Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  By PHIL ERVIN  |  Last updated 11/18/13
MINNEAPOLIS -- With 7:50 left in the second quarter Saturdayagainst Boston, Nikola Pekovic suddenly became outmanned.Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea missed a short, fall-awayjumper, and Pekovic had two Celtics to usurp for an offensive rebound. So heused his 6-foot-11, 285-pound frame to clear out Jeff Green and stuck out amassive right arm to corral the ball away from Brandon Bass, then rolled in aneasy two after neither defender felt like getting in his way.This was the Nikola Pekovic that signed a maximum-lengthfive-year, 60 million contract extension this summer."He ate offensive rebounds," coach Rick Adelmansaid after his team's 106-88 win. "They had a hard time guarding him."It was nice to see him come out and play likethat."Especially given the recent circumstances.Pekovic's fourth NBA season since coming over fromMontenegro didn't begin as planned.Through Minnesota's first five games, he shot a frustrating 38.9 percent fromthe field and averaged 11 points and 9.6 boards.The team's leading scorer a year ago -- by default, givenKevin Love's hand injuries and the Timberwolves' lack of an outside scoringthreat -- often looked rushed. Layups and hooks that used to go in with easeclanged off the front of the rim. Easy rebounds and pass receptions glanced offhis hands and out of bounds.Then Pekovic settled down.He began a gradual rounding into form during wins againstDallas (14 points, six rebounds) and the Lakers (14, 10). In Pekovic's lastfour games, though, he's displayed vibrant shades of the big man he was a yearago -- 73.8 percent on field-goal attempts, 17.3 points per game and 35 rebounds.Call it a welcoming back to the ups and downs of a lengthyNBA season."Sometimes, you score," said Pekovic, who in thelast four outings improved his shooting percentage from 40.3 to 52.1."Sometimes, you don't score."That's especially true with Love back in the fold and KevinMartin new to it. Early in the year, Pekovic said he was still adjusting totheir presence.It means fewer touches and more opportunities to facilitaterather than self-create. But it also opens up the floor for Pekovic to do whathe does best: bang people around in the paint and finish at the rim."I know I've still got the same role, but the twoKevins, we know they're going to take majority of the shots," Pekovicsaid. "I'm just trying to find myself inside and try to be open, try to bein a good position whenever I can, try to go for offensive rebounds."He had a season-high eight -- one off his career best --Saturday and added 20 points for his fifth double-double of the year, missingjust one of nine field-goal tries.The guy Love calls a "bull" even got to shoot afew free throws and finished 4-for-5 from the foul stripe. He hadn't been tothe line since last Monday's game against the Clippers."It's a good feeling just to win the games,"Pekovic said, "but sometimes when you get a few times at the free-throwline, you just kind of loosen up your game. You feel it."But perhaps the most promising sign for Pekovic is that heovercame a sprained left ankle in his most efficient outing so far this season.Nagging lower-body injuries kept him out of 20 games a year ago.Pekovic's sharpness and toughness will be further testedduring the next week when the Clippers and Nets travel to the Twin Citiesbefore the Timberwolves face Houston and Indiana on the road.But he appears much more ready for that type of gauntletthan he did seven days ago."He's a load down there, especially when our outsideshots aren't falling," Martin said. "We have a guy we can rely ondown there." Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter
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