Timberwolves set franchise FT records in win over Nuggets

Thanks in part to Kevin Martin, the league's sixth-most accurate free-throw shooter, the Timberwolves' 52-for-64 showing Monday night ranks as the most free throws made by an NBA team since 1990 and the most attempted since 1999.

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DENVER — One of the most wildly entertaining aspects of sport is its ability to deliver the unpredictable.

But even in a game that’s dependent upon factors that ebb and flow from night to night and arena to arena, some things are fairly certain.

There was little doubt the Timberwolves, after an offseason overhaul and incumbent recovery process, would be anything but an above-average free-throw shooting team this season. The return of Kevin Love from injury and the addition of Kevin Martin alone would surely boost Minnesota’s foul-stripe productivity, both in terms of their ability to reach the line and convert there once an official bounces the ball their way.

"We have guys (that can shoot free throws)," coach Rick Adelman said. "The important thing is we have guys in the two Kevins, who get to the line. That makes a big difference.

"We knew we had a good free-throw shooting team."

Timberwolves 132, Nuggets 128

The 24th-year hoops mastermind was right. Even before setting franchise records for foul shots made and attempted in Monday night’s wacky 132-128 win against Denver, the Timberwolves ranked third in the NBA in converted freebies. Kevin Martin, an offseason acquisition and Adelman favorite, is the league’s sixth-most accurate free-throw shooter. Love and point guard Ricky Rubio are both shooting about 82 percent from the stripe.

They’re the simplest points to come by, especially for a defensively challenged team that usually succeeds only by outgunning its adversaries. Whether it’s Martin leaning into his defender and drawing a foul or Corey Brewer charging hard to the rim and converting a 3-point play, the one-point conversions accumulate like pennies in a piggy bank.

"That was the easiest 22 points of my life," Martin joked with Brewer after dropping that many on a floundering Nuggets team Monday. All but six of Martin’s points came on a 16-for-17 night at the line, part of Minnesota’s 52-for-64 showing.

It was the most free throws made by an NBA team since 1990 and the most attempted since 1999.

Yet easy may never look so hard again.

Riding Martin, Love and their collectively colossal night from the stripe, the Timberwolves (30-29) barely staved off one of the zaniest comebacks anyone in the Pepsi Center’s visiting dressing room has ever witnessed. Minnesota concluded a five-game road trip 4-1, scored the third-most points in franchise history and got back above .500 for the first time since Feb. 4 and remain within striking distance of a playoff berth entering a stretch where four of their next five games are at home.

But an avalanche of 3-pointers turned what should’ve been a Minnesota rout into the Timberwolves’ second win all season in contests decided by four points or fewer.

After trailing by as many as 23, Denver (25-34) put together a 15-4 fourth-quarter run then made four straight 3s inside the final 23.4 seconds. A pair came from Tyson Chandler, who could’ve cut the deficit to one had his running triple with 1.9 seconds left not banked off the backboard and off the inside of the rim.

It was crazy. Ridiculous. And without Minnesota’s free-throw prowess — including a perfect eight straight from Martin inside the last 30 seconds — it would’ve been disastrous.

"It was unbelievable," Love said. "There was a lot of things that went on in that game that were just nuts.

"I kept walking to the bench like ‘this is crazy.’ I really didn’t have the words for it."

Said Martin: "That was pretty bizarre. I was just glad that we was the ones shooting the free throws and not the other team."

Martin hit his last two with 5.7 seconds remaining to answer Evan Fournier’s off-balance triple from the right corner — the third consecutive time a pair of Martin free throws answered a Nuggets 3. By then, the 86.8-percent career foul shooter already had sunk the free throws that snapped the previous organization mark of 41.

"I didn’t really get worried," Brewer said with a sly smile, "because they kept fouling K-Mart."

It was a total inflated by Denver’s decision to begin fouling on purpose with about 1 1/2 minutes to go. But even before the game’s waning moments, a relentless attack of the rim had the Timberwolves either scoring inside — 54 points in the paint — or reaching the free-throw line.

Love led all scorers with 33 points and 19 rebounds and made 11 of 13 freebie tries. Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Brewer each dumped in 16 points, with Barea knocking down 7 of 8 free-throw attempts.

That helped counteract the return of Ty Lawson from a rib injury. The Nuggets guard played 40 minutes and had 31 and 11 points for a team that’s now lost 11 of its past 12 games.

Minnesota, meanwhile, put together its best five-game road trip since also going 4-1 during one in 2004-05. In their 25-year history, the Timberwolves have never won more than four games during any one stint away from the Target Center. They also moved to five games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

And with teams in the lower half of the postseason picture continuing to win, Minnesota’s margin error shrinks by the day. Taking advantage of free passes, then, becomes even more imperative as the Timberwolves prepare to host the Knicks on Wednesday.

"This was a must-win for us," Martin said. "You don’t have too many must-wins in the beginning of March, but we understand where we’re at right now."

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