John Wall and the Washington Wizards walked into to Target Center – the arena where losing streaks come to die — fully expecting to finally get that elusive first road victory.
Instead, Kevin Love delivered another All-Star performance in a season full of them, refusing to let his Minnesota Timberwolves fold in the fourth quarter again.
Love had 35 points and 11 rebounds and Darko Milicic added 14 points and 11 rebounds to keep the Wizards winless on the road in Minnesota’s 109-97 victory on Thursday night.
Love made 13 of 18 shots, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, to help make up for the absence of Michael Beasley, who was out with a sprained left ankle.
”It’s a tough guard when you’ve got a 4 man who can shoot the ball,” the 6-foot-9 Love said. ”Six-foot-eight or above and shooting the 3-ball like that, its tough to guard.”
He’s been that way all season, leading the NBA in rebounding while shooting .435 on 3s, good for 11th in the NBA in when the day began.
Wall had 14 points and 10 assists for the Wizards, who fell to 0-19 on the road. They are the only team in the NBA that has yet to win away from home this season.
The Timberwolves trailed by four with 5:46 to play, but closed the game with a 19-1 surge to snap a five-game losing streak. Love scored eight points during the run, pounding his chest after the second of his two 3s.
”We expected Love to be a handful,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. ”We thought he had a chance to beat us. He basically beat us from the 3-point line.”
One game after scoring 43 points in a win over Sacramento on Tuesday, Wizards guard Nick Young was held to 15 points on 5 of 14 shooting.
Corey Brewer had 14 points and four steals and Luke Ridnour added 16 points and nine assists for the Timberwolves, who have made it a habit of letting leads slip away in the fourth quarter this season.
”We really played team ball,” coach Kurt Rambis said. ”It seems like those games, that we’ve had where everyone’s contributed and had a pretty decent game scoring wise, we seem to win the ballgame.”
Minnesota led 88-82 with nine minutes to go, but Rambis stuck with struggling backup point guard Jonny Flynn and kept energetic defender Brewer on the bench and watched the lead disappear.
Trevor Booker and Yi Jianlian had back-to-back dunks and Young hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cap a 9-0 run that gave the Wizards a 94-90 lead.
Rambis went back to starters Ridnour and Brewer out of the timeout, and the Wolves responded. Milicic, the 7-foot center, made a nifty behind-the-back dribble and spin move for a layup and Love hit a 3-pointer to give the Wolves a 95-94 lead.
”Just like all the other ones,” Wall said. ”We were right there. We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Rashard Lewis scored 19 points and Kirk Hinrich had 18 off the bench for Washington, which is 10-8 at home.
The Wizards were playing without starting forward Andray Blatche, out with a sprained right shoulder. Al Thornton started in his place and got off to a quick start thanks in part to Milicic.
Thornton had a jump ball with Milicic near the Wizards basket. Milicic won the tip, but he batted the ball backward, it went right into the basket for two points.
”This is a team we should beat,” Thornton said. ”We just didn’t close it out.”
It’s been a difficult start to the rebuilding process for Saunders and the Wizards, who tore things down when they traded enigmatic franchise player Gilbert Arenas to Orlando. Wall is the new face of the team, and the dynamic rookie is giving Washington hope that better days aren’t as far away as they appear right now.
But the promise of tomorrow provided little consolation on Thursday night.
”It’s embarrassing,” Wall said, ”that we’re the only team left that hasn’t won on the road.”
Notes: Saunders coached the Timberwolves for nine and a half seasons, a run that ended in 2005. The Wolves appeared to have the nucleus of an up-and-coming young team with Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett, but Marbury forced a trade to New Jersey in 1999 to break that up. At shootaround on Thursday morning, Saunders told reporters he told Marbury, ”In 15 years, me, you, KG will all sit down and say, ‘It was the biggest mistake that was ever made.”’ … Wayne Ellington played for the first time since Jan. 1 and had 11 points, seven boards and five assists.