Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 1/9/13
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves keep losing players, and Tuesday night, they played without their coach as well. Still they pushed their record back above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2007, earning a 108-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Target Center. With coach Rick Adelman absent due to what the team called a personal matter, top assistant Terry Porter guided the Wolves. "A total team win," Porter said. The Wolves (16-15) led from start to finish for the fourth time this season, outlasting a stubborn Hawks team that trailed by 17 points in the second quarter and by just one point twice in the final 77 seconds. The Hawks (20-13) have lost three consecutive games -- their longest skid of the season. They've dropped four of their past five after they won four straight before that. Atlanta coach Larry Drew said his team was far too soft in the first half, when the Hawks fell so far behind that they couldn't quite catch up. "It's not a sometimes thing," Drew said. "You can't just come out and play sometimes." Center Nikola Pekovic led the Wolves with 25 point and a career-high 18 rebounds. Andrei Kirilenko added 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, and new starting power forward Dante Cunningham provided two crucial plays within a second of each other when it matter most. The Wolves played without two-time All Star Kevin Love for the second time since learning he fractured his right shooting hand for the second time this season. However, point guard Ricky Rubio was back in action for the first time since Dec. 26. Rubio, who had been out due to back spasms, finished with eight assists, four points and four steals in 19 minutes off the bench. He didn't attempt a field goal. Pekovic took advantage of space created inside when the Wolves finally proved they can shoot straight in the first half. The league's worst 3-point shooting team made five of eight attempts by halftime, and by then, Pekovic already had the double-double night that Love posts so regularly when he's healthy. All that after Pekovic left Saturday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the third quarter because of a strained hip. He never returned. "Pek's hip looked great tonight," Cunningham said. On Wednesday in Oklahoma City, Rubio plans to play a second game in two days for the first time since he returned last month from March knee surgery. "Yeah, my instincts are there," he said when asked about his four steals, "but the legs are not there yet. But I felt pretty good. I cannot complain." The Wolves led by 14 points early in the fourth quarter before the Hawks got back in the game with a 15-5 run. They climbed within six points once and four points another time, but each time Kirilenko -- who is known for his steals, blocked shots, charges taken and assists -- answered with a rare 3-point shot that helped push the Wolves' lead back to as many as 11 points with four minutes left. Still, the Hawks didn't go quietly. They scored 12 of the next 14 points to get within 102-101 with 1:07 left, but Pekovic answered with a jump hook on which Josh Smith was called for goaltending. When Al Horford scored to get the Hawks within a point again -- at 104-103 with 36 seconds left -- Cunningham answered with a clutch jump shot from the left wing with 15.9 seconds left. A second later, Cunningham stole Josh Smith's pass after a timeout to ensure victory. "The steal's the best part, just to seal the game, just to know that's it," Cunningham said. "The shot was great, actually it was the only shot tonight that felt good coming out of my hands, but defense is my staple." NOTES: The Wolves ended an 11-game losing streak to the Hawks that dated to 2006. ... Love will return Wednesday to the New York City hand specialist who saw him in October. He will learn whether he'll need surgery and just how long he is expected to be out this time. ... Adelman missed Monday's practice and Tuesday's game because of what was believed to be an illness in his family. He did not accompany the Wolves to Oklahoma City after Tuesday's game but still could join them there Wednesday. ... Kirilenko recorded his 2,000th career assist two minutes into the game. He remains one steal shy of 1,000 career steals. ... Former Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver received a warm reception when he entered the game in the third quarter. He played two seasons in Minnesota before signing with Atlanta last fall. Tolliver didn't score while playing five minutes Tuesday.
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