SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the NBA, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have the confidence of a team that qualified for the playoffs despite a tumultuous season.
The Timberwolves' success in a season filled with off-the-court turmoil, including the death of a player and an illegal-contract saga, has coach Flip Saunders making bold predictions.
"We'll beat San Antonio," said Saunders, whose eighth-seeded Timberwolves face the top-seeded Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs Saturday.
Saunders also said the Spurs are not the best team in the league, instead saying the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who finished tied for second overall with Philadelphia, are the NBA's best.
"The Lakers have been the best, by a large margin," Saunders said of Minnesota's recent opponents.
The Timberwolves will have to upset an opponent driven to satisfy its own hunger.
A year after the Spurs lost their NBA title in a humiliating first-round exit, they enter the playoffs with a healthy Tim Duncan, the best record in the league (58-24) and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Midwest Division champions have won three of four games against Minnesota this season. Two of the four games went to overtime and three were won by six points or less.
Duncan, who missed last year's playoffs against Phoenix with a knee injury, came back to play in all 82 games and average 22.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.34 blocks per game.
"We played the whole season for a reason," said David Robinson, the team's other 7-footer.
"Now we've laid the foundation, and we've proved that night-in and night-out we can stay focused and win games. We've played better than everybody else for a long stretch of time. Now, it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it."
Heading into Game 1, the Spurs' only concern seems to be Robinson's back. It bothered him early in the season, and he missed his first game of the year April 8 because it was sore. Robinson returned to total 39 points, 23 rebounds and 13 blocks in wins over Dallas and Denver last week.
Robinson has been using a heating pad on the bench and has stretched in the locker room during games in an effort to keep his back loose.
He did not play in the Spurs' 105-67 loss to Seattle on Wednesday night, and later said he was still sore.
"Fortunately during the playoffs, we have a lot of time to recover," he said. "We're pretty healthy as a team."
Staying healthy also was the Timberwolves' goal in their final games. They simply played out their schedule, dropping four of their last five to finish 47-35.
Kevin Garnett, who averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the second straight season, sat out Wednesday's loss to Dallas with a minor calf injury. He'll be back for Game 1 of the playoffs.
"Our best play was that no one got hurt and we got some guys some rest," Saunders said.
The Wolves finished the season with the best record by an eighth-seeded team, despite the emotionally draining season.
Throughout the season, they talked about teammate Malik Sealy, who was killed when he was hit by a drunken driver 11 months ago.
In November, Joe Smith left for the Detroit Pistons, and later, Minnesota's owner and vice president were suspended for reaching an illegal, secret agreement with Smith.
In light of that, Saunders told his team, making it to the playoffs was "a heck of an accomplishment."
"A lot of people pretty much wrote us off in the preseason," he said. "It says a lot about the character of the players that we have and the leaders we have on the team."
And that is the attitude they will take into the playoffs.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Garnett said. "But at the same time, we're confident that they have their work cut out for them."
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