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NEW YORK – The Minnesota Timberwolves could see the trouble that Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was having with Nikola Pekovic, so they knew where to go with the ball for the biggest possession of the game.
Pekovic converted a tiebreaking three-point play with 48 seconds left, and the Timberwolves scored the final nine points of the game to beat the Nets 98-91 on Wednesday night.
After Joe Johnson coughed up the ball to Thaddeus Young for the Nets' 17th turnover of the night, Minnesota found Pekovic guarded by Lopez, who was playing in his second game after spraining his right foot. Pekovic drew contact with an easy basket under the paint, then made the free throw for a 94-91 lead.
"That was the plan," Pekovic said. "That's what Coach said. I'm glad the guys really believe in me and they start calling plays for me. Coach called something and Ricky (Rubio) said, 'No, no, we give the ball to him.'"
Lopez committed an offensive foul on the ensuing play for Brooklyn's final turnover. Young's floater extended the lead 96-91 with 27 seconds remaining, and after Johnson missed a pair of shots, Kevin Martin hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to seal the victory.
"It's hard to win, especially in crunch time like that. You have to take care of the ball and value every possession," said Johnson, who led the Nets with 22 points.
"We had two costly turnovers and we paid the price at the end."
Martin led the Timberwolves with 26 points and rookie Andrew Wiggins, playing in the arena where he was taken by Cleveland with the No. 1 pick in the draft, added 17.
Deron Williams had 19 points for the Nets (2-2), who had won their last two games but will face the rival New York Knicks for the first time this season.
"It's good to get any game after this one. We're disappointed in how we closed out the game," Williams said. "It's the beautiful thing of the NBA, you get a chance to get back on the court in a couple of days. It's good that we're playing the Knicks and we are always excited about that rivalry."
Minnesota looked like it was going to coast off to an easy victory, jumping out to a 17-2 lead midway through the first quarter as the Nets misfired on 10 shots.
Brooklyn outscored the Timberwolves 46-30 during the next 18:06 to take a 48-47 at the half but the visitors took advantage of eight miscues by the Nets to go back ahead in the third quarter.
"We battled because I think that's the culture we're trying to establish," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "Play hard, go out and battle every possession."
Minnesota had a 72-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter but was shaky to start the period, committing three turnovers that helped the Nets to a 10-0 run and a 76-72 lead on Williams' 3-pointer with 8:19 left.
Johnson's 8-foot floater handed the Nets a 91-89 lead with 1:28 remaining before Rubio, who scored 14 points, 12 assists, beat Lopez and Williams to the basket for a layup that evened it at 91 with 1:17 left and set the stage for Pekovic.
"Well, the guy whipped him," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said about the matchup between Pekovic and Lopez.
"I mean, it happens. You've got to give Pekovic credit. He was a man in there and I'm always saying that there's always a badder man than you in the prison, you know, and you got to do it every night."
Timberwolves: Pekovic and Young both had double-doubles. Pekovic finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Young added 10 points and 11 boards.
Nets: Lopez scored 10 points but shot just 5 of 14 in his second game back from a sprained right foot. "It's tough. I am very disappointed in myself," he said. "I felt the team played hard. I shot ourselves in the foot multiple times. I picked up the dumb foul. I didn't take care of my responsibilities down on defense the line."... Brooklyn was just 11 of 17 (65 percent) from the free throw line.
After hitting his first four shots, Williams finished off hitting just four of his next 12. "I think we were stuck in the mud at times," he said.
TRY AGAIN NEXT TIME
Rubio was two rebounds short of a triple-double. He had 17 assists Saturday in a loss to Chicago.
Timberwolves: Visit Orlando on Friday.
Nets: Host New York on Friday