Nuggets 122, Timberwolves 107
DENVER (AP)—Meaningless? Not to Linas Kleiza it wasn’t.
“I finally got one,” said Kleiza, who scored 23 points and tied his career high with 10 rebounds. “I missed out on them in the past.”
Kleiza’s big night delighted a spirited section of about 50 Lithuanians who were decked out in green and gold to cheer on their countryman whom Nuggets coach George Karl credited with making the most strides this season.
“I knew where they were at. It wasn’t hard finding them,” Kleiza said. “There aren’t a lot of people in my home country. They are such great fans. They give great fan support. In my country I’m used to hearing the great fan support. It was definitely a good feeling.”
The cheering section came as a surprise, too.
“I don’t know who got the group together. I don’t know who organized the group. I just heard them and knew where they were at,” Kleiza said. “I wanted to play good for them.”
Allen Iverson scored 25 points, then sat back and watched the reserves close out the Nuggets’ ninth win in 10 games. Carmelo Anthony added 21 in helping the Nuggets pull away with a 19-4 run in the third quarter, a spurt that allowed Denver’s starters to take a break as they looked forward to their fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
“We were playing our game, keeping it close and then we just ran out of gas,” Minnesota forward Bracey Wright said. “The third quarter has hurt us all year.”
Nene added 18 points in the Nuggets’ final tuneup for their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, whom they play in the finale Wednesday night in Texas in what surely will be a matchup of subs.
This one had the look of a glorified exhibition itself. Both teams were without their big man. Kevin Garnett stayed back in Minneapolis with a sore right thigh, and Marcus Camby, the league’s leading shot blocker and favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, sat out with a sore right knee.
Otherwise, Karl gave his starters monitored minutes to keep them from getting rusty before the playoffs start this weekend. Last year, they lost their last four regular-season games and were quickly bounced from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Plus, Karl wanted to treat the Timberwolves as though they were the Spurs, practicing some defensive sets on an opponent. “We’re basically starting to prepare for San Antonio tonight,” Karl said.
So he had the Nuggets work on defending the pick-and-roll and focus on penetration, things he was pleased with afterward, “but Tony Parker wasn’t out there running them, either.”
Karl said he wasn’t sure if he got out of this game what he wanted.
“I don’t know how to handle this week other than get ready for San Antonio,” he said. “I’m happy that we responded and played a good third quarter. But the energy and focus of the last two games have made me nervous. But I think we’re all anxious to play San Antonio, which is a good thing. But five days waiting for them may not be a good thing.
“It should be a real interesting game in San Antonio on Wednesday night.”
This game was tied at 67 before the Nuggets went on their big run to put away the Wolves.
Despite the spirited play early on, signs abounded that neither team was really much into the game. After a timeout, Nene missed a foul shot and Mark Blount grabbed the board and sprinted upcourt only to realize Nene had another free throw coming.
Even the scorer’s table had troubles as the shot clock didn’t start in the final seconds until the T-Wolves had brought the ball past halfcourt.
Nuggets F Reggie Evans had a career-high three blocks. … Wolves G Ricky Davis had a season-high 11 assists. … With a win over the Spurs on Wednesday night, the Nuggets would claim their best April (10-1) since joining the NBA in 1976.