Nikola Pekovic can bench press 360 pounds. He can outmuscle two, sometimes three opposing players for a putback. If he wanted, he could probably bore himself an ice fishing hole with his bare hands.
But for all his brutishness, the angling-loving, mammoth Montenegrin can’t carry the Minnesota Timberwolves all by his lonesome.
An oddly lackluster evening from top scorers Kevin Love and Kevin Martin spoiled another strong outing from Pekovic, and the Timberwolves couldn’t keep pace at San Antonio in a 104-86 defeat Sunday. The Minnesota center scored a team-high 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting and pulled down six rebounds– his sixth consecutive game with either 20-plus points, double-digit boards or both.
Big Pek didn’t have much help, however.
Hampered by stingy defense from the Western Conference’s first-place team and defending champion, Love and Martin combined to go 5 for 26 from the field. Minnesota (18-19) shot 35.5 percent, allowed San Antonio to shoot 56.8 percent and lost its ninth straight game when trying to get over .500.
It was a particularly dismal night for Love, who faced frequent double-teams in the post and couldn’t get anything to fall once he got through them. His three made field goals (on 14 attempts) were his fewest since Dec. 26, 2012.
The two-time All-Star said it just wasn’t his night.
"There were just so many times where the ball just came in and out," said Love, who had 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds. "For a lot of people, it just seemed like there was a lid on (the basket), but that’s on us. We’ve got to finish."
Love had scored a season-high 42 points and nearly led the Timberwolves to an upset during their first road date with the Spurs. But this time, coach Gregg Popovich’s plan to bottle up Love with a steady dose of help defense from Boris Diaw helped San Antonio (29-8) stay a game ahead of Portland for the Western Conference lead.
Kawhi Leonard led six Spurs in double figures with 17 points, and Tim Duncan scored 11 of his 15 points in the third quarter as San Antonio built an 11-point advantage and never looked back. Matt Bonner filled in nicely for an injured Manu Ginobili with 14 points and four big 3-pointers.
The Spurs held Minnesota, which trailed just 52-49 at halftime, to 31.3 percent shooting in the final two quarters.
"I think we have to respond more," Adelman said. "(The Spurs) were playing a very physical game and were very aggressive, and we kind of played into that."
Pekovic, though, wasn’t part of the problem.
The 6-foot-11, 285-pound grinder worked over Duncan and benefited from all the attention focused on Love. His effectiveness — combined with a 35-point bench effort led by Alexey Shved’s 11 points — kept the Timberwolves close in the first half before San Antonio outscored them 23-15 in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs led 81-71 entering the frame and improved to 24-0 in games which they led entering the final period.
The Timberwolves have two days off before hosting Sacramento on Wednesday.
Shabazz shows well in D-League: Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad capped his four-game NBA D-League assignment with another impressive showing Sunday afternoon.
In the Iowa Energy’s 135-112 victory over Rio Grande Valley, Muhammad scored 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting, pulled down nine rebounds and tallied two assists and two steals. The No. 14 overall pick in the 2013 draft has scored 20 or more points each time out and averages 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game since he was assigned to the D-League last week.
Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders was in Des Moines on Sunday to take in Muhammad’s exploits in person. Muhammad is expected to rejoin the Timberwolves this week in time for Wednesday’s game against the Kings.