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Barea's barrage helps Wolves end Thunder's winning streak

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- On the Minnesota Timberwolves' roster, guard J.J. Barea is listed at an even 6 feet. That is a significant exaggeration.

And yet, the smallest player on the Target Center court Thursday night ended up standing the tallest, felling the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder in the process.

Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including 12 Minnesota points in a row at one point. That provided the spark that allowed the Wolves to hang on for a 99-93 victory that snapped the Thunder's winning streak at 12 games.

On a night when the Wolves (13-11) led from start to finish -- it was the first time the Thunder (21-5) went a game without a lead this season -- Minnesota's little big man made the difference.

"It was awesome," said Barea, pushing modesty aside. "I think that was the energy we needed in the fourth quarter. The guys were doing a good job, but they needed a little bit more, and I think I gave us that tonight."

It was a remarkably resilient effort for Minnesota. The Wolves led by 12 after one quarter and by nine at the half. Minnesota withstood runs of 8-0 and 9-2 in the third quarter, which ended with the Wolves up by seven. However, when Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (30 points), Kevin Durant (33) and Reggie Jackson scored in quick succession to start the fourth, the lead was down to one, and just about all of the 17,114 fans were nervous.

Barea wasn't, though.

The Timberwolves pushed their advantage back to five before Durant hit two free throws to make it 80-77 with 8:56 left.

Barea took a pass from Ricky Rubio and hit a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer. Then he put back his own miss. After Thabo Sefolosha missed a 3-pointer, Barea hit another 3-pointer. It was a personal 8-0 run that pushed the lead back to 11 with 6:54 left.

Barea hit another 3-pointer with 5:26 left to extend the advantage to 11 again, and then the Wolves hit enough free throws down the stretch to keep the Thunder at bay.

"I looked up and he had six points, and a few minutes later he had 18," Minnesota forward Kevin Love said. "I mean, he stepped up. He was one of the guys who won the game."

He wasn't alone. The Wolves got double-doubles from Love (28 points, 11 rebounds), center Nikola Pekovic (24 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Alexey Shved (12 points, 12 assists).

Along with Barea, it was enough to offset Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (14), who scored 77 of the Thunder's 93 points.

Of the three, Westbrook had the most up-and-down night. He needed 28 shots to reach 30 points and had eight turnovers to go with nine assists.

"We battled, we fought," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose team lost for the first time since Nov. 23. "We had a great streak, a great month going, but we lost to a very good team. We're not going to win every game."

It was defense as much as Barea's fourth-quarter heroics that paved the way for Minnesota's win.

"What I really liked was we played four quarters," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "We knew they'd make a run at us, but we got some stops, made some shots down the stretch. Just a terrific win for our guys."

The victory was Minnesota's first against Oklahoma in 13 tries.

"We couldn't get over the hump," Durant said. "Barea came out and hit some tough ones."

NOTES: It was determined Thursday that Minnesota forward Josh Howard has a torn ACL in his right knee and not a knee hyperextension, as originally suspected, and he was waived by the team. Howard's season is over and -- considering he had ACL surgery in his left knee two years ago, his career is in question. "I feel really bad for him," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "He had worked so hard to get himself back. He was shocked when he found out." Howard, who injured the knee in New Orleans on Dec. 14, was signed Nov. 16. He averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11 games. The Wolves will look to fill the roster spot with a player capable of backing up at both shooting guard and small forward. ... Thunder guard Kevin Martin, a top reserve off the bench, missed his first game this season due to a quad contusion. He is the first player among the Oklahoma City's top players to miss a game; the Thunder has used one starting lineup all season, the Wolves nine. ... Wolves guard Malcolm Lee is still considering treatment options for the torn cartilage in his knee.
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