One man's opinion.
Feb. 26, 2003 -- When the Minnesota Timberwolves took the Target Center floor on Jan. 8, they had lost three of their last four games, were an uninspiring 17-16 and were barely hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And while Kevin Garnett was his usual All-Star self, Wally Szczerbiak had only played five games because of a sprained pinky toe on his left foot.

Heading into tonight's game with Utah (9 p.m., ESPN), the Wolves are hot enough to melt the ice on all 10,000 lakes in Minnesota. They have won 20 of their last 25, improved their record to 37-21 and are in a virtual tie with Portland for the fourth seed in the West. Szczerbiak, who returned to action on Jan. 10, has scored more than 20 points for four consecutive games.

And then there's Garnett.

"The way he's playing now is not just an All-Star level, but an MVP level," one Western Conference scout said.

GARNETT ON A ROLL

(David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)
Kevin Garnett has had a stellar season so far. Here's Garnett by the numbers:

Points per game: 23.2
(ninth in the NBA)
Rebounds per game: 13.0
(second in the NBA)
Assists per game: 5.6
(second on the Wolves)
Efficiency rating: +31.36
(leads the league)
KG at All-Star: 56k | 300k
KG with the hook shot: avi | mov
KG with the dunk: avi | mov
"Kobe's playing the best right now," one Eastern Conference scout said, "but Garnett is right behind him. He hasn't let up one bit."

"I think the Wolves are playing so well now because they have the MVP of the league in Kevin Garnett," said former Timberwolves player and current Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Sam Mitchell.

The pencil-thin 6-11 forward has placed the Wolves on his shoulders and has carried them to a 10-1 February by averaging 28.7 points and 14 rebounds per game.

And, oh, he was the 2003 All-Star MVP with 37 points in the West's 155-145 double OT win on Feb. 9.

Minnesota is more than Garnett, however. Here are five reasons why some think they're good enough to earn home court advantage in the first round.

1. SZCZERBIAK

In February, Szczerbiak has averaged 20.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

"Szczerbiak is such a terrfic shooter and he's improved his dribble drive," the Western Conference scout said. "He's improved his ability to put on the floor and his ability to attack the rim without regard to whether he'll get hit or knocked down."

2. RELATIVE HEALTH

While backup point guard Rod Strickland is expected to miss another two to three weeks with a strained groin and forward Joe Smith is out another week or two with a sprained left ankle, the Timberwolves are clicking because they have had continuity in their lineup as of late.

"The big thing is Szczerbiak is back, healthy and getting regular minutes," the Eastern Conference scout said. "When he came back, he was playing limited minutes. Now that he's in the fold, that just opens things up more for Garnett.

"Before that, the focus was entirely on Garnett."

3. FLIP SAUNDERS

"Flip is not a 'his way or the highway' kind of guy," said Mitchell, who played for Saunders for six seasons. "He has strong views on how he wants to do ... but he listens to his players."

"On top of that, he makes great adjustments. He has some unbelievable plays, some great trick plays that always work at the end of games."

Minnesota is 5-1 this season in games decided by three or fewer points and Saunders' record in such games since the 1996-97 season is an incredible 53-26, best in that span.

4. EXECUTION & DISCIPLINE

"Minnesota executes better than 95 percent of the league," the Eastern Conference scout said, "and they have one of the longest play lists in the league."

"They get the matchups they want and they win a lot of close games. They can do a number of things. They can run, they can play the possession game and they can turn it up on defense a bit, especially with Garnett, who could guard all five positions."

5. THE BIG TICKET

Finally, we must go back to Garnett. Even opponents respect the way the 26-year-old in his eighth NBA season approaches the game.

"He's one of the fiercest competitors," said the Western Conference scout. "He's relentless. He has a good attitude, he never gets down. You rarely see him get involved with the officials.

"Like the great ones do, he focuses on the situation, the next possession and goes until the next time out. He keeps focused on the game. He's not just competitive, but he brings a professionalism in approaching his job. He's as good advertised."

Mitchell concurs.

"It all starts with Kevin," Mitchell said. "You can let people concentrate on the other guys, but a lot of guys will try, but they're not going stop Kevin.

"He's as close to unguardable as you get right now. It's not that he's going to score every time, but when he's not scoring it's only because he didn't make the shot, not because someone stopped him."