The “Love Machine” keeps Wolves in the playoff hunt

Every time it looks like the Minnesota Timberwolves are no longer part of the Western Conference playoff race, Kevin Love takes over a game, leads them to a win and keeps them in the hunt.

The Wolves have no right chasing a postseason berth. They were 100 games under .500 over the last two seasons. Their prized rookie point lived up to the hype, then went down with a torn ACL. Their center, a double-double revelation in his own right, also has been sidelined by an ankle injury.

Their best scorer is having the worst season of his career, battling injuries and inconsistency. Their 175-pound backup point guard had to play shooting guard. And they are paying a pair of centers nearly $10 million to be cheerleaders.

Yet the Wolves are 11th in the West, just 2 1/2 games out of the final spot. They have a puncher’s chance to make the playoffs, and Love keeps throwing haymakers.

On Wednesday night in Charlotte, it was 40 points and 19 rebounds in an 88-83 win. He is fourth in scoring and second in rebounding. There are zero active players who have finished in the top five in both categories inthe same season. The list of players who have done it includes names like Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, McAdoo, Malone and O’Neal.

Did we mention that Love also won the 3-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend?

There’s still idiots out there who think Blake Griffin is better than Love. To paraphrase a line from the film Reservoir Dogs, if Griffin ever dreams of being better than Love, he better wake up and apologize.

And there’s folks who don’t want to include Love in the MVP conversation because his team is under .500 and not in the playoff picture. However, Paul Silas – who knows a little bit about dominating the backboards – isn’t one of them.

From Steve Reed of the Associated Press: “Before the game, Bobcats coach Paul Silas said Love without question should be considered an MVP candidate and his opinion didn’t change after he dominated his young big men Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens. “If he continues to do what he’s doing for a good portion of his career he’s going to be one of the best ever,” Silas said. “He’s just tenacious. That ball goes up and he’s there. And he’s strong. … The young boys we have are not ready for that. So that makes it difficult.” As for all of the MVP talk, Love said, “In some ways it’s warranted, but we need to win a lot more games in order to be anywhere close to that.” Love said he feels like he’s worked hard on his conditioning to get where he is and he’s in a good groove when it comes to shooting the ball. “I’m not stopping,” Love said. “I’m continuing to get better.”

With the game still in the balance entering the fourth quarter, Love had 14 points and six rebounds in the final period, simply taking over the game. The only player who had those numbers for the entire game was Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson (15 and 6).

From Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “[Love] was terrific tonight,” Adelman said. “The way he’s been able to sustain this? Night after night? It says a lot. He is the guy who took it over in the fourth quarter.” It was Love’s 10th game with 30-plus points and 15 or more rebounds, the 19th time he has scored 30 or more this season. It was also the third time he has scored 40 or more points this month. And it’s a tribute to the Bobcats that the Wolves, playing without Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic, needed all of that to win.”

It was a nice win by the Wolves, whose postseason cause was assisted by what appeared to be “Bad Loss Night” just about everywhere else in the league.

Let’s start in New York, where the Orlando Magic were outscored 50-13 during a 15-minute stretch bridging the second and third quarters of a horrific 108-86 loss. The Knicks were playing with Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin and still rang up 21 straight points in the third period.

From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “It doesn’t add up. The Orlando Magic own the fifth-best record in the NBA, and yet on too many nights this season, they have played terribly. They played without any passion Wednesday night and they paid an all-too-familiar price. The New York Knicks administered a 108-86 drubbing in which the Magic trailed by as many as 39 points and looked inept on offense. “What’s shocking to me is that a team that’s playing over .600 basketball can get absolutely rocked as many times as we have been,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, tonight — that’s what’s mind-boggling to me. It’ll happen every once in a while if you’re a bad team. To be a .600 team and get crushed like that as many times as we have? That’s shocking.”

Perhaps not as shocking as the Pacers, who followed up their win over Miami with a 100-84 loss at New Jersey, which was down to eight healthy players by the final horn but still registered its largest victory margin of the season. Indiana trailed by two entering the fourth quarter, when it was outscored 31-17.

From Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star: “Yes, almost every team in the NBA has games where they “lay an egg.” Yes, the New Jersey Nets are an NBA team and they can beat anybody on given night. Blah, blah, blah. No matter how you look at it, the Pacers had no excuse for stinking up the Prudential Center on Wednesday. That’s why David West was in disbelief when he sat at his locker staring at a reporter’s box score. West gave the box score back to the reporter, but then he grabbed another one about five minutes later to take another look at it. The box score didn’t change. “It’s a rough loss for us,” West said. “I don’t know if we’ve had a worst loss for the year. There’s not excuse for us to come out the way we played. For us and basically lay an egg like that. We didn’t have guys that were willing to put up a fight tonight.”

The Nuggets also followed the blueprint of being unable to handle success as they followed their convincing win at Chicago with a rather unconvincing 105-96 loss at Toronto, which had only lost nine straight games. The Nuggets had been 13-1 against the Eastern Conference teams but missed their final 15 shots.

From Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post: “It was like watching a stand-up comic just bomb. At first, there’s some hope — surely this guy can’t be that unfunny; his vocation, after all, is funny. But he misfires again. And again. Soon, the whole thing just becomes really, really uncomfortable. Excruciating, even. Finally, just mind-numbingly maddening. For eight minutes and 26 seconds, the Nuggets did not make one basket. It happened to be the final 8:26 of Wednesday’s game, a loss at struggling Toronto, 105-96. When Andre Miller made his layup with 8:26 left, Denver led 94-88. The Nuggets scored just two more points, free throws, for the rest of the game. In other words, the Raptors closed out the game on a 17-2 run. It was terrible. The Nuggets (27-24) have lost three of four games on this road trip — with three more road games to go. “I felt we played tight,” Denver coach George Karl said. “A little bit scared.”

And in Atlanta, the Hawks played from behind virtually the entire way in a 98-77 loss to the Bulls, who again were without star Derrick Rose. Atlanta was playing its fifth game in six nights, but Hawks star Joe Johnson didn’t believe fatigue was the issue.

From Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “As he has in the past, Johnson questioned the Hawks for not playing a role-oriented game. “Chicago is a very disciplined team and everybody knows their role and plays their role to the fullest,” Johnson said. “As for us, sometimes we are not so disciplined. There may be a few guys who don’t know their role on this team. We do a lot that doesn’t help us, for whatever reason. That is why [the Bulls] are an elite team. They’ve got the MVP who hasn’t played in eight game and they go [6-2]. That goes to show they have guys who really value their roles and play their roles like no other.”

Before we go through the rest of the league, it should be noted that the Bulls have yet to lose consecutive games. No team in NBA history – not the dynastic Celtics, not the ’67 Sixers, not the ’72 Lakers, not the Bulls of the ’90s – has made it through a season without losing two in a row.

Elsewhere …

  • The Spurs avoided a bad loss by outgunning the Kings, 117-112, in Sacramento. Manu Ginobili scored 20 points, something he had done once since December. San Antonio had 10 players with at least seven points, including newcomer Patty Mills. The Spurs have won six in a row and are closing on the Thunder for best in the West. Sacramento dropped its fourth straight despite 28 points and 10 assists from Isaiah Thomas, who continues to push Tyreke Evans (six points) further into irrelevance.
  • The Clippers cruised to a 103-86 win over the Suns as Griffin had a superb all-around game with 27 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. The Clips are 8-0 when Griffin has at least five assists, including the first three games of this “Save Vinny’s Job” five-game homestand. Griffin also had high-flying dunks on consecutive possessions late in the fourth quarter, which means about a dozen more folks joined the roomful of idiots who believe he’s better than Love. The Suns are just one-half game ahead of the Wolves.
  • The Celtics moved back into a tie atop the Atlantic with a 94-82 home win over the Jazz. Kevin Garnett had 23 points, 10 rebounds and one brief shoving match with Al Jefferson for Boston, which is 13-5 since the All-Star break. However, the schedule gets significantly tougher – at Minnesota on Friday, home games vs. Miami and San Antonio and visits to Chicago and Indiana before a showdown with Philadelphia. The highlight for Utah was Gordon Hayward’s LeBron James impersonation.
  • The Cavaliers, on the fringes of the playoff race earlier this month, are in full surrender mode. They were held to a season-low in an 87-75 home loss to Detroit, their fifth straight setback. The Pistons broke 80 for the first time in four games, somehow going 2-2 in that stretch. Detroit is one game ahead of Cleveland in the race for the all-important seventh overall draft pick.
  • The Hornets won at Golden State, 102-87. It matched the most points they have scored in any win this season. The Warriors have lost eight of 10 since trading Monta Ellis.


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