Just a day removed from a thrilling double-OT victory against the Miami Heat, the Timberwolves traveled to nearby Amway Arena on Saturday night to face an Orlando Magic team that will be picking near the top of the lottery once again this summer. With the playoffs out of reach, Kevin Love (back spasms), Kevin Martin (foot) and Shabazz Muhammad (knee) had a chance to rest their various ailments while the bench got extended run.
Dante Cunningham filled in for Love in the starting lineup and played 34 minutes despite being released from prison nearly 24 hours before the game. Cunningham was charged Friday with one felony count of domestic assault by strangulation after choking his girlfriend of eight months during a domestic altercation. The Timberwolves organization released a statement Friday concerning the charges:
We are aware of the matter involving Dante Cunningham and are in the process of gathering more information…The Minnesota Timberwolves organization takes the matter very seriously and does not condone the type of behavior that is associated with this situation. However, we need to let the legal process run its course, and will have further comment at the appropriate time.”
Under the NBA’s labor agreement with its players, the Wolves will wait until the legal process unfolds with Cunningham before suspension or any other sort of disciplinary measures are brought by the team and/or league. Cunningham will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and there is a high likelihood that these next few weeks will be the last that he is spotted wearing a Timberwolves uniform.
Following a season-best performance in which he netted 24 points which included 5-7 shooting from beyond the arc, Chase Budinger was forced to leave after the first minute of the contest due to an ankle injury and was unable to return. In his place, seldom-used forwards Robbie Hummel and Luc Mbah a Moute played extended minutes with each getting over 30 minutes a piece.
The Wolves led the Magic 48-46 after the first half. Led by Ricky Rubio taking advantage of a porous Orlando defense, the Wolves built upon their lead in the third quarter and led 72-59 at the 4:45 mark. However, the momentum soon shifted when Rubio went to the bench for a breather as youngsters Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris helped the Magic inch back within 77-72 heading into the final quarter.
Orlando outscored Minnesota 28-15 in the fourth and ended the game on a 10-1 run, ultimately defeating the Wolves 100-92 for their 22nd win of the season. Oladipo and Harris had near identical nights coming off the bench as each player was a +26 on the floor while each shot 7-12 from the field. Oladipo finished with 16 points and 6 assists while Harris tallied 17 points to go along with 6 rebounds.
With their primary scorers out, Rubio was forced to take on a larger offensive role and attempted 18 field goals, converting 7 of them on his way to a game-high 18 points and 10 assists in 33 minutes. Gorgui Dieng continued to build upon a tremendous past three weeks and he finished with 12 points (5-9 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 36 minutes.
Minnesota lacked aggressiveness against a clearly inferior opponent on Saturday night. The Wolves held nearly every advantage statistically as they committed only 13 turnovers to the Magic’s 23 while Orlando committed 23 personal fouls to only 10 by Minnesota. However, the Magic out-rebounded the Wolves 40-30 while netting 9 of their 17 three-point attempts. Minnesota, conversely, shot a ghastly 1-15 from long range.
The Wolves (38-38) are set to host the first-place San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night and have just six games remaining for the 2013-14 season.
Three Stars of the Game
- Victor Oladipo
- Tobias Harris
- Ricky Rubio