All eyes were on the perimeter in the Minnesota Timberwolves' last game, but the focus will turn to the paint when they take the court in Orlando.
In a matchup of the league's top rebounders, Dwight Howard's Magic look to send Kevin Love and the Timberwolves to a fourth straight defeat Monday night.
The physical Howard is one of the league's most intimidating big men and is coveted by several teams as the six-time All-Star pursues a trade from Orlando (17-11). He is the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and had won three straight rebounding titles until Love supplanted him last season.
Love, selected to his second All-Star game on Thursday, had a league-high 15.2 rebounds per game last season - 1.1 more than Howard. The Magic center seems eager to reclaim the title this season, averaging an NBA-best 15.5 per game, while Love ranks second with 13.9.
Orlando has won all six matchups against the Timberwolves since Love entered the league. The big men finished with very similar stat lines in the 2010-11 contests, as Howard combined for 34 points and 25 rebounds while Love totaled 33 points and 24 boards.
Love has become more of a scoring threat this season, ranking fourth in the league at 25.6 points per game to help Minnesota (13-15) emerge as a playoff contender. He is coming off his league-leading 24th double-double - two more than Howard - after finishing with 32 points and 21 rebounds Saturday against New York, but the Timberwolves blew a late seven-point lead in a 100-98 loss, their third straight.
In a game featuring dynamic young point guards Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio, it was Lin who hit the tiebreaking free throw with 4.9 seconds left. That came after Rubio turned the ball over - one of his two in the last 26 seconds.
"I just made two huge mistakes,'' Rubio said of his only giveaways of the game. "I have to learn from that.''
Rubio's mistakes weren't the only reasons Minnesota lost. The Timberwolves finished with 11 fourth-quarter points - their lowest total for any period this season - while missing 16 of 19 shots.
"We're used to executing down the stretch, getting stops and winning basketball games," said Love, who has recorded back-to-back 32-point games. "Obviously we're still a young team and we just need to continue to grow and grow as a unit."
While Minnesota coughed up a fourth-quarter lead, Orlando rallied from a 10-point deficit with less than five minutes to play in its 99-94 victory in Milwaukee on Saturday.
Jason Richardson ignited the comeback, hitting four 3-pointers in less than two minutes to cap a 16-0 run and put the Magic up 94-88. He scored 28 of his season-high 31 points in the second half and said his performance was motivated by a heckler seated behind Orlando's bench.
"People think that once you turn a certain age, you don't have it anymore. You don't have the certain style of play you used to play,'' said Richardson, who finished 9 for 11 from 3-point range. "I'm still young, so I had to show the guy I still had energy.''
Richardson's phenomenal shooting display helped offset a subpar evening by Howard.
Howard, who averages 20.6 points, was hounded by Milwaukee's collapsing defense and missed 10 of 15 shots to finish with 11 points - tied for his third-lowest output of the season.
Richardson averaged 25.0 points in last season's wins against Minnesota.
- Dwight Howard
- Minnesota Timberwolves