MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Anthony Peeler gave his season and his team a little resuscitation.
Peeler had shot just 27.5 percent and averaged 4.1 points in his previous 11 games. His strong performance helped lift the Timberwolves, who followed a disappointing loss at Toronto on Sunday with a terrible start against the Nuggets.
“He’s just been a non-entity with this team when I’ve watched. We just haven’t utilized the guy,” said Wally Szczerbiak, who scored 10 points in 21 minutes in his third game back from a toe injury that cost him 30 games.
Peeler, who left the locker room before the media was allowed in, also had six assists.
“You give him the ball, he’s going to make plays,” said teammate Rod Strickland, forced to play a season-high 38 minutes when starting point guard Troy Hudson sprained his left ankle on Minnesota’s first possession.
Juwan Howard had 19 points and eight rebounds, Ryan Bowen had 14 points and nine rebounds and Junior Harrington added 12 points and eight assists for Denver, which led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter.
“We jumped on them without Hudson,” Bowen said. “They were too tough down the stretch.”
Playing on consecutive days, the Timberwolves played poorly—in the beginning, at least—against another of the league’s worst teams. The Raptors ended a 12-game losing streak with a 105-91 win over the Wolves in Canada, and the Nuggets exploited a hapless effort by Minnesota in the game’s first nine minutes Monday night.
Without Hudson, the Timberwolves had only two points in the first five minutes and fell behind 21-6.
“This team is getting better,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said, “but tonight it was just in spurts. We’re young, but I’m going to put pressure on those young guys to get better.”
Minnesota (20-17), which leads the Los Angeles Lakers by three games for the Western Conference’s No. 8 playoff spot, didn’t take long to close the gap, though. The Wolves grabbed their first lead midway through the second period.
“That’s back-to-back games,” Szczerbiak said. “Sometimes you come out a little flat.”
The rest of the game was ragged at best, as players tripped over teammates, threw errant passes, missed short shots and complained about questionable calls by the officials. A few fans among the hushed, season-low crowd of 13,009 tried to keep themselves entertained by harassing Howard.
“Juwan, you can’t hold K.G.,” said one of them.
“He can’t hold me, either,” Howard fired back.
Howard hit a one-handed 3-pointer near halfcourt at the buzzer before halftime, and the Nuggets built a third-period lead as big as 10 points.
Fortunately for the Wolves, Peeler helped bring them back. Joe Smith started, but Minnesota’s bigger lineup had trouble defending Denver’s frontcourt early, and Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders decided to go small.
Smith finished with only two points in 10 minutes, and Minnesota’s bench wound up with 61 points to Denver’s 19.
The Timberwolves bridged the third and fourth quarters with a 12-2 run that put them up 77-67. Denver didn’t get any closer than six after that.
“He couldn’t have brought it any better time,” Garnett said of Peeler. “Igot in his ear and told him, ‘You’ve got to shoot the ball.”’
Denver F Donnell Harvey, who missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, returned to score three points in seven minutes. … The Wolves continue to bring Szczerbiak back slowly from his toe injury. He scored 10 points in 21 minutes off the bench. … Denver’s Mark Blount surpassed his scoring average(5.6) in less than nine minutes. He finished with 10 points.