Nikola Pekovic establishing his place again in Wolves' lineup
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MINNEAPOLIS -- An obvious tweak and adjust period in the season's first couple weeks has given way to a return to form by Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic.
On Saturday night, the Boston Celtics labored in their an attempt to contain the Wolves big man, who is finally starting to show shades of the high caliber interior play that helped earn him a big money contract extension in the offseason.
Boston's defensive efforts provided limited resistance. Overpowering and making his presence known in the low post, Pekovic missed on just one of his nine shot attempts. He rumbled to a 20 point, 12 rebound double-double that bolstered the Wolves' bounce-back 106-88 victory.
The tweaked ankle that slowed him Friday in a loss at Denver was quickly forgotten.
"They had a hard time guarding him," coach Rick Adelman said. "Especially hurting his ankle last night in a back to back, it was nice to see him play like that."
Pekovic's evolution in the Wolves' reconfigured lineup was slow to take at the season's onset. In the opening seven games, he shot a lackluster 33.8 percent from the floor and was averaging 9.1 points.
The change in the last four games has been dramatic, converting at a 73 percent clip to go with two outings of 20 points or more. After two games of not getting a foul called, Pekovic's aggression off the ball and follow-through were rewarded in a return to the free throw line (4-of-5)
Where Pekovic impressed most Saturday was his dominance on the offensive glass. Eight of his 12 rebounds came on offense and were critical to the Wolves' 27 second chance points.
What Pekovic is being asked to do on a nightly basis hasn't been altered too much from a year ago. But with Kevin Love healthy again and the addition of Kevin Martin, Pekovic has had to pick and choose his spots.
"I know I have the same role, but between the two Kevins, you know they're going to take the majority of the shots, so I'm just trying to establish myself inside, try to be open, try to be in a good position every time."
November is a grueling month for the Wolves (7-4), and they are right in the thick of it.
Saturday was No. 10 in the Wolves' run of 17 games in November. It was also the end of the first of two stretches of five games in seven days. So far, the negative effects have been kept to a minimum.
Minnesota was outdone by sluggish play and waning energy Friday at Denver. But one day later against the lowly Celtics in a game Adelman preached they had to win, the Wolves did enough to put Boston away with relative ease.
"We were just better tonight than we were yesterday," Adelman said. "The guys pushed themselves through the fatigue and did enough to get a good win."
Adelman hasn't been shy about voicing his displeasure with the NBA's scheduling this season. That isn't likely to be eased in the next week when the Wolves face Washington, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Houston and Indiana all in the course of seven days.
For now, the Wolves are doing what they can to make the most of it.
"Our schedule is brutal right now," guard Kevin Martin said. "Feels like we're playing every day ... We're weathering the storm right now."
Budinger back in town
Donned in a suit, forward Chase Budinger was on the Wolves' bench for the first time this season.
Budinger reunited with the Wolves Saturday after spending the last month rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery in Pensacola, Fla. A date for Budigner's return is still up in the air, but the plan is for him to finish his rehab in the Twin Cities.
The 25-year-old swingman was cleared Thursday to resume basketball-related activities, which was his ticket back home to Minnesota and one step closer towards returning to the Wolves' lineup.
It has been six weeks since Budinger underwent surgery to remove 25 percent of his injured left meniscus.
• Rookie Shabazz Muhammad was not dressed for the second consecutive game, recovering from a sprained right ankle suffered Wednesday in the fourth quarter against Cleveland.