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Timberwolves cruise to second win over Thunder

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't going to the playoffs this season. Too many injuries led to too many losses. Still, Friday's game at Target Center gave them a one-day reprieve from an otherwise difficult season.

With a wire-to-wire, 101-93 victory over Oklahoma City, the Wolves (26-45) became just the fifth team this season to win multiple games against the Western Conference powerhouse. Select company? The other teams are San Antonio, Miami, Memphis and Denver.

"Good teams," Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. "It was just a great team effort."

The gritty Wolves did not trail over the final 32 minutes and led for the final 19:01 while handing the Thunder (53-20) their first loss in three games.

Rubio had 17 points, seven assists and four steals. Center Nikola Pekovic bulled his way to 22 points and 15 rebounds and Chase Budinger, getting healthier by the day, added 13 off the bench. Andrei Kirilenko scored 12 points at one end and did a very good job of slowing Thunder star Kevin Durant at the other, especially down the stretch.

Put it all together and you have a big upset. Not to mention a lot of people wondering what might have been if injuries had not plagued the Wolves all season.

"I'm just proud of the way we played for 48 minutes," said Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who earned career win No. 997.

The Wolves plan was to limit the Thunder's fast break, keep Russell Westbrook out of the lane and make Durant work -- hard -- for all his shots.

Check, check and check. Westbrook scored 18 points, but needed 17 shots to do it. The Thunder managed just 10 fast break points. And Durant? He scored 36 points. He made nine of his first 10 shots overall. But in the second half he was a more human, shooting 5 of 10 field goals with three turnovers.

"They played well," Durant said. "You have to give credit to them."

Added Thunder coach Scott Brooks: "We have a level we want to play at every night. We didn't get to that level. (The Wolves) played an inspiring basketball game."

Up three with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wolves went on an 8-0 run -- Pekovic and Dante Cunningham each had four -- to take a 92-81 lead on Pekovic's basket with 5:19 left. The Thunder was able to get within five on Durant's 8-foot floater with 3:14 left, the Wolves turned two steals and a missed Thunder shot into a quick 5-0 run to go up 10 with 1:22 left on Rubio's two free throws.

Budinger's return from knee surgery has helped the Wolves, who have scored more than 100 points in four of the last five games, three of which were victories.

"We are all together the last couple games," Pekovic said. "We have shown we can play against anybody. They're a good team, but we were playing so hard, we weren't going to let them come back."

Now all the Wolves have to play for is pride -- and Adelman. The Wolves need to win three of their final 11 games to get Adelman to 1,000 career victories.

"He deserves it," Rubio said. "He's a great coach, one of the best -- if not the best -- I ever heard. And he deserves it, especially this year. We just want to make a run here, and give him the good news."

NOTES: Kevin Love's surgically-repaired right hand will be re-examined by his New York surgeon next week, not this week as had originally been hoped. This decision was made after the Timberwolves' medical staff consulted with Love's New York doctor. This still falls within the two- to three-week window reported after the last consultation. It's unclear whether Love will have to travel to New York. Likely a CT scan of the hand that is sent to New York would suffice. But it raises anew the question of whether Love -- who broke his hand twice this season, most recently Jan. 3 at Denver -- will play again this season. ... Brooks has a short list of items he'd like to see his team work on over the final 10 games to prepare for the playoffs. "We still have what we call ways to get better," Brooks said. "Taking care of the ball, talking about our spacing, putting a wrinkle in here or there." ... After the league said a foul should have been called on Kobe Bryant on Ricky Rubio's last-second three-point attempt Wednesday, Adelman said the league should look at expanding video review.
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