MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s been a slog at times for Arron Afflalo in his second tour with the Denver Nuggets as he tries to re-acclimate himself to a team in flux.
Little by little, it’s all coming back to him. Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Afflalo scored 34 points and the Nuggets handed the Timberwolves their 12th straight loss with a 110-101 victory on Monday night.
J.J. Hickson had 16 points and 11 rebounds and the Nuggets shot 55 percent to cruise past the Timberwolves. Jusuf Nurkic scored 14 points and Ty Lawson added 12 assists for the Nuggets, whose reserves outscored Minnesota’s 47-10.
If the Nuggets (15-20) are going to turn things around after a terrible start, Afflalo will likely be a catalyst. He’s averaged 25.3 points on 61 percent shooting over the last three games.
“When you go through struggles, which I was going through, I really tried to find myself and find what makes me a better player, a more effective player,” Afflalo said. “I think I’m starting to notice it over the last two or three games, how to be efficient and effective.”
Gorgui Dieng tied a career high with 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Shabazz Muhammad added 19 points and six boards for the Wolves (5-28), who are now tied with Philadelphia and New York for fewest wins in the league. The Timberwolves shot just 43 percent and have not won since Dec. 10 while playing without Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin.
“We’ve just got to dig through these dog days,” said Wolves assistant Sam Mitchell, who filled in when Flip Saunders couldn’t make it to the arena because of an illness.
Nuggets coach Brian Shaw recently switched up the team’s game-day schedule, eliminating the time-honored morning shootaround in favor of a light workout later in the afternoon. Shaw believes starting later in the day gives his players more continuous sleep and has them operating when their bodies are used to exerting their most effort.
The approach was successful on Saturday when the Nuggets thumped the Grizzlies 114-85 and Shaw said before the game on Monday the plan was to employ it the rest of the season to get a large sample size and make a determination going forward about the long-term future.
The Nuggets looked energetic and well-rested again Monday night, though playing against the woeful Timberwolves might have had something to do with it. They outscored the Wolves 19-10 in transition and 56-38 in the paint.
The Wolves allowed the Nuggets to shoot 61 percent in the first half. They turned the ball over eight times and were outscored 13-3 in transition and trailed by 24 points midway through the second quarter.
The veteran Afflalo took it to No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, making him work for his 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting while Afflalo was 11 for 18 — including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers.
“I think I could’ve done better, a lot better,” Wiggins said. “I don’t think it was one of my best defensive performances.”
Nuggets: Nate Robinson, who was questionable with a sprained right wrist, scored 12 points in 21 minutes. … After scoring 26 points and grabbing 25 rebounds in a win over the Wolves in Denver at the end of December, Kenneth Faried had 15 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
Timberwolves: Wiggins was named Western Conference rookie of the month for December. He’s won the award in each of the first two months of the season. … F Chase Budinger missed his second straight game because he was sick and F Robbie Hummel was also out with the same bug.
The Timberwolves tried to change things up by putting veteran Mo Williams in the starting lineup at point guard and moving rookie Zach LaVine to the bench. But it was just more of the same for a struggling group that can’t defend, can’t hit a 3-point shot consistently and can’t stay healthy.
Williams scored 17 points in 25 minutes. LaVine managed just five on 2-for-9 shooting in 26 minutes.
Nuggets: Host Orlando on Wednesday.
Timberwolves: Host Phoenix on Wednesday.
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