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Love takes his talents to the perimeter


ORLANDO -- On most nights, Kevin Love quantifies his effectiveness based on the amount of rebounds he grabs in addition to the number of red stains on his Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.

"Sometimes, if I don't draw blood in games on myself, I'm a little mad," Love said. "So I definitely like working inside a lot more than outside. But I think I'm just as equally effective outside. At the end of the day, I want to be remembered as a power player."

Few will forget the versatility he continued to show in his arsenal Saturday night. Love carried his brawny frame, scraggly beard and the lowest shooting percentage among the group out to the perimeter and knocked off Kevin Durant in the final round to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

For Love, pulling off the upset was validation for all those times he heard that he needed to "keep my butt inside" and resist the desire to expand his game. A big part of Love wants to continue to be as relentless and aggressive on the boards as Moses Malone. It's who we want him to be. It's who he is.

But it's time to face another part of Love's reality. He's got Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge fantasies, too. These days, there's no shame in a rugged big man wanting to mix a bit of pretty-boy basketball with his game.

"Not at all," said Love, still clutching the gold ball trophy he repeatedly kissed well after the competition. "I think maybe Ricky [Rubio] is rubbing off on me a little bit. I feel good about this. Everybody looked at me as a rebounder and a power player who did dirty work. I always knew what I was capable of this. Just being out here and being on the biggest stage shooting 3s, it was always something I could see myself doing. I kept telling myself I could be here."

This was vindication long in the making for Love, who spoke Saturday about former coaches and scouts who told him he was out of place whenever he ventured outside of the lane. He declined to mention specific coaches by name, but said he now receives a level of support from first-year Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and his staff that has allowed him to blossom offensively.

Love has been one of the league's top rebounders the past two seasons, but has added other dimensions to his game his fourth year in the league that have him averaging a career-high 25 points to go with 14 rebounds a game. That type of production has Love working a back-to-back shift this weekend in Orlando, where he'll also play in Sunday's All-Star Game.

The past two seasons, some might have dismissed Love as a stat stuffer whose numbers lacked significant impact on dreadful teams. But these aren't those Timberwolves. This isn't that Love. Minnesota is one of the most improved teams in the league under Adelman, owns a .500 record and will enter the stretch run of the season just one game behind Portland for the eighth seed in the West.

Telling these Timberwolves they aren't a legitimate playoff contender is like telling Love he can't shoot 3s with the best in the league. We saw the results of that wisdom Saturday night. Love followed in Dirk's footsteps and become only the second power forward to win the shootout. He needed an extra round to get past Mario Chalmers to advance.

Love was forced into a second shoot-off when he matched Durant's score of 16 in the second round. In the final, Love outscored Durant 17-14 to outperform a field that also included defending champion James Jones. It didn't matter that Love entered the contest shooting a modest 38.4 percent from the field on the season, which was the lowest number of the six players in the the field.

"To me, it's not a surprise," Love said. "My shooting percentage might be down right now, but I was at 42 percent last year. I figured I was pretty much the dark horse when you looked at the list of guys. I didn't think I was going to get past Kevin or James Jones. But to be fortunate enough to have them miss some shots, hey, a win is a win."

But this wasn't some gimmick. Love trained for the event for hours the past few weeks by working out with Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter, who twice finished second in the competition. The two would line up racks after practices and shootarounds, with Porter showing Love pointers to speed up his release and pace to complete a round in the allotted 60 seconds.

Love said he might even consider giving Porter the trophy. He had something else for his doubters. Motivation.

"Coming into the league, I was told not to shoot 3-point shots," Love said. "I'm not going to go there. It was in the past. But it was motivation for me. To be where I am now, to continue to work on my game, I think this definitely speaks to my versatility. I'm just trying to improve year in and year out."

So what's next in Love's talent expansion? Perhaps the dunk contest next year?

"Nah, nah," Love said, vehemently shaking his head. "But maybe the skills challenge."

Love then winked and smiled.

I wouldn't count him out.