MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The final seconds ticked off the clock and Ricky Rubio looked up to see his Minnesota Timberwolves ahead on the scoreboard. It’s been a rare occurrence for him recently, and as the relief washed over him he flung the ball high in the air and into the stands.
A six-game losing streak was done, just their fourth victory in the last 26 games was in hand, and Rubio was the one who had made sure they didn’t let another game slip away.
He had 15 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and six steals to lead the Timberwolves to an 87-82 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
“Today was a relief to get that win,” Rubio said.
Derrick Williams added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, and J.J. Barea scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter for the Wolves, who again were playing with just nine healthy players because of a slew of injuries.
John Wall had 19 points and seven assists, and Trevor Ariza added 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Wizards, who were missing leading scorer Bradley Beal because of a sprained left ankle. Washington turned the ball over 24 times, leading to 30 points by Minnesota.
“We’re not going to beat anybody with the carelessness we had with the ball,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We just don’t value the basketball at all. It doesn’t hurt us to have a turnover. We just throw it all over.”
Washington led by eight early in the fourth, but Rubio’s defense keyed a 21-9 surge by the Timberwolves over the final 9:30. He had four steals in the final 8:25, the last coming with 30 seconds remaining and the Wolves clinging to a one-point lead. Shaking off a sore left hand, he dove to the floor to poke a loose ball away from Wall and push it ahead to Barea for a layup that gave Minnesota an 85-82 lead with 28.2 seconds left.
Luke Ridnour scored 15 points and Dante Cunningham added 11 points and five rebounds for the Timberwolves.
“They have just been slapped around so much,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “I think you get to a point where you keep saying the same things, you keep talking about the same things. But you need to get a win.”
Nene had 12 points and eight boards, and Emeka Okafor added 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Wizards, who squandered a 44-34 advantage on the boards against the short-handed Wolves.
The Wizards turned the ball over 17 times in the first three quarters, but they opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to take control. Wall hit a free throw after a technical foul on Ridnour, Nene scored on an easy layup and Kevin Seraphin backed the smaller Cunningham down low for a post-up bucket to give Washington a 73-65 lead.
Adelman put Rubio back in the game, and he came up with two steals, fed Barea for a 3 and hit two free throws to get Minnesota back in it. Barea’s second 3-pointer a minute later tied the game at 77.
“I just thought we weren’t into the flow of the offense very early and we had just careless turnovers,” said Wall, who had six turnovers and missed eight of his last 10 shots. “It was passes that were there, but we waited too late or made it a tougher pass than it was. That let them get themselves back in the game. We just feel like we gave this game away.”
Wittman was an assistant in Minnesota under Flip Saunders and also was the head coach here from 2007-09. He went 36-105 with the rebuilding team during that time and was having just as much trouble since taking over for the fired Saunders in Washington until Wall hit the court this season. The hard-driving coach has tried to be patient with this young Wizards team, and he’s had to be.
Injuries to Wall, Nene and Okafor gutted the Wizards at the start of the season. They slogged through a miserable 5-28 start, but they are 14-12 with Wall in the lineup.
One of the few bright spots for the Timberwolves over the last month has been Rubio’s return to form from his torn ACL last March. He made his season debut in December, and has gradually gotten his game back. The restrictions on his minutes have been lifted and the behind-the-back passes and instinctive perimeter defense have returned.
“We feed off of him,” Williams said. “We all look to him.”
NOTES: Nene air-balled a free throw in the fourth quarter. … Kevin Love said before the game he will meet with his hand specialist in New York next Wednesday in hopes of getting clearance for contact. … Former Timberwolves F Martell Webster had 11 points and seven rebounds for Washington.