Notebook: Timberwolves 91, Cavaliers 73

Posted Dec 8, 2012 12:03 AM

By Phil Miller, for

THE FACTS: Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko, playing together for just the fifth time all season, dominated an injury-depleted Cleveland Cavaliers roster Friday night, and the Minnesota Timberwolves climbed back to .500 with an ugly 91-73 victory in Target Center. Love, slowly regaining his form after missing the season's first nine games with a broken hand, emerged from a scoring slump with scored 36 points with 13 rebounds, while Kirilenko returned after a four-game absence with back spasms to spearhead a smothering Wolves defense.

The combination resulted in a 22-10 Minnesota run over the game's final nine minutes, sending Cleveland, which was playing without starting backcourt Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, to its fourth straight loss and eighth in its last nine games.

With both starting point guards out with injuries -- the Cavs' Irving, who missed his 10th game with a broken left index finger, and the Wolves' Ricky Rubio, who has yet to play this year as he recovers from knee surgery -- the game was full of poor shot selection and bad ball-handling. The teams combined for 41 turnovers and 38.2 percent shooting.

Alonzo Gee led Cleveland, which took only nine free throws to Minnesota's 35, with 16 points.

QUOTABLE: "I am trying to figure out a way to say this without getting fined -- it was that bad. I understand we are playing in Minnesota, but 35-9? We went to the basket just as much as they did."
-- Cleveland coach Byron Scott, on the Wolves' 35-9 advantage in free-throw attempts.

THE STAT: 34.5 -- Cleveland's field-goal percentage (on 30-for-87 shooting), lowest by any Minnesota opponent this year. In three games without rookie guard Waiters, the Cavs have made only 33.7, 36.5 and 34.5 percent, respectively, of their shots.

TURNING POINT: An ugly offensive game may have been decided when Minnesota forward Love announced at the team's morning shootaround that he was tired of his own inconsistent play since returning from a broken right hand, and intended to "play like myself again." Love then revved up his game to the All-Star level of a year ago, being far more active around the basket and earning 18 free throws -- twice as many as the Cavaliers' team total. Love, averaging only 12.5 points in December, scored a season-high 36 points and collected 13 rebounds.

QUOTABLE II: "Four steals? I thought (I had) more than four. You know, I'm going to get five-by-five."
-- Wolves forward Kirilenko, who three times in his career has recorded a "5x5": five or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same game. He finished with eight points on Friday, along with seven boards, six assists, four steals and three blocks.

HOT: Wolves guard J.J. Barea nailed a pair of 3-pointers during a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter in which Minnesota widened its lead from six points to 14 and put the game away. Barea made 3-of-5 shots on the night, and has connected on 54.5 percent of his shots overall (18-of-33) during the Wolves' last four games, reaching double digits in each.

NOT: Anderson Varejao's shooting slump continued Friday, when the Cavs' center made only 2-of-10 shots. That brings the Brazilian's totals to 13-of-44 (29.5 percent) over the Cavs' last three games, all losses. The league's leading rebounder also grabbed "only" 14 rebounds, ending his team-record streak of 10 consecutive games with 15 or more boards.

FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: Kirilenko returned after missing four games with back spasms, and the difference in the Timberwolves' defense was noticeable. The veteran Russian doesn't dominate any one statistical category, but contributes in nearly every one. Friday he scored eight points with six assists, while also blocking three shots, grabbing four steals, and collecting seven rebounds, four on the defensive end.

ROOKIE WATCH: Cleveland center Tyler Zeller didn't have a great offensive game, scoring only five points while taking six shots, but he made life difficult for the Wolves' big men, too. Zeller, who collected seven rebounds in 15 minutes, four of them on the offensive end, helped guard Nikola Pekovic, Greg Stiemsma and Dante Cunningham at various times, and while he wasn't entirely responsible for their off night, that trio did combine to go 2-for-12 from the field.

NOTABLE: The victory improved the Wolves' record to 9-9, the latest that Minnesota has been at .500 since 2006-07. ... Cleveland is now 1-8 against Western Conference teams. ... Cavs forward Luke Walton played for the first time in five games, going scoreless (on 0-for-2 shooting) in seven minutes. ... Second-year Minnesota forward Derrick Williams did not play, his fourth DNP since Nov. 21. ... Rumors swept Minneapolis on Thursday that Wolves point guard Rubio was asking the team's training staff to let him play against Cleveland, but general manager David Kahn said after the team's morning shootaround that no such conversation had taken place. Kahn also denied recent rumors that the Timberwolves are discussing a possible trade with the Los Angeles Lakers that would involve L.A. forward Pau Gasol and Minnesota center Pekovic. The teams haven't talked since June, Kahn said. ... Injured guard Brandon Roy will return to the Wolves on Sunday after spending the past couple of weeks in Oregon rehabbing from an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee, but he remains a week or more away from being able to practice again, Kahn said. ... The Cavs have assigned forward Jon Leuer to the Canton Charge of the NVA Developmental League.

UP NEXT: For the Cavaliers, Saturday vs. Pistons, Tuesday vs. Lakers, Wednesday @ Indiana. For the Timberwolves, Wednesday vs. Nuggets, Friday @ New Orleans, Dec. 15 vs. Mavericks.