MINNEAPOLIS - While this NBA season is still very early, it is becoming clear that the Minnesota Timberwolves may no longer be a Western Conference basement dweller. They keep finding ways to win games.
On Friday night, Chase Budinger cut to the basket, took a pass from Andrei Kirilenko and scored a layup with less than one second to play to give the Timberwolves a 96-94 victory over Indiana.
Budinger scored 18 points, Derrick Williams finished with 15 and Nikola Pekovic added 13 for the Timberwolves as the Timberwolves got their third straight win. In addition, rookie Alexi Shved scored eight key fourth-quarter points.
A three-game winning streak isn't that big of an accomplishment for a lot of NBA franchises, but the Wolves have struggled for the better part of a decade.
With the victory, the Timberwolves improved to 4-1 on the season and remain atop the Western Conference's Northwest Division. It is the team's best start since going 6-0 in 2001-02. It is also the first time that Minnesota has been three games above .500 since they were 20-17 midway through the 2006-07 season.
The Pacers (2-4) have now lost three in row on the road.
Indiana had four players in double figures: George Hill led the Pacers with 29 points, while David West added 19 points and 13 rebounds. Paul George (11) and Roy Hibbert (10) also reached double digits.
Although the Timberwolves led throughout much of the second half, Indiana tied the game at 86-86 with less than three minutes to play. But Shved quickly put Minnesota back in control by scoring a pair of layups.
After a Shved layup gave the Wolves an 88-86 lead with 2:32 to play, Minnesota's Kirilenko stole the inbounds pass and found Shved for another layup.
The Pacers closed within three, 94-91, on Hill's three-point play with 33.1 seconds to play, and Indiana had a chance to tie the game after Hibbert blocked Pekovic's shot with about 10 seconds to play.
Down three, the Pacers inbounded with 8.8 seconds left, and Hill hit a game-tying three from the top of the key.
After a timeout, Kirilenko found the cutting and wide open Budinger for the game-winning layup.
While Shved made key plays down the stretch, Williams and Budinger also played significant roles.
Williams, the second pick in the 2011 draft, finished with a season high. After failing to reach double figures in any of Minnesota's first three games, Williams has hit double digits in consecutive games.
Budinger, acquired by Minnesota in a trade with Houston just prior to the 2012 draft, took advantage of extended playing time and also finished with a season high. Budinger played extended second-half minutes because Brandon Roy was injured.
Roy didn't play after halftime for Minnesota because of a sore right knee. Roy is attempting a comeback this season after retiring because of chronic knee injuries. Roy played 15 minutes against the Pacers, scoring six points on 3-for-5 shooting. He had played at least 21 minutes in each of the Wolves' first four games, averaging 5.8 points per game.
Indiana rallied late in the second quarter to take a 43-42 halftime lead.
The Timberwolves led by seven, 32-25, when Budinger made one of two free throws with 7:57 to play in the second quarter.
Led by Lance Stephenson and Hill, the Pacers went on a 15-6 run to erase Minnesota's early lead. Stevenson scored all seven of his first-half points in that stretch. Hill, who led Indiana with 11 first-half points, gave the Pacers a 41-38 lead with 1:21 to play in the half.
Minnesota shot 52.9 percent from the floor in the first quarter and led 21-19 after the first 12 minutes. Williams scored nine of his 11 first-half points in the first quarter.
Notes: Indiana associate head coach Brian Shaw interviewed for the Lakers head coach position when Mike Brown was hired in the summer of 2011. Shaw would not comment to The Indianapolis Star when asked Friday if he was interested in the position after Brown was fired. ... Timberwolves guard J.J. Berea missed Friday's game because of a sprained left foot suffered in Wednesday's win over Orlando. He will miss Saturday's game at Chicago and he will be evaluated prior to Monday's game at Dallas. ... The Pacers will play only their second home game of the season Saturday night when they host Washington. Indiana will play eight of their first 12 games this season on the road.