As Wolves try to stay in playoff race, eyes turn to the standings
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS -- They are considerable underdogs, but the Minnesota Timberwolves remain alive in the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Five games behind Phoenix and Dallas for seventh and eighth place with 21 games to go, it would take an astounding run from the Wolves and plenty of help from the teams in front of them to have any chance at extinguishing a nine-year playoff drought.
No matter how much of a long shot they may be, it's been eight years since the Wolves could even consider themselves remotely in the playoff hunt this late in the season.
"I think the guys are enjoying being in that situation," guard Kevin Martin said after practice Saturday. "They're looking at ESPN this time of year instead of Orbitz(.com)."
The Wolves recovered from a disastrous loss to the Knicks earlier the week by taking down the Pistons on Friday, 114-101. With that victory, Minnesota matched its win total from last season (31-30). A win Sunday against the visiting Toronto Raptors would equal the franchise's most victories (32) in a season since 2007.
But the Wolves' fan base isn't looking for silver linings. A season that once seemed to be high with promise, which has been put on the brink of being a full-on disappointment, now can seemingly only be salvaged with a last-minute surge into playoff contention.
The Wolves are trying to shed the inconsistencies that have plagued them all season to make a run possible.
As the season reaches its final weeks, Minnesota players can be seen glancing up at the scoreboard during timeouts to check on scores from around the NBA, primarily results from Phoenix (36-25), Dallas (37-26) and Memphis (35-26).
"I'd be lying to you if I told you I wasn't looking at the those teams that are at six, seven, eight," forward Kevin Love said. "So we know what we're capable of. We know how important these games are to us. Now we just have to go out there and play like it."
The Wolves were certainly paying attention Friday night when Portland mounted a massive 30-point comeback on the Mavericks before being tripped up in the final seconds. A Trailblazers win would have bumped Minnesota to within four games of Dallas and Memphis for eighth place.
It was a missed chance for the Wolves, albeit one out of their control. It would take several breaks in their favor to make it more of a legitimate four-team race in the West.
Given how up and down the Wolves have been, it's especially hard to gauge what you might get from the bench on a nightly basis.
Friday was just another example of that.
A rout of the Pistons was put into motion early on, spurred by a quality first quarter burst from Wolves' starters. The lead grew as high as 24 in the second quarter in large part thanks to 22 points from the bench.
But it was completely different story in the second half. With the Wolves comfortably ahead by 28 entering the final frame, coach Rick Adelman sent out his reserves to finish the game.
Complacency and a heap of missed shots rapidly shifted momentum towards the Pistons, who also had their second unit in the game. Dante Cunningham was the only Minnesota reserve to hit a shot in the quarter, with the bench going 1-of-9.
The deficit narrowed to 11 points just under the three-minute mark, forcing Adelman to throw his starters back in to preserve the game.
More than anything, it was a matter of effort and aggressiveness, or a lack thereof.
"If you miss shots, and that group missed shots, you've got to keep playing," Adelman said. "We counted three times where the ball came off, bounced on the floor and we were back there being nonaggressive ... They've got to understand that it's not all about scoring."
• Center Ronny Turiaf is not yet close to returning from bruise in his right knee. Adelman said Friday he had no update on Turiaf's status but expects the veteran center to be reevaluated at some point next week. Turiaf has missed the Wolves' last seven games.
• Adelman said forward Chase Budinger "didn't do much" in practice on Saturday. It was only for precautionary reasons to give him extra time to rest his surgical repaired knee.
• Saturday marked rookie Robbie Hummel's 24th birthday.