As you may have heard, an MRI on Nikola Pekovic’s right ankle revealed bursitis, which will sideline him for at least 7-10 days. In case you’re curious, bursitis is swelling in the bursa (fluid-filled sac), in this case the bursa in Pek’s ankle that helps ease friction and rubbing between things like bones and tendons. WebMD says overuse can increase the risk of bursitis, and that includes high-risk activities like gardening, carpentry and — presumably — jumping and banging into 250 to 300 lb men on a semi-nightly basis.
This is, of course, real unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. Although Pek had played in all 44 games so far this season, a look at his past seasons make it reasonable to assume he’s going to miss at least 5-10 games a season just because he’s a giant human being. It’s worth noting that as a person’s height increases, the strain on the legs increases geometrically, not arithmetically, meaning that anyone approaching 7’0” as Pek does — and especially at nearly 285 lbs — is exerting tremendous strain just by walking around, much less playing basketball.
There are other silver linings to this cloud as well. The Wolves are riding a wave of positive momentum after going 3-1 on their most recent roadtrip. They’re still only right at .500, but there have been encouraging signs on the court, including at long last some deodorant wins. (Blowouts are anti-perspirant wins: no sweat. Ugly close wins are deodorant wins: you’re going to sweat, but you’re not going to stink.)
There’s also the possibility that a little adversity on the way through an upswing can have a galvanizing effect, especially on the guys like Ronny Turiaf (who barely needs galvanizing, of course) and Gorgui Dieng who are going to have to step up in Pek’s absence. A little over a week ago, when the Wolves faced the Jazz at home, Adelman related a great story about his days playing with ex-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan in Chicago.
“I still remember the 6th game of the playoff series against Detroit where he broke his foot in the 1st quarter and played the whole game,” Adelman said. “Just kept getting shot up. He knew he wasn’t going to play the 7th game; they said you can’t hurt it anymore, but he played that whole 6th game. We won that 7th game for one reason: when he came up the old Chicago stadium on crutches, the place just went nuts and our whole team just went up another level and we ended up winning that 7th game. I really believe it was all because of reaction to him coming up the stairs.”
Nothing so dramatic is going to happen with this injury (hopefully), but we saw at the start of last season how a Wolves team that was missing both Rubio and Love to start the year rallied and played surprisingly well for a while until they just couldn’t sustain it. In a lot of ways, I think that divide is what separates foundational starters from the bench: the starters have to be there for every game, but in short bursts, the bench guys need to hold it together and exceed their own expectations of themselves. And they can often do that for these short bursts while a starter is injured. But as we saw last season, eventually it starts breaking down. Guys play more minutes than they’re accustomed to, have to adopt roles they’re not entirely comfortable with.
Gregg Popovich more or less forces this on his bench throughout the season in these short bursts where he rests his starters, and the result for the Spurs is that when they get into the playoffs — even with a shorter rotation — the bench is ready when they’re called on.
If the Wolves can maintain the momentum they’ve built up on the road recently through Pek’s injury, it could end up being a net positive for the team: a chance for the bench to solidify itself and a chance for Pekovic to get some rest and come back strong.