MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves were able to recover from a slow start and withstand key injuries to finish with their best record ever.
They also showed, if the previous six seasons weren't enough proof, that Kevin Garnett isn't enough to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Even when he plays at an MVP level in by far the best of his eight NBA seasons.
"I am disappointed," Garnett said after the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated Minnesota on Thursday night, dropping the Wolves to 0-7 in playoff series.
The Timberwolves, especially Garnett, are very tired of talking about these early departures from the postseason. If any of them, however, deserve some positive spin -- this was probably the one, considering the opponent.
Most didn't expect the series to go longer than five games, but the Wolves were a solid fourth quarter away from winning Game 4 in Los Angeles and taking a 3-1 lead.
They came up short once again.
Despite an amazing series from point guard Troy Hudson, a commendable defensive effort by Anthony Peeler on Kobe Bryant and a solid contribution from reserve center Marc Jackson, Garnett could only carry so much of the load.
Hudson ran out of gas, center Rasho Nesterovic disappeared against Shaquille O'Neal and shooting guard Wally Szczerbiak struggled mightily.
"We've got a lot of work to do," coach Flip Saunders said. "The most disappointing thing is you're done. I think there are some things we can take out of it. Sometimes you can learn as much from when you don't have success as when you do. Hopefully that's the case with us."
Many predicted the Timberwolves wouldn't even make the playoffs in the ever-competitive Western Conference. Szczerbiak missed 30 games with a dislocated toe, Joe Smith was out almost that long with a groin injury and the same thing kept Rod Strickland out for almost half the season.
After a 19-17 start, the motion offense Saunders put in started to mesh. The Wolves won 32 of their last 46 games to finish 51-31 and fend off the Lakers and Portland for the first-round homecourt advantage as the fourth seed.
Problem was, Portland lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on the final night of the regular season to let the Lakers move up to No. 5.
"We fought all year to get the fourth spot," guard Kendall Gill said. "And then to get a 2-1 lead and lose three in a row is quite disappointing."
After last season, there were local rumblings for an overhaul of the roster, but Hudson was the only addition of significance.
Owning a first-round draft pick for the first time since 2000 -- before the illegal bungling of Smith's contract prompted commissioner David Stern to take away five first-rounders, later giving back two -- the Timberwolves aren't any more likely to make major changes than they were a year ago.
Szczerbiak is signed for the next six years at $63 million, and Hudson is locked up for two more.
Important decisions are on the horizon, though.
Nesterovic, who had a breakout regular season before a disappointing playoff series, is an unrestricted free agent and figures to command a hefty salary with a dearth of reliable centers around the league.
Contracts for almost all of Minnesota's role players, including forward Gary Trent and veteran guards Gill and Strickland, are also up.
Point guard Terrell Brandon, who hasn't played since February 2002 because of a knee injury that almost certainly has ended his career, still has two years and more than $20 million left on his deal.
Plus, the mega-contract Garnett signed in 1997 that forever changed the game is about to enter its final season.
First, Garnett has to decide if he would like to stay in Minnesota. Then, he'll have to make up his mind about possibly taking a pay cut to give the Timberwolves more room to bring in the help he needs to get to the second round, let alone deep in the playoffs.
"We can play with anyone, not that it means anything," Szczerbiak said. "You have to come away with wins in this league. When you lose, you have that sense of urgency to get better. I think everyone in this locker room has a sense of urgency to get better."
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