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Updated: March 31st, 2014 11:11pm
Should Wolves shut down Nikola Pekovic for season's final nine games?

Should Wolves shut down Nikola Pekovic for season's final nine games?

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Nikola Pekovic can't escape the nagging ankle injury that has derailed the second half of his season.

Three days after making his second comeback attempt in the two months since he was diagnosed with bursitis in his right ankle, lingering pain once again forced Pekovic to make an early exit in the first quarter of Timberwolves' 114-104 loss to the Clippers on Monday.

"I've forgotten how to play without pain these last two months I've been dealing with that," a disheartened Pekovic said afterward.

Pekovic was in the midst of the best statistical season of his four-year career, averaging 18 points and 9.1 rebounds in 44 straight starts -- the longest sustained stretch of his career. But since Jan. 29, he has missed 19 of the Wolves' last 29 games. Pekovic returned for a seven-game span after being sidelined for 13 games in February, but the pain in his ankle became too much. He went on to miss the next six games.

Although he was still battling soreness, Pekovic choose to test the ankle last Friday against Lakers. He went off for a game-high 26 points in his return and followed up on Sunday with 13 points and six rebounds at Brooklyn. However, he woke up Monday with his ankle aching, and it only got worse once the game began.

"I wanted to give it a shot," Pekovic said. "I wanted to help the guys, but I just couldn't. It was not possible ... It's really frustrating for me."

Pekovic's latest setback puts further emphasis on the question of whether the Wolves should make the call to shut the 6-foot-11, 285-pound center down for the remaining nine games of the season?

The Wolves dismissed the notion prior to Pekovic's recent comeback attempt. However, with Minnesota not in the playoff picture, the move to keep him sidelined for the year makes sense.

When originally diagnosed with bursitis, team doctors told Pekovic that for the most part he would simply have to wait for the injury to run its course. Still ailing weeks later, he mentioned Monday he would likely see a specialist after the season to have his ankle reevaluated.

Pekovic is in the first year of a five-year, $60 million contract extension he signed last offseason. If the Wolves intend to rebound next season from a year of failed expectations and end a soon-to-be 10-year playoff drought, they need to do whatever they can to help keep Pekovic healthy.

At this late juncture, trying to play again may do more harm than good. And even if he would prefer to attempt another return this season, his ankle may not let him.

Pekovic said he hasn't discussed his status for the season's last two weeks with the team.

"I still have no idea," he remarked. "It's not on me to deal with it. I don't know. It's just been a tough year for me."

On a positive note, Pekovic's absence would mean more starts for rookie center Gorgui Dieng, who has greatly benefited from his recent surge in minutes. In the nine games since making his first career start on March 16, Dieng ranks second among rookies in scoring (12.1 ppg) and first in total rebounds (12 rpg).

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
In this story: Nikola Pekovic
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