Timberwolves blast Utah in much-needed blowout win
MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic couldn’t stop laughing. J.J. Barea and Ronny Turiaf posed for a picture with a fan during a late timeout. Gorgui Dieng tried throwing an alley-oop to Shabazz Muhammad.
With the way this season has gone, the Timberwolves could use more fun-filled fourth quarters like the one they had Saturday night at the Target Center.
"Everybody needs that," said oft-grumpy coach Rick Adelman, who even displayed some visual enjoyment of his own during the final frame of his team’s 98-72 drubbing of Utah. "I liked the fourth quarter."
Coming off a three-game losing skid and a lackadaisical road portion of a back-to-back — a five-point loss at Toronto — Minnesota (19-21) throttled the Jazz in a fashion rarely seen during the Timberwolves’ 25-year history. They held the Western Conference’s last-place team to a franchise-worst 28.8 percent from the floor, also the second-lowest mark ever by a Minnesota opponent.
Utah scored 23 points in the first half — also a Timberwolves’ opponent record — and trailed by as many as 36. Minnesota has built a 30-point lead in an NBA-high 10 games and earned its ninth victory of 20-plus points, also tops in the league.
The latest one allowed all five starters to sit the entire fourth quarter.
"We’re very explosive, and we knew that," Adelman said. "When we start shooting the ball, and when we’re moving the ball, we’re hard to guard."
This win, though, was just as much a product of unprecedentedly sound defensive communication and the Jazz’s fatigue following a draining victory Friday night at Detroit. Kevin Love headed up the effort with three steals and was extremely vocal in letting his teammates know what cuts were coming, Adelman said.
At the other end of the floor, Nikola Pekovic led the way with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Minnesota blasted Utah 50-18 in the paint and 19-4 on the fast break.
Midway through the third quarter, Pekovic and Kevin Martin (20 points) had combined for more points, 39, than the entire Utah roster. Only one Jazz player, guard Alec Burks, scored in double figures.
"Every team needs moments like this," said Pekovic, who matched his point and rebound totals from the past two games combined and recorded his 20th double-double of the season. "You need moments when you can just sit on the bench, relax and everything. I wish we had more games like this, but we’ll take it."
But this came against a revamping organization that’s now 14-28. And past feel-good victories haven’t translated into sustained success for the Timberwolves, who are still two games below .500 and 11th in the Western standings.
The trick now, as Minnesota heads into a four-game road swing that begins Tuesday in Utah, is consistently replicating nights like Saturday.
"The best thing we can do is keep communicating," said Love, who tallied his league-leading 34th double-double. "As long as this team communicates, the better we’re gonna be, the better we’re gonna get. Now we just have to bottle it, channel it, whatever we have to do to keep that snowball effect going."
Said Adelman: "It’s just been such a roller-coaster ride. . . . It’s so hard, because you have a game like this, and then you turn around have just a clunker, then you have another good game. There’s no consistency where you can ‘Geez, we need that.’"
A few more laughers might help. There’s nothing better than sitting back and watching the second and third unit get some reps the entire final quarter, Pekovic said, especially when they can poke fun at a rookie like Dieng.
On his 24th birthday, the center from Senegal snagged a rebound in the fourth quarter, dribbled a couple times and tried to find Muhammad from about 75 feet away.
The ball bounced hard off the backboard, sending the entire Minnesota bench into stitches. Adelman buried his face in his hands.
"It’s his birthday," Adelman cracked. "We were gonna have him sing to himself, but after that pass, I think it’s better if we just leave him alone now. I think it was a pass; I really accused him of shooting the ball, so I don’t know.
"We knew we were in trouble when he put down that second dribble."
Pekovic said he thought Dieng was getting ready for Sunday’s NFL conference championships games. "He tried to throw a touchdown," Pekovic said.
By then, Dieng had entered the Timberwolves’ locker room and overheard Pekovic’s barb. Dieng responded with a huge grin: "I’ve been lifting a lot of weights."
Even backup guard Alexey Shved, who led all reserves with 10 points and is known for not showing much outward positive emotion, had to smile at that one.
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