The Denver Nuggets played as though they were already relaxing on a tropical beach.
Love started practicing early for All-Star festivities, making six of 11 shots from 3-point range and totaling 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Timberwolves to a 117-90 victory over the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
"It's always a tough game before the break to come out with a lot of energy, and we did," Love said. "We were excited to play. We knew we needed a win."
Love, chosen as a first-time starter for the Western Conference team, will also take part in the 3-point shooting contest this weekend in New Orleans. In five February games, Love has averaged 32.6 points. He sat last week because of a stiff neck, and then with a bruised left quadriceps, but his banged-up body hasn't hindered his production when he is on the court.
"I was pretty sore before the game still, but once we got going I felt good," Love said. "I was definitely happy we got the large lead, and I really, really needed to sit down those last eight minutes."
Corey Brewer added 22 points, J.J. Barea pitched in 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting, and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 12 assists and a season-high seven steals for the Wolves, who had coach Rick Adelman back on the sideline. He missed the previous game on Monday, an absence he said was related to his wife's health.
"We needed a game like that after having a tough stretch," Rubio said.
The curmudgeon coach wasn't quite satisfied, calling timeout at one point in the second quarter when a turnover gave the Nuggets a fast-break dunk off a lob pass from Randy Foye to Jordan Hamilton. That cut the lead to 47-29.
"I don't know, 40 would be nice to be ahead by," Adelman said. "I'd relax then. We have a tendency to give up points quickly."
The Wolves trail eighth-place Phoenix by six games.
Hamilton led the Nuggets with 16 points and seven assists, and J.J. Hickson added 14 points and 13 rebounds. Reeling from injuries, the Nuggets (24-27) have dropped nine of 13 and four games in a row to fall behind the Wolves (25-28) and into 11th place.
"There's really only one thing to say, and that's thank God for the All-Star break," coach Brian Shaw said.
"It was extremely painful, but I fought through it," said Foye, who inadvertently elbowed Rubio in the chin in the first quarter. Rubio returned after receiving five stitches.
The Nuggets, who have given up the third-most points per game, left shooters open all over the court. The Wolves made them pay with 52.3 percent shooting from the floor and 20 fast-break points.
"We're getting torched by everybody from the beginning of the game to the end of the game," Shaw said.
The Wolves were ahead 19-3 before the Nuggets were even warmed up, and they built their lead as big as 61-37 late in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Chase Budinger, who finished with 12 points.
The Nuggets never came closer than 17 points after halftime. Brewer had an uncontested dunk and then caught another laser-like outlet pass from Love like a wide receiver streaking down the football field. Brewer's twisting layup rolled off the rim, but Rubio stole the ball right back for another try that Brewer converted for a 98-64 lead.
"It all starts with defense," Hickson said. "If you look at the top teams in the league, all of them are top five or top 10 in defense, and that's not us right now."
Adelman has no special plans for the All-Star break. "I'm just going to sit here and watch the snow," he said. Pekovic will be ice fishing again, but Adelman expressed no interest, only a bit of advice: "I hope he puts his foot in the water and ices it a little bit." ... Hickson has a double-double in 16 of the last 29 games. ... Martin said his hope is to be cleared to play on the five-game trip that starts Feb. 22. He will be re-evaluated the day before.
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