Timberwolves-Spurs Preview

For the San Antonio Spurs to avoid a first-round playoff series

with the defending champions, they’ll probably need to win their

final two games and get some help.

Before looking ahead to possible playoff scenarios, though, the

Spurs first need to get past the Minnesota Timberwolves – something

that hasn’t been a problem for them lately.

In its regular season finale Monday night at the AT&T

Center, San Antonio seeks its 12th straight victory over the woeful

Timberwolves.

After winning the Southwest Division four of the past five

seasons, the Spurs (49-31) look like they could be the Western

Conference’s eighth seed for this season’s playoffs. San Antonio

and Portland have identical records, but the Trail Blazers swept

the season series and hold the tiebreaker.

San Antonio can still pass Portland, as it wraps up the season

Wednesday at Southwest Division-winning Dallas, while the Blazers

host sixth-place Oklahoma on Monday and lowly Golden State on

Wednesday.

The team that finishes eighth will have a first-round series

with the top-seeded Lakers. Asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how bad the

Spurs wanted to face the Lakers in the opening round, coach Gregg

Popovich simply answered, “Minus-5.”

Popovich would probably rather face the Timberwolves (15-65),

the West’s worst team.

The Spurs have won 11 straight over Minnesota and 16 of 17 in

the series. They’ve also won the last 11 in San Antonio since a

100-93 loss on Jan. 14.

Neither meeting this season was close, as the Spurs won 117-99

at home on Dec. 29 and 103-85 in Minnesota on March 12. Richard

Jefferson led San Antonio with 24 points in the December meeting

and finished with 19 points and nine rebounds against the

Timberwolves last month.

The Spurs are coming off an impressive 104-85 win at Denver on

Saturday, handing the Nuggets just their fourth home loss in 24

games.

Tim Duncan had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Jefferson and

Manu Ginobili added 15 apiece, as San Antonio won for the fifth

time in seven games.

Duncan said after the game he isn’t too concerned about who the

Spurs face in the playoffs.

“We’ll play who we play. We’ll prepare for it the same way,”

the 12-time All-Star said. “We’ve got to refocus.”

San Antonio knows it won’t face Minnesota, a team that has

essentially been out of the postseason picture since starting the

season 1-15.

The season is ending even worse for the Timberwolves, who have

just one victory in their last 22 games.

Minnesota, which is coming off Sunday’s 114-86 loss at New

Orleans, needs one win in its final two games to avoid matching the

worst record in franchise history, set in 1991-92. The Wolves, who

are 2-23 on the road since Dec. 29, conclude the regular season

Wednesday against Detroit.

Sunday’s loss was especially discouraging for Minnesota, which

shot 39.4 percent, was outrebounded 49-30 and outscored 70-32 in

the paint.

“I don’t think we were purposeful out there,” said coach Kurt

Rambis, who was ejected for arguing a call early in the second

quarter. “I don’t think that we were very attentive to what we

wanted to do offensively. … Defensive-wise, we weren’t focused on

what we had to do in order to get stops.”

Al Jefferson returned to Minnesota’s lineup Sunday after missing

two games while attending to a hospitalized family member, but had

only five points on 1 of 6 shooting and three rebounds in 30

minutes.