NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nikola Pekovic planted his 6-foot-11, 290-pound frame in the paint and left no doubt that the Minnesota Timberwolves can still dominate inside when Kevin Love is having an off night.
Pekovic scored a career-high 31 points, Andrei Kirilenko had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and the Timberwolves won their third straight game, 113-102 over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night.
“It’s just a good night. My teammates were finding me at the right place at the right time,” Pekovic said. “I was doing something I do best, sealing people off and playing really close to the basket. That’s kind of my game, so everything was good.”
Pekovic was 14 for 18 from the field, scoring almost exclusively inside where Minnesota finished with a whopping 70-42 scoring advantage despite the fact that Love hurt his right thumb and made only 4 of 18 shots.
“He’s a load when he gets the ball down there,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said.
Love finished with 14 points and X-rays on his injured thumb were negative.
“I’m a little down because I’m trying to work through stuff with my hand and then this happens,” Love said. “We won. That’s keeping me from out of the gutter.”
Luke Ridnour had 15 points and 10 assists. Alexey Shved scored 13 points and Jose Barea 12.
Hornets rookie Austin Rivers had a career-high 27 points, scoring 19 in the first half. Ryan Anderson added 20 points for New Orleans, which has lost six straight and 15 of 17.
“Pekovic was dominant. He dominated all of our bigs tonight,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Our defense is not even close to what we are used to around here. … I need to do a better job and get in there and figure out which guys are going to fight for this organization.”
Greivis Vasquez added 15 points and a career-high 17 assists. Anthony Davis, playing a reserve role as he works his way back from a left ankle injury, had 11 points and three blocked shots for the Hornets.
Minnesota outrebounded New Orleans 40-30. The Timberwolves had 14 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points.
Williams said he was getting tired of highlighting his team’s youth as a main reason for why the club is struggling. He noted that the Hornets’ small forwards were “absolutely atrocious” when it came to losing players on backdoor cuts, despite coaches harping on the importance of not doing so against Minnesota.
“You can blame it on youth for a little while, but that’s just a lack of focus,” Williams said.
Both teams shot just better than 53 percent in a game that was competitive into the fourth quarter. The Hornets led 62-59 after Vasquez used a spin move to set up a leaner off the glass, but Ridnour, who made all three 3s he attempted, made one to tie it at 62. Shved followed with a 3 and the Wolves never trailed again.
Kirilenko’s dunk off an alley-oop pass from Shved and Pekovic’s basket inside, also set up by Shved, made it 82-73 at the end of the third quarter.
New Orleans made one more run, pulling to 90-86 on Brian Roberts’ 3-pointer, but Minnesota responded with a 7-0 run during which Kirilenko scored twice inside, once for a three-point play.
Adelman raved about Kirilenko’s aggressiveness and play-making. He ran hard on fast breaks, threw down several dunks and opportunistically found his way inside in half-court situations.
“He’s terrific,” Adelman said. “He’s all over the court, and he’s the glue of our team. He really is.”
Minnesota led by as many as nine points on two occasions early in the second quarter, the second time on Derrick Williams’ dunk off an alley-oop pass that made it 42-33.
Rivers then hit two jumpers during a 6-0 run, and he later added a 3 and a driving layup as the Hornets made eight straight shots to close the half and briefly take a 50-48 lead before Kirilenko tied it at 50 at halftime.
Rivers had a career high before he first half ended, offering the Hornets at least one promising story line from another disappointing loss.
“The past three or four games, I’ve really finally started to get consistent and started to just actually — just breathe and go play,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to find your rhythm. You’ve got to find your pace — when to go and when not to go and read the defense. That’s something that takes time and it seems like each game I feel like I just get better at it.”
NOTES: Adelman said guard Ricky Rubio, who has been sidelined by a left knee injury since last March, worked out in Minnesota on Friday and could return Saturday night in Dallas. … The Hornets were without 7-foot reserve F-C Jason Smith with a sprained right shoulder. He’s expected to miss up to two weeks because of the injury which occurred Wednesday night at Oklahoma City. … Minnesota swingman Josh Howard hyperextended his right knee in the third quarter and was not able to return.