MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ricky Rubio has made his mark in the NBA with his behind-the-back passes and quick hands on defense.
The Phoenix Suns saw both of those traits on Saturday night, to no one’s surprise. What they didn’t expect was for Rubio to become Minnesota’s primary scoring threat.
Rubio had a career-high 24 points to go with 10 assists and five steals, and J.J. Barea scored 16 points to lead the Timberwolves to a 105-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
After going through a horrible 6-for-41 stretch over four games recently, Rubio was undaunted. With leading scorers Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love out with injuries, Rubio attempted a career-high 18 field goals. He hit six of his first nine shots and finished 8 for 18.
“It’s a lot,” Rubio said. “Without Pek, without Kevin, there are shots to take and I’m going to take them.”
Derrick Williams added 15 points and six boards for the Wolves, who gave coach Rick Adelman victory No. 1,001. It’s also the first time the Wolves (30-50) have won at least 30 games in a season without Kevin Garnett on the roster.
“Yeah but we lost 50, too,” Rubio said. “That’s a lot. Fifty in one season. It’s not that exciting. It’s more than I thought. Of course we’re happy because we’re improving, but it’s not enough.”
Markieff Morris had 20 points and nine rebounds and Jared Dudley scored 16 for the Suns, who turned the ball over 28 times. The Suns have lost 15 of their last 17 and already are assured of having their worst record since their inaugural season in 1968-69.
“We turned the ball over entirely too much,” Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said. “It wasn’t complicated turnovers, it was simple passes that we tried to be too fancy or tried to thread the needle too thin. You can’t beat anybody turning the ball over 28 times.”
Andrei Kirilenko had 14 points and Dante Cunningham had 13 points and eight rebounds in place of Pekovic, who missed his second straight game with a bruised left calf.
Wes Johnson scored 15 points and Luis Scola added 14 points and nine rebounds for Phoenix. But Scola committed a career-high eight turnovers, and the Wolves scored 33 points off Phoenix mistakes to pull away.
Johnson was supposed to be a building block in Minnesota, the fourth overall draft pick out of Syracuse in 2010. The Wolves envisioned him as the kind of versatile, athletic swingman who could play shooting guard and small forward and bring some much-needed offense to a team that struggled to make even wide-open jumpers.
But he struggled mightily on defense and never could carve a set role for himself in Minnesota, struggling to shoot consistently from the outside. The Wolves were so down on him that they essentially gave him away during the summer to create room for Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy.
On Saturday, Johnson gave the Wolves a glimpse of what they thought they were drafting. He hit five of his first six shots and scored 11 points in the first quarter, prompting one fan to holler “where was that when you were here?!?”
“Especially when I was warming up before the game, I was seeing all the familiar faces,” Johnson said. “It felt like coming back home, basically. But when they tipped it off, I didn’t know anybody.”
His sharp shooting helped the Suns lead by 10 points early, but he managed just four points the rest of the way and the Suns’ turnovers spoiled 50.7 percent shooting.
The Timberwolves honored Adelman with a pregame ceremony to commemorate his 1,000th victory, which came a week ago against Detroit. Pat Riley, Shane Battier and Kevin Martin were among those who participated in a short video extolling Adelman’s accomplishments, and Wolves owner Glen Taylor presented Adelman with a framed net from the night of his victory.
As he has been his whole career, Adelman was reluctant in the spotlight. He waved sheepishly and returned to the huddle, looking to get back to business as quickly as possible.
“It was nice,” Adelman said. “I didn’t really expect that. They said something was going on, but I didn’t expect that. It was really nice. A lot of good people up there had something to say. I’m glad we got the win.”
NOTES: Minnesota’s 17 steals tied a franchise record. … Former Timberwolves F Michael Beasley was not with the Suns after the birth of a baby girl. … Suns C Jermaine O’Neal did not play because of a bruised shin. … Morris drew a technical foul in the second quarter after a brief tussle with Wolves C Greg Stiemsma. Morris took exception to a rough foul from Stiemsma on Suns PG Goran Dragic, who had 14 assists.