Shootaround Access: Wolves at Thunder

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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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.

Shootaround: Thunder coach Scott Brooks

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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.

Shootaround: Thunder forward Kevin Durant

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“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.”

Quick Hits

  • Ricky Rubio said after last night’s game that he plans to play tonight against the Thunder, marking the first time since his knee surgery last March that he’ll play in back-to-back games on consecutive nights. He had eight assists last night against Atlanta. “Rubio is obviously one of the better passing guards in the league. We have to try to take his decisions out of the game as quickly as we can.”


  • With the Wolves not having Kevin Love to stretch the floor tonight, it will be interesting to see if shot-blocking extraordinaire Serge Ibaka has a better opportunity to clog up the lane and help defend the Wolves’ pick-and-roll. With Love rotating to the perimeter in past games against OKC, it has forced the Thunder to stretch its defense and open up lanes for guys like Barea.


  • Durant sounded confident coming off the loss to the Wizards this week, saying the Thunder always bounce back well from defeats. “We’re always good after losses in knowing what we have to do. We always do a great job of looking ourselves in the mirror and figuring out what we did wrong.” Durant also said this team responds well to teams that beat them in their last meeting.



  • For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.