Midseason report: Wolves believe they are close
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Saturday's 108-99 loss to the Orlando Magic marked the halfway point of the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On paper it is easy to pen this season off as another dud. After all, at 10-31 the Wolves only have two more wins than the did a year ago at the midway point but you have to look at the big picture to see the team is making progress.
"I think we have come a long way," coach Kurt Rambis said. "I have maintained that for a long time. I think our guys are learning each other, we're playing better. We are getting better all the skills that you have to get better at at both ends of the floor to have success in this league. Still have a long way to go but we are a lot better than when we started training camp."
For the first time since Kevin Garnett is traded to Boston, the Wolves have a young nucleus of players growing together that actually appear capable of blossoming into a playoff team with time to grow and a few additional pieces.
Statistically the Wolves have made strides from last season. They rank first in the league in rebounds at 44.95, they rank 3rd in the league in three-point shooting and ninth in the league in overall scoring. Nine of their 31 loses have been by five points or less.
"I am encouraged," Anthony Tolliver said. "I think that we are getting better and better. Coach always comes to us with the last 10 games to see how we have been doing and we have progressed every 10 games. Every 10 games we have gotten better and better. Hopefully the second half of the season, these games that we blew in the first half, hopefully we get those and have a solid second half."
But arguably more important than statistics, this is a confident team who all genuinely like each other. In a time where the only thing more inflated than players' salaries is their egos, team chemistry is a rare thing. And the Wolves have it.
"Nothing against last year's team but this team is different," Jonny Flynn said. "We are all young, we all like each other and want to win and win here."
One of the few bright spots in the first half of the season has been the emergence of Kevin Love as a star. Love is first in the NBA in rebounds (15.7 per game), double-doubles (35), sixth in three-point shooting and 17th in overall scoring.
It will most likely comedown to Love and rookie stud Blake Griffin competing for one spot on the All-Star team but there is no denying that Love is playing at an All-Star level.
But individual statistics have never mattered much to Love. When one of his stats or league ranks is mentioned, Love will typically say something like, "I didn't even know that."
Simply put, Love wants to win and feels that -- despite early struggles -- this team is close.
"Lot of growing pains (this season)," Love said. "Especially in the fourth quarter. We've had so many games where we have been very close but we are looking to have a big half of the season by learning from the mistakes we have made and where we can change things in the fourth quarter."
The team has no magic number of wins they are looking to get -- or at least no number they were willing to confess -- but are more concerned with getting over the proverbial hump.
"Obviously just win as many as possible but we want to prove to ourselves that we can go on winning streaks, three, four, five, six and hopefully longer like some of the elite teams in the NBA," Tolliver said. "I think that would be a good goal for us to see if we can't win six, seven, eight in a row and get that confidence that we need and that swagger that we need to compete in this league."
The Wolves had to deal with a plethora of injuries so far this season that are especially detrimental to a young team trying to find their way. Flynn, Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic have all missed time with various injuries.
Aside from a nagging ankle injury that has kept Beasley out for the past two games, the Wolves are all healthy for the first time this season.
"We are a lot more connected than we were and we are assimilating everybody as we get healthier or attempt to get healthier but we still have a long way to go as a ball club," Rambis said. "But I am please with our progress, am pleased with where they are at. I know it hasn't translated into wins but as a coaching staff we see the progress our guys are making and we are pleased with it but we have to get better though.
The second half of the season starts out with a road trip out west, playing in Portland on Monday and traveling to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Wednesday.