The Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves are both riddled with injuries and fading quickly from the Western Conference playoff picture. The Wolves still have Kevin Love, though, and when the two teams crossed paths Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis, Love was all they needed. (We're finished with the puns now. That's a promise.) Minnesota got a massive game from Love and three-point contributions from nearly everybody who played to beat Denver 117-100.
Minnesota, playing without J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic, built its lead early and never really saw it threatened. Love led the way by gobbling up rebounds and torching the Denver front line from inside and out. The rest of the Wolves shot the lights out against a Nugget defense that didn't look particularly interested in closing out and contesting the perimeter. Seven of nine Timberwolves who took the floor hit at least one three-pointer, with Wayne Ellington (3-for-6 from downtown) leading the way and the team as a whole shooting 12-for-35 from outside to just 3-for-15 by the Nuggets.
Denver's offense wasn't bad, though. That's rarely the problem. Though Danilo Gallinari will be gone for another little while and Arron Afflalo was suspended for elbowing Gordon Hayward the other night, the Nuggets bolted out in transition time and time again to beat the Wolves down the floor and get easy inside buckets. Kenneth Faried led the way with a rugged 17 points (plus one swift knee to Love's groin in the third quarter) and JaVale McGee (13 and 11) was very active off the bench. In general, the Nuggets ran their offense very nicely, but gave up heaps of offensive rebounds and threes on the other end without forcing many turnovers. Even with a bit of a run in the third quarter, all that amounted to a blowout loss that was never really in question.
The outcome didn't exactly shake up the Western playoff picture, but it did narrow the gap between the two teams. Denver is now hanging on for dear life, tied with eighth-seeded Houston at 26-23, and Minnesota now sits just a couple games behind them at 24-26 (with the Suns in between). Both teams remain involved in that playoff race, but both must lean heavily on substitutes to stay alive.
For all of Sunday's box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.