Wolves Head Home After Important 3-1 Road Trip

Wolves Head Home After Important 3-1 Road Trip

The Timberwolves put together a 3-1 road trip over the weekend, culminating in a 95-86 win over the Bulls in Chicago. Minnesota returns home at .500 with games coming up against New Orleans and Memphis at Target Center. (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Heading into last weekend’s four-game, eight-night road trip up the West Coast and back to Chicago, a strong performance from start to finish was critical to the Timberwolves’ season. The Wolves dropped three games under .500 after a road loss to Toronto on Jan. 17, then bounced back on the tail-end of back-to-backs at home against Utah the next night.

It set up a trip that would either keep the Wolves afloat in the competitive Western Conference or put them in position where a postseason berth would be that much more difficult to reach. Going 0-4 on their trip through Utah, Golden State, Portland and Chicago, for example, would have put Minnesota at 19-25. If all things held equal across the West, today that record would have Minnesota eight games back of Dallas in the eighth spot. And this franchise historically has trouble heading out West on those long trips.

But that didn’t happen. Minnesota went 3-1, piecing together their best stint away from home since going 4-0 on a trip on Dec. 2-7, 2005. At a critical point in their season, the Wolves responded. They beat a team they should beat in Utah, stole a game on the road against Golden State and responded in Chicago after a late loss in Portland.

Heading home for games against New Orleans and Memphis—two teams currently out of the playoffs in the West—at Target Center on Wednesday and Friday this week, the Wolves are now in position to make a push of their own. They’re 4-1 in their last five, and they’re three games back of the Mavs with nine games to go before the All-Star Break.

For all the ups and downs this team fought through early on, this road trip ensured the Wolves are very much in position to make a run as we move into February.

“We needed these games,” forward Kevin Love said on Monday. “It’s tough to play Portland in a back-to-back, but going 3-1 in this trip feels good. Hopefully we can build off this. Now we go back and play in front of our home fans.”

Going 3-1 on any road trip is important, but this particular one means more because it came at just the right time and under just the right circumstances. In Utah, Minnesota didn’t leave the Jazz with any real aspirations of an upset as they had control wire-to-wire. Then, in Golden State, Minnesota beat a team that has the potential to become a home playoff seed with a little luck in the health department and a little extra added production from their bench. It’s a team that beat Minnesota at Target Center earlier this year.

After those first two wins, expectations changed. Going on this trip, wins in Utah and Chicago were musts, while Golden State and Portland were tossups because of the quality of the opponent and the difficulty to play at The Oracle and Moda Center. But the Wolves stole the Golden State game—like they need to do moving forward—and in the process it changed the necessity of a winning record on this trip. Far too often in team history the Wolves have gotten a win like that, then dropped a pair to head home on a .500 road trip. At this point in the season, under these circumstances, that’s not an acceptable scenario. Once the Wolves beat Golden State, they needed to secure a win at Portland or Chicago to head home with a winning trip.

They did just that.

There’s been a lot of publicity about the Wolves’ close losses this year—they were 0-11 in games decided by fewer than four points before beating the Warriors 121-120 on Friday night. There are about seven games the Wolves would like to have back out of that group. But those shortcomings present opportunities. Minnesota now has a chance to re-establish its own identity late in games. They have a chance to win contests like that game at The Oracle—and they’ll need to in order to make it into the playoffs.

Road trips like this are key in that venture. Not only do 3-1 stints help pad the win column, but winning when you know you need to win builds confidence and the type of accountability in one another we’ve talked about for much of the season.

“We’ve lost so many close games this year, and that last part of the [Warriors] game we got down and we defended them, got some stops and we executed at the other end,” coach Rick Adelman said on Friday night. “Kevin Martin made a big shot. Kevin Love made a great read and found him. It’s the type of game we’ve been losing all year, so it’s nice to get one here on the road.”

The Wolves need to build on that each day—not necessarily the wins and losses, but the way those wins happened. They need to believe that they can win away from home and that on any given night their particular opponent will not come out with a victory.

It’s a mindset, and that mindset has a cumulative build.

“We know [games] are going to start to go our way,” Martin said. “We can’t shy away from that moment. You are going to win some and lose some, and you have to stick with the plan and know that they will start to go in your favor.”

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