MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Love’s shooting stroke returned, and Andrei Kirilenko also was back for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers.
Love had 36 points and 13 rebounds and Kirilenko delivered another solid all-around performance in the Timberwolves’ 91-73 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday night.
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Love missed most of the first month of the season with a broken right hand, and he’s been struggling to regain his shooting touch since returning nine games ago. The release looked much more fluid against the Cavs, and the trajectory was better as well. He made 10 of 19 shots and 14 of 18 free throws and is cautiously optimistic that it’s all coming back to him now.
“Hopefully it’s not fool’s gold,” Love said. “It’s a step in the right direction. I’ve been putting in work, but it’s just one game.”
Kirilenko had eight points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks after missing four games with back spasms and Luke Ridnour added 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Timberwolves, who improved to 9-9 in their best start since the 2006-07 season.
Alonzo Gee scored 16 points and Anderson Varejao grabbed 14 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who have lost four in a row and eight of their last nine while star guard Kyrie Irving has been out with a broken left index finger.
The Cavs turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 32 Minnesota points, shot 34.5 percent and attempted just nine free throws to Minnesota’s 35.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to say this without getting fined,” coach Byron Scott said of the officiating. “It was that bad. It really was. It was that bad. I mean I understand we’re playing in Minnesota, but 35-9, we went to the basket just as much as they did. I think we had 38 attempts in the paint to their 34, we get nine free throws, I think that speaks for itself.”
It wasn’t a pretty game offensively for either team, aside from Love’s shooting. He entered the night hitting just 19.6 percent of his 3s and 36 percent overall while still trying to get the feeling in his hand back to normal.
“I know I haven’t been the 25 (points) and 10 (rebounds) guy that I usually am. … I haven’t been quite putting up the numbers and helping the team as much as I can,” Love said at the shootaround on Friday morning.
While Love was terrific in the matchup of two of the game’s best rebounders, Varejao managed just four points on 2-for-10 shooting and lost a streak of 10 straight games with at least 15 boards. C.J. Miles scored 13 points for Cleveland.
Both teams were missing their playmaking point guards, and it showed in the disjointed mess that was the offense on both sides of the court. Irving missed his 10th straight game and Dion Waiters was out again with a sprained left ankle, robbing the Cavaliers of one of the promising young backcourts in the league.
Once again, the Cavs struggled to create space for easy jumpers, turned the ball over 18 times and really were relegated to hoping for a dunk from Gee on offense. Gee threw down a soaring jam and then knifed through the lane for another two-hander that cut Minnesota’s lead to nine points late in the third quarter. He made seven of his 12 shots, but his teammates shot just 30 percent.
Miles’ dunk pulled the Cavs to within seven in the fourth, but Minnesota closed the game on a 19-8 surge.
“He’s definitely a luxury when you’ve got a guy that does what he does, who can break his guy down at any point in time,” Miles said of Irving. “That’s definitely a luxury, but we did a good job, guys are stepping up. We’ve been in every game to a certain extent, I think we’ve just got to figure out how to close games, how to win games.”
NOTES: Varejao did limit Wolves C Nikola Pekovic to four points and one rebound on 0-for-3 shooting. … Cavaliers rookie Kevin Jones made his NBA debut. He had two points and four rebounds in eight minutes. … Former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams did not play again for the Wolves, with coach Rick Adelman preferring to give the bulk of the minutes to Love, Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma up front.