SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Guard Kevin Martin made it look easy in his return to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ lineup on Saturday night. Center Nikola Pekovic looked far more winded but still had plenty of energy when it counted.
Together, the two restored the Timberwolves nearly to full health and helped bring their record back to .500.
Martin scored 26 points and Pekovic had 20 points and nine rebounds in their first games back after lengthy absences as the Timberwolves returned to the break-even mark with a 108-97 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena.
“It’s nice to have them out there,” said Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, who complemented the duo with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. “It really helps us.”
Martin, who missed Minnesota’s previous seven games with a non-displaced fracture in his left thumb, made his first five shots from the field and scored 19 points in the first half. He finished 9 of 16.
“It was just great to be back with the guys,” Martin said. “The way I look at it, basketball is the easy part. The tougher thing was to be sitting out and not playing and not being able to help us.”
Pekovic, back after a 13-game absence because of bursitis in his right ankle, contributed two free throws late in the fourth quarter to help the Timberwolves (29-29) hold off a late Sacramento rally. He drew a foul and knocked down two free throws with 1:26 left after a 15-point Minnesota margin had dwindled to 97-95.
“It was way more,” Pekovic said when asked if his return went as he expected. “It wasn’t about points or rebounds or that stuff, but being able to get up and down the court for six to seven minutes at a time. I was able to do that, so it was way more.”
Forward Rudy Gay scored 24 points to lead Sacramento but only two in the second half. He missed a layup that would have tied the score with 1:49 left.
Sacramento had rallied from 15 points down and scored six straight points when Gay missed the layup.
Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio stripped Kings center DeMarcus Cousins of the ball on Sacramento’s next possession and then took a pass from Martin and knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing for a 102-95 lead that sealed it.
“Big 3. Clutch 3,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “The more of those he can make, the better off he’s going to be, the more confidence he’s going to have.”
Sacramento hurt itself 19 turnovers, 11 of them in the second half. Minnesota blew the game open after halftime, outscoring Sacramento 31-14 in the third quarter.
“For whatever reason, we just continue to beat ourselves,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “We had 19 turnovers and gave them 27 points. Good teams don’t beat themselves like that.”
The Timberwolves won their second straight and fifth in their past six, moving back to .500 for the first time since a 109-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 4. Martin suffered his injury two games later and the Timberwolves lost four straight.
Cousins returned after a one-game suspension and finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds for the Kings (20-39). He was suspended for throwing an elbow at Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley in Sacramento’s loss to Houston on Tuesday. Cousins, whose 15 technical fouls lead the NBA, was on his best behavior and avoided his 16th, which would result in another one-game ban.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” he said. “We have a lot of teams with their hands in there, and they strip the ball away from us.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas had 22 points and eight assists for Sacramento and rookie guard Ray McCallum added nine points and five assists, both career bests.
McCallum knocked down two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter as Sacramento used an 11-4 run to vault back into the game.
The Timberwolves broke open a tight game by outscoring Sacramento 24-6 to start the third quarter and taking a 77-62 lead. Minnesota scored from in the paint on five of six possession during that blitz and outscored Sacramento 44-30 down low.
NOTES: Minnesota C Ronny Turiaf (bruised right knee) missed his fourth straight game and is out indefinitely. With G Kevin Martin (non-displaced left thumb fracture) and C Nikola Pekovic (right ankle bursitis) returning from extended absences, Turiaf is the only Timberwolves regular still sidelined. … Kings C DeMarcus Cousins entered the game with an NBA-leading 15 technical fouls. One more and he will receive a one-game suspension for the second straight season. Cousins has 58 technical fouls since entering the NBA in 2010, the most in the league during that period. … The Timberwolves were 2-1 in the first three games of a season-long, five-game road trip that concluded Monday at Denver. … Former Kings G and fan favorite Jimmer Fredette, who cleared waivers on Thursday, was expected to sign a contract with the Chicago Bulls. … Sacramento G Orlando Johnson made his home debut after signing a 10-day contract.
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