Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman gave starting center Nikola Pekovic Monday off from practice, after Adelman played him during Sunday’s home loss to Toronto over a minutes-limit restriction that started at 20 minutes a game and now fluctuates depending on score and time.
Pekovic played 33 minutes Sunday, the most he has played since he basically missed the month of February because of ankle bursitis. Kevin Love played more than 40 minutes and Corey Brewer more than 44.
With just 20 games remaining in the season, Adelman still finds himself needing to call upon his starters more than he’d like just so his team has a fighting chance to stay in games, let alone win them some nights.
In Friday’s blowout victory over Detroit, he had to put his starters back in the game midway through the fourth quarter after Adelman’s second unit let a 28-point lead dwindle to 17 in little more than five minutes. In Sunday’s loss to Toronto, he brought back Love and Brewer after barely three minutes’ rest when the Raptors started the second quarter with a 13-0 run against Pekovic and four Wolves reserves.
“It’s just one of those things, it goes with the game,” Adelman said about asking more from his best players. “A lot of it depends how everyone else is playing. If you’re struggling with a certain group, you’re just trying to find ways to win games.”
Adelman has spent the season trying to find solutions that will give his starters sufficient rest, a search that has been complicated by injuries, players’ inconsistency and Adelman’s own experimentation in which he varies his rotation from game to game, or half to half.
He has spent much of that season searching for scoring from a corps of reserves that probably too much and too often relies on streaky point guard J.J. Barea for it.
Barea acknowledged Monday that he’s in a “bad slump” but he said he remains confident his touch will return.
“I’m going to keep shooting, and it’s going to come back,” said Barea, who went 2-for-8 and scored five points in 19 minutes Sunday. “But with the second unit, I hate it when I come in and we can’t help our team. They make a run on us, they just make every shot and we can’t make one and we get out of rhythm. Stuff like that is what bothers me. That’s something we’ve just got to get out of it. We’ve just got to keep working. The shooting don’t matter.”
Adelman called upon Barea to play with the team’s starters when Ricky Rubio got into foul trouble Sunday.
“When he came in with the starters, he played a lot better,” Adelman said. “A lot of that has to do with it. We just need some consistency with everybody on the bench. He has always bounced back before, and I think he’s going to do that again.”
Adelman also has relied upon veteran Chase Budinger while he tries to regain his conditioning and his shot after missing months because of two surgeries on the same knee injury. He also is searching for the right situations to use Luc Mbah a Moute’s defense and rookie Shabazz Muhammad’s offense.
“You’ve got to keep trying different options,” Adelman said. “I can’t tell what that’s going to be. I don’t know what the exact answer is. All of these guys, we just have to stay with it as a team.”
On Sunday, Adelman called upon Mbah a Moute in the first half because he wanted his defense against Raptors star guard DeMar DeRozan when Brewer needed a second-quarter rest. In the second half, he turned to Muhammad’s scoring in an attempt to keep the Wolves in the game after his first-half move failed.
“I tried to play Luc, just to see how we’d go, and it didn’t go well,” Adelman said. “So I was going to come back with ’Bazz. That’s the problem you always face: Guys will do well one game and the next game not so well. I know that doesn’t create confidence in guys, but I’m just trying to put people out there who can help us win.”