MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Wednesday's game at Target Center between Minnesota and Philadelphia started, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman insisted that pushing for a Western Conference playoff spot was not out of the question for his team.
It was just a matter of finding some momentum.
The Wolves took a tentative step in that direction. In the first game for both teams coming out of the All Star break, the Wolves led from start to finish in a wire-to-wire 94-87 victory over the 76ers that was probably a little tighter than it should have been.
The 76ers, who lost their third straight game overall and their seventh straight on the road, fell behind by 19 in the second quarter and by 13 early in the fourth. Philadelphia fought back to within 89-85 on Spencer Hawes' two free throws with 1:42 left but could get no closer.
Pekovic had 27 points and he tied his career high with 18 rebounds. Williams scored 17 points, and Kirilenko added 15. Ricky Rubio managed 11 points, six assists and six rebounds despite playing the much of the final quarter with five fouls.
Minnesota (20-31) entered the game having lost 16 of 19, but left it with a modicum of momentum it hopes will carry over to Oklahoma City on Friday.
The Wolves scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, pushing their lead to 13. But the 76ers worked themselves back to within seven three times, then to within 86-80 on Wilkins' jumper with 4:45 left, then to within four on Hawes' dunk with 2:46 left.
Hawes made it a four-point game again with his free throws in the final two minutes, but Philadelphia couldn't get over the hump. Free throws by Rubio and Luke Ridnour down the stretch iced the game.
Williams scored 10 points and Pekovic had nine in the first quarter -- they combined to hit on eight of 13 shots -- which ended with the Wolves up 35-15. It was the most first-quarter points for the Wolves this season.
Philadelphia scored the first three points of the second quarter, then the Wolves responded with a 13-2 run -- with five players scoring -- to go up 48-30 on two free throws by Mickael Gelabale. The Sixers cut their deficit to 54-41 before Rubio fed Kirilenko for a jam at the end of the half to give the Wolves a 56-41 lead.
The Wolves continued to use their advantage down low in the third quarter. Pekovic had eight points as the Wolves' lead grew to 74-57 on two Kirilenko free throws with just under four minutes left in the period.
But then the Sixers woke up.
Philadelphia ran off a 10-0 run against the Timberwolves' reserves, with Turner scoring six of those, including two free throws with 1:12 left in the quarter to cut the Wolves' lead to seven. Dante Cunningham hit a jumper to end the run and give Minnesota a 76-67 lead entering the fourth.
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. 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. Turner has been mentioned, though published reports out of Philadelphia, citing anonymous sources, say he won't go. In Minneapolis, guards 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,” Collins joked. “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 it would be a pleasant surprise if Roy returned to action.