Chauncey Billups scored 26 points, J.R. Smith had eight of his 14 points in a decisive fourth-quarter stretch and the Nuggets overcame poor shooting to hand Minnesota its eighth straight loss, 90-84 on Sunday night.
“We’ve been close almost every night,” Minnesota rookie Kevin Love said. “We’ve had five losses of under six points. It is tough. It’s time to get a win.”
The Timberwolves led by as many as nine but couldn’t close out the Nuggets, who won despite shooting 33.7 percent from the floor.
“It’s tough. It’s just tough,” Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. “We have to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win the games at the end. We’ve done that. We can’t lose focus of our play through three-and-a-half quarters.”
Things looked good midway through the fourth quarter when the Nuggets’ go-to guys were suffering through poor shooting nights. Billups and Carmelo Anthony were a combined 11-for-40 from the field, but they both hit big baskets in the final 5 minutes.
“I don’t know how many games in the league are won by 33-percent shooting,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Maybe less than five probably all season long.”
When it counted, Denver’s scorers came through. Down by 78-69 with 6:20 left in the game Smith hit two 3-pointers to spark a 12-2 run that was capped by Anthony’s dunk off a pass from Nene that made it 81-80 with 2:19 left.
“The game was going so many different ways for me, to get that pass at a crucial point of the game and finish it, that gave us a little spark,” said Anthony, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds and was 4-for-17 from the field.
After both teams traded missed shots, Billups hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give Denver an 84-80 lead with 51 seconds left.
Minnesota got no closer than four points the rest of the way.
Until the Nuggets’ comeback, the Timberwolves looked headed for their first win since their season opener. Al Jefferson had 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Randy Foye added 18 points as Minnesota held off several Denver rallies to lead late into the fourth quarter.
But Denver used a stifling defense to shut down Jefferson and hold the Timberwolves to 3-for-12 shooting over the last six minutes.
“A night like tonight, when you’re not making them, when you can’t do that, you’ve got to find other ways,” Billups said. “You’ve got to buckle down defensively.”
Karl, who said he started 2-19 when he began his NBA coaching career with Cleveland in 1984, empathizes with the struggling Timberwolves.
“Minnesota’s probably has had five games similar to that and can’t close the door,” he said. “I’m glad we got the win, but I hope Randy figures out how to get a win and get some confidence back with his team.”
The Timberwolves have had a chance to win every game during their losing streak—they have lost by an average of 5.8 points a game—and they had a chance Sunday after taking control in the third quarter. Minnesota started the second half shooting 7-for-11 and, led by Jefferson’s five points, took a 56-49 lead with 5:53 left in the third period.
The Timberwolves kept the lead until Anthony’s dunk, and they never recovered.
Despite losing another game in the final minutes, the Timberwolves feel they are close to ending the streak.
“The way that we’ve been losing, we know that things can turn around and eventually we will get a win,” Jason Collins said. “We have to get things rolling from there. It starts at one.”
The Timberwolves have failed to shoot 45 percent in their eight losses in this streak. … Denver is 5-1 since acquiring Billups from Detroit on Nov. 3. … The Nuggets have not allowed an opponent to score 30 points this season.