Minnesota’s Love can’t find the mark of late

MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love was visibly dejected in the Timberwolves locker room minutes after his team’s 87-84 loss to the visiting Houston Rockets. The loss hurt, sure, but Love’s cold shooting night also added to the sting.

After missing one game with an eye injury, Love returned to action Wednesday. But Minnesota’s star forward was just 3-for-14 from the floor and was 0-for-7 from 3-point range as the Wolves blew a 14-point lead.

Love converted a 3-point play with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter. That would be the last time he would score in the game, however, as he went cold from the floor the rest of the night and finished with seven points. It was one of those nights for the 24-year-old Love, who hasn’t looked comfortable shooting since returning from a hand injury that kept him out the first part of the year.

“It was a little bit of both,” Love said when asked if it was his hand bothering him or simply an off night.

Through Wednesday’s 3-for-14 effort, Love is now shooting just 36.3 percent from the field, the lowest mark of his five-year career. His 3-point shot has equally been off the mark, as he’s connected on just 24.7 percent of his shots from long range — nearly 13 percent lower than a year ago.

Even Love’s free throw shooting hasn’t been the same. While he made his only attempt in Wednesday’s game, he’s now 86-for-125 from the line this season, the lowest percentage (68.8) of his career.

After breaking his hand doing knuckle pushups before the season, Love didn’t make his season debut until Nov. 21, 10 games into Minnesota’s schedule. He played with a wrap on his hand for a while but has since ditched that.

Even without the wrap, though, Love has yet to find his shooting touch.

“It’s frustrating, I think, for the entire team,” Love said. “They’re encouraging me. I just missed little chippy shots, a couple of them, in the first half — a lot of shots I would have made.

“I’ll get there. I’m upset with the game tonight, but it’s not going to hold me down.”

Despite his off night, Love had a few chances down the stretch to hit big shots and make the sellout crowd of 20,340 — the third-largest in Target Center history — forget about the off night he was having. With the game tied 81-81, Love missed a 3-pointer with 2:30 to play. After Minnesota took an 84-83 lead, Love again attempted a 3-pointer that would have iced the game with 46.9 seconds. But his shot clanged off the iron and into the hands of the Rockets.

From there, James Harden scored four of his game-high 30 points in the game’s final 39.1 seconds to send the Timberwolves to their second loss in a row.

“He should take those shots,” Minnesota forward Andrei Kirilenko said of Love. “One point up, if he made that three, it would have been the dagger. We would be in a very comfortable position at that point. That’s the game sometimes. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it goes out.”

It went out more often than not for Love on Wednesday, just like it did against Miami two games earlier when Love was 2-for-10 from the floor. He also had a game in which he was 3-for-17 from the field against Denver earlier this month.

Even when Love was shooting the way he was Wednesday, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman still wanted the ball in Love’s hands down the stretch.

“He’s our best player,” Adelman said. “When he got two open threes, I’ll take those any time.”

Despite his struggles shooting the ball, Love’s teammates have his back. He’s arguably the face of the franchise and the team’s leader. They know his shot will come back.

“He’ll be fine,” said guard J.J. Barea. “He’s our star. I keep telling him, ‘Hey, you’re the star. You’ve got to take the shots.’ He’s going to have to shoot it. I’ll live with him shooting open threes and I’ll live with him posting up and shooting it every time if he wants to. He’s our star player, but hey, it happens to everybody. He’ll be back and we’ll get it going.”

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