Practice Report: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012
After a full and thoroughly welcomed off day on Saturday, the Timberwolves returned to the court Sunday morning for the first of three straight practices prior to Wednesday’s home contest against the Denver Nuggets.
After starting the season with nine games in 15 days—and playing with as few as nine players in the last two contests—the reprieve was welcomed. Center Nikola Pekovic returned to practice on Sunday and participated in full team drills. Guards JJ Barea (foot) and Brandon Roy (knee) were both in uniform for practice but did not participate.
Pekovic, who missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, said he felt a little pain but nothing too serious and he expects to be fully ready to go for Wednesday’s game.
“It was good,” Pekovic said. “Still a little pain but nothing special. I got through all of practice.”
Pekovic’s presence back in uniform is not only welcomed, it’s necessary if the Wolves hope to snap their two-game losing streak against the Nuggets before a four-game road trip on the West Coast. The Wolves have been outscored in the paint in two straight games, a trend uncommon earlier in the season, and were handled by Golden State on Friday as the Warriors outscored Minnesota 58-22 in the paint.
Still, the Wolves came back from 15 down to cut Golden State’s lead to four late in the fourth.
“It’s tough to see them playing those close games and not being able to help,” Pekovic said. “That’s tough for me.”
Coach Rick Adelman said there is a domino effect with Pekovic on the bench. Center Greg Stiemsma, a defensive asset who was a spark off the bench offensively against Orlando by scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, was forced to adjust and move into the starting role without Pekovic on the court. That means different matchups against the opposing team’s top unit as well as working with a different group of teammates on the floor.
“That’s what happens when you get injuries and everything,” Adelman said. “Before Pek was starting and he was coming in with Alexey [Shved] and JJ when he was on the court, and he was playing with DC [Dante Cunningham] and then we had Chase [Budinger]. It’s all kind of changed. He’s put a little bit of pressure on himself. He’s just got to get a couple shots back down, Pek back and back into his own routine. He’ll be fine.”
No question the biggest change with Pekovic’s presence in the lane will be an added advantage on the boards as well as a physical player who forces the opposition to account for him on both ends of the floor.
“They don’t handle us on the boards like they did [with Pekovic in the game]; he’s a handful around the basket that they would have to guard,” Adelman said. “But yeah, he’s a big part of what we’re going to do, and you add the other pieces we’re missing, it just kind of, we’re trying to make due right now. But getting back to the way we’re playing in Dallas, Brooklyn, those types, that’s what we have to do.”
Adelman said his biggest challenge with the current injured personnel is figuring out ways to rest Luke Ridnour, who, without Barea and Ricky Rubio healthy, is the lone true point guard on the roster. Malcolm Lee is more of an off guard, and Adelman prefers to play Shved off the ball as well. That leaves Ridnour as the primary ball handler, and even he is a guard Adelman likes to play occasionally at the 2 because he’s the team’s best spot-up shooter.
So how does Adelman get Ridnour some rest?
“It’s a real quandary for me because I take him out, it’s not the same,” Adelman said.
Adelman said he’s working on getting newly acquired forward/guard Josh Howard prepared to play both the 2 and the 3, which will help in moving either Lee or Shved over to the point during certain offensive sets. But Ridnour is a veteran who Adelman trusts, so it’s a balance between not over-using him but also keeping him on the floor regularly.
Ridnour has played at least 31 minutes in each of his last six games. He’s averaging 37 ½ minutes in his last five games and played 41 against Dallas on Monday.
“He’s probably going to have to play 36 minutes a game,” Adelman said. “There’s just no getting around it until JJ gets back.
“But I gave him a break today,” Adelman joked. “He didn’t do the five-on-none.”