MINNEAPOLIS -- Ricky Rubio, sitting at his locker- room stall long after the game, said it best:
"If you play physical with 'Pek', you're going to get into trouble."
"Pek" is Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, and it was Philadelphia that was on the wrong end of that lesson Wednesday night at Target Center.
In a brutally physical game in which 53 fouls were called and 76 field goals were attempted, Pekovic helped the Wolves outmuscle the 76ers, 94-87.
Pekovic had 27 points and tied his career high with 18 rebounds. He led a Wolves frontcourt that scored 59 points and pulled down 31 rebounds, which adds up to a muscular and rather mysterious victory for the Wolves, who managed just one fourth-quarter field goal.
Before the game, Wolves coach Rick Adelman insisted it was not out of the question that his team could still make the Western Conference playoffs.
It was just a matter of his team finding some momentum. Wednesday the Wolves, who entered the game having lost 16 of 19 games, emerged with their first post-All Star Game victory thanks to Pekovic, who received raves from both teams after the game:
Rubio: "He hits the weight room. His arm looks like my head. I can't believe how strong he is."
Sixers center Spencer Hawes: "He is a beast."
Philly guard Jrue Holiday: "That dude is a load down there in the middle."
Pekovic wasn't alone.
The Wolves (20-31), who led by 19 in the second quarter and by 13 early in the fourth, got 17 points from Derrick Williams and 15 from Andrei Kirilenko. Rubio had 11 points, six assists and six rebounds.
"I was just trying to do my job," Pekovic said. "Just trying to win, you know. Everybody stepped up with rebounds and everything."
Still, the 76ers (22-30), who lost for the third straight time and for the seventh straight time on the road, were not about to fold. Down 13, Philadelphia - which got 17 points from Evan Turner, 16 from Holiday and 13 from Damien Wilkins -- clawed its way back.
Getting even more physical on defense, the 76ers cut the lead to single digits early in the fourth quarter and pulled within four twice, the second time on Hawes' two free throws with 1:42 left.
But they could get no closer.
"We played terribly," 76ers coach Doug Collins said. "I don't know what else to say. No energy, no life at all. It was terribly. The only thing we did in the second half was compete more."
The Wolves might not have been shooting well late in the game -- going 1-for-12 in the fourth -- but they stayed aggressive, and that resulted in trips to the free-throw line. The Wolves had 22 of their season-high 44 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, and they made 16 of them, six by Rubio. It was the second time in franchise history the Wolves had managed just one field goal in a quarter, the first time it happened in the fourth.
But all that mattered was the victory.
"It was a good win, a good win to start with after the break," Adelman said.
NOTES: On the night before the trading deadline, both coaches suggested the chances of making a deal were low. "Our phones, I think, are pretty quiet," 76ers coach Doug Collins said. Said Wolves coach Rick Adelman about a potential move: "I don't think so," he said. "Sounds like everything is quiet right now." Still, both teams have players who are rumored to be on the block. In Philadelphia, it's Turner who has been mentioned, though published reports out of Philadelphia, citing anonymous sources, say he will stay in Philly. In Minneapolis, guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea and forward Williams have been mentioned. ... Pekovic spent the All Star break ice fishing at a Minnesota resort, and at least one person was jealous. "I wanted to go ice fishing with Pekovic," joked Collins. "But he didn't invite me. So I had to go to Arizona instead." ... Adelman said he didn't expect guard Brandon Roy, who is dealing with a sore right knee, to play again this season. He said he would be a "pleasant surprise," if Roy did.