Desperation starting to seep into Wolves locker room amid key losses

As Minnesota's margin for error shrinks, the Timberwolves are starting to sound frustrated.

A 14-6 run throughout the rest of this season would put Minnesota at 45 victories -- the commonly accepted number associated with realistic playoff expectations the past 15 NBA seasons or so. The eighth-place Grizzlies and ninth-place Suns, though, both need only nine more wins to reach that mark.

Justin Ford / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- That sinking sensation is starting to tickle the Timberwolves franchise again.

It's not the aura of despair that's surrounded this organization for the better part of the past decade. It's a little too soon for that, what with 20 games remaining and Minnesota trailing Western Conference eighth-place Memphis by five games.

There's technically time to make up that chasm. But talk has turned from optimism to realism this week in the wake of two costly home losses.

Coach Rick Adelman's tired-but-true message of taking one game at a time hasn't changed. But his sense of what results might be derived has.

"Your season's on the line and we want to finish the season off on a positive note whether we get a chance to be in the playoffs or not," Adelman said after practice Monday. "I think that's what these guys need to understand. You know, we're still trying to get better as a team."

Not exactly a "we're still in this," rah-rah thought process.

But the 23rd-year coach doesn't have much optimism upon which to draw at the moment. Even before the All-Star break and his team's five-game road trip spanning the months of February and March, the margin for error was small.

It stayed that way as Minnesota (31-31) rode a surge from its star and the returns of two starters to go 4-1 at Utah, Portland, Phoenix, Sacramento and Denver, falling only to fifth-place Portland along the way. Kevin Love, the NBA's No. 4 scorer and No. 2 rebounder, continued his 2013-14 tear, and Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin came back from injury without missing much of a beat.

But with New York and Toronto coming into the Target Center and spoiling the bulk of a four-game homestand, the opening to the postseason has gone from little to miniscule.

Much like the past nine campaigns, part of the league's longest active playoff drought.

"It's frustrating," guard J.J. Barea said. "We had a great road trip, everybody was pumped when we got back, then we let two games go at home. It's a bad feeling, but nothing we can do about it now. Just try to take it one game at a time and see if we can turn it around again."

A 14-6 run the rest of the way would put Minnesota at 45 victories -- the commonly accepted number associated with realistic playoff expectations the past 15 NBA seasons or so. The eighth-place Grizzlies and ninth-place Suns, though, both need only nine more wins to reach that mark.

Dallas -- at 38-26 and in seventh place with two more games played than the Timberwolves, Memphis or Phoenix -- is even closer.

The upstart Suns have the toughest remaining schedule of the group; both Minnesota and Memphis have 12 more games against opponents with a record of .500 or better (as of Monday afternoon), but eight of Phoenix's 11 games against such teams come on the road. The Timberwolves face six .500 or better teams at the Target Center the rest of the way, and five of their remaining matchups with sub-even organizations are also at home.

But as the Knicks exhibited with a 118-106 win last Wednesday, nothing is guaranteed.

Especially not with this Timberwolves team, which hasn't strung more than three triumphs together all season.

"We just have to win," Adelman said. "We have to win as many as we can. Because you don't know what's going to happen. We could win 19 and still not make it. We're just trying to get tomorrow's win and then go from there."

At some point, it's going to require an upset. Two clashes with Houston, a road test at Miami and a rescheduled home date with San Antonio all represent likely candidates.

But beating any one or more of those powerhouses might still not be enough.

"We have 20 games left. Anything can happen," Love said. "We obviously have to go on a run.

"But if those other teams keep winning and pulling games out of their you-know-what, we're in trouble. We need to have a little bit of luck, too."

So the approach remains. Beat Eastern Conference bottomfeeder Milwaukee at home Tuesday, then go from there.

"Yeah, it sounds shade-ish, but that's what it is," Adelman said. "You have a nice road trip, you come home and lose two out of three. You've got to put it behind you and you've got to move on."

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