Nikola Pekovic puts his evolving game on display at 76ers' expense
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Nikola Pekovic, who typically makes his home in the direct vicinity of the basket, surprised the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday when he ventured into territory he usually leaves uncharted.
In the Timberwolves' 19-point, sigh of relief-inducing comeback victory, Pekovic showed off a side of his game he rarely reveals: his jump shot.
Twice the 6-foot-11, 290-pound center converted on shots from 11 feet and beyond, highlighted by a fourth quarter jumper that was key in pacing the Wolves' desperately needed second half revival.
"It's like the Mayans might have been wrong, but who knows what's next?" Kevin Love said. "If Pek hits a couple of jumpers we'll definitely take it."
Pekovic was a force Philadelphia, despite its gallant first half effort against the Wolves, could not keep contained.
Minnesota fell into a gaping deficit early after a dismal first half, shell-shocked by the fast attacking Sixers. By the second half, needing to find something to kick his team into gear, coach Rick Adelman recalled four of his starters to the bench. Pekovic remained. The Wolves big man stuck with the reserve unit, which played a central role in propelling Minnesota into the lead near the midpoint of the fourth quarter.
Pekovic's decision to pull out his jump shot was another signal of his ever-increasing repertoire and his recent surge in production. The Sixers were victim to his fifth 20-point, 10-rebound game of the season, third in a two-week stretch. In that span of six games, Pekovic has averaged 20 points (53.8 percent) to go with 9.3 rebounds.
The mid-range shot that colored Pekovic's strong performance was not something fans are used to seeing, but his coaches and teammates knew he had the ability to unleash the usually sheathed skill if he wanted to.
"He can make that shot," Adelman said. "You don't see him shoot it (in-game), but you see it when he works out and shooting shots. He can make a 15-foot jumper facing the basket. He just never looks for it. I think that's just the evolution that is going to come."
At shootaround Wednesday, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown offered a colorful reminder of the harm Pekovic can inflict on an opponent when paired with Love's dynamic inside/outside presence.
"I think (Love) and Pekovic are a fantastic combination," Brown said. "You look in there and you see two lumberjacks just getting ready to knock your head off. You've got to find different ways to combat that."
Turns out, Philadelphia wasn't able to do so down the stretch. Love and Pekovic combined for more than half of Minnesota's rebounds (25-of-45) and banded together for 46 out of 106 points.
Slow going for Turiaf
Ronny Turiaf has been out since Nov. 1 after suffering a radial head fracture in right elbow in the second game of the season, and coach Rick Adelman thinks it "will be a while yet" until the veteran center returns.
Although no timetable on his recovery was ever set, initial speculation was that Turiaf would likely miss around four to six week.
He is now on the far end of that range and still awaiting better news from team doctors. Frustratingly for Turiaf and the Wolves, his injured elbow has healed reluctantly.
"It's just healing a lot slower than they anticipated," Adelman said. "It's a slower process than I think the doctors thought and he thought. He's getting better, but I think it will be a while yet."
It's still a wait and see process for Turiaf, but it a return before Jan. 1 is becoming increasingly unlikely.
Budinger making progress
The other member of the Wolves' injury list, forward Chase Budinger, is inching closer to his comeback from his second knee surgery in a year.
Budinger, who has been rehabbing in the Twin Cities since mid-November, made the road trip to Detroit on Tuesday -- the first time he has been cleared to travel with the team this year.
That doesn't mean he's on the verge of seeing game action, but he is getting there. Budinger has yet to practice with the Wolves, but has been able to work on his jump shot in individual sessions.
Budinger is about two and a half months removed from surgery to repair lingering damage in his left meniscus.
Adelman said he hopes the Wolves swingman can practice "sometime in the next couple weeks."