By Dave Campbell
MINNEAPOLIS — Brook Lopez strengthened his push for a spot on the All-Star team with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, helping the Brooklyn Nets hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 91-83 on Wednesday night.
The Nets improved to 12-2 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, and they're 9-1 with their preferred starting lineup: Lopez, the NBA's highest-scoring center, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans. Williams and Johnson scored 18 points apiece, and the Nets never trailed despite some sloppy stretches of play.
C.J. Watson added 14 points for the Nets, who won for the first time in their last nine games at Minnesota. The Wolves have lost seven of their last eight overall.
Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points and Dante Cunningham added 14 for the Wolves, who played without shooting guard Alexey Shved (left ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (right quadriceps) for the third straight game. That's not to mention the four others out with longer-term injuries, a troubling list led by Kevin Love.
With Ricky Rubio guarding Williams and Luke Ridnour on Johnson, the Nets as they often do had mostly favorable matchups in the backcourt with their pair of perennial All-Stars. But whether it was bad passes that sailed out of bounds, a willingness to settle too often for long jump shots or scrappy defense by the Wolves, the Nets never put the game away. They even took a 66-52 lead shortly after halftime, only to let Ridnour lead the Wolves back within two points again.
Johnson went nearly 24½ minutes without scoring until a flurry late in the third quarter. Watson picked up where Johnson left off, playing a game of "Around the World" at J.J. Barea's expense early in the fourth period with nine straight points for the Nets.
The Wolves fell to 3-9 in January, 2-8 since Love re-injured his right hand.
Fresh from an important win over the crosstown rival Knicks that moved them within one game of the Atlantic Division lead, the Nets needed to avoid the natural letdown against a reeling, injury-ravaged opponent. "You talk about Band-Aids," Carlesimo said before the game, sympathizing with the Wolves.
The Nets took a 14-2 lead with a 10-for-15 start from the floor against a team whose defense has faded following a solid start to the season. The Wolves allowed an average of 91.9 points over their first 18 games, but in the 21 games since they've given up more than 100 points per contest.
For all their effort to make this a game, the Wolves were just too short-handed to gain control. Derrick Williams found a lane to the basket off a slick give-and-go with Ridnour late in the first quarter, but he missed his dunk with Lopez in his face. Then, when Rubio stole the ball back, the struggling point guard's behind-the-back pass to Williams was intercepted by Wallace.
Chris Johnson, the lean, athletic center signed on Saturday to an emergency 10-day contract from the D-League, at least provided some energy and flair underneath to help counteract Lopez's usual production on the other end. Chris Johnson played all 12 minutes in the second quarter and had 10 points in that stretch. He's 11 of 14 from the field in three games for the Wolves.
Rubio had more trouble finding a rhythm, a common sight in his comeback from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He had six assists and three steals but only five points on 2-for-5 shooting and looked upset on the bench near the end of the game.
Rubio's season high is eight points, and he is 0 for 11 from 3-point range. Outside shooting is trouble for the whole team, though. The Wolves were the only NBA team coming into the game with a 3-point percentage worse than 30 percent. They went 3 for 15 on Wednesday.
Notes: Barea said he'll appeal his $5,000 fine for flopping. His second violation of the new rule this season occurred in the Jan. 14 game at Dallas. ... The Nets assigned rookies Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor to their D-League affiliate. Carlesimo said they're good enough to be in the NBA now, but there's little opportunity for them to develop on a contending team. "They need to play more than anything," the coach said. ... Carlesimo was asked what the ceiling is for Lopez, who entering the night was the only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. "I don't know, and I think that's a good thing," Carlesimo said. ... Ridnour has scored in double digits in 10 of his last 11 games. He's the only Wolves player to start every game this season.