Practice Report | March 6, 2014
The most glaring individual difference between the Wolves’ third quarter success and their inability to get things going in the other three frames against the Knicks on Wednesday night was Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic took over in the third quarter, going 5-of-6 from the field with 11 points in that frame before playing just 4:20 and being held scoreless in the fourth.
The end result was a 118-106 loss to a struggling Knicks squad. Unfortunately for the Wolves, there wasn’t much they could do about Pekovic’s availability in that final quarter. Playing in his third game after missing 13 with bursitis in his right ankle, Pekovic is on a minute count to ensure he doesn’t strain that ankle too much and put himself in position where he might miss more time. The team is aiming to keep him around the 20-minute mark during this early stretch in his return. He already played 21 minutes by the time the fourth quarter began.
In fact, in his three games back he’s played 28, 24 and 26 minutes, respectively.
“It’s just tough, you know?” Pekovic said. “But I’ve just got to do whatever they [the medical staff] say. I’m still going over my limit. My limit is 20. … In the third I really felt good. I was getting going, so when coach had to sign on the court, he didn’t want to sub me out. I didn’t want to go out. But that’s the fact. I need to follow the rules now, try to heal things up.”
Pekovic said after practice on Thursday that his ankle isn't really sore at this point, but it hurts when he's running and doing basketball movement. But his soreness is minimal after workouts or games, which is a good thing. The important thing is to keep Pekovic in a position where he doesn't over-exert himself because he feels like the ankle is OK, but in reality he's pushing his ankle's limits to the point of re-injuring it further.
The Wolves had done a nice job at the center spot with both Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf out with injuries in late February. They got production from Kevin Love as the starting center and Dante Cunningham slid in as the starting power forward. They dug into their rotation from there, including some minutes for rookie Gorgui Dieng.
But on Thursday night against the Knicks, Pekovic was critical. His physicality helped him combat the big bodies in the paint that New York had to offer. He navigated Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire and finished the game with 17 points and six boards on 8-of-12 shooting. He and Ricky Rubio had a nice rhythm going during that third quarter, and Pekovic was the beneficiary at the hoop with Rubio driving and dishing at the last second.
The result was a 31-22 edge in the third and helped Minnesota come back from 17 points down to trailing by just two heading into the fourth. The Wolves had momentum and seemingly looked like they’d take control after trailing from the Knicks’ first possession.
But the Wolves couldn’t replicate that same production in the fourth, and the Knicks rebuilt their lead to eight quickly. They never looked back.
Pekovic began the frame with the second unit, but he ran out of minutes by the time the starters returned with New York holding a sizeable lead.
“It’s frustrating, because you’re trying to win games,” coach Rick Adelman said. “You’re trying to stay relevant and everything. He had it going in the third quarter. We had it going with him on the floor, and I had to take him out. And you know, it’s just something we have to live with. But it’s really hard, you know? You get no rhythm. When he comes out of the game against a team like this where they have size, now we’ve got Kevin out there, and we’re small. All of a sudden we’re not the same team.”
The Wolves have obviously been through this before and really adapted well in Pekovic’s absence so they’ve got the right mentality. It’s tough to restrict a player from significant fourth quarter minutes when he’s in a groove, but the bottom line is the Wolves need to find ways to get wins regardless of the situation.
“We can’t fight against that [minute count],” Rubio said. “We knew it, and that’s that.”