Winning close games is next order of business for Wolves

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:21 AM

The Wolves are masters of blowing out teams. Now about those close ones ...

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Nikola Pekovic went to the basket against Al Jefferson of Charlotte as the Wolves returned to .500 again on Friday.

– If you can’t win by a little, then win by a lot.

Or so it goes for the Timberwolves, who have kicked away games to four teams they are chasing for a Western Conference playoff spot these past three weeks but also lead the NBA in 20-plus-point victories with eight.

That’s one more than the seven delivered this season by the mighty San Antonio Spurs, the Wolves’ Sunday night opponent at AT&T Center.

Wednesday’s 104-103 home loss to Phoenix created tension inside the Wolves’ locker room, probably because it so closely followed games against Oklahoma City, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers that the team should have won but lost.

At least they still have a sense of humor about it after Friday’s 119-92 victory over Charlotte became that eighth victory this season by 20 or more points.

“We were joking at the end of the game,” Wolves center Nikola Pekovic said Friday after his 26-point, six-rebound night. “We lose the game by two or we win by 20.”

For the record, yes, the Wolves are 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer. But you know what Mark Twain once said about statistics, and Wolves coach Rick Adelman is ready to quibble with that glaring 0-10 reference point.

“I don’t really agree with the 10 games because about five of them we were behind and closed it to four [points],” he said. “But the last three have been very similar. It has happened too much.”

The 18-18 Wolves are at the .500 mark for the ninth time since Thanksgiving, and each of the past eight times they have lost the next game.

Friday’s 27-point victory over the Bobcats tied for their fourth-largest victory of the season. They’ve won games by 29, 30 and 31 points this season.

“We have the ability to score,” Adelman said after Friday’s game. “We always knew we’d be able to score. If we really shoot the ball well like we did tonight, we’re going to win big. But we’ve got to be more consistent. It’s just something that we have to keep pushing for.”

The Wolves starters shot better than 61 percent Friday, and the entire team shot 54.4 percent on a night when their bench, finally made whole by the return from injuries of Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf, pushed the Wolves to a decisive 39-20 advantage in the second quarter.

They led by as many as 31 points in the second half and came within one point of their eighth 120-point game of the season. The seven they have registered already is a single-season franchise record.

“Looks like that’s working for us,” Wolves star Kevin Love said, referring to outscoring opponents by large margins. “Hopefully we can keep it up.”

Love also added he wishes “we could meet somewhere in the middle” between wide victories and mounting narrow defeats, any one of which might cost the Wolves their first playoff spot in a decade.

“Winning by 20 means we’re doing something good,” point guard Ricky Rubio said. “We just have to figure out how to win close games and we’ll be good. It’s hard. We have to learn how to play those close games.”

He was asked after Friday’s game about that eighth 20-plus-point victory rather than Wednesday’s postgame question about a team that can’t win close games.

“That makes me feel better,” he said. “I like that question better than the other one.”

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