Timberwolves upset first-place Indiana
MINNEAPOLIS — The most arduous climb begins with a single step, and the Minnesota Timberwolves took one Wednesday at Target Center with a 104-91 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers.
The Timberwolves entered the night six games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with 29 games remaining. After knocking off the Pacers, Minnesota embarks on a five-game Western trip that starts Saturday against the Jazz in Utah.
The Timberwolves defeated a Pacers team that beat them 98-84 in Indianapolis back in November.
This time, Wolves three-time All Star Kevin Love won a scorers’ duel with Pacers two-time All Star Paul George, 42-35, on a night when each player scored 18 points in the third quarter.
Love, who had a double-double before halftime, finished with 16 rebounds. He finished three points shy of his season scoring high, posted against the Clippers in Los Angeles in December. Wolves starting point guard Ricky Rubio added a career-high 17 assists, and four Minnesota players in addition to Love scored in double figures.
George pulled down 11 rebounds.
Late in the third quarter, the Pacers quickly knocked a 14-point deficit down to an eight-point margin.
They trailed just 82-77 early in the fourth quarter while George stayed on the floor and Love got a rest, but Wolves reserve guard J.J. Barea and a second unit that has been the team’s weakness all season pushed the lead back to 15 points with 6:20 remaining.
Barea scored 12 off the bench in what could have been his last game with Minnesota if a Yahoo! Sports report proves true before Thursday’s trade deadline. The Wolves reportedly were discussing a deal with Memphis that would send Barea and Chase Budinger away and bring back veterans Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince.
The Wolves again were without starting center Nikola Pekovic, who missed his 10th consecutive game because of ankle bursitis, and they ended the night without fill-in center Ronny Turiaf, who left in the fourth quarter because of a knee injury and did not return.
The Wolves hadn’t played since thumping the Denver Nuggets at home a week earlier, while the Pacers came back from their All-Star break on Tuesday and beat at the Atlanta Hawks 108-95 in Indiana.
The Wolves used the extra rest to run out to leads of 14-7, 23-10 and 40-20 by midway through the second quarter.
Notes: Coach Rick Adelman said he hopes Wolves C Nikola Pekovic (ankle) will return soon, perhaps for practices Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s game at Utah. ... Wolves G Kevin Martin missed his fourth consecutive because of a fractured bone in his thumb. He is scheduled to get his thumb re-examined Friday and is hopeful of playing on the upcoming road trip. ... Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Pekovic’s absence: “I was looking at my notes the first time we played these guys (in November) and I think I wrote down, ‘Smashmouth styles collide.’ Obviously, Kevin Love still brings that element, but it’s obviously just not the same with Pek not out there.” ... Thursday is NBA trade deadline and the Wolves are trying to improve a team that was six games out of a playoff spot before Wednesday. Yahoo! Sports reported Monday that the team has discussed sending PG J.J. Barea and SF Chase Budinger to Memphis for defensive-minded G Tony Allen and F Tayshaun Prince, but as of Wednesday afternoon those discussions had gone no further, according to a league source.