Love's Return Surprises, Headlines Added Depth As Wolves Head West

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Kevin Love’s surprise return Wednesday night was exactly that—a major surprise. Fans and, of course, the Denver Nuggets, were all caught off guard by the news that the two-time All-Star would return from a broken right hand weeks before anticipated. Nuggets coach George Karl was among them.

“I didn’t learn until maybe 60 minutes before game time,” Karl said. “I didn’t overreact to it other than shooting fours we don’t cover very well. I hit my head like OK, we have not shown any film or anything on this matchup.”

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Love returned in seemingly mid-season form, dropping 34 points and adding 14 rebounds while showing few signs of rust despite missing the first nine games of the season. In the end the Wolves watched Denver overcome a 17-point deficit and steal a 101-94 victory at Target Center, but if there is a silver lining in the evening it’s that Minnesota’s once walking wounded roster got a big personnel boost with Love, center Nikola Pekovic and guard JJ Barea all returning before the team departs on a four-game West Coast road trip this weekend.

Love got word on Tuesday that he could return, and he said as soon as he got clearance to play he would return to the court. Wearing a wrap on his shooting hand and admitting he still feels a lot of soreness, Love played 34 minutes and wasted little time making an impact. He had 16 points and six rebounds in the first quarter alone, grabbing a rebound on the team’s defensive possession.

Word began to spread about Love’s return roughly an hour before gametime, circulating Twitter and letting fans know he’d be in uniform. By the end of the night, “Kevin Love” was trending worldwide, “#Twolves” was trending nationally and “#ReturnOfLove” was trending locally, according to @Twolves_PR’s Twitter account.

But Love said he didn’t want to tweet about his return and make a big deal about it. In fact, he said he didn’t think his teammates fully believed him until they saw his jersey in his locker.

He didn’t waste any time making an impact.

“We definitely rely on him,” forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “He’s our leader, but we can’t stop playing the game, you know, we have to move more. We have to, you know, get opportunities more, help each other more. And especially defensively we have to be very, very concentrate as a team; you know, we let Denver jump on our back.”

The problem for the Wolves was sustaining the energy level from the first half to the second. Minnesota came out with a charged up Target Center thanks to Love’s return, and Minnesota used it to its advantage early. The Wolves held Denver to 15 points in the first quarter, and Minnesota scored 58 first half points.

The second half was another story.

Denver shot 52 percent in the third quarter and held Minnesota to 36 points after halftime.

“Kevin gave us a great boost to start the game, but yeah, the third quarter they made adjustments and at halftime,” Barea said. “They came out, they started making shots, they got stops and we just got stuck.”

Love said it was a telling change between the first half and the second.

“Just being out there, we know we can beat them, and they’re a team that we need to beat,” 

Love said. “So we’re happy to have a chance to play them a few more times, and I think that more often than not we’re going to get those guys.”

Minnesota heads on a four-game trip beginning Friday in Portland, and the Wolves will not return to Target Center until the following Friday against Milwaukee. The Wolves spent much of the first three weeks of the season battling injuries, and for a portion of the last two weeks they’ve at times played with just nine available players.

Now, they’re getting their health back and it’s coming at a good time. West Coast trips are not easy tasks, and adding two starters back into the lineup was a big first step.

Pekovic added 10 points and seven rebounds on Wednesday, and guard JJ Barea added 12 points and hit four 3-pointers in the loss to Denver.

“We just need to step up,” Pekovic said. “We lost three games in a row at home, so this is our chance to bring something good. It’s like four games in a row. We’ll try to win as many games as we can.”

Love said Wednesday was just the beginning. He shot 2-of-9 from 3-point range and was 8-of-14 from the line. Those parts of his game will come.

The first step was getting back on the court.

“The biggest thing will be just me getting back into game shape and, you know, knowing that when we have a drought, to play through me,” Love said. “I just haven’t been there and I think, the hand, it’s only been five weeks. When it gets to eight weeks, then hopefully I’ll be back to, you know, the real Kevin Love.”

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