MINNEAPOLIS – With a Wayne Ellington rebound and an 11-point lead, the Timberwolves had 15 seconds to revel in what was about to happen.
It’s – bounce – finally – bounce – over.
And ‘it’, of course, is the team’s 11-game losing streak, the longest of the season. It’s not the longest losing streak the Timberwolves have snapped this season, though; a win over Dallas on Jan. 1 ended a 17-game skid dating back to March 13, 2011. That certainly puts things into perspective, but there’s no doubt that this win felt a little bit bigger than the last.
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That 17-game streak was another coach’s doing, another team’s, for that matter. This season was supposed to be a fresh start, a brighter future, and on Jan. 1 it was. Beating the defending champions just made it that much sweeter. But now, mired in a disappointing April, this win signifies something more. Maybe this season wasn’t the winning record that the Timberwolves expected, but by defeating the Pistons Thursday, this team won in April and proved it’s better than any since 2009. It was able to pull itself together and prevent a skid from becoming a full-fledged crash.
This past losing streak is tied for the ninth-longest in team history. Yes, there have been eight streaks worse than it. Eight. That’s saying something. That 17-game stretch was the worst, but there have been three 16-game losing streaks (in 1992, 1994 and 2010) and one 15-game streak in 2009. In its 23 seasons, the franchise has suffered through 11 double-digit losing streaks, and enough seven-game skids dot the Timberwolves’ history that they appear almost commonplace.
But it’s hard not to argue that this stretch, from March 30 to Thursday, was likely among the most painful. Those other long streaks were disappointing stretches in seasons when losing was already a foregone conclusion. This, though not necessarily surprising in light of the team’s injuries and slowed momentum, was something no one would have predicted in late February or early March. In fact, only the eight-game stretch in December 1999, the year Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves finished 50-32 and lost in the playoffs’ first round, might have been more unexpected.
On March 30, the day this latest losing skid began, the Boston Celtics traveled to the Target Center and defeated the Timberwolves, 100-79. Before the game, much was made of Garnett’s return to Minneapolis, and comparisons between him and Kevin Love abounded. Those comparisons, though, hinged on the individual, and Love pointed out that in order to really warrant them, he’ll have to lead his team to win.
Looking at the team’s eleven longest winning and losing streaks, it’s easy to see where the two Kevins stand. Garnett was present for all 11 of the winning streaks, from the 11-game stretch in January and February 2001 to the six six-game stretches in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Love’s record is nearly opposite; he’s been a member of the team during five of its 11 worst streaks.
The Timberwolves were good only with Garnett, but they’ve been bad with and without Love. Now, once he’s healthy and with a clean slate next season, the power forward must help his team string together a winning streak of some consequence – which the Timberwolves haven’t done since 2004.