While the Minnesota Timberwolves have enjoyed some early success without their two top players, the Indiana Pacers continue to struggle offensively minus injured star Danny Granger.
The Timberwolves look to win three in a row by handing the visiting Pacers a third consecutive defeat Friday night.
Even with star Kevin Love sidelined for at least six weeks with a broken right hand and Ricky Rubio recovering from a torn ACL, Minnesota (3-1) is off to a solid start thanks to some quality depth and strong defensive play. Luke Ridnour scored 19 points to lead five Minnesota players in double figures in Wednesday's 90-75 win over Orlando.
Though the Timberwolves aren't the most intimidating offensive team in the league - scoring more than 92 points once - they have four players averaging at least 11.0, led by third-year center Nikola Pekovic at 14.0. Derrick Williams added 14 on Wednesday as Minnesota went on a 28-6 run to break things open.
While the offense has been balanced, it's been a surprisingly strong defense that has paced the Timberwolves' success. Minnesota allowed an average of at least 100 points in each of the past five seasons, but currently ranks among the league leaders giving up 89.0 per contest.
The Timberwolves forced 20 turnovers, recorded 11 steals and blocked nine shots against the Magic. Minnesota is averaging 8.5 blocks.
"We've got a group of guys that is willing to work and wants to do the little things,'' said reserve forward Greg Stiemsma, who had 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes Wednesday. "We know we're going to have to do it every night, especially now that we're a little short-handed. We're not going to make excuses and just go out and play our style.''
As Minnesota looks to match its longest winning stretch from all of last season, Indiana (2-3) must find a way to score without Granger (knee).
After shooting 34.2 percent in a 101-79 loss at San Antonio on Monday, the Pacers were outscored 24-9 in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 89-86 defeat at Atlanta. The result came hours after the team announced Granger would miss up to three months after receiving an injection in his left knee to treat patellar tendinosis.
The All-Star, who has not played a game, averaged a team-leading 18.7 points last season. The Pacers have looked lost without him while averaging 90.0 points and shooting 40.3 percent.
Wednesday's effort was particularly frustrating as the Hawks used an 18-0 run to erase a 14-point fourth-quarter Indiana lead.
"Everybody,'' said Indiana guard George Hill, who scored 20 points. "It starts by everybody holding each other accountable. We've got to figure out what we can do better to be a better team.''
David West, who also had 20, has done his best to carry the scoring load while averaging a team-leading 17.4 points. He scored 22 and pulled down 10 rebounds during a 111-88 home victory over the Timberwolves on April 16.
Indiana has won five of seven against Minnesota, including both meetings last season by a combined 33 points.
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