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Nik vs. Nik: Montenegrin friends battle at Target Center

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • November 8, 2012 - 7:43 AM

 

It was a rare Montenegrin matchup in the NBA on Wednesday night.

In an increasingly international league -- a record-tying 84 international players were on opening-day rosters this season -- three are from Montenegro and two were on the Target Center court Wednesday. Wolves center Nikola Pekovic and Orlando center/forward Nikola Vucevic are friends, have worked out together and have been teammates on their country's national team.

"He's a good guy, a good player," said Pekovic of Vucevic. "We are friends, good friends. We talk a lot."

Pekovic is in his third NBA season, having come over from Europe, where he was an established star. Vucevic opted for a different route. He moved to the U.S. to play high school ball, then played in college at Southern California.

The 7-0, 240-pound Vucevic was taken in the first round by Philadelphia (16th overall) in the 2011 draft. After getting rather limited playing time, he landed in Orlando as part of a four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers.

Vucevic has had a strong start, averaging 13.3 points and nine rebounds entering Wednesday's game. He settled for two points and four rebounds Wednesday, while Pekovic got 11 points and five rebounds.

The two have different styles. Pekovic plays strictly in the paint while Vucevic likes to play facing the basket. But Vucevic said he still talks to Pekovic often, constantly asking him for advice.

"He's been around," said Vucevic of Pekovic, who had a breakthrough season in 2011-12 by averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. "I'm still trying to prove myself. He won some things in Europe. He was the best center over there. He's the superstar over there. I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps."

Barea hurt

With 8:39 left in the game and Timberwolves up by 20 points, J.J. Barea sprinted after a ball headed out of bounds. He didn't get the ball, but he got injured. Barea sustained a midfoot sprain in his left foot when he bent it against the scorer's table. He left the game and got an X-ray that confirmed the sprain, and hopes to be back in action soon.

"Terrible play," he said. "I just saw the ball and went after it. I'm so mad at myself right now. Just bad luck and I have to live with it."

Barea said he hoped the foot would feel better by Thursday. "It's short-term, I'm hoping," he said. "It's a lot of ice, a lot of treatment, and hopefully I'll recover quick."

Thanks, Pek

Wolves forward Dante Cunningham has learned one thing: It's good to be playing alongside Pekovic, especially when it comes to rebounding.

"He's always there [under the basket]," Cunningham said. "And if he's clearing out, he's taking two guys with him. So he definitely is a force offensively. Nobody gets around him to the boards."

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