High-flying Wiggins, Wolves light up scoreboard in Denver
DENVER — With 90 seconds left, Ricky Rubio was about to step up to the stripe to shoot a technical foul on Nicola Jokic when Andrew Wiggins asked him for a favor.
“Let me get this,” Wiggins pleaded.
“All right,” Rubio replied. “Sure.”
Wiggins sank the freebie for his 40th point that put an exclamation point on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 112-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Rubio’s unofficial sixth assist helped Wiggins post his second 40-point game in 24 hours, something only Kevin Love had accomplished in franchise history.
“Good company,” said Wiggins, who topped 20 points for the 15th consecutive game. Karl-Anthony Towns added 24 points and 19 rebounds.
“He was all over the boards and my shot was falling,” Wiggins said. “We played great defense tonight, too.”
Towns’ double-double and Wiggins’ 40-point game on the heels of a 41-point performance in a loss to LeBron James and the Cavaliers helped the Timberwolves split the season series with the Nuggets, whom they’re chasing for the eighth playoff spot in the West.
“We want that position,” Wiggins said. “We want to do something special this year. That kind of motivated us.”
Before tip-off, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau spoke about the danger of checking out mentally before the final game leading up to the All-Star break, saying, “mentally if you go on the break before the break comes, it’s a problem.”
It wasn’t for Minnesota, which bounced back nicely from its 116-108 loss to Cleveland.
The Nuggets went cold 48 hours after blowing out Golden State behind an NBA record-tying 24 3-pointers on 40 tries. They made just 11 of 34 from long range this time and Jokic shot just 6 of 19 from the floor for 15 hard-earned points.
“I just missed shots,” Jokic said. “The ball didn’t go in.”
For any of the Nuggets, who missed a half dozen reverse layups and even a breakaway dunk. That embarrassment, by Gary Harris, who led Denver with 22 points, came during an 11-2 spurt spanning the third and fourth quarters that helped Minnesota take control.
The Nuggets couldn’t match their sharpshooting or their energy they had 48 hours earlier when they walloped the Warriors 132-110 despite missing six players, including three starters.
Those three — Danilo Gallinari (groin), Emmanuel Mudiay (back) and Kenneth Faried (ankle) — also sat out this game, along with sixth man Wilson Chandler, who missed his second straight game due to illness, and Darrell Arthur (sore knees).
Mason Plumlee, acquired for Jusuf Nurkic on Sunday, made his Denver debut, starting alongside Jokic in the frontcourt. He had 11 points and nine rebounds but was gassed by game’s end.
“I feel bad,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “First game and I played him 34 minutes. … But he’s going to get adjusted.”
Timberwolves: Wiggins shot 10 of 14 in the first half. … Minnesota is 3-4 since losing Zach LaVine, the team’s third-leading scorer, is underwent surgery on his left knee Tuesday to repair an ACL he tore Feb. 3 at Detroit.
Nuggets: Denver had just six first-half 3-pointers after piling up 16 by halftime against the Warriors. Jokic had one of them. He was the only player on the Nuggets who didn’t fire up a long-range shot in Denver’s record-tying performance against Golden State.
Plumlee could end up being a 27-game rental, but Nuggets GM Tim Connelly said he traded for him with designs beyond this season, a sentiment Plumlee appreciated: “It’s great to be wanted, more so than money or shots,” he said. “You want to be valued and you want to be part of something special.”
Jokic was selected to replace injured Joel Embiid at the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday in New Orleans. Jokic is one of just five players averaging 16 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists.
“I’m just kind of perplexed why it took so long,” Malone said. “That would be my question. I don’t know if many people in the NBA office have been watching the Denver Nuggets play. But I’m happy that they (saw fit) to recognize” Denver’s second-year star.
Timberwolves: On Feb. 24 host Dallas following the All-Star break.
Nuggets: On Feb. 23 visit Sacramento to open post-break play.