MINNEAPOLIS — Throughout the San Antonio Spurs’ 19-game winning streak, coach Gregg Popovich was practically begging for his team to lose to help them re-focus as the playoffs approached.
Well it’s happened twice in the last three games now, and the latest was a thumping by the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ricky Rubio scored 23 points and Gorgui Dieng had 12 points and 15 rebounds, leading the Timberwolves to a 110-91 victory over the Spurs on Tuesday night.
"They beat us in every facet of the game," Popovich said. "They basically forced us to lay an egg. We were awful and a lot of it was because of their aggressiveness."
Kevin Love had 19 points and 12 rebounds and Corey Brewer scored 14 for the Timberwolves, who have beaten Miami and San Antonio in two of their last three games.
"It’s something that we like to show, that’s why we want to end the season strong and build something for next year," Rubio said.
Kawhi Leonard had 11 points and six rebounds for the Spurs, who were playing without Tony Parker. The point guard has a back injury, but Popovich said before the game he didn’t believe it was that serious.
The Spurs (60-18) entered with a 4-game lead over Oklahoma City in the race for the best record in the NBA.
Manu Ginobili left in the third quarter with a left calf contusion, and the Spurs were just 4 for 17 from 3-point range in a listless performance. The Spurs haven’t clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but there’s no doubt they would like to seal that up after losing Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals in Miami last season.
With the turnovers and clanked shots piling up early — San Antonio trailed by as many as 28 in the third quarter — Popovich played Tim Duncan just 20 minutes and went deep into his bench as he often does.
The Timberwolves played without Nikola Pekovic (ankle), Kevin Martin (heel), Chase Budinger (ankle) and Shabazz Muhammad (knee), and Love went just 5 for 15 from the field. But Rubio was more aggressive than he’s ever been looking for his own shot and the rookie Dieng stood up well against Duncan in the paint to help the Wolves grab control early.
"Tonight what I like about him is he came off and looked for the 15-foot jumper," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said of Rubio. "He was under control, he was able to get his feet under him and shot it well."
There was a sparse crowd for the game that was originally supposed to be played in Mexico City as part of the NBA’s initiative to expand its global reach. But the originally scheduled meeting in December had to be canceled after a malfunctioning generator sent plumes of smoke into the arena about 90 minutes before tipoff.
The Spurs were disappointed to have to come up to Minnesota and see what would have been a treasured four-day break near the end of the season interrupted by the trip. And once the game started, they showed little of the fire and focus that have been hallmarks of their remarkable season.
They turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and shot under 37 percent to fall behind 54-34 at the break, their lowest point total in a half this season.
"You can’t win every game," forward Boris Diaw said. "We just wish we played better. Winning or losing, we just wish we played our game better. There was a lot of things that we could’ve done better."
Rubio made a career-high 10 field goals in 17 attempts. He scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Wolves withstand a 1-for-7 start from Love.
Wolves forward Dante Cunningham played 15 minutes in his first game since posting bail for his second arrest in three days. Cunningham has been charged with domestic assault for allegedly choking his girlfriend last week. He was arrested two days later for allegedly sending her threatening text messages, but authorities are still investigating those charges and Cunningham has a right to return to work under the collective bargaining agreement while the legal process plays out.
NOTES: Adelman on the best part of that failed Mexico City trip: "Getting on the plane and going home." … The injury-riddled Wolves signed G Othyus Jeffers from the Iowa Energy of the D-League. Jeffers was in uniform for the game. … Cory Joseph started for Parker and had 13 points.