MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Rick Adelman knows his smallish backcourt is going to give up plenty of size and strength on most nights.
The Minnesota Timberwolves coach also knows that Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour will never give in either, and their hard-nosed play against the bigger Sacramento Kings made all the difference on Monday night.
Kevin Love had 33 points and 11 rebounds and Ridnour added 25 points and nine assists to lead the Timberwolves to a 99-86 victory over the Kings.
Tyreke Evans has 2 inches and 40 pounds on Rubio, and Marcus Thornton has 3 inches and 30 pounds on Ridnour, but the bigger Kings were held to 21 points on 7-for-23 shooting.
Score one for the little guys.
“They can keep their guy in front of them,” Adelman said. “They pretty much follow what we talk about.”
Wayne Ellington, another undersized shooting guard, scored 15 points off the bench for Minnesota, a significant contribution for a backcourt that was missing J.J. Barea for the third straight game because of a sprained left ankle.
Evans had nine points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and five turnovers and shot just 3 of 11 from the field as the Kings lost for the fifth time in six games.
Jason Thompson and Thornton led the Kings with 12 points each. DeMarcus Cousins was hampered by foul trouble yet again, limited to 10 points in 25 minutes.
“We’ve got to grow up,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “Our team has to grow up fast. … I’ve got the simplest offense you can run. You just move it to a spot and move it to the next spot. But for whatever reason we’re trying to make the play ourselves with the defense set, looking at the basketball.”
Evans’ strategy was particularly curious given his size advantage. Too often he settled for perimeter jumpers and only rarely took it to the basket to try to get easy buckets.
“Once we got down, we just tried to take shots we don’t usually take,” Evans said. “We’ve got to find a better way to swing the ball a few times and take better shots.”
Rubio had nine points, eight assists and eight rebounds.
Love has scored 97 points over the last three games, with a Jan. 25 deadline to extend his contract getting closer and closer. He is the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1992 to start the season with 13 straight double-doubles and has topped 30 points in three straight games for the first time in his career.
Rubio has received most of the attention and headlines this season, and rightfully so. His flashy, no-look passes and dynamic play in the open court have electrified a dormant franchise and put more fans in the seats at Target Center than at any time in recent memory.
Through it all, Ridnour has been the understated motor that just keeps plugging along. He got the Wolves off to a good start with 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in the first quarter and even blocked a shot to set a tone as Minnesota took a 28-22 lead.
Ridnour has been moved from the point to off guard to make room for Rubio in the starting lineup, and he has blossomed in the role despite being undersized.
“I just try to make it as hard as I can for them,” Ridnour said of defending bigger guards. “Really just on the offensive end, make them work, too. They’re not used to guarding little guys.”
One game after scoring just 60 points and getting blown out by 39 in a loss to Dallas, the Kings could have checked out again in the final game of a five-game road trip. But Sacramento’s ailing defense held Minnesota to 14 points in the second quarter, and the bench thoroughly outplayed the Timberwolves’ reserves to close the half on a 16-4 run.
Ridnour hit two 3-pointers and assisted on Love’s dunk in the final 3 minutes to help the Wolves put the game away.
“He shoots the ball very well,” Rubio said of Ridnour. “I never see him missing a jump shot. I don’t know (what) his field goal percentage is, but it should be more than 70 percent or something like that all season.”
The Wolves blew an 18-point lead at Atlanta on Saturday night, so an eight-point advantage to start the fourth quarter was anything but safe. Thompson’s dunk cut Minnesota’s lead to 72-71 just over 3 minutes into the period.
Ellington responded with two 3s, the last giving the Wolves an 82-76 lead that helped them start to pull away.
NOTES: Wolves swingman Martell Webster, who has not played this season after having back surgery, was cleared for contact on Monday and will practice on Tuesday. There is still no timetable for his return. C Brad Miller, still recovering from microfracture knee surgery, is returning to practice as well. … Wolves F Michael Beasley missed his sixth straight game with a sprained right foot. … NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver attended the game.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.