Will this be the year the Timberwolves make a run for a title? Will they return to the playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett-Sam Cassell-Latrell Sprewell drove the franchise to the Western Conference Finals?
This is year 25 for the Timberwolves to celebrate a quarter of a century of no banners. When I started covering sports in this town back in 1978 the NBA did not exist.
After 11 games, the 7-4 Timberwolves are one of the league’s most entertaining teams. They get up and down the floor. They currently are the league’s second-highest scoring team, averaging 108.5 points per game. Remember, the WNBA Champion Lynx used that formula to win two of the last three WNBA titles.
Flip Saunders, the ex-Timberwolves coach and winningest in franchise history, is now president of basketball operations and minority partner. He has gone about trying to change the culture of Timberwolves basketball, which for the most part has been about mistakes on draft picks and duping fans while losing.
The Timberwolves have a long way to go in the rugged Western Conference, but so far I like what I see. All-Star forward Kevin Love is back healthy again after missing 64 games last year with two broken hand injuries.
He looks better than ever, averaging 26.4 points, 15.0 rebounds, and five assists per game, which are Hall-of-Fame averages. If he keeps that up and the Timberwolves can win, he could be an MVP candidate.
Now, that’s quite the endurance test over 82 games of consistently delivering night in and night out, but it’s about time for Love. He’s never been on a playoff team. This is year five, and it’s up to Coach Rick Adelman, the NBA’s eighth coach all-time to win 1,000 or more games, to get this franchise back in the post-season mix.
Health is the key, as always, for everybody. The Timberwolves’ new shooting guard, Kevin Martin, is averaging 24.6 points per game. He’s a good player, and center Nikola Pekovic, he of the $60 million contract, averages about 14 points and 10 rebounds. Ricky Rubio with the international flair is at point guard, and he’s solid, averaging nearly a double double.
I really like the addition of Corey Brewer and what he brings; he’s a winner and plays hard with an altitude of toughness on both ends and can run the floor at both small forward and guard.
The bench is not bad. J.J. Barea is good and gets hot at guard. Derrick Williams at forward is talented and needs minutes — if he gets out of Adelman’s doghouse, watch out — and Daunte Cunningham is consistent and plays hard.
As they say in the Walt Disney movies, “That’s all, folks.” Everyone else can’t really be depended on for various reasons from always hurt to lacking experience: Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved and Robbie Hummel.
I picked this squad to go 44-38. That should get them in the playoffs. They could do a little better and win close to 50 if they could just jell and learn how to play together consistently on the defensive end.
Right now they are third in the NBA in point differential at 8.3 — that’s good. The best in the league is 9.4 for 9-1 Indiana and 9.3 for 9-1 San Antonio. If they keep scoring over 100-plus points and stay away from injury, a return to the playoffs for year 25 would give the Timberwolves something positive to celebrate.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.