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Timberwolves’ Pekovic gives team a big boost from his comfort zone

By Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday’s practice was over, and Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic was about to go review film of Friday’s victory over San Antonio with an assistant coach. Here’s guessing that was a fun session.

But first, he was asked to explain the relative renaissance he has shown of late, both in backup and starting roles.

“I feel comfortable,” he said.

Can it be that simple? Can a guy go from a fellow brought over from Europe who, at times, looked like he was lost in America last season to the guy who was giving Tim Duncan all he could handle Friday?

Here’s to comfort.

With Darko Milicic out sick Friday, Pekovic got his first start of the season against the Spurs. By the time the game ended, he had his second career double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Those 14 points included a stretch in the third quarter when he scored three hoops in a row, assisted on a Luke Ridnour basket, then scored on a dunk off a Ricky Rubio pass. One of those baskets came low in the post, a whirling (multi-step?) dervish of a move that had the crowd howling.

All that is good, but that’s not what Pekovic remembers most about the game.

“It’s the defense,” Pekovic said. “I was trying to do a good job. We have a lot of players who can score.”

Adelman loves how Pekovic keeps things simple. He knows what he’s good at — rebounding, staying low in the post on offense, providing a physical presence in the post on defense and setting screens — and he does it.

“He knows his strengths, and he plays to them,” Adelman said. “He doesn’t try to do anything else. We can count on that.”

Friday his defense on Duncan was impressive. His screens — often knocking Tony Parker off the play — were effective enough that Spurs coach Gregg Popovic spent much of the game complaining they were illegal. When you get into the head of a coach of that stature, you’re doing something.

But more on that defense. Clearly Duncan was off. With Pekovic covering him much of the game, do you know how off Duncan was? His 2-for-12 shooting performance was the third worst of his 15-year career in games with 10 or more shot attempts.

Pekovic got six of the Wolves’ 10 offensive rebounds and helped the Wolves limit the Spurs to two offensive boards — the lowest ever by a Wolves opponent.

And all that because he’s comfortable?

“I played in Europe, so when I came here, I needed time to adjust,” he said. “It’s especially tough for big guys.”

It has been difficult for Pekovic to learn how to play without constant foul trouble. Friday Pekovic got five fouls, but he played more than 33 minutes. He also had two assists and a steal.

“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” Kevin Love said about Pekovic after the game. “He doesn’t know anything but to go hard. We’re happy to have the Eastern Bloc on our side.”

They’ll need it Sunday against the Lakers, whose big lineup — especially inside with 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol — will test the Wolves. Milicic was sick again Saturday and missed practice. He is questionable for the Lakers game.

“They are very big,” Adelman said. “That’s probably going to be the biggest thing, how we defend their inside area. We faced it before, in the Utah game, same situation. But these guys are even bigger.”

If Milicic can’t play, Adelman said Brad Miller could see his first action of the season. No matter what, Pekovic will be relied on again.

In consecutive victories, Pekovic has scored 27 points with 17 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end.

“He was really solid,” Adelman said of Pekovic’s performance against the Spurs. He just played Duncan smart. In the second half, Duncan got more aggressive and Pek got some fouls. … But we know he’s going to set screens on offense. We know he will post up. We know he’ll be a handful on the offensive boards. I think he surprised those guys with his aggressively going to the boards.”

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