Practice Report: Saturday, February 18

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic is no longer flying under the radar. His 30-point, 12-rebound effort in a 111-98 win over Houston on Friday only further validated what his teammates have preached for weeks: Pekovic is such a forceful presence, even his teammates try to avoid matching up with him in practice.

“I said last year he’s top 5 strongest guys in the league,” forward Kevin Love said. “I try to stay away from him.”

But for the rest of the NBA, Pekovic and Love are becoming a lethal threat near the basket. Love, a double-double machine who leads the league with 27 on the year, is now paired in the front court with a player who has averaged 18.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest in his past 10 games.

“I’m trying to make his life easier and he’s trying to make my life easier,” Pekovic said.

The Wolves are beginning to benefit from the consistency Pekovic is bringing to the court through his bruising presence in the paint, his ability to set pick and rolls for his guards and his rare ability to create second chance opportunities—nine of his 12 boards on Friday were offensive rebounds.

“He’s a factor all the time,” coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s what makes him good. His guy can’t let up on him, because he’s going to hurt them. We’ve been trying to do things to take advantage of that.”

On Friday against the Rockets, Pekovic and Love showed just how dominant they can be in the lane. The two had more rebounds (29) than the Rockets had as a team (26), and they paved the way for Minnesota’s 64-44 points in the paint advantage.

Love, who scored 33 points and brought down 17 rebounds on the night, said Pekovic’s play is helping everyone’s game improve on a nightly basis.

“It’s helping me out, and it’s helping a lot of guys out,” Love said. “When Pek’s ducking in or Ricky’s coming off the screen—or Luke or Wes or any of the guards for that matter—he’s taking the other team’s big man, we’re getting layups, getting fouls, getting all the way to the rim. He’s helping us tremendously, and we know what we’re going to get from him because he’s so consistent.”

For Pekovic, the biggest gratification comes from the results. Minnesota is on a two-game winning streak and has a shot at again reaching the .500 mark on Sunday at home against Philadelphia.

“We know we can beat anybody,” Pekovic said. “We have some ups and downs, but here we are and I think we are on the right track.”

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