HOUSTON — Seated in the noisy afterglow of a 111-98 victory at Houston, Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic leaned a little closer and cocked his head, his ear nudging into a conversation Ricky Rubio conducted with reporters about him at the locker stall next door.
“Don’t worry,” Rubio said as he turned and stared into Pekovic’s bulging biceps tattoo that depicts an armored warrior standing on a bed of skulls just inches away. “I only say nice things about you.”
What else was he going to do after the Wolves improved to 7-6 away from Target Center on Friday night, when Pekovic carried his teammates on his big, broad shoulders to victory’s edge and then Kevin Love took them there?
Pekovic and Love produced the first pair of 30-10 point-rebound games in franchise history.
They combined for 63 points and 29 rebounds — three more rebounds than their opponents had all night — and for the third time in four games already this season beat the Rockets and their new head coach Kevin McHale, who coincidentally brought both players to Minnesota before he was fired and Wolves basketball boss David Kahn was hired.
Pekovic scored 28 of his 30 points in the first three quarters, when the Wolves built a 17-point lead — one that the Rockets twice whacked down to one point in the fourth quarter.
Love then stepped forth, scoring eight consecutive points that included two huge, consecutive three-point shots during a closing 16-4 flurry just when it looked like the Wolves might completely collapse.
“This isn’t about me,” Love said after delivering a 33-point, 17-rebound double-double that included 14 points the fourth quarter. “This is about us competing as a team down the stretch.”
Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman campaigned for his second-year center, arguing that the NBA should add Pekovic to next week’s All-Star weekend Rising Stars game, just like it made New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin and Miami’s Norris Cole late additions on Thursday.
“Lin has been a great story, but we’re going to make a movement for Pek,” said Adelman, who sounded like he was ready to go paint some signs. “Lin deserves all the credit and this just may be because we’re in Minnesota, but if they’re going to put (Lin) in that game, does anybody notice what this guy has done in the last two, three weeks? He has been every bit impressive as that kid.
“The only difference is they’ve won seven in a row and they’re in New York. It’s like it’s all about TV and TNT and the hype, which is great. But it’s incredible Pek doesn’t get any recognition.”
Pekovic’s response: Thanks, but no thanks. He plans to spend All-Star break with friends in Minneapolis instead.
“I’m not, no,” he said when asked if he shares Adelman’s outrage. “I’m fine. I’m just the same. I’m just trying to be happy with all I got now. I was never the guy who’s going to look for something, ‘Why am I not here,’ or ‘Why am I not there?’ I’m just happy to be here with these guys, the coaching staff, everybody. We’re winning the games. That tells you.”
And Rubio is happy he sits at the locker stall next to his big, best friend.
“I’m safe with having him next to me,” Rubio said with a grin. “He’s huge, he’s strong and everybody’s scared of him. And he’s playing unbelievable.”