Nikola Pekovic's career night propels Wolves to second straight win
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Nikola Pekovic added another exclamation mark to his recent emergence.
The second-year center put together a career performance Friday night in Houston to jump-start the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 111-98 victory over the Rockets.
Facing little resistance from Houston, Pekovic stormed his way to a career-high 30 points and 12 rebounds. He surpassed the 20-point threshold for the sixth time in the month of February, elevating his scoring average to 19.3 points in his last 10 games.
Backed by the Pekovic's outburst, the Wolves maintained control of the game for the bulk of the first three quarters. But the Rockets rallied to within one-point in the fourth.
Forward Kevin Love ensured the comeback would not be completed.
Love -- in his first appearance against the Rockets since he was suspended two-games for stepping on forward Luis Scola -- scored 16 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth to snare his squad's second straight victory since breaking a four-game losing skid.
Overshadowed by Pekovic and Love, guard Ricky Rubio quietly produced 18 points -- tying his career-high -- to go along with nine assists.
Even with Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons and Courtney Lee combining for 67 points, the Rockets were rarely composed enough to keep up with the Wolves, who won the season-series 3-1.
After trading baskets for much of the first quarter, the Wolves began to pull away in the second as Pekovic hammered Houston inside. He tallied 12 points in the final eight minutes before halftime.
The Rockets' offense went stale, while the Wolves surged to a 61-54 lead before the midway break. Their upwards momentum carried over into the second half, with the deficit growing to as many as 17 points.
However, Houston wasn't out of it. A trio of three-pointers from Parsons and Lee helped spark a 17-4 run. Parsons drove through lane to an easy lay-up that cut the lead to one point with less six minutes remaining.
Houston went on to score only four more points the rest of the way. The Wolves recorded 12 unanswered, squashing the Rockets' late-rally.
On the brink of letting a game slip away that was once firmly set in their favor, the Wolves somehow needed to revive their ailing offense.
Love served as the cure.
Twenty-three seconds after Parsons' lay-up cut the lead to one, Love, who scored the Wolves' first 12 points of the fourth quarter, sank a 3-pointer that abruptly quieted the Houston crowd. He followed soon after with another shot from long-range and within minutes the Rockets' comeback was put to an end.
7-2: Wolves' record this season against the NBA's Texas trio (Dallas, Houston and San Antonio).
30: Points or more scored by Love in four of his five games since returning from suspension.
7: Years since the Wolves last won a season-series with the Rockets (2004-05).
12-of-14: Shots made by the Wolves to close the first half.
Williams prepping for All-Star weekend
Derrick Williams wasted no time preparing for the 2012 Dunk Contest.
Just hours after it was announced he would be competing, the rookie spent time after practice Thursday working on a few dunks he may try out next weekend.
Williams' best dunk came when he threw the ball off the glass, caught it, put it between his legs before slamming it in with one hand. Williams also worked on some baseline dunks with the help of teammate Ricky Rubio.
Williams said he might use that dunk in the competition but he also has a few more up his sleeve. One trick he wants to use is to milk the popularity of a certain Spanish teammate.
"I asked Ricky (to pass to me in the competition). He isn't sure what he is doing but I hope he helps me out. I can get more fan votes that way. Everybody loves Ricky."
In a new twist this year, the winner is determined by fan votes on NBA.com, so having Rubio out there could help Williams become the first Wolf since Isaiah Rider in 1994 to win the contest. Also a rookie that year, Rider won the competition with what he called his "East Bay Funk Dunk."
Williams said he competed in one other dunk contest in his life while at the University of Arizona but didn't win, losing out to teammate Brendon Lavender and his 48-inch vertical.
"He did a handspring between the legs or something like that," Williams said. "He can really jump."
An added benefit of performing in the dunk contest is the added exposure the No. 2 overall pick will get from the national platform. Williams has struggled to find his rhythm midway through his rookie season, scoring just 7.5 ppg in 18.6 minutes.
"Playing time has been a little sporadic but at the same time just trying to keep putting in the work, staying after practice and stuff like that," he said. "But I can use this dunk contest to really get my name out there."
Kevin Love will be in attendance to watch his teammate and later compete in the 3-point shootout. Love said he will leave the passing duties to Rubio but is excited to see Williams put on a show.
"We've all seen what he can do in games and in practice, but I am excited to see him put a little flair on it. It is going to be exciting to watch," Love said.
A chance to level their record again at the .500 mark awaits the Wolves (15-16) Sunday when they return to the Target Center to host the Philadelphia 76ers (20-11) -- the top team in the Atlantic Division.