Minnesota Timberwolves 110, Phoenix Suns 101 -- Chopped up

PHOENIX – If Kevin Love doesn’t like playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves as some questionably-sourced rumors indicate, he sure seems set on auditioning everywhere he sets foot. On Tuesday night, that was in U.S. Airways Center.

He gave hopeful Phoenix Suns fans much to drool over in a 110-101 T-Wolves victory. Love scored 33 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dolled out nine assists against Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, and for a short bit, even P.J. Tucker. It didn’t help the Timberwolves got a career performance from rookie Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 20 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.

Markieff Morris led Phoenix with 24 points, and P.J. Tucker put in a valiant effort on the glass by recording 16 boards, eight of which were offensive.

But the Suns’ offense stalled in the final three minutes, when they went 0-of-8 from the field and also got chopped up by the active Minnesota offense, which had 35 points in the final frame.

Like it has been in many Suns losses of late, the defensive effort to start the game came on like a toaster oven heating up. It took a while to get cooking and it eventually cooled off once

The Suns bench made up for the deficit in the second, and once again it was Ish Smith that set the tone there.

Throughout the first 45 minutes, Phoenix found scoring to be easy. At halftime, the Suns led the T-Wolves 40-22 in points in the paint and 18-7 on the fastbreak. While they held Minnesota to below 44 percent shooting, the T-Wolves made up for their poor shooting by getting to the foul stripe.

But once the bench unit got up eight in the second half, an ankle sprain to point guard Goran Dragic and a brief reappearance marked the end of the Suns’ success. They couldn’t get the offense clicking and coach Jeff Hornacek certainly didn’t seem happy with the defensive effort.

To the questions from today’s game preview.

Will Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic play, and how does their presence or absence change the game?

Neither Martin or Pekovic played, and Phoenix went small without having to worry about the size of the latter. They slung Miles Plumlee into the second unit, where his size became an advantage rather than finding himself helpless against in the post like in the teams’ first meeting. Hornacek even ran out a small-ball unit of Frye and Tucker up front, with the latter defending Love in the post – that was necessary with Frye having two fouls at the time.

Which waterbug makes the difference?

It was Smith that took control of a game that included many Minnesota leak-outs and little defense, especially in the first half. He scored seven and had as many assists, and in the second half it was again the Smith-led unit – Dragic left with a tweaked right ankle – that helped Phoenix hold a six-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

Archie Goodwin earned his rotation spot as the first player off the bench with Leandro Barbosa sitting once again because of a toe injury. He thrived in the hectic pace, scoring often in transition and finishing with 10 points.

Can the Suns limit Minnesota’s other scorers?

Dante Cunningham got off to a fast start while Love proved to be focused on scoring in bunches. Muhammad had more than a career night on his hands at the end of the night, and the rookie who had only played in double-figures five other games this year certainly beat up Phoenix in a number of ways.

That was quite concerning.

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