MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—For all their victories and all their success in recent seasons, the Phoenix Suns had a heck of a time of late in icy Minnesota.
With three losses in their last four games at Target Center in mind, Suns coach Terry Porter decided to gas up the Diesel.
After resting Shaquille O’Neal a night earlier in Oklahoma City, the big fella had 18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks to help the balanced Suns to a 110-102 victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
“They were able to handle us last year and we knew that coming into tonight so we wanted to get a win,” Suns swingman Raja Bell said. “Shaq makes a big difference down there on the block so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.”
Steve Nash added 20 points and six assists in 27 minutes for the Suns, who were playing the second game of a back-to-back but still had enough in the tank to down the woeful Wolves.
Al Jefferson continued to dominate Phoenix with 28 points and 17 rebounds, including a franchise-record 12 on the offensive end. He averaged 30.5 points and 15.3 rebounds in four games against Phoenix last season.
“We’ve had a really hard time with Al,” Nash said. “Tonight he scored and rebounded, but he really didn’t break down our defense and create openings. It’s big for us to have someone to match up with him like that.”
Minnesota outrebounded Phoenix 49-36, but missed 11 free throws in the game and only managed a 10-8 edge in second-chance points despite grabbing 21 offensive rebounds.
“It was almost like we were hoping it would happen,” Wolves coach Randy Wittman said of a team coming off an impressive 26-point victory over the Pistons on Sunday. “In Detroit we made it happen.”
As dire as things have been for the Timberwolves (3-10) in the past two years, they have always found a way to give the powerful Suns all they could handle and more in this building.
Last season, the Suns dropped both games in Target Center. The first snapped a five-game winning streak and the second a four-gamer. Two years ago, their 17-game roll came to a screeching halt in the Twin Cities.
Acquired in a trade with Miami at the deadline last season, O’Neal wasn’t around for any of those games. His presence made a world of difference on Wednesday night.
“We just had to gut it out,” O’Neal said. “Guys are tired. Cold city. Just one of those days where we were laying around all day.”
After sitting out the previous night to rest up for the Wolves, O’Neal clogged the middle all night long, getting Jefferson into foul trouble in the third quarter and putting an exclamation point on the victory in the fourth.
O’Neal nearly tore the goal down on an alley-oop dunk from Matt Barnes with just over 5 minutes to play, then made three of four free throws and added a steal for good measure to put away the game.
“You’ve got to push him off the block, but you can’t. He’s tough,” Wolves forward Ryan Gomes said. “And he was hitting that hook shot tonight. He clogs everything up down there on offense and on defense.”
All five Phoenix starters scored in double figures.
The Suns made 14 of their first 20 shots against an uninspired Minnesota defense and led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter.
Minnesota whittled that down to five points late in the period and pulled within six in the final minute, but missed free throws and 17 turnovers ultimately doomed them.
“I was shocked really by our lackadaisical, let’s-get-into-the-flow thing,” Wittman said. “I just thought this group was going to be jacked sky high. It was kind of the opposite.”
Wolves G Rashad McCants played after missing 2 1/2 games with a back spasms. He had three points and five turnovers in his first eight minutes, but hit four 3-pointers in garbage time. … Rookie official Eric Dalen sure made his presence felt early in the second quarter. He whistled Mike Miller for a delay of game warning for not having his jersey tucked in as he entered the game, then gave coach Randy Wittman a quick technical.