Timberwolves hold off short-handed Suns
Worn down Minnesota Timberwolves fans packed Target Center on Friday night, anticipating the arrival of the team’s brightest star of the past.
Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and the rest of the finally-healthy Wolves showed them the future might not be so bad, either.
Kevin Martin scored 28 points and Wiggins added 20 to lead Minnesota over the stumbling Phoenix Suns 111-109.
Rubio had 10 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds for the Wolves (12-42), who played their final home game before the highly anticipated return of franchise icon Kevin Garnett.
"I talked to the guys. … We are playing for the future, for next year," Rubio said. "The future starts right now."
Markieff Morris scored 31 points for the Suns, who have lost six of seven to fall behind Oklahoma City in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Suns dressed only 10 players after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and three others on Thursday.
"We made some bad plays and some not smart things; when we make a run all of a sudden we do something crazy," coach Jeff Hornacek said. "But in the second half we scored what, 67 points? So you can’t wait until the second half to start playing in these games."
Gorgui Dieng had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Wiggins scored a tough bucket in traffic for a 110-107 lead with 17.6 seconds left to help seal the win.
Wiggins also threw down a soaring dunk in the third quarter and finished with his 17th 20-point game of the season, more than all other rookies combined.
The Wolves reacquired Garnett from Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young on Thursday when the 38-year-old forward waived his no-trade clause to return to his original team. A robust crowd turned out Friday in Minnesota, but Garnett is not expected to play for the Wolves until Wednesday night at home against Washington.
Morris and twin brother Marcus Morris combined for 16 points in the first 8:30 of the fourth for the Suns to help turn a 14-point, second-quarter deficit into a 103-102 lead with 3 minutes to go.
But Nikola Pekovic, who struggled all night against Alex Len’s defense, hit two key layups and Wiggins hung in the air and scored through contact from Markieff Morris to help the Wolves squeak one out.
The Suns were short-handed after a seismic roster overhaul on Thursday that sent Goran Dragic and Zoran Dragic to Miami; Thomas to Boston; and Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee to Milwaukee. The Suns are getting Brandon Knight from Milwaukee and Marcus Thornton from Boston, but they weren’t expected to join the team until Saturday in Chicago.
It was a startlingly large makeover for a team that held the eighth seed in the powerful Western Conference, but general manager Ryan McDonough’s hand was forced by Goran Dragic’s insistence he planned to sign elsewhere in the offseason.
Free of having to share the ball with Goran Dragic and Thomas, Eric Bledsoe got off to a slow start. He went 0 for 4 in the first half and was thoroughly outplayed by Rubio, who helped the Wolves surge to a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
Bledsoe scored 10 in the third but was scoreless in the fourth and finished with 12 points.
"Honestly, I think we need to stay off social media and just stay away from that, just keep everything in house and focus on ourselves and focus on this team," Markieff Morris said. "We’ve still got a chance to make the playoffs and we’ve just got to stay together."
Suns: Len had 11 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six blocks. Marcus Morris scored 14 for the Suns. … C Earl Barron was signed to a 10-day contract to help the frontcourt depth after Plumlee’s departure.
Timberwolves: Anthony Bennett started at PF in place of Young, but left in the second quarter with a bruise on his lower right leg and did not return. … A line more than 200 long filed into Target Center before the game for a season-ticket promotion after the Garnett trade.
JUST A TASTE
Even though Garnett wasn’t in the building, the Wolves still welcomed him back. His picture was shown briefly to close the introduction video after a message that read, "Big things are coming." The team played a 30-second video of highlights as well. The references drew some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Suns: Visit Chicago on Saturday.
Timberwolves: Visit Houston on Monday.