Shootaround Access: Wolves at Thunder
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Wolves center Nikola Pekovic corralled a career-high 18 rebounds last night against the Atlanta Hawks, and he added 25 points thanks to his bruising play down low, his presence on the offensive glass and his ability to roll hard to the hoop. That’s what concerns Thunder coach Scott Brooks most tonight as Oklahoma City hosts the Timberwolves at 7 PM.
Brooks was very complementary of Pekovic’s play during his morning media session after shootaround at the Thunder practice facility. He said if OKC isn’t able to control the way Pekovic rolls to the basket, it will make tonight’s matchup that much more difficult for a Thunder team looking to rebound from an uncharacteristic 101-99 loss to the Wizards on Monday.
“We have to have a defensive mindset from the start,” Brooks said. “We have to be physical on the ball, and we have to make sure we have our weak side guys in because the big guy rolls hard and he’s strong and he’s quick around the basket and he gets his shot off. Last night was an indication of how he’s played all season long. He’s just now starting to get some publicity, but he’s been playing great basketball. He’s the reason why they’re in the position they’re in right now.”
When Pekovic gets moving to the basket and gets momentum, Brooks said it’s not easy to slow him down—particularly for smaller guards. He said you have to be able to slow him down before he gets going.
That’s easier said than done, as Pekovic has scored 21 points or more in five of his last eight games.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant took some accountability for Pekovic’s performance against the Thunder on Dec. 20 in which he scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds in a 99-93 Wolves win. He said when it comes to pick and roll defense, he’s got to be able to add defensive help like a safety rotating over and helping slow Pekovic down.
“It’s a trickledown effect,” Durant said. “It starts with me, and then it ends with good pick and roll coverage on the point guards and also the point guards getting over the screens as well.”
But the Wolves’ guard play in the pick-and-roll attack has also been a big reason why Minnesota has played the Thunder tough over the past two seasons, and that starts with J.J. Barea. Barea picked up his first career triple-double against Oklahoma City in their double-overtime matchup last year, and he scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth down the stretch in Minnesota’s Dec. 20 win.
In both of those outings, Barea made an impact both from the perimeter and by penetrating the lane.
“He was a key piece to a championship team, and he’s playing phenomenal in the league,” Durant said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to that. He can shoot the 3. He’s so quick off the pick-and-roll. He has a knack for making big shots.”
For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.