After the best win of the season coming in two overtimes in Miami the night before, the Wolves were unexpectedly without Kevin Love in Orlando on Saturday night. And a should-win game quickly became a tossup that Minnesota was unable to coax into the left-hand column.
No Kevin Love (late scratch due to back spasms). No Nikola Pekovic (ankle). No Kevin Martin (foot). No Shabazz Muhammad (knee). And Chase Budinger sprained his ankle in the opening minute of the game.
It was an unsightly tilt to watch, but it was one that the Wolves led for much of the game until midway through the fourth quarter. They even led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but the depleted and altered bench couldn’t hang onto the lead.
By the time Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng returned to the court, the game was slipping away. With Rubio and Corey Brewer as the only top-six original rotation players available to Rick Adelman, the Wolves were unable to climb even the most modest of mountains. The Magic’s largest lead of the game was the final eight point margin, and the Wolves’ weary legs after a marathon affair in South Beach the night before became quite apparent down the stretch.
There weren’t many standout performers for either squad on Saturday evening in Orlando. Rubio finished with 18 points on 7 of 18 shooting with 10 assists and 3 steals in 33 minutes. Dante Cunningham met the team in Miami after being released from jail (charges are pending and the league does not allow teams to discipline players for pending legal issues, so he started in place of Love) and posted 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 assists in 34 minutes.
Brewer, Dieng, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Robbie Hummel all reached double figures for the Wolves in addition to Rubio and Cunningham. Hummel’s 12 points were a career-high, and he was forced to play 33 minutes to cover the multitude of injuries that have suddenly beset the Wolves.
The Wolves’ unfamiliar defensive rotations, coupled with their tired legs, caught up with them at the end of the game while the young Magic cruised past them. It was a decent effort in a tough back-to-back situation without three of the team’s four best players available.
Next up is a home game against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night. The game is a makeup date for the cancelled game in Mexico City early in the season. Tip-off is at 7:00 C.T.