MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves posted their best season in franchise history, led by Kevin Garnett, just the ninth player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
They set records for most victories overall (50), on the road (24) and in their division (18).
And they did it after losing two members of their three-man core, Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta, last year and with rookies Wally Szczerbiak and Rasho Nesterovic in the starting lineup.
''So, 50 (victories) is like icing on the cake, with extra sugar, with like 50 candles, with all of them lit,'' Garnett said. ''And when you blow them, they don't ever blow out. That's how it feels, man. It feels great.''
Deep down, however, Garnett and his teammates all realize this season can't be such a success if they don't get past Portland in the playoffs.
''A lot of teams have won 50 games and then got knocked off in the first round,'' Malik Sealy said. ''Our goal is to win a championship. We have 15 more games we want to win.''
The sixth-seeded Wolves will open their fourth straight trip to the playoffs on Sunday at Portland's Rose Garden, where they ended a 14-game losing streak this year.
The Wolves have never won a playoff series in their 10-year history, but coach Flip Saunders trusts he finally has a team that can handle the rigors of the road.
''Portland is a very good team. People say they are the deepest team in the league,'' Saunders said. ''They have a lot of really good players, a lot of All-Star type players. But we are going to go in with good confidence. We execute well and we play and rebound well defensively. We play well on the road.''
The Wolves split the season series with the Trail Blazers, including a 96-92 victory at the Rose Garden on March 16.
''Our last win out there was a huge confidence boost for us,'' Joe Smith said. ''We're definitely judged by what we do in the playoffs this year.
''When I first got here, Kevin McHale and I sat down and talked about our team's goal. We want to get out of the first round of the playoffs,'' Smith added. ''I know they're tired of getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, and I am, too.''
Although the Wolves once again failed to gain homecourt advantage for a playoff series, they did go 43-19 since stumbling to a 7-13 start, second only to the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers in that span.
''We're ready to go to Portland and take care of business,'' Bobby Jackson said.
''I think it's time. Every year we've done something better,'' Saunders said. ''We've knocked on the door enough. At some point, we've got to walk on in.''
Tom Hammonds said breaking the 50-victory barrier was an important milestone in the team's 10-year history, regardless of what happens in the playoffs.
''I don't think it will be a disappointing season if we don't advance. We've got a tough task ahead,'' Hammonds said. ''But we've been playing well the last half of the season. We're going into the playoffs with a lot of momentum. The flip side is Portland is not playing well. So, hopefully it is our time.''
Garnett said he has an appetite to prove the Wolves are first-round fodder no more.
''I'm starving, man,'' he said. ''I'm starving for a steak dinner -- the second round.''
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