MINNEAPOLIS — The Philadelphia 76ers came into Minnesota determined to get physical and muscle out a rare road victory.
They quickly found out that rough and tumble is just how Nikola Pekovic likes it.
Pekovic had 27 points and tied a career high with 18 rebounds to power the Timberwolves to a 94-87 victory over the 76ers on Wednesday night.
“If you play physical with Pek, you’re in trouble because he hits the weight room,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “His arm is as big as my head.”
Evan Turner scored 17 points and Jrue Holiday scored 16 after making his All-Star debut Sunday for the 76ers, who couldn’t come up with an answer for Pekovic in the paint in a game that featured 76 combined free-throw attempts and 53 fouls. Philadelphia has lost seven straight road games and has won just six times away from home all season, the third fewest wins in the NBA.
“We played terribly,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “I don’t know what else to say. It was terrible. No energy, no life at all. It was terrible. I can’t candy-coat it any more than that. The only thing we did in the second half was compete. We didn’t play well. We just played harder.”
Derrick Williams had 17 points and eight rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko added 15 points and five assists in his return from a thigh injury for the Timberwolves, who finally figured out how to close one out for their fourth win in the last 20 games.
The Timberwolves never trailed, thanks in large part to Pekovic bulldozing his way through the Sixers’ big men. He dominated Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, throwing an array of jump hooks, baseline spins and dunks at a Philadelphia front line that wanted no part of the hulking Montenegrin.
“They were trying to battle me,” Pekovic said. “But we got a few shots to go in the first quarter and gained confidence.”
The Timberwolves led by as many as 19 points in the first half against a lifeless Sixers team that watched Holiday get into early foul trouble and Turner score just two points in the first 24 minutes. An exasperated Collins tried to send a message to start the second half, sending Kwame Brown and Damien Wilkins out in place of Hawes and Allen.
“He’s a beast,” Hawes said. “The way they run their system, they do a great job getting their people the ball where they want them to get the ball and if you take away one thing, they know how to exploit it.”