MINNEAPOLIS — For the past few weeks, Minnesota has gotten more of the production from Derrick Williams that they expected from the former No. 2 draft pick.
On Sunday, the Timberwolves also got the sort of team production they would’ve expected if their key players had stayed healthy this season.
Williams scored a career-high 28 points, and Minnesota got huge lifts in the final seconds from Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko to beat the New Orleans Hornets 97-95.
Pekovic and Kirilenko each hadn’t played in more than two weeks because of injuries, but Pekovic hit two late free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound with 14.5 seconds left, and Kirilenko blocked the Hornets’ last two shot attempts.
“We had energy at the end, and that helped when we have more bodies,” said Ricky Rubio, who finished with 16 points and six assists, and completed a crucial three-point play in the final minute that cut New Orleans’ lead to one. “We can be more aggressive, and we don’t run out of energy in the last quarter.”
Greivis Vasquez led the Hornets with 24 points, and Robin Lopez had 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Hornets return to New Orleans on Monday to host Golden State at 7 p.m.
Minnesota shot 56.3 percent, but New Orleans stayed within striking distance largely because of its work on the offensive boards, scoring 20 second-chance points. Even on bad misses, Lopez was there to rebound or tip the ball to a teammate to keep possessions alive.
But turnovers hurt as New Orleans committed 20 — leading to 18 points for the Timberwolves.
“We turned the ball over 20 times, they shot more free throws than we did and we’re up four with one minute left,” Vasquez said. “So no excuses; we just lost.”
The Hornets led by eight thanks to an 18-7 second-quarter run, but Minnesota stayed in it with some aggressive play from Williams, who had his seventh 20-point game of the season and tied a season high with three 3-pointers.
Williams found himself the subject of trade rumors this year after receiving sporadic playing time under coach Rick Adelman. But he’s been surprisingly consistently lately, which has led to steadier playing time with injured All-Star Kevin Love still out with a broken hand.
“I really feel like I’m getting a lot of my confidence back,” Williams said. “Not just shooting — just overall. A lot of people have a lot of faith in me as well.”
Williams missed a couple of crucial free throws late in the fourth quarter, though, and Vasquez made two 3s to give the Hornets a three-point lead. But Rubio completed his three-point play with 48 seconds left to pull Minnesota to 95-94.
“We had a chance to win the game,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “We were up by four, and we fouled a guy going to the basket and gave them a three-point play. You can’t explain that kind of stuff.”
After Gordon missed a mid-range jumper on New Orleans’ ensuing possession, Pekovic was fouled on a tip and went to the line. In his first game back from an abdominal strain, Pekovic had been 1 for 4 from the line but sank both shots to give the Wolves the lead with 14.5 seconds left.
On the Hornets’ next possession, Gordon drove the lane but was blocked by Kirilenko, who had missed nine games with a left-calf strain. Kirilenko added one free throw, then blocked Roger Mason’s 3-point attempt as time expired.
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