MINNEAPOLIS – Center Nikola Pekovic and small forward Andrei Kirilenko came up big for the Timberwolves on Sunday night in the final seconds of Minnesota’s win over New Orleans, but both players had had somewhat lackluster nights before the offensive rebound, free throws and block that saved their team the game.
On Monday in Memphis, the rust continued as they return from injuries. Both players started in the second game of the team’s back-to-back, and Pekovic finished the night with just nine points on 33.3 percent shooting. He had only five rebounds, one of his worst rebounding nights of the season, as well, although those numbers come as less of a surprise when one considers he was going up against Marc Gasol – a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year – and the Grizzlies defense, which is one of the best in the league.
Kirilenko, too, had a poor performance, playing just 16 minutes and scoring eight points, the same amount he scored Sunday against the Hornets. The small forward had just one rebound and no assists, and on Sunday he was quick to comment about feeling a bit slower than usual and the impact that has on his game, which is built upon a fast pace and the notion that he can be everywhere and do everything, to an extent.
Kirilenko missed nine games with this latest injury, Pekovic eight. That marks the most consecutive games each player has missed this season.
The return of Shved: Guard Alexey Shved hasn’t been out with an injury, but he might as well have been for much of the end of February and beginning of March. The shooting guard has been mired in a slump of epic proportions, averaging just 6.7 points per game on 31.7 percent shooting since Feb. 13. He had what appeared to be a breakout game on March 12 against the Spurs, when he scored 16 points on 75.0 percent shooting, but to look at a log of his recent games is to see a pattern: three or four bad games, one decent, and repeat. He had another decent game on Monday after three poor ones in which he played limited minutes, scoring 12 points on 55.6 percent shooting in Memphis. Shved needs to emerge from this cycle of inconsistency, but even with a good game every couple of nights, he’s given little indication that he’s poised to do so.
Ricky’s fine: Point guard Ricky Rubio fell awkwardly at the end of the third quarter in Memphis and was taken to the locker room, but he said after the game that he could have returned and was fine. Here’s hoping that’s actually the case and that what was reported to be a minor groin strain is nothing more.