MINNEAPOLIS — There are good signs, and then there are
Through two weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ season
features all the aesthetics of a promising one. It looks good. Feels good. Walk
by a Target Center concession stand and catch a whiff of the popcorn, and it
The fun part for observers is predicting who will go off
next. Ricky Rubio for another triple-double? Or maybe it’s Kevin Love’s turn.
Perhaps Corey Brewer makes a couple more transition layups and eclipses the
career-high point total he nearly beat Wednesday. Perhaps Kevin Martin’s return
after battling a flu bug brings another 20-plus-point performance.
Local followers are high on Minnesota’s 6-3 start. Pundits,
But promising and promised, the Timberwolves remain quick to
note, are two different things.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Love said.
“We know we can also get better.”
So it’s with extreme caution that the high-scoring,
floor-running Wolves accept any praise for their best beginning since president
of basketball operations Flip Saunders roamed the sidelines as coach. Even
though they boast the NBA’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder (Love), rank second in
points per game and build sizeable first-quarter leads before stamping out
adversaries the rest of the way, they remain reticent to take commendation.
“We’re nine games into the season,” coach Rick
Adelman said. “We’re playing well, but we’ve got to keep working at it. In
this league, it can slip away quickly.”
If there’s any team that knows that, it’s Minnesota. The
historically woeful franchise’s lot in life appeared on the upswing early last
year, too, before injuries with no compensating depth made for a 31-51 season.
In the majority of matchups during the past decade, it’s
been easy for foes to overlook the Timberwolves. Brewer thinks that stigma
The longer it’s in place, the better, he said.
“We’re still under the radar, which is a good thing for
us,” Brewer said. “No pressure, just go out and play
While Love and Rubio have become household NBA names,
Minnesota still isn’t as attractive an attention target as the Clippers,
Warriors, Thunder, Spurs and Grizzlies have become. Those Western Conference
organizations have proven themselves worthy of credibility — some only
recently, others through the course of several seasons.
The Timberwolves aren’t there yet. Compared to the likes of
San Antonio and Oklahoma City, they’re nowhere close.
“We should be under the radar,” Adelman said.
“We haven’t done anything yet. Really, that’s just the honest truth. It’s
a whole new year, and it’s a long season.”
Love hopes Minnesota can “stay surprising” and
sneak up on opponents. If he and his teammates continue on their current
trajectory, that won’t be a possibility for long.
The club’s on-court leader, Love is off to one of the
best-ever individual starts to an NBA season. With a 33-point, eight-board,
six-assist showing Wednesday against Cleveland, he became the first player in
league history to record more than 240 points, 125 rebounds and 45 assists
through the first nine games of a campaign.
And he may not even be the team’s most valuable asset at the
Brewer — whom Saunders signed as an unrestricted free agent
for $14 million over three years — has done just about everything as the
Timberwolves’ starting small forward. Early on, he virtually shut down Kevin
Durant and kept Carmelo Anthony in check while growing more and more synergetic
with Love’s adept outlet passes. Then Wednesday, he knocked down all five 3s he
took, while Martin stayed home sick.
Martin is sixth in the league in scoring and making 55.8
percent of his 3-point attempts. Rubio has settled into a comfortable nook,
adding more confident shooting to his already adroit passing and defending
The No. 1 key, in Adelman’s well-trained eyes: selflessness.
“I think players have the tendency to be one way or the
other,” Adelman said. “A lot of it comes from what they grew up with.
There may be some selfish players, but I look at it as sometimes they just play
selfish. They don’t mean to be that way, but they just play that way because
that’s what they always have done. The guys who are gonna be successful in this
league are the guys who understand that it’s a five-man game.”
And it’s easy to share when everyone in the playpen is
having fun. Sustaining such cohesion grows tougher as the schedule rolls along,
fatigue sets in and more wary challengers enter the Target Center.
So now is the time to mount a substantiated run. Minnesota
can’t afford to wait.
Even if it means attracting a little more attention.
“You don’t want to be a team that wins a game, loses
one, wins a game, loses a couple, wins a couple, just keep going back and
forth,” Adelman said. “We want to get some type of momentum