Column: For Wolves, The Time Is Now
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Wolves acting coach Terry Porter continues to preach a few constant phrases that are becoming more and more paramount during this difficult stretch of the season.
It might sound repetitive, but these are the messages that the Wolves coaching staff and front office need to convey to this team during its toughest stretch of the 2012-13 NBA season.
I’d contend based on circumstance that this might be the toughest stretch of a Timberwolves season in the post-Garnett Era. Not on the basis of statistics or wins/losses, but on the basis of expectation. This is not where the Wolves are supposed to be as we head into February.
This summer was the offseason that induced the most optimism since 2003. The team cleaned house from a year ago, breaking up half the roster in favor of players who fit specific roles, mirrored the style of coach Rick Adelman and complemented the cornerstones already set in place for the franchise.
September was more of a parade than anything, as fans watched Brandon Roy settle in here in Minnesota and put up jumpers in the gym almost like he never left the NBA. He was the shooting guard that, even if he played 15 minutes a game, could be a closer down the stretch. We welcomed Kevin Love back from London, Gold Medal around his neck, as we anticipated another world-class season. He elevated himself into the conversation of the best power forwards in the game a year ago, and we couldn’t wait to see what he was able to do as an encore.
Nikola Pekovic came back stronger, J.J. Barea came back healthier, Chase Budinger became the 3-point threat Minnesota was lacking. And Ricky Rubio continued to work his way back from knee surgery in March. If the Wolves could stay at or around .500 by the time he returned, we speculated, they’d be in prime position to make a run in March and April.
So much has happened since.
No one could have envisioned the injuries this team would endure. No one could have seen four knee surgeries, twice Kevin Love breaking his hand, roster moves and 10-day contracts based out of necessity and Adelman missing extended time to be with his wife.
As we enter the final week of January, the Wolves face their toughest point—perhaps having hit bottom with losses to Washington and Charlotte over the weekend. They’ve lost four straight and 11 of 14. During a season in which the Wolves committed to a playoff push with such conviction that they offered a 10 percent discount on next year’s season tickets if they don’t get in, Minnesota is being tested right now in a way they never envisioned three months ago.
That’s why Porter’s words are so important at this juncture. At a time when Minnesota is returning home for a six-game home stand with hopes of turning things around, everyone needs to lean on one another now more than ever.
The playoffs are not out of the question. Minnesota currently sits 4 ½ games out of the eight spot in a conference that continues to beat up on each other. There is still an opportunity to make a push, but there is no longer a margin for error in this equation. Now is the time to unify after this difficult weekend against the Wizards and Bobcats and find a way to show the resolve those close to this team know exists.
This locker room is filled with character guys—guys who want to win, will do what it takes to win. The problem has not been effort, it has been numbers. The challenge this team is tasked with internally is taking that resolve and finding ways to take control for a full 48 minutes.
“It’s about responding,” Porter said. “[Saturday] is going to sting a little, no doubt about that, but we get a day off to clear our minds and come back fresh to prepare and get some wins in front of our fans.”
Luke Ridnour continues to stress the importance of the stretch before All-Star Weekend, which is now three weeks away. The Wolves have nine games between now and then, seven of which are at home.
“It’s the NBA. You’ve got to keep fighting. The good thing about this team is we’ve got a lot of competitive guys," Ridnour said after Friday's loss to Washington. "We’re not out of it. We’ve got a chance to make the playoffs. We just have to go on a serious run. Hopefully we can get some guys back when we get home.”
Now is the time. Resilience, fight and resolve are all paramount.
This team has it. Now is the time to show it.
For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.