DALLAS - The injury-ravaged Timberwolves don't have walking wounded, they have riding wounded, and on Monday night in Dallas they collected yet another odds-defying victory and one more hurting passenger motored out of American Airlines Center on a cart.
Minutes after his team beat the Mavericks 90-82 for its fifth victory in the first seven games, Wolves starting center Nikola Pekovic limped down on a long arena corridor on a sprained ankle that knocked him out of the game late in the third quarter.
He looked back over his shoulder and saw sweat-suited teammates Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio climb aboard that cart -- Love in the front seat, Rubio sprawled in back -- for a ride to the team bus and asked, "Hey guys, what about me?"
Love soon deferred, vacating the front seat for big Pek on a night when the Wolves lost a player to injury for the fourth consecutive game and won anyway, holding the NBA's highest scoring team through seven games to a season-low 82 points on 36 percent shooting.
"It's just one of those things, I don't know when it's going to stop," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said of a formula that seems to be win a game, but lose a player every night. "I think we have some kind of record going, but it doesn't mean you can't win. I've had it happen before. They all believe it. They know what they can do to help us win."
The Wolves started the game five men down -- and without three potential starters -- and finished it with six men injured after Pekovic stepped on Dallas swingman Vince Carter's foot and turned his left ankle as both harmlessly ran down the court together. Pekovic had 20 points -- which remained the team high -- and six rebounds by the time he left the game.
"I know," Pekovic said of the fright he put into his teammates and fans watching back home when he went down in a painful heap. "I'm just glad it's not bad. I didn't hurt nothing, just a lot of pain. I'll see how I feel tomorrow."
With a fourth starter now missing, the Wolves persevered, calling upon little-used Malcolm Lee and Lou Amundson to fulfill important roles while Andrei Kirilenko, the lone remaining healthy starter, played 44 minutes that included the entire second half and fellow countrymen Alexey Shved played a season-high 33 minutes off the bench.
Lee started at shooting guard because Adelman wanted to keep Shved in his familiar bench role and together the two combined to hold hot Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo to a 7-for-18 shooting night.
Shved, like Kirilenko, played the entire fourth quarter and delivered big time even though he made just three of 12 shots from the field.
One of those three was a three-point heave just before the shot clock expired that gave his team a 12-point lead with 4:20 left, an 82-70 cushion from which Dallas never completely recovered, resulting in a 5-2 record for the Wolves, their best seven-game start since a 6-1 mark in 2001-02.
This time, they did it with more than a third of their 15-man roster now injured. The latest is Pekovic, who first limped, then rode out of the arena Monday two nights after teammate Chase Budinger rattled out of Chicago's United Center on crutches.
" I don't use crutches," Pekovic said as he limped along. "I'm fine without them."