MINNEAPOLIS -- Unable to find an answer for Luis Scola's versatile offensive game, the Minnesota Timberwolves did the only thing they could to combat it -- they flexed their muscles and went right back at him on the other end.
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Andrei Kirilenko added 20 points and five rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were missing guard Ricky Rubio because of back spasms. The injury left the Wolves with only three healthy guards, so Pekovic, Love and Kirilenko had to carry the night.
Scola had 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns, who lost their fifth straight game.
"We tried to attack him and make him have a hard time, at least on defense," Pekovic said. "Because on offense he was doing so great. It was his night."
Phoenix led 102-99 with 3:30 to play, but once again failed to close it out. Pekovic scored two quick ones underneath but the Suns still had a chance down three with 8.1 seconds left. But Dante Cunningham stole the inbounds pass to seal it.
"It's in our head now," Scola said. "We've just got to find a way to win games somehow."
Rubio's injury left the Wolves with three healthy guards in the game, so they naturally leaned on the big guys up front to do most of the work. They scored 58 points in the paint to negate poor shooting from 3-point range (5 for 18) and at the free throw line (16 for 26).
Alexey Shved had 12 points and 10 assists for the Wolves, including two clutch free throws that gave Minnesota a three-point lead with 55 seconds to play.
The Suns were equally tough at the rim in a game that occasionally resembled pregame layup lines with the ease with which both teams got to the basket. They scored 54 points in the paint, using superb ball movement to get the Wolves out of their defensive rotations.
Dragic played with a sore hip that kept him out of the previous, but he didn't look any worse for wear on Saturday night. He ran the pick-and-roll and jumpstarted the Suns break with impressive efficiency. The Suns (11-20) didn't turn the ball over until 7:37 was left in the first half.
"It's discouraging from the standpoint of, you look at our win-loss record, it's encouraging that we keep battling and putting ourselves in position to do that, but we don't have anything tangible to show for it," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "At the end of the day it's discouraging."
Love may have only made 8 of 20 shots, but he needed a bounce-back game like this after a curiously lifeless performance in a loss to Houston on Wednesday. He has struggled with his shooting ever since coming back at the end of November from two broken bones in his right hand. He admitted earlier on Saturday that all the clanking had frustrated him to the point that it was trickling down to other parts of his game, including his effort on the defensive end and getting other people involved.
"It was a different way he played tonight," coach Rick Adelman said.
Love entered the night shooting a career-worst 35.5 percent from the field and just 22.5 percent on 3-pointers. He came out much more aggressive against the Suns, scoring 13 points and hitting two of his three 3s in the first quarter.
"Some days it feels good and some days it's not so good," Love said. "Hopefully the new year will bring good things for me and this team."
Scola rendered Love's strong start almost inconsequential. The Argentinian had everything going on Saturday, knocking down 18-footers, spinning to the rim on breakaways and dropping soft hook shots over Love for easy buckets. But when Gentry went small with him at the center spot in the fourth quarter, Pekovic made him pay.
""These moral victories, or whatever you want to call them, don't do anything because at the end of the day they either put it on the left side or the right side," Gentry said. "These games so far, the majority of them have gone on the right side. That's not a good thing for us."
|Derrick Williams scores 10 points as the Timberwolves erase a late deficit to top the visiting Suns. (US Presswire)|
|Minnesota (14-13) «||32||32||25||22||111|
|PHO:L. Scola 33 Pts
PHO:L. Scola 10 Reb
PHO:G. Dragic 12 Ast
|MIN:N. Pekovic 28 Pts
MIN:K. Love 18 Reb
MIN:A. Shved 10 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|L. Scola, PF||43||16-26||1-2||10||2||3||33|
|J. Dudley, SF||38||8-13||1-2||8||5||0||18|
|S. Brown, PG||36||9-17||2-2||6||3||4||21|
|G. Dragic, PG||36||4-10||8-13||5||12||3||16|
|M. Gortat, PF||28||3-6||3-4||3||1||3||9|
|P. Tucker, SG||19||1-2||0-0||5||1||4||2|
|M. Morris, PF||19||3-9||0-1||4||2||4||6|
|S. Telfair, PG||12||0-6||0-0||3||2||1||0|
|M. Beasley, PF||10||1-8||0-0||2||1||1||2|
|J. O'Neal, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Frye, C||Did Not Play|
|D. Garrett, PG||Did Not Play|
|W. Johnson, SF||Did Not Play|
|L. Zeller, PF||Did Not Play|
|K. Marshall, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Love, PF||41||8-20||5-7||18||1||3||23|
|A. Kirilenko, SF||34||10-13||0-0||5||4||2||20|
|N. Pekovic, C||34||13-20||2-4||11||1||1||28|
|A. Shved, PG||34||3-6||5-6||4||10||4||12|
|L. Ridnour, PG||31||2-7||0-0||2||4||1||4|
|J. Barea, PG||27||5-13||0-2||1||5||2||10|
|D. Cunningham, SF||18||0-2||2-4||7||1||1||2|
|D. Williams, PF||14||3-6||2-3||1||1||0||10|
|G. Stiemsma, C||7||1-2||0-0||2||0||0||2|
|B. Roy, SG||Did Not Play|
|L. Amundson, PF||Did Not Play|
|M. Lee, SG||Did Not Play|
|C. Budinger, SF||Did Not Play|
|R. Rubio, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|