Defenses didn’t take long to adjust.
Wolves center Nikola Pekovic left Monday’s game because of bursitis in his right ankle. Two days later at Target Center, forward Kevin Love got a good feeling for what that meant. In a less-than-artistic victory over New Orleans, the Pelicans spent most of the game pushing and shoving Love, running all sorts of extra defenders at him whenever he got the ball.
Until Pekovic returns, that’s not going to change.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of double- and sometimes triple-teams,” Love said Thursday, a day after scoring 30 points in a season-high 43 minutes, 26 seconds of playing time. “It seems like each time I go to back it down now, they’re sending one or two guys at me.”
The Wolves need to find a way to counteract that.
On the surface, without Pekovic, the job is simply to find someone to supply the scoring Pekovic provided. But it goes deeper than that. The combination of Ronny Turiaf and Gorgui Dieng is strong defensively, adding an element of basket protection Pekovic doesn’t have.
But on offense it’s a different story. Opponents had to be aware of Pekovic at all times in the post. And that meant a lot more space for Love. It’s going to be harder for him to find that space now.
“There has to be more motion, just more activity,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “They had to honor Pek all the time. And that would just naturally space the court for us. So with Pek out now, if we post up Kevin, they’re going to double him. So we have to have movement. Take it to one side, then come back.”
Adelman said Love also might have to vary the way he usually gets shots — less posting up, perhaps, while doing more facing the basket.
“That way it’s harder to double him,” Adelman said. “But then, everybody else has to understand what their strengths are. We have to get cutters to the basket. We have to have more body movement.”
You could see the Wolves making that adjustment against New Orleans.
In the first half, Love scored 18 points but had no assists. In the second half he had 12 points and five assists. In the third quarter he set up J.J. Barea for a three-pointer, then hit Barea and Corey Brewer cutting to the basket. Love found Dante Cunningham for two short jumpers in the fourth quarter.
Look for Love’s assist totals to rise.
“Luc [Mbah a Moute] is really good at slicing to the basket, as is Corey,” Adelman said. “If they’re going to double Kevin, the other players have to do that.”
But, ultimately, it will be up to Love. He will have to find his spots on the floor. He’ll have to make quick decisions, either shooting the ball or passing it, before the double team arrives.
Friday’s game with Memphis will be a challenge. The Grizzlies boast one of the most physical frontcourts in the league, including center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. Memphis comes into the game healthy, having won nine of its past 10 games.
And in the short term, Love will likely have to work overtime. With Pekovic out, and with the Wolves on a little run, Love knows he’s likely to play a lot of minutes until Pekovic returns. Love woke up Thursday feeling pretty sore.
“It didn’t feel too great,” said Love, who played the entire second half Wednesday. “That’s why I got in the weight room after the game, got my treatment [Thursday]. I’ll have to carry more of a load, as far as minutes go. It’s a grind, but I’ve got to do it.”