Pekovic's surge ripples through entire offense

The Timberwolves center has enabled coach Rick Adelman to set his offensive schemes without having to guess who has the hot hand.

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Nikola Pekovic, who was fouled by Houston Rockets' Samuel Dalembert during the Timberwolves' victory Friday, has helped transform the team's entire offense.

Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press

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In 17 days -- just more than two weeks -- the Timberwolves offense has dramatically changed. It has become more post-driven, more physical. Coach Rick Adelman's rotation has tightened and become more predictable. And it's due in large part to one very large man:

Nikola Pekovic.

But then, as Kevin Love quipped after Saturday's practice, should we be surprised? "He's 290 pounds and he eats weights for a living," Love said.

To be sure, Adelman has been wanting to tighten his rotation for a while -- weeks, really. He said he believes it makes for more continuity in execution when players get used to playing in certain situations and with certain people. The problem was, the team wasn't letting him do that.

"Earlier in the season we weren't having anybody who was separating themselves from the other guys," Adelman said. "One game it'd be one guy, the next game it'd be somebody else. You were always kind of mixing and matching. When a guy like Pek separates himself so much, then you're that much more comfortable. Then you try to figure it out from there."

Look at the boxscore from Friday's victory in Houston. With guard J.J. Barea missing the game to be at the birth of his son, Adelman used just eight players. And the last guy off the bench, rookie Derrick Williams, played less than 10 minutes.

Pekovic has been the fulcrum for much of this. His emergence as a physical presence in the middle and his consistent play has allowed Adelman to use Love, Pekovic and Williams in a big-man rotation, especially when Adelman wants to go with a smaller lineup with Love at center.

The rotation among the perimeter players has more to do with Adelman going with guys who have proven to be dependable, with Martell Webster's recent play pushing him into that mix off the bench along with Michael Beasley. Wayne Ellington, Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver did not play Saturday. Had Barea been available, Adelman would have stretched the rotation to nine players.

"It's one of those things where you get a feel for the players," Adelman said. "You see how they fit in with the team, and the main players. I think it's easier when you play nine guys. It's easier, because then everybody knows what they're going to do. It's tough when a guy is not playing. But when you have 15 healthy guys, it's tough."

What's more impressive is how the Wolves offense has changed. There is more emphasis on the low post, and Adelman loves how Pekovic and Love have worked off each other in recent games. In Houston, the Wolves scored 64 points in the paint, equaling their second-most since 1996 and the most since getting 68 at Charlotte in April 2008.

Pekovic has given Love more one-on-ones, and vice versa. And the two of them occupying defenders has opened lanes for drives to the basket by perimeter players.

And don't think the compressed schedule will keep Adelman from keeping his rotation as tight as possible. "We're trying to win games," he said. "We're trying to set some type of way we're going to play night in and night out. ... Everybody tells me [the players] are young. So they should be able to handle it."

Etc.

• Adelman was asked about Milicic's future in light of Pekovic's recent play. "He had four different injuries," Adelman said. "Every time we went to a game, he had something wrong. ... And then Pek started playing. It's not like I've purposely said I'm not going to play Darko. But I think it was pretty obvious he has not been healthy since he first went down." Adelman said Milicic was still the backup center, and his playing time should increase against teams with strong post play.

• Barea and his girlfriend, former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, are parents of a new son, Sebastian.

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