With 2:46 remaining in the third quarter of Monday’s Timberwolves game in Dallas, Nikola Pekovic was kneeling on the court, it appeared, for no particular reason. He’d just been running down the floor, and then suddenly kneeling, then finally writhing in pain.
It was then that harmless went out the window.
Upon closer examination, it appears that Pekovic stepped on Vince Carter’s foot, causing his left ankle to twist. The team officially announced that he’d sprained the ankle shortly after he retreated to the locker room.
Monday’s 90-82 win marked the fourth consecutive game in which a Timberwolves player has been injured and not returned. Last Wednesday, it was J.J. Barea, who left in the fourth quarter with a sprained left foot after diving into the scorer’s table. On Friday, it was Brandon Roy, who never returned from the locker room after halftime, suffering from a sore right knee. Then Saturday was Chase Budinger’s turn; he tore the meniscus in his left knee in the fourth quarter of the team’s loss to the Bulls.
And now, it’s Pekovic’s turn, and amidst the talk of bad luck and curses, the Timberwolves face a harsh reality: life without their leading scorer and the centerpiece of their offense. Before leaving the game, Pekovic had 20 points and six rebounds, and his replacement, Greg Stiemsma, has averaged 4.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game. Pekovic’s averages this season: 15.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
The center’s injury marks the Timberwolves’ sixth, and the only starter currently healthy is 31-year-old small forward Andrei Kirilenko. Ricky Rubio will be out until December, most likely, with a torn ACL he suffered last March, and Kevin Love’s return date from his broken right hand will likely be early next month, as well. Brandon Roy is out with a sore right knee, and now there’s this sprained ankle for Pekovic.
The reserves are depleted, too: J.J. Barea is out with a sprained foot, and to make matters worse, small forward Chase Budinger, one of the team’s leading scorers early this season, suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee on Saturday. He’ll have surgery later this week, and typical recovery times lie in the two month range.
There’s been no update on a time frame for Pekovic yet, but if the ankle isn’t too severely sprained, it may mean missing just a short amount of time. The Timberwolves play Charlotte on Wednesday and Golden State on Friday, and after that they have a four-day break before facing Denver on Nov. 21. But if Pekovic is out long-term, the Timberwolves will be in for a rude awakening. He’s been the most consistent part of their offense and their most solid player early, and to lose him for more than a few games would be devastating.
In better news, both Roy and Barea seem poised to return this week, and they’ll be important for depth at the guard spots. Also encouraging is the fact that the Timberwolves went on to win Monday without Pekovic; the game was within 13 points (64-51) when the center exited, and the team managed to hold onto an eight-point margin. Even on Saturday, with Budinger’s more serious injury, the Timberwolves didn’t give up, and though they lost, they hardly let the Bulls blow them out in the final minutes.
But at some point, the number of injuries can be too many, and even with Barea and Roy returning, it’s looking like the Timberwolves are erring in that direction. Without Pekovic, they could easily be a team with little direction and no presence inside, and their already lackluster offense could come close to disappearing altogether.
Now, it’s time to wait, and to wonder; has a team’s season ever before hinged so much on so many recoveries?