Things have changed, in a big way, for Wolves forward Kevin Love recently. And by big, of course we mean Nikola Pekovic.
Pekovic has captured the imagination of fans recently, with his imposing presence and gentle demeanor. Scoring in double figures for nine consecutive games or picking up double-doubles in seven of his past 11 doesn't hurt either.
But it's what Pekovic has done for Love lately that is interesting. Namely, absorb defenders. With Pekovic a constant threat underneath, teams have been forced to pay more attention to him. And that has meant a lot more 1-on-1 opportunities for Love.
"He has changed things in the middle," Love said after his 30-point, 18-rebound performance against Charlotte on Wednesday. "Because everything just seems to have opened up. I'm going 1-on-1 with guys now. Defenses have to stay honest with him -- that's probably been the biggest adjustment teams have had to make with us. It's allowed me to get more looks out there."
Love wasn't exactly struggling to score before Pekovic emerged. But there has been a big uptick in his scoring in recent games.
Love is averaging 25.5 points per game this season on 45.7 percent shooting. In four games since returning from his two-game suspension for stepping on the face of Houston forward Luis Scola, Love has increased his scoring (28.3 per game), shooting (49.4 percent) and rebounding.
Included in this stretch are three games with 30 or more points, including 32 against Dallas and New York and 30 Wednesday. To Love, this is no coincidence.
"Things are opening up for me,'' he said. "The way I rebound offensively, if I'm going 1-on-1 with somebody, it's going to be a foul, a tip-in. One way or another, I'll get my hand on the ball and I'll score."
Coach Rick Adelman has noticed it, too.
"Pek is going to play to his strengths all the time," Adelman said. "And that really does help Kevin out. Pek always occupies his guy. His guy is not going to stare at Kevin. I think that's what's great about him. He may not always get the ball, but he's always going to occupy the other team's center."
The great thing is that this goes both ways. Pek has the advantage of being able to work against opposing centers 1-on-1 as well. And he tends to make his move fairly quickly, making it even more difficult to double up on him.
And Pekovic's reliability on the boards hasn't cut into Love's rebounding totals at all. So it's a win-win situation.
And, according to Love, it should only get better. The space Pekovic has created for him has opened up passing opportunities as well, and Love is determined to become a better passer out of the post.
That is something Adelman would like to see more of as well.
"He's got do to more of that," Adelman said of Love. "If he's going to develop into a better player, that's one area [in which] he's going to have to help his teammates get better."
It's coming. Love, who has averaged 1.8 assists per game this season, has had three in three of his last four games. Yes, the turnovers (12 in that stretch) have been a problem. But Love realizes where he needs to improve, and he sees the potential for his team and himself if he does. The scoring will always be there, as well as the rebounding. So will Love eventually turn himself into a triple-double machine?
"You know, once I learn how to pass the ball rather than turning it over so much," Love said, "I'll be able to get more assists as well, with [Pekovic] in there."