MINNEAPOLIS — Nikola Pekovic is bulldozing the paint and Ricky Rubio is ready to start ramping up his minutes, giving the Minnesota Timberwolves hope that they can withstand another long stretch without All-Star forward Kevin Love.
Larry Drew's Atlanta Hawks have hit the skids after a superb start to the season, prompting the coach to label them "soft," which never sits very well with professional athletes.
Pekovic had 25 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, Andrei Kirilenko added 21 points and the Timberwolves beat the Hawks 108-103 on Tuesday night.
Derrick Williams scored 17 points and Alexey Shved had 15 for the Timberwolves, who were missing coach Rick Adelman due to personal reasons and will be without Love for the foreseeable future while he deals with a broken right hand for the second time this season. Terry Porter filled in as coach and led the Wolves to their first victory over Atlanta since 2006, snapping an 11-game skid.
"We were really motivated," said Pekovic, who has eight double-doubles in his last 13 games. "I think everybody was motivated with all that's happening with all our players. I think everybody wants to step up and show more."
Josh Smith had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Al Horford had 19 points and 11 boards for the Hawks, who have lost three straight and four of their last five. They lost for the first time this year when Smith and Horford each get a double-double.
"There's some guys in there that are going to have to be held accountable," Drew said. "As we move forward, if this doesn't change, there's going to have to be some changes. That's plain and simple. I'm not going to sit back and watch our guys come out and not be energized to play. That's totally unacceptable."
Rubio had eight assists, four steals and four points in 18 minutes in his first game back after missing the previous four with back spasms.
He returned from a torn left ACL in the middle of last month and has had to deal with groin and back problems during his comeback. But he said he's eager to see how his body responds on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City when he plays in games on consecutive days for the first time since his knee injury.
"I think it's going to be a good test," Rubio said.
Lou Williams finished with 21 points and eight assists for the Hawks, who trailed by 14 to start the fourth but had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds.
Dante Cunningham then stole the inbounds pass and Luke Ridnour knocked down two free throws to seal the win.
The Wolves have been the worst 3-point shooting team in the league virtually all season, but they hit 8 of 15 against the Hawks to get a big win before a four-game road trip.
While the Heat and Knicks grabbed all the headlines in the first two months of the season, the Hawks quietly put together a solid start that kept them right on their heels. They won 19 of their first 28 games, beating the likes of Oklahoma City, Indiana (twice), the Clippers and Memphis along the way.
But they lost at Detroit and home against Boston in a back-to-back last weekend, scoring just nine points in the third quarter against the Celtics.
"We waited way too long to start playing," Drew said. "The first half we were soft, soft. We did not guard very well. I thought physically they did just about anything they wanted to."
The Hawks had a team meeting after being blitzed by the Celtics in the second half, and Smith bristled at being called soft.
"I'm not rolling with the soft part," Smith said. "We didn't come out with the energy. Soft is not how we play."
NOTES: Porter interviewed for an assistant position on Drew's staff when he was hired in Atlanta. How'd that go? "I didn't get it," Porter said with a chuckle. ... The Timberwolves played host to 16-year-old Cody Metz as part of the Make-A-Wish program. Metz is a devoted fan who has suffered from numerous complications following surgery on a brain tumor five years ago. Metz watched the game from a suite and planned to accompany the team on a road trip to Oklahoma City. "This definitely gives me something to look forward to," Metz said. "I'm really excited."