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Pekovic leads Timberwolves past the Nets

This news story was published on February 4, 2012.
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By Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune –

NEWARK, N.J. — One suspected there was something strange in the wind before the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 108-105 victory at New Jersey on Friday night when a visitor entered the team’s locker room early in the evening and found a gaggle of reporters huddled around Nikola Pekovic while Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio sat alone at their lockers.

“That’s good, no?” Pekovic said later that night.

Yes, that’s good.

It was very good for the Timberwolves on Friday, when they won for the sixth time in 10 road games and again approached that .500 record (now 11-12) by holding on to beat the injury-ravaged Nets with a wild finish.

When it was all over, Pekovic had delivered his third double-double game in the past five with a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds that were instrumental in repelling the Nets and shooting guard Anthony Morrow’s career night of his own.

“He was unbelievable,” Rubio said. “He helped us a lot. He’s a tough guy, really tough, I can tell you. And he’s a smart guy. He knows how to play and he did an unbelievable job today.”

Timberwolves Nation —   yes, that’s almost a legitimate term to use this season — has clamored for two things as this abbreviated 66-game season now is a third gone.

They want:

— A bona fide shooting guard, not perpetual tandems of two point guards played together much of the night.

— A new starting center.

At first, that desire for a new center was anyone but Darko Milicic. Now, it’s specifically a cry on Twitter and blogs for Pekovic to step forth center stage.

That’s what he did on Friday when he replaced Milicic with the starting unit to begin the third quarter and played all but 23 seconds after intermission.

Pekovic scored 21 of his points — and had eight of those rebounds, including seven on the offensive end — after halftime.

He also was as responsible, if not more, for the final outcome as Rubio, who once again displayed his fourth-quarter toughness by making play and play, including getting his hands on a deflected ball after he had been screened out of the play as the Nets worked for a final chance to tie the game at the end.

By the time they sought that tying three-pointer, the Nets already had made 10 of them, with Morrow sinking eight.

Morrow is one name a segment of Wolves Nation has bandied upon as a possible shooting-guard upgrade and Friday’s breakout game must have left those few both exasperated and reaffirmed.

Morrow scored a career-high 42 points and three times Friday he was fouled while attempting a three-pointer.

“Give him credit,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He knocked down everything.”

The last time, he made the three-point shot and the free throw for a rare four-point play that turned a comfy 104-95 Wolves lead with 25.7 seconds into a one-point game with 22.7 seconds remaining.

The Wolves eventually prevailed when Adelman sent J.J. Barea into the game to give the team another ball-handler and fine free-throw shooter, and the Wolves held off a Nets team missing injured Brook Lopez, Mehmet Okur, DeShawn Stevenson, Damion James and MarShon Brooks by making four consecutive free throws down the stretch.

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