Wolves win on road trip but need West foes to lose for playoff chances

Timberwolves forwards Dante Cunningham (left) and Kevin Love slap hands after a Cunningham basket on the road against the Jazz. Love averaged 34 points and 14 rebounds per game in February.

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With an increasingly restored lineup and a renewed sense of purpose, the Timberwolves stormed through a road trip that ranks as good as any in the franchise’s 25-year history.

Not since 2004-05 had Minnesota won four games during a five-contest jaunt away from the Target Center. The Twin Cities’ NBA organization has never claimed more than that many victories during any one road stint.

The overall, immediate rewards read even more promising: The Timberwolves (30-29) have now won six of their past seven games, possess their best 59-game mark since 2003-04 and scored a club-record 132 points in Monday’s victory over Denver.

There’s just one outlying issue: The teams between Minnesota and an end to its nine-year playoff drought — the NBA’s longest active one — continue winning, too.

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"That’s the whole problem," coach Rick Adelman said. "You don’t know — all you can do is, you’ve got to win games and put yourself in position, so that if you have a shot, you can bust through. If you don’t, if you stay back where we are right now, time gets short."

Although the Timberwolves inched to within 4 1/2 games of the Western Conference’s eighth and final postseason spot, they’re going to need Memphis, Dallas or Phoenix to slip up at some point. The ninth-place Grizzlies have won seven of their past nine, the Mavericks triumphed in eight of 10 contests before dropping their past two, and the Suns have moved to the seventh slot despite losing four of their past six.

Barring a miraculous 23-game run to close the season, the best way for Minnesota to gain ground is for its opponents to yield it.

There will be chances, starting with the four-game homestand that commences Wednesday against the New York Knicks. The Timberwolves have two more games against Memphis and one each versus Dallas and Phoenix, and 14 of their final 23 contests will take place at the Target Center.

"We go back home and we’re looking at everybody like they’re a great team," said Love, whose squad faces back-to-back Eastern Conference lottery teams in the Knicks and Pistons this week. "We have to at this point. We go back home for four games, and hopefully we can say 4-0 is a lot better than 3-1. But I don’t want to get that far ahead of myself or ourselves, because we really have to focus on what’s in the present right now."

Having Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back from injury helps. The pair combined for 46 and 38 points, respectively, in wins at Sacramento and Denver to close out the road trip.

Love himself is coming off one of the best months in decades, having averaged 34 points and 14 rebounds per game in February. The last player to do that in a calendar month was Moses Malone — in 1982.

With those three clicking and the Timberwolves’ bench contributing, they need a minimum of 15 more victories down the stretch to reach 45 — the mark for the West’s last playoff seeds last season. A final run of 18-5 or something to that tune would be much more ideal.

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Currently 10th in the West, if Minnesota gains ground but doesn’t make the playoffs and finishes ninth — one spot out of the postseason — it could be in line for the No. 14 pick and would thus forfeit the top-13 protected first-round pick it sent to Phoenix in a 2012 deal.

"We’re in a situation where our run is right now," Adelman said. "We’ve got to put ourselves in a situation to be competitive. We’re still out looking in, and there’s no given."

No dissent from small forward Corey Brewer.

"We’ve got to keep going, keep moving," Brewer said. "With the standings, teams aren’t losing right now. We’ve got to keep winning until they can start losing."

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