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Timberwolves top Pistons for third straight win

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — A three-game winning streak may not seem like much, but for the Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s a mountainous achievement. Their most imposing player made it possible on Sunday.

Nikola Pekovic, their 6-feet-11, 295-pound center, had a season-high 29 points to lead six players in double figures as Minnesota topped the Detroit Pistons 112-101 at The Palace.

Pekovic, Minnesota’s starting center, reached the 20-point mark for the first time this season and had his highest scoring outing since a 31-point performance against Oklahoma City on Jan. 4 of last season.

“He had a good start and a good finish,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He’s a load.”

Minnesota, which never trailed, started and finished well as a team. It staved off a Detroit rally that cut its 19-point, third-quarter lead down to four early in the fourth. The Timberwolves recorded their 10th consecutive victory over the Pistons.

“We know we’ve had unfortunate injuries,” said Minnesota shooting guard Kevin Martin, who supplied 24 points and nine rebounds. “This is not the team that you saw for over a 2 1/2-month span. We’re all healthy, so we feel pretty confident.”

Pekovic is one of those players whose season has been marred by injuries. He missed 31 games with a sore ankle and sprained wrist but he often looked unstoppable against the Pistons’ frontcourt duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

“It’s just tough to play against them, especially Drummond, who is way more athletic than me,” Pekovic said. “I just try to go to some alternatives, try to do some different stuff against them. They’re good players and it was really a difficult fight. I’m going to feel it tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

Pekovic shot 9-for-16 from the field and 11-for-12 from the free-throw line.

“Drummond’s one of the better defensive centers in the league but he loves to block shots,” Saunders said. “In order to block shots, he wants to give that big a little bit of space. If you give Pek space, he’s just too big. He takes up that space before you know it. He’s backing you in and you can’t get to his shot.”

Rookie forward Andrew Wiggins contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists and power forward Thaddeus Young added 16 points for the Timberwolves.

Point guard D.J. Augustin’s 20 points and eight assists led the Pistons (20-32), who were swept in the season series with the Timberwolves for the fifth consecutive season. Drummond powered for 17 points and 14 rebounds while Monroe, reserve forward Anthony Tolliver and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in 15 points apiece.

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy was fuming after his team allowed Minnesota to shoot 51.3 percent.

“We didn’t come ready to play at all,” he said in a brief press conference. “We didn’t have any commitment to the defensive end of the floor.”

The Timberwolves had four players in double figures by halftime, led by Martin’s 15, as they grabbed a 61-51 lead. Minnesota led by as much as 13 during the half while shooting 55.8 percent from the field.

“We just didn’t come out with any energy,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They pushed the ball, we didn’t get back and every basket they got was easy.”

Minnesota opened the second half with a 13-4 run, capped by two Young free throws, to extend its advantage to 74-55. Monroe and Augustin combined for 18 third-quarter points as the Pistons gradually cut into the margin and got it down to single digits at 81-73 entering the fourth.

Drummond’s put-back in the opening moments of the fourth closed the gap to four, 81-77. Wiggins slowed the Pistons’ momentum with an open 3-pointer and a Young three bumped the lead to 94-83.

The Pistons could not muster another rally.

NOTES: Timberwolves PG Ricky Rubio sat out as a precautionary measure. Rubio, who is expected to return against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, played the three previous games after missing 42 games with a left ankle injury. “We knew when he came back he wasn’t going to be able to play back-to-backs before the All-Star break,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “You can’t shortchange the process or you’ll end up with a major injury or a setback.” … Detroit’s last victory over Minnesota was a 103-98, season-ending win on April 14, 2010. … The Pistons were averaging 103 points over their previous 23 games after averaging 94.4 in their first 28 games. … Pistons PF Greg Monroe began the night averaging 18.0 points and 12.9 rebounds over his past seven games. … The Timberwolves were allowing 109.8 points on 50.3 percent shooting in road games this season before Sunday. … Minnesota C Gorgui Dieng has a team-high 13 double-doubles.

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