PHOENIX – The Timberwolves on Tuesday beat the Phoenix Suns, the successful team the Wolves thought they would be this season.
In doing so with a 110-101 comeback victory, they kept the Suns within sight for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot and Wolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad proved he’s at his best in the desert.
“Must be the warm weather,” teammate Kevin Love said after his 33-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist night came within one assist of his second career triple-double, all in the past four days.
Or maybe it was just an opportunity.
Muhammad played the entire fourth quarter and a season-high 24 minutes and scored a career-high 20 points, half of them in that fourth quarter.
But that was only half the story for a player who became the nation’s No. 1 prep player while playing for a Las Vegas high school and who has sat for almost all of his NBA rookie season.
On Tuesday, Muhammad was the unlikely one to give the Wolves the energy they needed to recover from an eight-point deficit with eight minutes remaining. They outscored the Suns 24-6 over the next seven.
Included was a decisive 11-0 burst over 2½ minutes late that won the game after Suns star point guard Goran Dragic fouled out with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left.
Muhammad did it with his rebounding, his physicality and his will.
“He was terrific,” coach Rick Adelman said. “You’ve just got to give him all the credit in the world. He wasn’t getting the opportunity, and he kept working and working and working. He gets an opportunity now and what I liked about him is he stayed within his strengths: He rebounded the ball. He posted up. That’s what he can do.”
And late in the game, the same guy who was known as a shoot-first, shoot-second and shoot-last player during his one season at UCLA delivered the pass that led to a Corey Brewer layup and gave the Wolves a 102-97 lead with 1:38 left, a basket that was the centerpiece of that 11-0 run.
That pass came just after Muhammad had pulled down two rebounds, one on each end of the court.
Five of his six rebounds came in the fourth quarter, three of them during that 11-0 run.
“My favorite part was the two big rebounds at the end to really try and secure the game for us,” Muhammad said. “I’m just happy that I’m finally getting some playing time. I’ve been staying after practice, working with the coaches, and it’s paying off for me. It feels great. I’m starting to feel comfortable out there, my conditioning is starting to get up.
“It’s something I’m really grateful for, that we pulled out the win.”
Muhammad has finally received his chance to play in the past three games because with center Nikola Pekovic and guard Kevin Martin out injured, Adelman says he needed to find a way to replace those 40 missing points from the lineup.
Muhammad sure went a long way in doing that, especially when the Wolves held Phoenix without a basket for nearly three minutes when it mattered most. By doing that, the Wolves sit 5½ games behind the Suns for that final playoff spot, rather than 7½ had they lost to the same team that trailed by nine with 4½ minutes left and still beat them at Target Center in January.
“We’ve got to win games and we have to win two more on this trip,” Adelman said. “We have to take care of our business and see if we can’t get something going. It’s a huge win. We let one slip away the last time we played them, but tonight guys battled the whole game.”