Archives For Nikola Pekovic

TwoDragons

The emergence of Gorgui Dieng has been a fascinating development to a weird season that never fails to drop my jaw.

Through the first 41 games of the season (he got hurt in Game 42), Nikola Pekovic was a godsend. He was worth the five years, $60 million the Minnesota Timberwolves, Flip Saunders, and Glen Taylor committed to him this past offseason. They navigated his restricted free agency beautifully, remaining patient and never succumbing to the pressure of rumors about the market or other suitors. The Wolves got him for exactly what their initial offer was to him, which is pretty stunning for a mid-market team like this one.

Pek earned that contract for much of this season, exuding his brute strength and deft touch around the basket and at the free throw line. His defense was better than reported but not as good or effective as last season. He seemed to be often lamented for not being a rim protector, even though he wasn’t one last season when he was a really solid pick-and-roll defender. Perhaps it was the absence of Bill Bayno on the Wolves’ coaching staff, which kept Pek from keeping that form on the defensive end. Or maybe last season’s effort and production on defense was an outlier to what he is supposed to be.

Regardless, Pek was still giving the Wolves something very few centers have given their teams this season, and for $12 million per season, that’s pretty good value. Then the forgotten first round pick of the Wolves stepped in during a recent string of missed games for Pek. Continue Reading…

Lakers Timberwolves Basketball.JPEG-0b3e5 (1)

In the skyway back to the parking lot after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ comprehensive mangling of the Los Angeles Lakers 143-107, two Laker fans stood vigil with a view of the exit to the visiting team bus. This was well after most of the crowd had made their way to their cars and the skyway was mostly empty.

Below, other fans stood a meager layer deep waiting for a dejected Lakers team to make their way to the bus. The 143 points Minnesota put up set a new Timberwolves franchise record and also gave them their largest win since a 42-point victory over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2009. Their 67.1% shooting set a single-game franchise record and was the highest in the NBA so far this season. Kevin Love had a triple double at the end of the third quarter. Nikola Pekovic was a plus-38, Jordan Hill a minus-38. The Wolves biggest lead was 41 points, the Lakers biggest lead, zero.

These two Lakers fans, in jerseys and hats, in Forum blue and gold, waited. If this Laker team manages two more wins this season, they’ll be spared the ignominy of having the second-worst win total in Laker history, beating out their 25-50 finish in 1959-60 and their 19-53 finish in 1957-58. They were still the Minneapolis Lakers during those two seasons. Terrible basketball has a long tradition in Minnesota.

Maybe that’s why these fans who come out of the woodwork in the visiting team’s colors for games against the Lakers, the Heat, are such easy targets. Being a Wolves fan for any serious amount of time demands resilience. It fosters a mistrust of success, an expectation of disappointment. At the core of this fandom is the sense that it has to be earned with hardship, not bought in the form of a #24 jersey with “BRYANT” on the back.

Even an offensive explosion like last night’s — a game Nikola Pekovic, back from injury, called “a triumph from the very first moment” — is going to bring with it a sour little note: Where was this kind of performance when it could have gotten them into the playoffs, when it could have mattered?

But “mattered” is a strangely relative term. Since the Wolves have fallen out of contention for a playoff spot, they’ve been peppered with questions about what there’s left to play for and they’ve given the same bland, generic responses that most athletes do in such situations. Stuff about still having things to learn, about seeing where they are for next year, about playing hard because that’s what you do.

But last night there was a little pure joy in the game. Returning to the bench after starting six games and putting up a double-double in all but one of them, Gorgui Dieng got a hero’s welcome when he checked into the game for the first time at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. Some of the applause was also no doubt for Pekovic’s sterling effort in that first quarter, where he went 4-4 and scored 12 points. And some of it may have been for the simple fact that a bench player checking in for the Wolves was not a reason to nervously bite your fingernails. Dieng acquitted himself well in his backup role with 14 points and 9 rebounds. (“The guys were giving him a pretty hard time there with only nine rebounds,” said Adelman in his postgame presser.)

