With big road trip ahead, who's at center is Wolves' central issue

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2014 - 12:34 AM

After a long post-practice shooting session, Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio joked that he was going to work on some post moves, too. Just in case.

“But I don’t think I can play that position,” he said.

That position would be center, where the Wolves almost certainly will be two players down in their game at Utah on Saturday night. And, perhaps, longer.

Starter Nikola Pekovic has been out 10 games because of right ankle bursitis. Backup Ronny Turiaf sustained a bone bruise in his right knee late in Wednesday’s victory over Indiana. Turiaf likely will miss at least three weeks, Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said in a KFAN radio interview Friday afternoon.

Pekovic appears he’s close to returning. For a second consecutive day, Pekovic took part in drills during practice Friday. And while coach Rick Adelman didn’t rule Pekovic out for Saturday’s game, it sounded unlikely he will play. He is, however, expected to return during the upcoming five-game road trip.

“The biggest thing for Pek is how much soreness will he have and what kind of condition will he be in?” Adelman said.

The bottom line is a good bit of Friday’s practice was devoted to figuring out a rotation at center if Pekovic (and Turiaf) cannot play.

It won’t be easy. Rookie Gorgui Dieng figures to get more minutes. But his rawness on the offensive end and tendency to pick up fouls will limit those minutes.

Kevin Love could slide over to center with Dante Cunningham at power forward. But Adelman is loath to make Love play a lot at the position, given what the team needs out of him on offense.

“Kevin, he has a lot of responsibility right now,” Adelman said. “He’s going to have to play the center some. But you have to think about not wearing him down, not getting him in foul trouble. So we’ll have to play that by ear.”

Against some teams Cunningham can play center on defense. Indeed, against some smaller lineups, Luc Mbah a Moute could play power forward.

“We’re going to figure it out [Saturday] night,” Adelman said. “We have three or four guys who can play out there, but [Dieng] is the only [true] center. We’ll have to see how the game goes and see how we’re going to do it.”

Martin update

Shooting guard Kevin Martin, who has missed four games because of a broken left thumb, saw a doctor early Friday. But he was expected to seek a second opinion before the team left for Utah. He is still listed as day-to-day, and should play at some point on the road trip.

The good news is that Martin has been able to run and stay in shape. So his return, once cleared, should be relatively seamless.

On a tear

Backup guard J.J. Barea responds well to pressure. In the days leading up to the trading deadline, with his name attached to rumors, all Barea did was shoot a combined 14-for-18 from the field in back-to-back victories straddling the All-Star break.

“I’m in a good rhythm right now,” he said. “I’m finding spots a little better. Hopefully I can keep this thing going, help the team out.”

Now, with the trade deadline passed, all Barea has to do is keep it going. He admitted to being a little nervous until the deadline passed Thursday.

With Barea scoring, the Wolves bench has done a good job of holding leads in victories over Denver and Indiana.

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