Pekovic rises as Wolves erase 16-point deficit, rally to beat Pistons
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Pistons came to town with a 1-7 road record. The Minnesota Timberwolves were coming off a win and looking to build momentum before hitting the road themselves.
All signs pointed to a blowout. It wasn't.
In fact, if any team was close a blowout on Wednesday night at Target Center, it was the Pistons, who pushed their lead to 16 points in the second quarter before the Wolves began their rally for a 93-85 win.
"It was a really good win, the way we shot the ball in the first half," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "Our guys stayed with it. They defended the whole night. They didn't crack when we weren't making shots and they stayed with it and got a good win."
The Wolves (6-8) were lucky to head into the locker room only trailing the Pistons by six. They shot 28.9% from the field, including 6-of-22 combined shooting from Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour.
But rather than fold, as they did so many times under Kurt Rambis a season ago, the Wolves fought past their shooting woes and relied on their much-improved defense and bench to win their second consecutive game and inch towards a .500 record.
"I know when we were only down six at the end of the first half we were going to win," J.J. Barea said. "We are going to make shots at some point."
The Pistons picked up where they left off with a 10-4 run to start the half and the Wolves once again had an opportunity to pack it, but they kept fighting. The shots began to fall -- as Barea predicted -- and they continued to play sound defensively.
The Wolves began picking things up with a 9-0 run of their own, capped off by a nice post move by Nikola Pekovic, who started the second half in place of Darko Milicic. The Wolves shot 69% in the third quarter.
Pekovic played by far his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, getting two steals, blocking a shot and grabbing a rebound in a season-high 24 minutes. Even more important than Pekovic's production on offense was the physical presence the 6-foot-11 290 pound monster added on defense that was crucial.
"He was a presence in there and we needed a physical presence and Darko was struggling and had problems with his big toe," Adelman said.
The Wolves started the fourth quarter down seven points and Adelman stuck with his hot bench, starting the final quarter with Wayne Ellington, Anthony Tolliver, Derrick Williams, Love and Barea. That group went on a 15-7 run to take a 79-78 lead they didn't relinquish.
"Everybody who came off the bench (Wednesday) was awesome," Barea said. "If we got the bench like that every night, it will be awesome for us."
Forty-six of the 93 points came from the bench -- including 11 apiece from Pekovic and Tolliver. Williams and Barea each added eight.
"That is huge," Adelman said.
The Wolves held the Pistons to just 14 points in the fourth quarter and outscored them 57-53 in the second half.
"For us to come out big like that in the second half showed good character and showed good poise," Love said, who once again led the Wolves, scoring 20 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.
The Wolves won the game with two aspects of basketball they aren't used to winning with: their defense and their bench.
There were opportunities abound to pack it in, but the young Wolves got the confidence boost from learning they can win games without shooting the lights out.
7: Shots missed by the Wolves to start the game before Love hit a 3-pointer with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
10: Consecutive 3-pointers missed by the Wolves during one stretch in the first half.
8: Minutes for Darko, who has apparently lost his spot on the depth chart to Pekovic.
14: Double-doubles in 14 game for Love.
9-8-7-6: Points, assists, steals and rebounds for Rubio, who continues to flirt with a triple-double or, in Wednesday's case, even a quadruple-double. The six steals were the most for a Wolves player since Kevin Garnett in 2007.
Barea made his return to the court with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter after missing the last three games with a sprained ankle and a nagging quad.
His impact was felt immediately, as he got to the line and sunk a pair of free throws less than 30 seconds after hitting the court.
He scored eight points off the bench but was unceremoniously pulled for the game after receiving a technical foul for jawing at the ref after a missed shot.
"I thought the first half that he was really rusty," Adelman said. "He really didn't seem to have a good feel for what he wanted to do.
Barea sat at his locker with ice on both his ankle and hamstring and said he really only noticed discomfort on the defensive end.
"(I felt it) just from stropping to reacting, but I will get that," Barea said. "That's why you play. I felt a little weird out there, I hesitated a couple times. But that's OK. It's a good start."
Barea sprained his ankle in his loss eight days ago in a 110-100 loss to the Chicago Bulls, and the tweak may have been a blessing in disguise.
"It is going to take him a while because he has been out not once but twice, the hamstring then the ankle," Adelman said. "But he made a couple big shots in the start of that fourth quarter and he was a big lift there."
Beasley remains sideline with a sprained foot he suffered Jan. 6 in a 98-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and his missed the past six games.
He has ditched the walking boot he was in the days after the injury and Adelman said he did some shooting and running in practice Tuesday but there is still no timetable on his return.
Martell Webster is back on the court practicing with his teammates after his second microdiscectomy operation to alleviate recurring back pain in as many years.
Webster missed the first 24 games of the 2010-11 season and the first 14 games and counting of this lockout-shortened season.
He has been fully cleared by his doctors in Portland, Oregon, to play in games, but for now, Webster is happy just being on the practice court with his teammates after returning Tuesday.
"(It is) feeling good," Webster said. "Finally be able to be a part of the team. That's what it feels like. Getting to run up and down with the contact, there is nothing like it. The first day of practice feels good."
Webster was held out of Wednesday's win and there is still uncertainty about if he will be available on the upcoming two-game road trip to Los Angeles and Utah over the weekend. Webster, Adelman and the training staff are going to take a wait-and-see approach, not wanting to force the issue.
Webster averaged 9.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23.8 minutes a game last season after beginning much like this, with surgery and rehab. But while some may see this situation as déjà vu, Webster sees it a bit differently.
"It does make (the surgery and rehab) easier the second time around because the first time around was new for everybody," Webster said. "Just dealing with that injury and kind of coming up with a protocol as far as rehab goes. The first time around I kind of had it. The second time I was prepared so it was easier."
Adelman said he sees Webster fitting into his offense as either a shooting guard or small forward. But with Barea returning, Beasley not too far behind him and eventually Malcolm Lee will return as well, there will be a logjam for minutes.
Webster said he has used his down time to watch not only this season's games from behind the bench but DVDs of Adelman's offense being run by the Houston Rockets last season as well.
"It is a beautiful offense and if you put yourself in position to succeed you can really fall into what we are trying to do," he said. "So the guys that I was watching on tape were (Houston Rockets) Shane Battier and Kevin Martin. They ran the offense beautifully. So it is just one of those things where I have to keep studying and try to get back on the court."
While sitting behind the bench for the nine home games in his sport coat and funky hair cut that can't be put into words, Webster says he has watched the games from an "assistant coach perspective."
"Really seeing how plays are drawn up, seeing timing and execution," he said. "Really paying attention to that, focusing on that and studying that has helped me with my game on the court."
The added perspective has also given Webster the opportunity to pay additional attention to what the 6-8 Wolves need to work on going forward, and he thinks he can help fill the roles.
"I know what aspect I am trying to bring to the team and that is defensively, communicator. If you were here in practice while we were scrimmaging I was the loudest person on the court as far as communication goes."
"That's the thing we lack, the thing I have seen behind the bench, but it is all things we all can work on. We started (Tuesday) and hopefully we can try to get it going."
"No." -- Adelman, when a reporter asked him if he had any other color shirts besides his regular black ensemble he wears.
The Wolves will get their second practice of the week in on Thursday -- a rarity during this jammed schedule.
They had back on the road Friday night for their first appearance in Lob City to take on the Blake Griffin and the Clippers (7-4) at Staples Center.
The back-to-back roadie wraps up Saturday night in Utah (9-4) to take on former Wolf Al Jefferson and the Jazz.