MINNEAPOLIS -- Wins have become so commonplace with the Brooklyn Nets that they have taken to grading them for their quality.
Wednesday? From the sounds of it, Brooklyn's 91-83 victory at Target Center over an injury-ravaged, slumping Timberwolves squad sounded like it deserved a C, C-plus, tops. For example:
"We found a way to win in a building which has been a nightmare for us," said P.J. Carlesimo, who improved to 12-2 since taking over for the fired Avery Johnson. "We're grateful for the win. But we need to play a little more consistently than we did tonight."
Then there was guard Deron Williams, whose key play helped the Nets (26-16) keep the Wolves (17-22) at bay: "It wasn't a cakewalk," he said. "We feel we could have played better."
Ho, hum. The Nets got 22 points from center Brook Lopez, who took advantage of a Wolves interior defense that was without Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Guards Williams (18 points) and Joe Johnson (18) took advantage of their size advantage in the backcourt. The result was the Nets' fourth 10-win January since joining the NBA and gave Carlesimo the second-best start for a Nets coach.
The Wolves? It was a second straight loss and their seventh in eight games. And the night ended with some tension, with guard Ricky Rubio expressing frustration with acting coach Terry Porter's decision not to put him back into the game late in the fourth quarter.
"I don't like it," Rubio said. "I think (Porter) thinks what is best for the team. I want to know what happened, and we are going to talk."
The Nets got off to a 14-2 start and never trailed. The plucky Wolves made runs at them several times, but Brooklyn had an answer each time. There were three key stretches:
--The Wolves closed to within two midway through the second quarter before Williams led a charge that pushed the Nets' lead to 11 at the half.
--After Minnesota pulled within two early in the fourth quarter. C.J. Watson scored nine straight Nets points as the lead pushed back to nine.
--Then, with 5:32 left, J.J. Barea 's layup made it a three-point game, but Johnson answered with a three-pointer.
The Wolves got 15 points from Andrei Kirilenko, 14 from Dante Cunningham and 13 from Luke Ridnour. But Minnesota was outrebounded 45-25 and Minnesota's six attempted free throws were the least since the Wolves got six in a game in Memphis Feb. 9 2007.
"I told the guys after the game, 'I know it's a tough stretch right now,'" Porter said. "'But every day we have to come together, play together, play for each other and trust each other. Continue to work until we get this thing turned around.'"
The Wolves played their ninth game without coach Rick Adelman, who is tending to his ill wife. His return is uncertain. Ditto for Pekovic and guard Alexey Shved. Of course, star Kevin Love and sixth man Chase Budinger, each coming off of surgery, are weeks away.
So the Wolves are trying to stop the bleeding while the Nets continue to push the Knicks for the lead in the Atlantic Division. The Wolves are fighting just to find a win while the Nets are grading theirs.
"It was close there at the end, but we were confident we were going to close it out," Lopez said. "It's something that has been missing these past few seasons. We wouldn't have closed games like this out."
NOTES: A week into his return to the starting lineup, Rubio admitted he still feels pain in his surgically repaired leg at times and is struggling with both strength and confidence. That has affected his shot and his willingness to drive to the basket. "I'm moving pretty good side to side," he said. "But then, when I have to power, when I have to jump, I don't feel like I jump." ... Barea said the team will help him appeal the $5,000 fine he was assessed for flopping. C Nikola Pekovic (quad contusion) and G Alexey Shved (ankle) missed their third straight games. ... Nets center Brook Lopez told reporters Monday he is not bothered by speculation the Nets could pursue a trade for the Lakers' Dwight Howard. "It is what it is," he said. "I don't read any of the media stuff that anyone put out.