MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks as the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
It sure didn’t show.
Nikola Pekovic scored 27 points and the Timberwolves made eight of 13 shots from beyond the arc in a 107-98 win over the Bucks that leaves Minnesota’s Rick Adelman one shy of becoming the 11th coach to reach 1,000 NBA victories.
Ricky Rubio had 18 points — shooting 5-of-6 from long range — and added 12 assists and eight steals for the Wolves. Prior to Wednesday night, Rubio hadn’t made more than two 3-pointers in a game over his two-year NBA career.
“I have been comfortable with my legs and I have my strength in my legs and I’m getting more shots. Shooting is one of the things I have to improve upon,” said Rubio, known more for his slick passing skills. “Since I have been a professional, I have not been a good shooter.”
Adelman said Rubio needs to continue working on his outside shooting.
“He really shot the ball well in the first half. I think he is going to get better and better at that, especially at shooting the threes,” Adelman said. “He is still in the situation as the game goes on where his legs still get a little tired. That takes away from his shot. But he just makes so many things happen for us when you watch him out on the floor.”
Pekovic continued a run of strong games after he had 22 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Oklahoma City on Friday and scored 29 at home Monday to help beat Boston. He was 11 of 14 from the field with eight rebounds against the Bucks.
“I just feel good. I have been playing really good,” Pekovic said. “The guys are scoring outside shots and when the guys score, it makes my life easier.”
Adelman said he was impressed with Pekovic’s performance against Larry Sanders, one of the league’s leading shot blockers.
“He has been more and more effective. Guys like (Sanders) bother him sometimes because of their length,” Adelman said.
Ersan Ilyasova had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Monta Ellis scored 18 points and Mike Dunleavy added 15 for Milwaukee, which holds a six-game lead on Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We need to do a better job in the second half with execution on the offensive end,” Ilyasova said. “We tried to stop (Pekovic) in the post, but he was trouble for us the whole game. We tried to double team him, but he was able to make passes for open shots. We need to do much better defensively.”
Bucks coach Jim Boylan wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance, especially a slew of late-game turnovers that spoiled any chance of a rally.
“I haven’t seen us play that sloppy in a while,” Boylan said. “It’s a tough one for us to swallow right now at this point in the season.”
Boylan was especially critical of his team’s penchant for making “high-risk” passes.
“We’ve got to stop throwing one-handed, cross-court passes and get back to the fundamentals of the game. Pass with two hands. See your target and deliver the ball. Have nice, simple easy plays. Tonight we were kind of winging that ball all over the place.”
Minnesota, which won consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 15, shot 61.9 percent to jump out to a 34-23 lead after the first quarter.
The Timberwolves moved ahead by 14 points, their biggest lead of the game, early in the second before the Bucks broke off a 22-6 run to surge in front 48-46. The Timberwolves closed the quarter on a 9-4 spurt to take a 55-52 lead at the half. Rubio had 15 first-half points while sinking all five of his 3-pointers. The Timberwolves made seven 3-pointers in the opening half.
Minnesota held the lead throughout the third quarter and took an 87-81 advantage heading into the final period.
Minnesota had 58 points in the paint, compared to just 38 for Milwaukee.
Coupled with Boston’s win over Detroit, the Bucks now trail the Celtics by 2 games for the seventh seed in the East.
“It was a win we wanted to get,” Sanders said. He insisted that he and his teammates haven’t been preoccupied with moving up a spot to avoid a first-round playoff matchup with the Miami Heat.
“I don’t talk about that at all. I don’t even think about. I just want to go to the playoffs. We’re not afraid of anybody. You just have to put your shoes on and play 48 minutes.”
Notes: Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still appears to be dealing with lingering effects from surgery on his right knee last offseason. “He’s not moving around the way he has in prior years with us,” Boylan said. “You have to figure that his knee isn’t quite as good as he’d want it to be. It’ll continue to take a little more time.” .Boylan questioned why the league schedule has the Bucks playing all of their games down the stretch against teams outside their division. “We’re done with anybody in our division. We were done with some teams in our division back in January. You’d think that if you were in a battle for a division title it’d be nice if you were playing them in March or April.” . A moment of silence was held for NBA referee Greg Willard, who died Monday of pancreatic cancer at age 54.