MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After two miserable seasons and four bad ones before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves had nowhere to go except up.
They’re showing a lot more than marginal improvement.
The Timberwolves entered the All-Star break of this lockout-shortened season with a buzzer-beating win over division rival and Western Conference playoff competitor Utah to bring their record back to even at 17-17.
Wait. Playoffs? Yes, that’s a reality for these remodeled, rejuvenated Wolves, who pulled within just one game of eighth place in the conference standings in this condensed 66-game schedule the NBA is using.
Seventeen wins is the same amount the Wolves finished with last year with, in 82 games. They’ve only played 34 times under new coach Rick Adelman with rookie point guard Ricky Rubio and emerging center Nikola Pekovic, and their confidence has continued to grow.
Before Wednesday’s comeback victory over the Jazz, Adelman was asked if he thought at the beginning of the season Wolves could be where they are now in the standings.
“To be honest,” Adelman said, “probably not.”
He praised the performance of All-Star Kevin Love, who has added a dangerous 3-point shot to his rebounding prowess, inside scoring touch and exceptional passing ability. He pointed to Rubio’s so-far successful takeover of the point guard position that has been such a problem for so many years in Minnesota. He noted Pekovic’s sudden establishment of himself as an intimidating, productive big man to complement Love around the basket and stabilize another spot in the lineup that has long been devoid of reliable let alone dominant players.
Love described the situation recently as “landscape” change for a franchise with a moribund sandwich around the Kevin Garnett-led playoff years. Even then, when the Wolves went to the postseason eight straight times, they won only two playoff series — both in the same year.
“It is crazy to think about,” Love said. “It’s just a whole new feel for the team. Even in most of the games we’ve lost, it feels like we’ve had the upper hand and given ourselves a chance. I think that’s the biggest thing for us as far as the learning curve, just giving ourselves a chance to win at the end of games and then figuring out how to win.”
That was clear again Wednesday against Utah when, despite an off night for Love and Rubio, the Wolves rallied from a deficit that was consistently in the double digits and was still at 16 with a little more than 9½ minutes left. Luke Ridnour’s runner in the lane won it in the last second.