His coaches and teammates scattered to Las Vegas, Mexico, Florida and points beyond these past several days, but Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic remained in Minnesota during an extended All-Star break in which he intended to rest his ankle and mind, while maybe ice fishing a little.
This year, the NBA has given him and the rest of the league two extra days’ break from years past. That means the Wolves report back to work Wednesday evening and don’t play again until Friday against Phoenix, whereas in other years they might have had a Monday night practice and Tuesday game.
It’s only 48 hours, but …
“Big difference,” Pekovic said. “Huge difference.”
NBA players and coaches have complained for years about a midseason break that is all too abbreviated, particularly for superstars who spend a four-day weekend immersed in All-Star weekend festivities.
This year, new commissioner Adam Silver — at the urging of LeBron James — has listened, suspending games for at least a week. In the Wolves’ case, they have nine days between last Wednesday’s home game against Golden State and Friday’s game, also at Target Center.
“I love it, love it,” Wolves veteran guard Kevin Martin said. “I’m a big fan of that. Thank you Mr. Silver on that one.”
This year’s All-Star break was lengthened without changes to the beginning or end dates of the regular season. That means condensed stretches in which some teams might play an additional set or two of back-to-back games, or maybe five games in seven days one more time.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger calls himself “absolutely in favor” of a longer All-Star break, but would like to see the regular season lengthened as well.
“So you don’t put more games in a smaller-size bag,” he said.
That could be done by shortening a seven- or eight-game preseason that participants long have considered too long and start the regular season earlier by a few days.
“I wouldn’t mind shortening the preseason,” Golden State star Stephen Curry said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t mind that.”
Curry, teammate Klay Thompson and the team’s coaching staff, including head coach Steve Kerr, flew to New York City for Sunday’s All-Star Game immediately after the Warriors won at Target Center on Wednesday night. Most of their “break” involved media interviews, public appearances, practice and Sunday night’s game.
“It’s great, especially for the All-Stars themselves,” Kerr said. “They’re the ones who generate the interest among fans. The superstars mean so much to this league and in the past they haven’t had any breaks themselves. They’ve had to go straight from the All-Star game back practice and straight back to work. I don’t know what it means for the games upon the return — they could be a little ugly, they could be a little rusty — but it’s much need to get some days away.”
It’s not that four nights of parties and accommodations at one of the New York City’s finest hotels should be considered rock-pile work, but …
“You’re being pulled in a lot of different directions and playing the game, which we all enjoy,” Curry said. “I’m not complaining about the game, but in years past it has been a tough transition getting back for practice on Monday for games Tuesday or Wednesday. It’ll be a huge benefit not only to recharge your body but your mind after that crazy weekend, before you get back to the second half of the season.”
The league’s elite aren’t the only ones that need a longer break. The Wolves sent rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine as well as second-year players Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad on a 7 a.m. flight Thursday to New York City after Wednesday’s late night.
All four players participated in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge game and LaVine won Saturday night’s slam-dunk contest.
“We have 35 percent of our guys there,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “They go and they get no rest while they are there. I’ve coached two of them. It’s a rough stint. The word ‘break’ should not be included in that definition because you have so many demands.”
Saunders, too, would like to see the regular season lengthened and exhibition season shortened to allow for the longer All-Star break and fewer back-to-back game situations.
“Eliminate as many of them for the fans’ sake, so you have a good product every night,” Saunders said. “That has been talked about in this league for the last 20, 25 years. Adam [Silver] has been very proactive to find ways to make the league better. I don’t think this is any different.”