Second-year Minnesota Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman knows his club won't be able to climb back to respectability overnight, but he's also hopeful that its recent progress is a sign of things to come.
After closing their three-game road trip with consecutive victories, the Timberwolves return home looking to win their third straight game for the first time under Wittman as they host the Northwest Division rival Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
Minnesota (14-48) doubled its season road win total during its three-game trip last week. The Wolves dropped the first game against Utah to fall to 2-26 away from home, but rebounded with a 111-103 win over Sacramento and a 99-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
"We haven't been playing real well on the road, so to get these two wins on the West Coast is big," said Al Jefferson, who had 30 points and 12 rebounds against the Clippers.
Wittman, whose team hadn't won consecutive games anywhere since Jan. 30-Feb.1, sees the successful road trip as an important building block for a young Minnesota team still reeling from the offseason trade of Kevin Garnett.
"Two wins back-to-back - it's little goals that we're setting for ourselves. That is what we are trying to strive for," Wittman said. "When you are in our position, with a lot of young guys, you are trying to teach them what it takes. And they are responding."
Wittman hopes his team can continue to respond as he looks to notch his first three-game win streak as an NBA head coach. Minnesota hasn't won three in a row since Jan. 12-15, 2007 - one week before the team fired then-coach Dwane Casey and gave the job to Wittman.
Extending the run could be a challenge against a division rival still hoping to make a playoff push. The Trail Blazers (33-31) are just 11-18 since their 17-1 run from Dec. 3-Jan. 9, but remain in 10th place in the competitive Western Conference playoff race.
They didn't help their postseason chances Monday, when they blew an early 13-point lead to lose 88-80 to Cleveland.
"Their defense tightened up and we couldn't score," said Portland coach Nate McMillan, whose team was outscored 74-55 over the final three quarters. "You can't turn the ball over or come down with as many empty trips as we did in the second half."
Brandon Roy, last season's Rookie of the Year, was held to 15 points, but fellow second-year player LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double. Aldridge is averaging 20.7 points and 8.3 boards while shooting 51.5 percent from the field in his last six games.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has been encouraged by the performance of yet another player from the 2006 draft class. Randy Foye - the seventh overall selection, one spot after Roy and five spots after Aldridge - had a season-high 26 points and added six assists while shooting 8-for-12 from the field on Saturday.
The Blazers have won their first two meetings with the Wolves by 11 points apiece. Roy averaged 23.0 points in those games, while Jefferson led Minnesota with 25.5 points and 11.5 rebounds.
These teams close their season series Saturday in Portland.
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