NBA Community Talks Timberwolves Over All-Star Weekend

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Oklahoma City All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t help but enjoy watching from afar the rise of the Timberwolves during the first half of the NBA season. Both Thunder standouts said Minnesota is reminiscent of themselves two years ago, when they emerged from a 23-59 record in 2008-09 to make the playoffs as an eighth seed a year later. This season, they hold the top record in the Western Conference.

But Durant and Westbrook know that could make things difficult in the future. The Thunder do, after all, share the Northwest Division with the Timberwolves.

“They just made our division even tougher and tougher,” Durant said. “Going through Minnesota is going to be tough.”

The Wolves entered the All-Star Break with a 17-17 record, matching their win total from a year ago in an 82-game season. They’ll begin the second half one game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Throughout All-Star Weekend in Orlando—with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams taking part in the festivities—members of the NBA community expressed that they, too, have their eyes on what’s going on in Minnesota.

The general consensus is that the Timberwolves are on their way to becoming a tough team to play each night they’re on the court.

“They started out how we started,” Westbrook said. “We were in games. Sometimes we’d win them, sometimes we’d lose them. That’s where they are now.”

It’s a combination of things leading to the change in culture that has packed Target Center and created an electricity around the team. Beginning with coach Rick Adelman and his coaching staff, the Wolves have put together a formula that has yielded a newfound defensive identity on the court. While the team ranked last in points against a year ago at 107.7 PPG, this year the Wolves are 17th at 95.6 PPG.

“They’re a great defensive team,” Orlando forward Ryan Anderson said. “They have a lot of fire power and a lot of talent. A ton of guys that can go off on any given night. They’re a tough team; obviously everyone has some things they can build on, but they have a lot of pieces they can build off of.”

Bulls guard Derrick Rose said the Wolves simply won’t quit. Minnesota trailed by 24 to Chicago in the first half of their Jan. 10 game before knotting the score at 70-70 in the third quarter. Chicago eventually won 111-100.

Much of the turnaround can be attributed to the consistent play of Love and the in-game presence of Rubio, who as a rookie has turned heads with his flashy passing and strong defensive efforts. With both in Orlando—Love as an All-Star and Rubio in the Rising Stars Challenge—fans across the league have a chance to see what Minnesotans have enjoyed on a nightly basis.

“Rubio is making great plays,” Rose said. “Kevin Love, of course, is someone I work out with in the summer. He’s a great player. They’re working hard this year.”

The strong back court play from JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour, as well as the emergence of center Nikola Pekovic in the starting lineup have also played a big role in this year’s turnaround.

Commissioner David Stern said the stories of Love and Rubio—along with Williams participating in the Rising Stars Challenge and the Sprite Slam Dunk contest—have been turning heads.

“I just think it’s spectacular when teams that have been down have the opportunity to turn it around,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “Not only turn it around, but give their cities that have been long suffering and their fans very loyal, an extraordinary sense of hope. I think (Wolves owner) Glen Taylor has been a great owner for us, and I think it’s great that the city is getting what it deserves.”

The question now is where the Wolves go from here. Minnesota is gridlocked in a difficult Northwest Division, where four of the five teams are at .500 or better. The Thunder lead the Western Conference with a 27-7 record, and all five teams are in contention for postseason berths.

Minnesota comes out of the break with four road games on the West Coast and will play away from Target Center and will play 13 of their next 18 games on the road.

The Wolves, who are still growing, could learn a lot about themselves in that stretch. The league will, too.

“They’re a tough bunch,” Miami forward Chris Bosh said. “You get the feeling they’re going to be turning the corner. They’re really close; they just have to keep working. They have the talent. You never know—they might be a few players away from getting over the hump.”

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