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Rubio helps Wolves steal one from Wizards

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since Kevin Love got hurt weeks ago, as the injury list grew, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been trying to figure out a way to finish games. As they lost six straight, 11 out of 13 and 22 out of 26, the Wolves would lose leads late or rally but come up just short.

Finally, Wednesday, Ricky Rubio made sure the Wolves finished the game.

With Rubio getting 15 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and six steals -- four in the fourth quarter alone -- the Wolves beat the Washington Wizards 87-82.

The Wolves could not have needed this one more.

"They've been slapped around so much," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "I think you get to a point where you keep saying the same things, keep talking about the same things. But you need to get a win. I think getting rewarded is the best thing that could have happened to them."

It was the second time this season Rubio has had a game with six or more points, assists, rebounds and steals, it was the fifth such game in Wolves history and just the seventh such game in the league this year.

Derrick Williams had 16 points for the Wolves, Luke Ridnour 15 and J.J. Barea 12, with 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Washington (19-40) had all five starters score in double figures, led by John Wall (19) and Trevor Ariza (16).

The Wolves scored 30 points off 24 Washington turnovers and outscored Washington 20-8 on the fast break.

"We aren't going to beat anybody with the carelessness we have with the ball," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "We just don't value the basketball at all. Almost half their points were off our turnovers. ... Execution down the stretch was nonexistent."

In the other locker room, meanwhile, there was nothing but relief.

"I miss winning so bad," said Rubio, who threw the ball high into the air as the final buzzer sounded. "I miss that feeling so bad. Today was a relief."

But it almost wasn't.

A 7-plus-minute stretch without a field goal that started late in the third quarter and continued into the fourth threatened to knock the Wolves out of the game. Up by two entering the fourth quarter, with Rubio on the bench, the Wizards (19-40) scored the first 10 points of the quarter to take a 73-65 lead on Kevin Seraphin's hook with 9:08 left.

A 6-0 run that included Barea's 3-pointer cut that lead to two. Moments later another Barea trey tied the game at 79. After Seraphin answered, the Wolves scores six straight to take an 83-79 lead on Williams' two free throws with 3:14 left. Washington cut that lead to 83-82, then Emeka Okafor blocked Rubio's shot with 38.9 seconds left.

Then came Rubio's final steal. Wall had the ball in the backcourt. Barea got up into his face, forcing Wall to turn. But Rubio was there. He knocked the ball loose. Then, while still on the floor, Rubio fed Barea for a layup with 28.2 seconds left that pushed the lead back to three. Two Ridnour free throws sealed it.

After the game Barea jokingly complained that the steal was his, not Rubio's. Rubio just shrugged and smiled. Humor is easy after victories.

"It was awesome," Barea said. "It was a team win. Everyone stayed together and we did a good job in the fourth quarter."

NOTES: Wizards rookie guard Beal missed Wednesday's game with a sprained ankle sustained in Washington's victory over Philadelphia Sunday. Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Beal, who is listed as day-to-day, is not far away from returning. "Each day has been better for him," Wittman said. "He made good strides (Wednesday) from where he was (Tuesday)." ... This was Wittman's first time back in Target Center as a head coach since being fired by the Timberwolves early in the 2008-09 season. Much like in Minnesota, Wittman has been charged with molding a young team in Washington. But his approach has changed, he said. "I'm more patient," he said. ... Wolves forwards Love (hand) and Chase Budinger (knee), both recovering from surgery, could be back soon. Budinger, who had Nov. 13 knee surgery, hopes to be cleared for full practice on Monday. Budinger said Wednesday morning he is two to three weeks away from a return to game action. "I'm feeling good," he said. "Knee's feeling good. A couple days ago I actually jumped off it and had a little dunk, so that was a good little mental hurdle of mine." Love, meanwhile, will meet with his surgeon Wednesday and hopes to be playing within a week of that meeting if all goes well.
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