Big men flex their muscles as Wolves hang on to win

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2013 - 7:28 AM

Stout performances from Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic helped Minnesota win its first post-All-Star outing.

On the eve of the NBA's trade deadline, Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea fast-forwarded right past Thursday's 2 p.m. buzzer all the way to this coming summer.

He did so after Wednesday's wire-to-wire 94-87 victory over Philadelphia by turning toward teammate Nikola Pekovic in the next locker stall and addressing reporters gathered around a guy who had just delivered a decisive 27-point, 18-rebound performance.

"Go ahead, tell them how much you're going to make next year," Barea said. "Tell him how much you want."

The Wolves could address other matters -- Will they swap one of their little guards for a bigger one? Will they deal another first-round pick again for immediate help? -- by Thursday afternoon.

But the issue to which Barea referred almost certainly won't be addressed until July, when Pekovic will become a restricted free agent and the Wolves probably will choose either to match another team's big offer or trade him if they deem the price too hefty.

On Wednesday, he made a case for his worth by offering a physical exhibition of which the Sixers wanted no part.

Never mind that the Wolves once led by 19 points in the second quarter, and never mind that they made just one lousy basket in the fourth quarter.

They prevailed in their first game back from a five-day All-Star break after Philadelphia twice pulled within four points in the final three minutes, and they did so by getting to the free-throw line 22 times in the fourth quarter alone and 44 times in the game.

Pekovic attempted 15 of those, including six in a fourth quarter when he missed two in a row. His team led by four points with 41 seconds left then, and the Sixers never got any closer.

"He played like a monster tonight," Wolves forward Derrick Williams said. "He has been playing like that all season. I think we all just followed his lead. When you have someone like that get 27 and 18, you're not going to lose too many games. It takes two or three guys a night to guard Pek."

Williams chose the word "monster." Ricky Rubio preferred a slight variation. "Pek was a beast," he said. "If you play physical with Pek, you're going to get in trouble because he hit the weight room. His arm looks like my head."

Pekovic's 18 rebounds tied a career high.

"I didn't really think about it," Pekovic said. "I was just trying to do my best job, help my team to win. I know with Kevin [Love sidelined] everybody needs to step up with the rebounds and everything. I was really trying to do that tonight. Every game I try to do that."

Williams supplemented Pekovic's performance with a 17-point, eight-rebound night. Small forward Andrei Kirilenko returned after five games away because of a quad injury and helped hold Sixers guard Evan Turner to one fourth-quarter point after he scored 14 in the third quarter.

Kirilenko provided the defense that kept the Sixers just far enough away. Pekovic provided the offense and rebounding that made Barea in the next stall sound like he was auditioning to be big Pek's agent.

"I would love to be his agent," Barea said.

"It's easy money right there. He's going to pay for every dinner next year."

Pekovic simply laughed when asked how much he's going to want next season.

"That one," he said, looking toward Barea's locker, "he's always talking."

  • WOLVES 94, PHILADELPHIA 87

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