MINNEAPOLIS -- The Denver Nuggets survived a stealthy surprise attack launched under the cover of darkness Wednesday in Minneapolis, overcoming in a 101-94 victory a Minnesota team that welcomed back surprise starter Kevin Love from a season-starting broken hand.
Love returned nearly two weeks earlier than expected after a New York City hand specialist determined his shooting hand was healed and it became apparent Love would play and start the game for the Timberwolves even though he hadn't participated in a contact practice.
The Wolves burst to a 17-point lead in an emotional first half in which Love scored 22 points. The Nuggets withstood that thanks to a second half in which they scored 25 of the first 35 points.
Ty Lawson's 3-point shot with four minutes left broke a game tied at 87 and sent the Nuggets on a 12-7 run that won the game.
Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19 points and Lawson and Andre Iguodala each scored 18.
Love had 34 points and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes on a night when the Wolves also got starting center Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea back. Pekovic had missed the last two games after spraining his ankle at Dallas last week; the Wolves had been clobbered on the backboards in those games and lost both.
Barea had missed five games since spraining his foot when he chased a loose ball into the scorer's table against Orlando two weeks ago.
On Wednesday, the Wolves built a 14-point halftime behind Love's 22 first-half points. But the Nuggets responded in the third quarter, limiting Love to just three points and outscoring the Wolves 25-10 right out of halftime to tie the game at 67.
The Wolves regained a 73-69 lead by quarter's end, but the Nuggets scored six consecutive points to take an 84-80 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Wolves countered by scoring five consecutive themselves.
Love broke his right shooting hand on Oct. 17, maintaining against much public doubt that he injured it while doing knuckle push-ups working out on his own at his Minneapolis condo before practice one morning.
Unlike the broken hand Love suffered in a 2009 preseason game, this injury to his other hand did not require surgery, but the team had said he would miss six to eight weeks.
Wednesday's return was little more than a month.
He made his surprise return after a New York City hand specialist reviewed X-rays taken in Minnesota this week and determined the hand had healed.
Love played without participating in a contact practice, apparently because he wanted to play and felt it was time.
He proved as much in the first half as the Wolves flourished with him on the floor and fought to stay even with the Nuggets when he needed a breather.
Love had a plus-22 rating by the time the Wolves took a 58-44 lead into halftime. He also scored that many points -- 22 -- in 16 first-half minutes, when he also made two 3-pointers and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Wolves led 21-10 when he left the game for the first time late in the first quarter and the Nuggets were within 35-32 when he returned midway through the second quarter.
The Wolves then went on a 17-4 run when he returned and stretched their lead to 14 by halftime.
NOTES: Nuggets F Wilson Chandler missed his fourth consecutive game because of a hip injury. Guard Julyan Stone still hasn't played yet this season, also because of a hip injury. . . . The Nuggets look a bit like Timberwolves West with former Wolves Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos and Anthony Randolph on their roster. The list numbers four if you include Ty Lawson, whom the Wolves drafted for Denver 18th overall in 2009 and then traded to the Nuggets. ... Love's return meant that former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams moved from a starter's job to not playing at all Wednesday. Coach Rick Adelman turned to veteran forwards Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson instead and sat Williams all night -- just one game after he scored 23 points, including 15 in the first half, against Golden State.