Timberwolves starting center Nikola Pekovic played 12 minutes in Saturday’s 101-97 loss to Memphis, including just 92 seconds after halftime on a night when his troublesome ankle grew too painful once again for him to play.

And so it goes …

The same guy who had bone-spur surgery in May 2012 and missed 28 of last season’s final 38 games because of bursitis in his ankle has had pain persist even after he missed 31 games because of the same issues from mid-November to mid-January.

On Saturday, the pain became too much by halftime.

Pekovic consistently has said he has not been pain-free since January, even though he has played 34 or 35 minutes many nights and racked up double-double games along the way. On Saturday, he played the second night of back-to-back games, and this time it was too much.

“It gets worse,” he said afterward. “The morning is the worst after a game. I was fighting through, you know? You fight through something and you hit a wall sometimes. Tonight was that night. I feel bad for that. They’ve got big boys down there.”

Pekovic’s absence forced Wolves coach Flip Saunders to improvise. Saunders said he felt like an air traffic controller, directing players to spots they’ve never played on the floor after he had to go without both Pekovic and the ejected Kevin Garnett for the game’s final 18 minutes.

Instead, Saunders turned to second-year center Gorgui Dieng and newly acquired Adreian Payne as well as a zone defense in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to contain bruising Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

“His foot was sore,” Saunders said. “I looked at him running out there. He was struggling up and down the floor, so I took him out. I just didn’t think he was going to be effective. I didn’t think it was worth him playing. It was a back-to-back, so I took him off.”

Saunders replaced Pekovic with Dieng in the third quarter’s opening minutes, just three minutes before Garnett was ejected from the game for receiving his second technical foul of the night. This one came when he spiked the ball apparently in frustration with himself over committing a foul, and it bounded higher than the backboard.

With Pekovic done for the night and then Garnett gone, the Wolves’ deficit quickly went from eight points to 15 before they gathered themselves and fought back, twice taking a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter and still leading by a point with 4:54 remaining.

Saunders played point guard Ricky Rubio the entire second half, utilized both Payne and fellow newcomer Gary Neal and called for a zone defense his team hadn’t had time to practice together since Payne and Neal arrived.

“It’s like, just tough,” Pekovic said. “The guys give great resistance. They played hard and I feel really bad, but you can’t help it. At some point, you know you have great reason. It’s not something you can do about it, so hopefully it just gets better.”

The question now is: Where do Pekovic and the Wolves go from here with that troublesome bursa sac?

“We’ll evaluate on Monday and see where he’s at,” said Saunders, whose team plays the Clippers on Monday night at Target Center.

Pekovic sounded uncertain when asked what happens now.

“I have no idea,” Pekovic said after Saturday’s game. “Tomorrow is day off, hopefully it goes down. We have two days now so hopefully the soreness goes down so hopefully the soreness goes down so I’m able to go next game. It was bad, pretty bad. I can feel it. When I’m running, I’m kind of limping. The guys see it. I try again, but it’s not really good.”