And as the third quarter was ending with the Wolves up comfortably, an errant Laker shot bounced harmlessly towards the Wolves bench. Love was the closest to the ball and the Minnesota bench, well aware of his 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, starting shouting, “GET IT! GET IT! GET IT!” When Love gamely scooped the ball off the ground for a buzzer beating rebound, they cheered. In the break between quarters they patted him on the back and smiled. Everyone was just having a good time.

You can take what you will from a historic win like this at the tail end of a disappointing season. You can say that when the chips are down, this team didn’t step up, that their inability to close out games shows a lack of character. That any team can have a good time when they’re romping all over an opponent as hopeless as the Lakers. That Love is leaving so none of it matters. I get it: It’s a weird thing how at the end of a bad thing, there are good things.

But then I think about those Lakers fans waiting for their team — without Kobe Bryant, without Pau Gasol, without any clear path beyond lottery luck — and I think about why they’re out there in the skyway. It’s possible they’re Los Angeles transplants, that they grew up there and grew up with the Lakers, that they’re sticking by their hometown team. But I would almost prefer for them to be bandwagon fans who jumped on a frontrunner because of the glitz, the rings, the Black Mamba. Maybe the weird thing for them is that they actually started liking the team and now they can’t get out of it.

One way or another, we end up places. We get there by a mix of things we can control and things we can’t, and then we have the choice of either leaving or sticking around. Those Lakers fans and this Timberwolves team last night are a reminder: If you’re sticking around, at least try to enjoy yourself. It’s just much easier on your constitution.

LoveContest

We’ve been here before, hoping for competitive losses.

I should clarify. I’ve certainly been here before. I can’t assume you guys are necessarily there with me and based on the frustration flowing through my Twitter feed and some of the local media on Sunday, I might be mostly alone on this one for now. That’s probably the case because this is the latest in a season the Wolves have been competitive in about a decade. It’s also probably because the expectations heading into this season were competing for the playoffs. With roughly three weeks left, it would take two monumental collapses and the Wolves not collapsing to make that a reality.

Because of the draft pick implications heading into the game against the Phoenix Suns, my hopes for the game were for it to be extremely competitive and for the Wolves to protect their draft pick lives. Losing to the Suns was going to all but guarantee they keep the pick, assuming the Suns don’t come through on the 1.8% chance of landing a top 3 pick on the night of the lottery (that’s also assuming they don’t make the playoffs). The Suns making the playoffs altogether would actually be ideal because the Wolves would almost certainly keep the pick.

What I wanted out of Sunday’s game happened.  Continue Reading…

Hello. My name is Steve and this shit is all my fault. Continue Reading…

 

Love and Cousins

“You knew the Kings weren’t going to go down without a fight…” – Dave Benz

“I thought they might.” – Jim Petersen

The above quotes, offered at the 8:00 mark of the 4th quarter by FSN North’s excellent play-by-play and color analysts, respectively, captured the mood perfectly for the Timberwolves. Minnesota had pushed their lead to 14 after 3 quarters, using a dominant 31-to-14 3rd period to take control after trailing by 3 at the half. The undersized reserve lineup of Barea – Budinger – Muhammad – Mbah a Moute – Cunningham failed to tread water at the beginning of the final frame, and by the time the Wolves’ reinforcements (Love, Martin and Brewer) checked in with 8:34 remaining, the lead was just 7 points.

You knew the Wolves weren’t going to blow another game to the lowly Kings, especially given their current desperate state, right? That the bench wouldn’t be to blame, especially since they’ve been better of late? You knew beforehand that Quincy Acy and Reggie Evans weren’t the same person, correct? That the Timberwolves weren’t going to fail to keep Rudy Gay in check for the second time in a month and a half? And you knew, at some point, the Wolves record in close games would progress to the mean, that they couldn’t just keep losing tight contests in perpetuity?

