SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – The Timberwolves welcomed two starters back after weeks away injured….and lived to tell about it with a 108-97 victory at Sacramento on Saturday night.
The Wolves repelled the Kings’ fourth-quarter comeback and kept their playoff aspirations percolating by winning for the fifth time in six games, this time with both Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin back in the starting lineup and on the floor at game’s end for the first time in weeks.
“It’s going to take a little while,” Wolves star Kevin Love said about integrating both players back into a team that learned to win without them. “But it didn’t look like it tonight.”
Leading by 15 points during a transformational third quarter and by eight points with as little as 3 ½ minutes left, the Wolves allowed the Kings to get within 97-95 with 2:09 remaining before they finished with a closing 11-2 flourish anchored by Ricky Rubio’s clutch three-point shot.
That gave the Wolves a 102-95 lead with 53.4 seconds left after Rubio had attempted just three shots – and just one three-pointer – all night.
“I was open,” Rubio said simply, “so I took it.”
The Wolves now are 3-1 on a five-game trip that began a week earlier at Utah and ends Monday at Denver.
“It’s the type of game we need to keep winning,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said afterward. “We don’t know what’s ahead for us, but we do know we have one more game left on the road trip and then we go home for a home stand. It’s there for us.”
The victory pushed the Wolves back to even for the season, at 29-29. They trail Phoenix by five games for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot and ninth-place Memphis by four games.
After Monday’s game, they go home to play 10 of their next 15 games at home, including three of their first four there against teams with losing records.
Martin played 34-plus minutes in his first game back since he fractured a bone in the thumb of his left non-shooting hand three weeks ago at New Orleans and scored 19 of his 26 points by halftime.
“It was just great to be out there with the guys,” Martin said. “Basketball is the easy part. It was actually tougher sitting out and not playing than it is playing.”
Pekovic played nearly 28 minutes, which Adelman acknowledged was more than the 20-22 minute limit stated by the team’s medical staff and delivered a 20-point, 9-rebound performance in which his team needed his presence against Sacramento’s big, bruising DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 17 rebounds).
It also needed his two free throws with 1:27 left that pushed the Kings back for one final time after Sacramento guard Isaiah Thomas’ jump shot got them within a basket.
“I don’t want to argue with Coach,” Pekovic said, smiling when asked about his playing time.
He hadn’t played since a Jan. 27 game at Chicago because of bursitis in his right ankle.