Johnson, Love keep Wolves undefeated
MINNEAPOLIS — Preseason means different things to different teams.
The veteran-laden Denver Nuggets are more concerned with keeping their legs fresh and getting healthy for the grind of the NBA season.
The success-starved Minnesota Timberwolves, they just want to win.
Rookie Wesley Johnson scored 16 points and the new-look Timberwolves remained undefeated in the preseason with a 122-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
Kevin Love added 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Timberwolves (3-0), who won just 15 games last season. They blocked 13 shots and forced 25 turnovers in the kind of defensive effort that hasn't been seen at Target Center for years.
"It means a lot. It doesn't mean enough though," said Michael Beasley, who scored 21 points on 6-for-17 shooting. "Preseason, regular season, postseason. It's basketball to us. We're going to play hard. We're going to play to win."
Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points for Denver, but was just 2 for 9 from the field. He went 15 for 16 from the free throw line. Arron Afflalo scored 20 points and Ty Lawson and Gary Forbes each chipped in 15.
Denver has won the past two Northwest Division titles and return most of the same faces from last season's team. That gave the Nuggets an entirely different approach to a game that means nothing once the regular season begins.
Anthony played only 21 minutes and the Nuggets rested Chauncey Billups. They also were without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, who are recovering from offseason surgeries, and Al Harrington, who injured his left foot in the preseason opener against Portland.
"We were just loose with the ball tonight," Anthony said with a shrug.
The fact they were playing a short-handed opponent means little to the Timberwolves, who are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Any success, against any opponent, is cause for celebration these days.
They beat the Lakers, who played Kobe Bryant just six minutes, in London last week and came back to beat the Knicks in Paris a few days later.
"Those are teams that have played together for a while," Love said. "We just want to get on the same page, learn to play with each other, but that's going to take some time."
The Wolves have done it early with a renewed commitment to defense and vastly improved shooting from the perimeter.
Martell Webster had 12 points and three big blocks, and Johnson went 3 for 5 from 3-point range. The Wolves have made 26 of 49 3-pointers (53 percent) in the three exhibition games after shooting 34 percent from behind the arc last season.
The Nuggets did most of their work from the free throw line, making 41 of 56 fouls shots.
"It was kind of a tough refereed game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We got the benefit at the free-throw line, and that's the one thing, but we didn't make 'em."
Both teams also got a taste of the crackdown on "overt" gestures toward officials in the second quarter. After a touch foul on J.R. Smith, point guard Luke Ridnour put his arms out and groused a little bit toward referee Nick Buchert. It didn't appear to be particularly egregious, but Buchert handed out the technical foul anyway.
It's all part of an effort by the league to demand more respect for game officials and cut down on the amount of complaining and bickering that happens during games.
Renaldo Balkman then got a technical in the fourth quarter for tossing the ball toward the Wolves bench in frustration after a 24-second violation.
It was the second shot clock violation of the game for the Nuggets, who shot 42 percent.
"I like what we do defensively," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "We're going to win a lot of games if we continue to do that."
Anthony 2-9 15-16 19, Williams 0-3 2-4 2, Nene 2-5 6-12 10, Carter 2-4 2-2 6, Afflalo 8-14 1-1 20, Smith 2-9 4-6 9, Boateng 0-0 0-0 0, Balkman 3-9 2-2 8, Lawson 5-10 4-6 15, Forbes 5-9 5-7 15, Ely 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 31-74 41-56 108.
Beasley 6-17 7-10 21, Love 5-11 4-4 16, Milicic 1-1 0-0 2, Ridnour 4-8 3-4 12, Brewer 1-4 0-0 2, Johnson 5-9 3-3 16, Tolliver 3-5 0-0 7, Pekovic 2-4 6-6 10, Webster 4-8 3-4 12, Telfair 1-8 0-0 3, Koufos 3-4 3-3 9, Ellington 3-8 4-4 10, Hayward 1-3 0-0 2, Hart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-90 33-38 122.
3-Point Goals— Denver 5-16 (Afflalo 3-4, Lawson 1-3, Smith 1-4, Carter 0-1, Anthony 0-2, Forbes 0-2), Minnesota 11-23 (Johnson 3-5, Beasley 2-3, Love 2-5, Tolliver 1-1, Telfair 1-2, Ridnour 1-3, Webster 1-3, Ellington 0-1). Fouled Out— None. Rebounds— Denver 58 (Balkman, Williams 8), Minnesota 56 (Love 15). Assists— Denver 16 (Lawson 6), Minnesota 26 (Telfair 8). Total Fouls— Denver 27, Minnesota 36. Technicals— Balkman, Denver defensive three second, Milicic, Ridnour, Minnesota defensive three second 2. A— 8,718 (19,356).