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Kevin Love sprains finger, Minnesota beats Denver without him

Jan 4, 2013, 2:47 AM EDT

Kevin Love AP

You would think the injury gods have exacted their pound of flesh from the Timberwolves already this season, but they were not done. However it could have been a lot worse.

Kevin Love left the game in the third quarter after spraining the middle finger on his right hand. The good news for Timberwolves fans is the X-rays were negative (which considering he already broke this hand once this season is a good sign). Love didn’t return to the game, he had 12 points and 17 rebounds, but he did return to the bench and should not miss much if any time.

Minnesota didn’t need him anyway. They came from behind in the fourth quarter riding 12 points from J.J. Barea to beat the Nuggets 101-97. Denver had won 9 in a row at home but didn’t really earn this one, the brought inconsistent effort and defense all night.

This game was decided by Denver’s inability to stop or contest the Timberwolves guards Barea, Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved who combined for 48 points (Ricky Rubio is out). Denver has more athletic guards with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, but the Nuggets switched pretty much ever pick-and-roll all night and the Timberwolves started to exploit that. The Minnesota guards either drove on the big man on them or waited for their big to post up the smaller man on him. Plus all night the Timberwolves guards were knocking down good look midrange shots.

Denver had good moments of play from Lawson, who scored the first eight points for Nuggets in fourth quarter and finished with 16 points off the bench. And Andre Iguodala brought good effort most of the night, finishing with 14 points. But it wasn’t enough.

That’s because Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee were just not impressive all night. They were part of the problem on defending the pick-and-roll, they didn’t bring much energy to match the active front line Minnesota has.

The Timberwolves bench bright the energy — it was them that put together the 14-4 run that gave Minnesota the lead. The one starter making plays in the fourth was Ridnour, who hit a key three and had 9 of his 14 in the quarter.

These games matter. Denver and Minnesota are in a fight with the Rockets, Lakers, Mavericks, Trail Blazers and Jazz to get the last three playoff spots in the West. Denver can’t have a lot of off nights like this from their bigs, their energy guys.

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