Derrick Williams comes through as Wolves beat Kings without Kevin Love
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves escaped from Tuesday's game against the Sacramento Kings with an 86-84 win after a final minute of play that was too close for comfort after they squandered a 15-point lead.
"The most important thing is we got the win," coach Rick Adelman said. "We are going to look at everything and then move on."
Derrick Williams -- who got the start in place of the suspended Kevin Love -- hit the biggest shot of his young career, knocking down a three-pointer with 56.8 seconds remaining to give the Wolves an 85-82 lead.
DeMarcus Cousins and Ricky Rubio each made one of two free throws. Then, Marcus Thornton also converted one of two to pull the Kings within two with 28.6 seconds remaining.
Rubio forced up a 19-footer that never had a chance to go in after the Kings somewhat surprisingly didn't foul. After a frantic scramble to the other end, Donte Green got the ball in the corner next to the Wolves bench but couldn't connect on potentially game-winning 3-pointer after Sacramento had trailed wire to wire.
"I didn't even look at the shot. I didn't even want to watch," Adelman said. "I was standing right there."
Said Rubio, "The ball seems like it was a minute in the air. I missed the shot and I missed free throws and I was playing bad, but when they miss, you just forget everything."
With Love watching and tweeting from home, it was Nikola Pekovic who stepped up in his absence.
The second-year post man continued his strong play, scoring a game-high 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season -- all within the past two weeks.
The win put the Wolves (13-12) above .500 for the first time this late in the season since they were 20-19 on Jan. 21, 2007. It was another sign they're taking a step forward after years of disarray as a franchise.
"It builds character," Michael Beasley said. "It builds a winning attitude, especially a win to go over .500."
The Wolves are 6-2 in their past eight games and are on their second three-game win streak of the season.
"I just told them, it's not always going to be perfect," Adelman said. "It is not always going to be something you look at and say, 'That was great.' We had some terrible spells in that game, but the character was we didn't pull, we didn't give in."
This was the first time all season Love -- banned for stepping on Houston forward Luis Scola on Saturday night -- wasn't in the starting lineup.
Adelman went with Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Williams and Pekovic, who scored seven of his 23 points in the first quarter and drew two crucial fouls on Cousins that limited him to four minutes in that opening frame.
"Pek' was really good," Adelman said. "Cousins had a good game last night for them and we were concerned about Pek getting fouls and he really got aggressive against Cousins and got him into foul trouble. He was good all night long."
The Wolves had one of their best quarters of the season to start the game, leading the Kings 31-16. The Wolves shot 61.9% from the floor. Rubio was the floor general, having eight assists -- two shy of the team record -- in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Kings cut the lead to two in the third quarter when the shots stopped falling and there appeared to be a momentum shift inside the Target Center. But the Wolves went on a 6-0 run, complete with a Pekovic steal at halfcourt he dribbled down for an uncontested dunk.
"Maybe he can play point guard and I can play at center," Rubio joked after the game.
The 69-60 lead the Wolves had at the start of the fourth quarter was all thanks to Pekovic, who shot 6-for-6 in the third quarter while the rest of the team struggled to hit anything, going just 3-of-16 from the field.
"We didn't shoot very well (Tuesday), but he helped us a lot," Rubio sad. "He is great. He is tough. He is smart."
Dunking on fast breaks and connecting on spin moves on the baseline, Pekovic's confidence continues to grow as he was once again the star on the court and without question the biggest surprise of the Wolves' season.
"When you play some time you try many different things, especially if you score, you get even more confidence," he said.
Said Adelman, "He's staying within himself. He knows what he can do. He is so strong but he's worked on his game. But now he is on the court enough that he is relaxing. He's just playing and it's fun to watch."
The Wolves appeared to be running away with the game before Jimmer Fredette started giving fans flashbacks to his days at BYU.
The rookie scored all 13 of his points in the second half on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc. He only played 17 minutes but was instrumental in setting the Kings up for the opportunity to steal the game at Target Center before the Wolves closed it out.
8: First-quarter assists for Rubio, two shy of a team record held by Pooh Richardson and Stephon Marbury.
14: Rebounds for Beasley, who stepped up in the absence of Love's 13.7 rebounds per game. Beasley also added 17 points but needed 21 shots to do it.
14: Points for Williams on 5-of-10 shooting. None bigger than his late 3-pointer. "It felt great," Williams said, "just for my confidence."
Darko Milicic suffered a sprained ankle in practice on Monday to add to his ever-growing list of injuries in his second full season with the team.
Darko missed last Saturday's win over the Houston Rockets with a bruised left quadriceps after returning to the lineup just two games earlier from an extended absence while he battled an illness.
While the injuries continue to pile up for the eight-year veteran, he continues to watch his hold on his spot in the starting lineup evaporate thanks to the surprising play of Pekovic.
Adelman -- never one to be pleased with a question about his starting lineup -- hinted before the game that Pekovic may be the starting guy going forward, even when Darko gets healthy.
"Right now, (Pekovic) is starting," Adelman said. "That seems to be a big question around here. We just keep looking at the situation and he certainly has earned his time. If we are playing well, I hesitate to change that. I think we will just see what happens when Darko gets healthy. We will wait and see."
But after the performance Pekovic had Tuesday night, Adelman may do more than just hint next time the topic is brought up.
Lee in the D-League
Assigned to the NBA Development League's Sioux Falls Skyforce on Monday, rookie guard Malcolm Lee made his debut Tuesday against the Dakota Wizards.
Lee got the start and finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting in 24 minutes. He also added six assists, three turnovers and two rebounds in the 112-103 loss to the Wizards.
He will likely continue to play with the Skyforce throughout the current five-game homestand that they opened Tuesday. With the Wolves with a full compliment of healthy guards with Martell Webster and J.J. Barea back in the fold, there is no rush for Lee to make his NBA debut.
Lee is recovering from a torn MCL that was surgically repaired on Dec. 30.
"I don't know. I don't have tweeters."
--Pekovic, after he was told that Love had been tweeting during the game.
The Wolves left immediately after the game to fly to Memphis, where they'll take on the Grizzlies on Wednesday night in the final game of Love's suspension.
The Grizzlies (12-13) won the first of four games on Jan. 4, 90-86 at Target Center, when Tony Allen scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and Rudy Gay added 19 of his own. Love scored 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the loss.
The Wolves have lost eight of the past nine to the Grizzlies, with the lone win in that stretch coming in a 109-102 victory on Feb. 6 2010 at Target Center. They get a day off on Thursday to travel home before returning to the court Friday evening with a third and final meeting with the reigning world champion Dallas Mavericks.