 52 of them.
The Timberwolves have been on the cusp of making the playoffs from the moment Rubio arrived, connected or not. During his rookie season, there’s a good chance that they would have made it if it wasn’t for his injury that ruined their season. Last year was just one long list of injuries from top to bottom, ruining the potential. This season? They simply haven’t been good enough in a conference that demands quite a lot from you.
The Timberwolves can score, and are 27-14 this season when they get to 100 points. When they’re moving quickly, moving the ball quickly and can generate an inside-outside kind of passing game, they look good, possibly the most enjoyable team in the NBA. However, they’re terrible when it comes to protecting the paint, usually performing like one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Fixable? Foundations aren’t suddenly laid in the final month of the season. The Timberwolves can do better defensively, but not by much. They key, probably, will be just a bit more effort on that end while making less mistakes offensively. What does that mean? A lot better from Rubio, which is also arguable if such a chance can happen without an offseason to work at it, while the consistency of Kevin Love rubs off on Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin.
The Timberwolves are going to need some outside help as well. The Mavs are bad defensively, but have a head start and a few advantages on them during most nights. The same goes for the Suns, and even the Warriors, who can’t seem to find themselves performing well enough to at least secure themselves the sixth spot. It’s still open in the West, with Memphis also looking to make it. But the Timberwolves can still get inside the top 8, needing a lot of things to happen at once and stay that way for longer than they’ve been able to make it happen so far this season.