SAN ANTONIO – Contrary to reports elsewhere, the world did not end on Dec. 21, 2012.
But you might swear it’s coming soon if you’d seen big Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic make not one, but two shots from distance in Wednesday’s 106-99 comeback victory over Philadelphia.
“The Mayans might have been wrong,” teammate Kevin Love said afterward. “Who knows what’s next?”
The planet did seem to turn just a bit cockeyed Wednesday after Pekovic received a first-quarter pass from Ricky Rubio away from the basket. He held the ball for a moment, looked back to Rubio and then down underneath toward Love only to see Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes drifting away from him toward Love.
Left all alone and with no better options, Pekovic launched a 17-foot shot from the free-throw line elbow that hit only net.
In the fourth quarter, he did the same, only on a shorter shot near the baseline in the midst of a decisive 10-0 run that punctuated the Wolves’ comeback from a 19-point, first-quarter deficit.
Pekovic scored six of those 10 points on his way to a 20-point, 10-rebound night. The other four points came on a layup and a put-back tip-in, just like most of his points are scored: within four feet of the basket.
But those two from distance Wednesday almost looked like jump shots, didn’t they?
“Oh yeah,” Pekovic said. “You saw that?”
So just where did they come from?
“That?” Pekovic replied. “It come from me, of course. I’m working on that almost every day.”
Wolves teammates and coaches will attest: They indeed have seen Pekovic take — and make — such shots in practice.
“He hit like a 17-footer, that was pretty cool to see,” said Wolves rookie Robbie Hummel, who was on the floor for almost all of a fourth quarter in which the Wolves won a game they once seemed determined to lose. “He’s pretty skilled. You don’t see it very often, but he can do that. I’ve seen him make that in practice plenty of times.”
Then Hummel in the next minute revised himself.
“I’ve seen him make that a couple of times,” Hummel said. “I know he can do it.”
Late last season, Wolves coach Rick Adelman discussed how Pekovic must expand his game beyond all those layups and put-backs that so appeal to his physical nature, if only to spread the floor better for his teammates and lessen the pounding he takes nightly.
Adelman was asked about the subject again after Wednesday’s game.
“He can make that shot,” Adelman said. “You don’t see him shoot it. But you see him work out, he can make a 15-foot jumper facing the basket. He just never looks for it. I just think that evolution is going to come. He’s a good free-throw shooter, and he can make that shot.”
Pekovic is averaging 16 points a game — third on the team behind the two Kevins, Love and Martin — on 52.2 percent shooting. That’s by far the best on the team — Dante Cunningham is a distant second, at 45.4 percent — but only 19th in the league.
“You know Pek: He loves the paint and inside,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “It’s hard to get him out of the paint, but we have to spread the floor, and he has been practicing that. If he extend his shot outside the paint, it will make him even tougher to guard. If he makes all his low post and scoop shots that he’s taking, I mean why go outside? But if he expand his game, he’ll be an even better player and that’s going to help.”
Pekovic said he works on his jump shot daily, even if he might not use it in games even monthly.
“I just don’t use it,” he said. “Sometimes, I use. That’s my secret weapon.”
He never has attempted a three-point shot in his four-year NBA career, not even at the end of a quarter or 24-second shot clock. He shakes his head sideways and says, “That’s not me,” when asked if one will ever be forthcoming.
When asked about Pekovic possibly taking and making a three-point shot, Love mentioned nothing about Mayans.
“Don’t get too carried away,” Love said.