One win doesn’t change much, but Wolves hope it’s step in right direction

Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders (left) gets a hug from assistant Sam Mitchell after Minnesota beat the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday to end a 15-game losing streak.

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One win doesn’t change much.

It doesn’t change the fact the Timberwolves are 6-31 and firmly in the Western Conference’s 16th and last standings spot. It doesn’t magically grant the NBA’s worst defense magical powers that aid its stopping ability. It doesn’t change the fact they’re on the way to an 11th straight season that ends with Game 82. And it doesn’t improve the club’s league-low attendance rating.

Just don’t tell that to anyone who was in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse’s visiting locker room Tuesday night after Minnesota’s 110-101 victory.

"You’re trying to win every game, and the losses keep piling up, it’s frustrating," forward Robbie Hummel said afterward. "But when you do finally snap it, it feels like such a weight off your shoulders. Everybody was happy and laughing and smiling. We haven’t seen that in a while."

Said coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders: "It’s been a long stretch to go through. Guys have put in a lot of hours, a lot of time."

And point guard Mo Williams, who had a franchise-record and NBA season-high 52 points Tuesday: "Hopefully this is a step in the right direction."

Before Tuesday, Minnesota hadn’t won on the road since the day after Thanksgiving. It had just one home win in that time. Its 15-game skid tied the third-longest in club history.

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Starting with Phoenix (23-18, eighth in the West) Friday night, the Wolves have three more road games to try and keep moving in a more positive trajectory. Shooting guard Kevin Martin and center Nikola Pekovic — both of whom have been out since mid-November with injuries — are expected back soon, and point guard Ricky Rubio isn’t far behind.

"Reinforcements are coming," Saunders said.

So while the overall portrait of 2014-15 hasn’t changed, the vibe has. At least for the moment.

"We haven’t won in a while," center Gorgui Dieng said after Tuesday’s win. "We’ve been (saying) the past month we’re getting better and better. I think it’s just going to motivate us more to work harder."

After two days of practices in Arizona, Minnesota faces a Suns team it nearly knocked off last week at the Target Center. Then comes road matchups with Denver (18-20) and Charlotte (15-25) to close out a trip that takes Minnesota all over the map.

If they can overcome the jet lag, muster some semblance of defense and get Martin or Pekovic back at some point, the good energy just might persist.

"Guys have gotten better," Saunders said. "It’s nice that they can get some positive reinforcement, knowing if they do things the right way and work hard, you can have some success."

That’s been the theme of a rebuilding season since its outset. Wolves brass expected a significant step back after trading Kevin Love but never this kind of irrelevance — and, symbiotically, poor fortune — so fast.

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A few pieces to the long-term puzzle are taking shape, though.

Minnesota has the West’s only rookie of the month this year in Andrew Wiggins, who’s averaging 20.9 points per game during his last 11. Dieng has been a force inside despite being the only available center. Second-year swingman Shabazz Muhammad has been one of the league’s most improved players, though his outer oblique strain that’ll keep him out at least until next week is a setback.

This season was, is and will be about selling hope for the future. After Tuesday, the Wolves have an iota more to offer themselves and fans.

"Through this streak, guys have kept a positive attitude and kept on working to get better," Saunders said. "It’s nice that they’re rewarded for their hard work a little bit."

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