Column: Starting Off On The Right Track

Column: Starting Off On The Right Track

Kevin Martin joked a bit with the local media after the Wolves’ 106-88 win over the Celtics on Saturday night. Sitting at his Target Center locker, he tried to explain why Minnesota has been so good at responding after losses this year. This particular victory came one night after a 117-113 loss in Denver, a disappointing defeat thanks to late-game comeback that ran out of time.

“We’re usually more focused after a loss,” Martin said. “Hopefully on Tuesday we can program in our minds that we lost tonight.”

It was a light-hearted way of stating an important trait of this year’s Timberwolves team. Minnesota is finding ways to bounce back after defeats this year—squashing losing skids before they get too long like they have in years past. Minnesota did lose back-to-back games against Cleveland and Golden State earlier this year, but after comeback attempts came up short in Los Angeles and Denver over the past week Minnesota found a way to bounce back.

Minnesota has lost three of its four games this year by a combined seven total points. As they sit heading into Tuesday’s road game at Washington, the Wolves are 7-4—matching their second best record in franchise history. They started 7-4 in 2000-01, and they began 8-3 in 1998-99.

This is the fast start Minnesota was looking for. The Wolves are confident, and they’re finding ways to improve themselves after their previous game. It’s an encouraging sign, particularly because of the volume of games Minnesota is playing early in the season. They just went 3-2 during a five games in seven nights stretch, and they have another five in seven coming up beginning Tuesday against the Wizards.

They’ll begin preparing for this stretch coming up with a practice day on Monday before heading to D.C., then return home for the tail end of a back-to-back at home against the Clippers. Not exactly a great welcome home present.

But if the early part of the season has taught the Wolves anything, it is the importance of focusing on improving each day while focusing on the immediate task at hand.

“It’s just the sign of a good team, a great team,” Dante Cunningham said. “We’re coming along every day. We’re getting better. We’re learning from our losses, and we’re even learning from our wins. That’s what makes it even better.”

It’s pretty apparent this Wolves team will score on a nightly basis. They’ve score 100-plus points in each of their past six games and have eclipsed 100 in nine of their 11 games. And they’re starting fast—giving themselves a good foundation offensively right from the start. The Wolves are averaging a league-best 32.8 points per game in the first quarter.

The challenge will continue to be on the defensive end. Minnesota is showing flashes, but there are games (like in Denver) when lapses happen. The Timberwolves are trying to make a conscious effort to improve on that end of the court, because if they can get stops, they are confident in their offensive potential.

“We’re going to score enough points to beat 80 percent of the teams in the league,” Martin said. “And you know, that’s what we have to accomplish to get up to five, six games over .500. We just have to play defense. We can’t have games like we had [in Denver]. That’s not going to get it done.”

To build off this start and continue it throughout the season, that philosophy will be crucial. Minnesota needs to keep its defensive intensity up and find ways to bounce back in the event of defeat. Put together runs while limiting them on the defensive end. And above all, keeping their focus one day at a time and meeting each individual challenge head on will lead to good things.

This Wolves team is starting strong in a difficult Western Conference because they’re doing all of the above. Now, they need to sustain it.

“It’s going to be a process, and thank goodness Monday we finally have a practice,” coach Rick Adelman said. “You get attrition and talk all you want, you can write all you want, show film but until you start going through it again and guys start getting it in their mind this what we have to do. It's hard to keep that going. It's just something we have to keep harping on. We score enough points that if we're just consistent defensively we have a good chance to win."

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