The answer to all these questions: “I thought they might.” Continue Reading…

Narcissus

The myth of Narcissus concerns an impossibly beautiful young hunter who comes upon a pool of water in the forest and falls in love with his own reflection. Depending on the particular version of the story, Narcissus then commits suicide because he cannot possess his beloved, or maybe starves to death looking at his own image, or misses the playoffs. Basically, if Rick Adelman stumbled upon this youth in the woods entranced by his own image, he’d probably inform him that he hasn’t done anything yet.
Continue Reading…

LoveMath

There was a point early on in the Wolves’ win over the Chicago Bulls in which Kevin Love was struggling. He wasn’t playing poorly but he was having trouble finding his way to the free throw line against Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed. The struggles against Taj Gibson aren’t anything new for Love, or anybody around the league really. Gibson is one of the top defensive players in the NBA and rarely gets his national due because he’s a role player off the bench.

Taj is familiar with Love’s game too. They’ve played against each other on every level of play — high school, college, and in the NBA. Along with his defensive prowess, his familiarity with Love may be a big reason he’s had such great success defending the Wolves’ big man throughout their respective careers. Before Monday night, Love was 0-5 against Gibson at the NBA level. Love’s had three pretty awful games against the Bulls in this time, one decent game, and one Kevin Love game.

Overall, he was shooting 40% in these match-ups and attempted just 19 free throws in five losses. The Bulls have been a great defensive team during this run (analysis!) and part of the reason they’re so good is they know the angles to take, when to take them, and use their incredible frontcourt to slow guys down. Even Carlos Boozer is a plus-defender in Tom Thibodeau’s system, or at least enough of a plus-defender to hold the fort as Joakim Noah and Gibson protect his back.

So what changed for Love during Monday’s game to finally give him a big advantage against Gibson, Boozer, and Thibodeau’s system?  Continue Reading…

Nikola-Pekovic-doesnt-have-crawling-down-just-yet-but-hell-get-there.-Jordan-Johnson-NBAE-Getty-Images

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. Continue Reading…

LovePost

I’m not sure a game like this loss to the San Antonio Spurs is ever good, per se.

The Spurs established their dominance by playing exactly how they love to play. The Wolves never were able to take back control of the game or dictate their own style. While both teams like to move the ball up the floor and use brilliant decision-making and passing to put the defense on their heels, the Spurs do it in a much less chaotic style. The Wolves can play that structured tempo the Spurs love to throw at their opponents, but everything has to be clicking for the Wolves.

Things certainly weren’t clicking Sunday night, outside of Nikola Pekovic continuing his torrid affair with scoring the basketball and being a presence inside. Kevin Love couldn’t seem to find a way to hit a shot or get past the solid defender that is Boris Diaw (that’s not pejorative either; he’s become a defensive presence). Kevin Martin couldn’t finish inside and he couldn’t knock down a jumper. Corey Brewer looked lost on both ends of the floor as he was a non-factor on offense and he got destroyed by Kawhi Leonard on the other end. Ricky Rubio distributed well but just couldn’t have a big impact against Tony Parker.

So while this loss wasn’t good for the Wolves as I stated above, sometimes it’s a nice reminder of just how important each part of the system is, so you don’t lose sight of the value of each component.  Continue Reading…

WolvesTrio

I would like to preface this post with the fact that I have full confidence in Rick Adelman’s coaching abilities, fully believe in his philosophies when it comes to basketball, and think his offensive system is superb. I will never pretend to know as much about basketball theory or even half of the practical applications of said theories in comparison to Rick Adelman.

The offense of the Minnesota Timberwolves is crucial. This isn’t so much basketball theory as an expectation of what’s in store for us this season. I’m not breaking any ground in telling you that the Wolves have to be good on offense. This isn’t news to anybody reading this site. The Wolves need to score points and we expect that they’ll need to score a lot of points in order to neutralize whatever shortcomings are there on defense. We felt this way going into last season. Points wouldn’t be the problem; defense would.

Turns out that was backwards but mostly due to an injury rash that turned into an injury flesh-eating bacteria. Kevin Love went down. Ricky Rubio came back but missed significant time while needing a month or two to get back to where he needed to be. Brandon Roy never materialized. Chase Budinger went down for the middle of the season with love handles on each side of that middle. Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko were sporadically banged up. The season fell apart before we could even see how it fit together.

And that’s why the offense of the Wolves is so crucial this year. I think we see frustration this early from Rick Adelman for two reasons: Continue Reading…