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When it started, you couldn't hear anything for the roar. In the final moments, you couldn't see much for the people leaving early.

What an extraordinary emotional swing.

Wednesday night at Target Center began with buzz that All-Star forward Kevin Love was about to return after missing four-plus weeks because of a broken hand. As word spread, the Wolves' crowd grew; about 1,000 walk-up tickets were sold in the hour before the game with the Denver Nuggets, 200 more than normal. The game began with Love and the Wolves doing everything right while building a 14-point halftime lead.

But it ended with a 101-94 Wolves loss.

How could a Timberwolves team getting Love, center Nikola Pekovic and guard J.J. Barea back from injury on the same night see a lead that reached as many as 17 in the second quarter get wiped away? How could a night that began with so much promise, that included 34 points and 14 rebounds from Love -- in 35 minutes -- that seemed to be just this side of magical, end with a third consecutive loss?

"A very telling two halves," said Love, who scored 22 first-half points on 9-for-16 shooting but scored 12 in the second half, hitting three of nine shots.

After setting season highs in points in both the second quarter (32) and the first half (58), the Wolves scored only 36 points in the second half.

The Nuggets, who got 19 points from Danilo Gallinari, 18 each from Andre Iguodala and Ty Lawson and 12 from Andrew Miller, cut the Wolves' 14-point halftime lead to four entering the fourth, thanks to Iguodala's 11 third-quarter points. Miller then scored 11 fourth-quarter points for the Nuggets (6-6).

Love had 34 points and 14 rebounds in a return that came nearly two weeks earlier than expected. Nobody else had more than 12 points.

"We played really well in the first half and took care of the ball and got some stops," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "The third quarter we didn't start going. We had 11 turnovers in the second half. We missed opportunities at the basket, and they got running."

The key sequence was a 12-5 Denver run that came right after Barea's three-pointer with 4 minutes, 47 seconds left gave the Wolves their final lead of the game.

It was a disappointing end to a very promising evening. The news that Love would play came moments after Adelman, during his pregame meeting with reporters, had demurred on the subject.

But it spread quickly. Actually, Love and some of his teammates knew on Tuesday, when Love got word back from his specialist in New York that the X-ray of the hand looked good enough for Love to play.

Love had said the minute he got clearance he was going to go. So, without as much as a full practice under his belt, with a fingerless glove-like protective wrap on his hand, he did.

"I told my teammates," he said. "They didn't really believe me. Once they saw the jersey in my locker they believed it was true."

There weren't a lot of fans in the arena when the Wolves took the court for pregame warmup, but those there made a lot of noise and many lined up near the tunnel to take pictures of Love running onto the court. And then the introductions: First Luke Ridnour, then Malcolm Lee, Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko.

Finally came Love, and the crowd roared.

And it was like Love had never been gone; he indicated he'd been fouled after missing his first shot, a three-point attempt from the top of the key.

In 9 1/2 first-quarter minutes Love had 16 points and six rebounds. The Wolves, up by 11 after a quarter, were up by just three when Love returned to the game with 6:59 left in the half, then the Wolves went on a 23-12 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

"I knew he would play, and play well," Barea said. "He was just waiting on the doctor. He was happy. I knew he was going crazy sitting. He was talking too much."

After the game Love said the hand still hurt but he'd fight through it.


Up next: 9 p.m. Friday at Portland • Rose Garden • TV: FSN (830-AM)