Healthy Pekovic inflicts pain on Lakers in Wolves rout
MINNEAPOLIS — Rest and recuperation.
Timberwolves big man Nikola Pekovic is all too acquainted with both terms, having missed at least 17 games in each of his four NBA seasons. But he’s learned to use the untimely, forced breaks to his advantage.
"A little rest is always good," said Pekovic, who returned Friday from a six-game absence due to soreness in his right ankle.
As he usually does in the first contest back from injury, Pekovic asserted himself from the start in a consolation annihilation of the Lakers that ranks as one of the most lopsided in Timberwolves history. The Montenegrin center’s game-high 26 points coupled with Kevin Love’s second career triple-double reunited the franchise-dubbed "Bruise Brothers" for a clinic in frontcourt efficiency.
It also reflected another trend of Pekovic’s NBA tenure; although he’s known to get banged up, he usually comes back strong.
In seven games coming off injuries since April 2, 2012, Pekovic averages 18.9 points per game on 63.5 percent shooting and 6.9 boards an outing. Before his latest absence, he returned from a 13-game departure — due to the right-ankle bursitis that also precipitated his more recent string of missed games — and hung 20 points on Sacramento.
"I asked if he was gonna be out six more now, then come back," coach Rick Adelman joked. "I liked his conditioning, because he hasn’t really been doing a lot. He really only had that short practice (Thursday)."
It helped the playoff-hopeless Timberwolves (36-35) demolish a hapless Lakers squad that’s fallen on even harder times than Minnesota this season. Los Angeles still leads the all-time series, 71-24, but yielded a season series loss (3-1) to the Timberwolves for the first time since 2005-06.
And the last stanza therein saw Minnesota score the most points in franchise history in its largest win since Jan. 7, 2009 against Oklahoma City and the Timberwolves’ largest ever against the Lakers. Their 67.1-percent field goal clip (51-for-76) is also the highest in the organization’s 25-year existence.
Pekovic was the most efficient, making 9 of 10 field-goal attempts and all eight of his free-throw tries.
"I was just kind of glad to be back on the court again with the guys, you know?" Pekovic said. "We really tried to get after them from the very first moment."
Love amassed triple-double No. 2 — the first came Feb. 22 at Utah — with 22 points , 10 rebounds and 10 assists, throwing his vintage outlet passes and connecting on 3 of 5 3-pointers. His 10th rebound came at the very end of the third quarter and appeared to occur after the buzzer, but the home stat-keepers awarded it to him before Adelman benched his starting five for the fourth quarter.
"I don’t know," Love said when asked if he thought the board was legitimate. "(Point guard) J.J. (Barea) said I got it, so I guess I got it."
Said Adelman: "He was coming out, so he’d better get it there, or he wasn’t gonna get it."
By then, the Timberwolves led 111-77 in a tie for the highest-scoring first three quarters of a game this NBA season.
The gargantuan final tally only adds to the perplexity of this season. Minnesota’s plus-3 point differential ranks 10th in the league, yet it’s still 6 1/2 games back of a playoff spot. The Timberwolves have won 12 games by 20 or more points this season but fallen in 12 of 16 decided by four points or less.
The mystery continues.
"It’s been such a weird year," Adelman said, "because we’ve had so many blowouts, and then we’ve had the tough losses and the close games. I don’t (know) the reason for that, the answer for that, but it does show that we’re very effective offensively."
Thanks to its highest-scoring first half of the year, Minnesota led 74-43 at the break. Pekovic scored the game’s first six points and 10 of the Timberwolves’ first 22, and the Timberwolves posted a 20-3 run that gave them a 26-7 first-quarter lead.
Working over Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, Chris Kaman and Ryan Kelly, Pekovic and Love played a key role in Minnesota’s 49-26 rebounding advantage and 66-48 points-in-the-paint edge. Backup center Gorgui Dieng — who had five double-doubles in six starts in Pekovic’s place — led a solid bench effort with 14 points and nine rebounds.
But this was a depleted Lakers team without Kobe Bryan or Pau Gasol. Steve Nash was a game-time decision and played just 14 minutes, 55 seconds.
Kent Bazemore and Jodie Meeks scored 21 and 19 points to lead Los Angeles (24-48), which matched its worst record since losing 49 games in 1993-94.
And while it’s a shell of the former franchise that’s won so many games in the Target Center, the Timberwolves and most of the 16,442 fans in attendance were overjoyed at vanquishing such a consistently victorious foe.
"It’s always good to beat the Lakers," said small forward Corey Brewer, who had 11 points and a pair of steals. "The Lakers are like America’s team, so for us, it’s always good to get a win."
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