Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/23/12
MINNEAPOLIS For the second night in a row and the third time in four games, the Timberwolves will play Friday without starting center Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic has gone from a relative unknown, a benchwarmer who averaged just 13.6 minutes in his rookie season last year, to a dominant center, and he replaced Darko Milicic in Minnesota's starting lineup in February. But on Wednesday Pekovic flew back to Minneapolis from San Antonio. He'd played just 11 minutes the previous night in San Francisco and missed the game before that in Sacramento with foot and ankle issues that have plagued him in recent weeks. He remains in Minneapolis Friday while the Timberwolves take on the best team in the Western Conference, Oklahoma City, and his absence will be felt. Pekovic is averaging 17.4 points and 8.5 rebounds in March, and in the five games before he sat out against the Kings, those numbers improved to 22 points and 10.6 rebounds. His absence isn't something the team can ignore, especially now that Milicic seems benched for good and the duo of Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams are absorbing Pekovic's minutes. However, an examination of the team's numbers with and without the 290-pound center offers some measure of hope. With Pekovic in the lineup, the Timberwolves are 15-14, with a .517 winning percentage. Without him, they're 8-11 (.421). But even when the center isn't playing, the team's rebounds don't suffer as much as one would expect. When Pekovic is playing, the team averages 12.7 offensive rebounds and 44.6 total rebounds, and when he's out, it's averaging 12.4 and 44.3, respectively. It's really his scoring that the team misses most with Pekovic, the Timberwolves average 99.4 points, without him, 96.4. After Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman's comments about how little faith he has in Milicic on Wednessday, it would seem that the Williams-Tolliver combination will see more time again in Oklahoma City Friday. That adjustment wasn't enough to push the Timberwolves to a win in San Antonio, and the challenge will be even greater against Kevin Durant and the Thunder. The Timberwolves have not given a specific timetable for Pekovic's return. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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