Depending on the day and the source, Timberwolves starting center Nikola Pekovic’s most recent absence from the lineup is because of continuing ankle pain that has caused him to miss significant portions of the past two seasons, a newly sprained wrist or what coach Flip Saunders on Monday called a personal situation.
So which is it? Turns out, it’s some of all three.
Pekovic’s ankle grew sore again last week in games at Mexico City, New Orleans and Dallas, but he said before Wednesday’s home game against New York that it’s the wrist he banged more than once against the Mavericks that led a doctor to recommend he take at least this week off.
Pekovic missed Monday’s practice while he and his mother traveled to Rochester, Minn., and the Mayo Clinic, where Pekovic said each had an appointment that day.
He said he’ll be examined again early next week and is hopeful he’ll be cleared to return to practice then.
“Of course, it’s just the beginning of the season and it’s disappointing,” Pekovic said. “But it’s more disappointing when you try to do something and you just can’t. When you’re in pain, you make more damage than you can help your team. That’s more disappointing that just sitting on the side. … It’s better to sit, take a few days off, try to heal everything as much as I can and then try to come back and play how I can play.”
Saunders promised changes to the way the team trained and treated players when he was hired as president of basketball operations and has added athletic training staff and forged a relationship with the Mayo Clinic that includes a new sports-medicine facility next to Target Center.
But injuries persist, including those to Pekovic, point guard Ricky Rubio (sprained ankle) and backup center Ronny Turiaf (hip). Starting power forward Thaddeus Young was missing as well, away from the team after his mother’s death last week.
“There are some things you can’t control,” Pekovic said. “… It gets frustrating every time. This is our job. We don’t work in an office. You get hurt. You get hit, especially me, how I play. I get hit a lot.”
Veterans Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin both played Wednesday after getting IVs earlier in the day because they were ill. Saunders responded by juggling his starting lineup. He inserted veteran Mo Williams for Zach LaVine alongside Martin and started Shabazz Muhammad as a power forward beside youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng was the team’s only healthy center. Forwards Anthony Bennett and Robbie Hummel are the only other healthy “big” men the team has left.
• The Wolves’ return Wednesday was their first home game in 18 days, the longest gap between Target Center games in franchise history. The Wolves played six games in two countries and flew 5,600 miles while gone. “I packed enough underwear,” LaVine said. “But I ran out of socks.”
• Rubio will speak publicly about his injury for the first time since he severely sprained his ankle Nov. 7 against Orlando, when he meets with reporters after Thursday’s practice.
• The Wolves donated 5,000 tickets to military members and their families on Military Night, an evening highlighted by a military color guard, on-court presentations and recognition of all military branches. Even Crunch wore camouflage.