Dec 18, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) shoots during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Trail Blazers 120-109. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Pekovic: Bruise Brother

The Wolves win over New Orleans last night showed the differences in NBA frontline philosophies. The NBA’s modern style of play dictates you need a stretch-4 like Ryan Anderson (or Kevin Love) and a rim protector like Anthony Davis (not Nikola Pekovic). The difference between Pek and Davis is such that fans have tied themselves in knots bemoaning Pek’s earthbound flavor and its limitations.

Limitations? On Wednesday night?

There are easy wins and their are big, easy wins. Okay, I’m done. Zach Harper’s got the rest…

“We envision Pek and Kevin Love being the ‘Bruise Brothers’ and forming one of the best front courts in the NBA for a long time to come,” Saunders said during a news conference this summer to announce the Pekovic re-up.

Wednesday night against a more modern, less conventional New Orleans Pelicans’ attack, the Wolves put that style into effect. They allowed Anthony Davis to chase Love around the perimeter. They took advantage of Ryan Anderson giving up roughly 50 pounds of brute strength to Pekovic in the post. And the Wolves lived at the free-throw line like they were designed to do.

The Wolves shot 35 free throws on the night, 31 of them coming through the first three quarters when the game was pretty much decided. It was the 10th time they attempted at least 30 free throws in a game this season and the eighth time they won such a game. When they get their mail forwarded to the line, they’re hard to beat, and that seems to be the plan.

“Well, it’s kind of the way we want to play,” Rubio said after the 124-112 victory, “Because that means we’ve been aggressive and we go to attack the rim. We don’t take too many shots from outside when things are going well.

“It’s been our problem when we don’t feel good, we start taking shots that don’t make sense. We don’t get to the free throw line and that allows them to get fast break [opportunities] too. We control the game from the beginning.”

There are still plenty of issues for this Wolves team. The bench needs consistency, the defense needs to protect the rim while keeping with the strategy of not fouling, and the outside shots need to fall when they’re created. But everything starts with bruising the interior and living at the free-throw line. They can still play the modern style of up-tempo and creating open looks, but it starts in the paint.

“Nights like today, when maybe they want to stop Kevin Love, we have another guy like Pek,” Rubio explained, “And he’s strong and if you don’t put a big body on him, [Pekovic is] going to destroy him.”

Tags: Anthony Davis Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves New Orleans Pelicans Nikola Pekovic Ryan Anderson

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