By PAT GRAHAM
DENVER — Not even a sprained finger to their All-Star forward could spoil this win for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
And it definitely made up for the clunker they turned in the night before — as much as it can, anyway.
J.J. Barea scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter while Kevin Love sat on the bench with an injured finger, lifting Minnesota to a 101-97 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
The Timberwolves were playing for the second straight night, but fatigue hardly appeared to be a factor as they handed the Nuggets a rare home loss.
“Awesome,” Barea said. “We came in ready today.”
The Nuggets? Not so much.
Denver looked lethargic two days after snapping the Los Angeles Clippers’ 17-game winning streak.
That bothered coach George Karl — a lot.
“We gave one away tonight,” said Karl, whose team drops to 10-2 at home this season. “It wasn’t our defense, it was our lackadaisical effort, our urgency, like this game doesn’t mean as much as the Clippers game.”
The contest went back and forth in the final quarter before Luke Ridnour gave the Timberwolves the lead for good on a 3-pointer with 2:43 remaining. Barea then followed with another 3 to cement the win.
“It was good to hit some shots. We’ve been struggling to hit shots as a team,” Ridnour said. “To be able to get going like that feels good.”
Especially with Love only able to watch after leaving with a sprained finger on his right hand in the third quarter. Love broke the same hand in October, missing the opening nine games of the season, and has struggled to get on track with his jumper ever since.
On the play in which he was injured, Love appeared to be sliding past a Nuggets player in the lane when he suddenly clutched at his hand before heading into the training room. Love had 12 points and 17 rebounds in nearly 24 minutes.
He later returned to the bench to support his teammates.
“He said he could have played, but he couldn’t shoot,” coach Rick Adelman said.
The Nuggets may have been more flustered by the loss of Love than the Timberwolves. The quickness of Ridnour and Barea gave Denver fits.
“I think Minnesota at times plays better without Love,” Karl said. “They’re kind of a machine-like offense. They give guys different opportunities. But they’re pretty good.”
No one more than Barea, who found his touch late in the game.
“I got on a good rhythm there and kept attacking,” he said. “It worked out for us.”
Did it ever and makes what happened in Utah all the more puzzling. The Timberwolves were blown out 106-84 in a rather uninspiring effort.
“You’re going to have a couple of games a year like we did in Utah,” Ridnour explained. “You just don’t want to have too many of them. Fortunately, everybody bounced back today. We got a big win in a really tough place to play.”
Despite the loss, it was a big night for the usually modest Andre Miller, who scored the 15,000th point of his career on a mid-range jumper in the first quarter. He became only the eighth player to reach that scoring plateau while also compiling 7,500 career assists. Oscar Robertson, Gary Payton, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash also accomplished the feat.
In typical Miller fashion, the 36-year-old downplayed the approaching milestone before the game.
“A big individual accomplishment … I try not to dwell on it,” said Miller, who finished with 11 points and 10 assists. “I never even thought about it. It’s good to get it over with.”
Miller started the game in place of Ty Lawson, who’s still recovering from a strained left Achilles tendon. Lawson sat out Tuesday when the Nuggets beat the Clippers and has been bothered by tightness in the tendon for the past week.
The speedy point guard provided a spark off the bench against Minnesota — the first time in nearly two years that Lawson entered a game as a reserve. He and Kosta Koufos each finished with 16 points for Denver.
The Timberwolves were without point guard Ricky Rubio, who has been dealing with back spasms and remained in Minnesota during the two-game swing through Utah and Denver. The team is being cautious with Rubio, who is coming back from a torn ACL in his left knee. Minnesota hopes to have Rubio back Saturday against Portland.