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Updated: January 29th, 2014 11:41pm
Ugly or not, Wolves slowly figuring out how to string together wins

Ugly or not, Wolves slowly figuring out how to string together wins

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- There is an easy way to sum up the Minnesota Timberwolves' 88-77 defeat of New Orleans - a win that brought them over the .500 mark for the first time since late-November.

Ugly.

Both teams slogged through four quarters of poor shooting and sparse scoring -- it was Minnesota's fewest points scored in a win this season. The Wolves, minus injured center Nikola Pekovic, labored Wednesday to put together a large-scale run against the depleted Pelicans.

But ugly or not, the Wolves (23-22) got the result they needed in their return home after a long, but successful road trip (3-1), against the type of team they have to beat if they want to be a contender in the playoff push in the season's second half.

"It was just one of those games. It felt like there was no energy in the game, anywhere," coach Rick Adelman said. "Shorthanded, (New Orleans) did a nice job making sure we didn't get out on any runs. But we grinded it out, grinded it out and made some plays ... At this point, it's a nice win."

The dramatic ups and downs the Wolves have faced this season have brought on a significant level of caution to any signs of success they start to show. However, in the last two weeks Minnesota has begun to surge upward.

Wednesday's victory gave the Wolves their fifth win in six games. Plus, it served to finally squash a streak of 10 straight losses in chances to reclaim a winning record.

The Wolves, who combined with New Orleans to shoot 37.8 percent (Wolves - 40.2%, Pelicans - 35.4%), ultimately didn't yield to the Pelicans, despite giving them several openings heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn't a pretty win, but it was of the variety the Wolves have repeatedly faltered in this season. On multiple occasions, they have let opponents stick around just enough to gear up to steal a win in the final minutes.

Kevin Love and his 30-point, 14-rebound night helped ensure the Wolves put an end to that trend. Plus, Minnesota kept its recent defensive revival in full swing by surrendering its second fewest point total of the year.

Back on Jan. 17, the Wolves had fallen three games below .500, and talk surrounded the team of it being a critical juncture in which Minnesota had to spark a turnaround if it intended to make a run this year.

The Wolves' mindset and mood has since then gradually undergone a shift, fueled by the discovery of the consistency that had eluded them for two months.

"It's not something that just happened now or 10 days ago," said center Ronny Turiaf, who started his first game in two years in place of Pekovic. "I think it's the result of the adversity that we went through that you had that sour taste you were trying to get rid of."

Adelman, like any coach, always carries a notable layer of skepticism and caution, but there were hints of a relief in his postgame tone. He has preached that the Wolves have to cement their identity, start learning how they have to play in order to win games.

Is that transformation taking place at long last? It's way too early to make any grandiose statements, especially with this team. But the Wolves are tracking in the right direction.

"We're finding that we can win these games, but it's going to take an effort," Adelman said. "I think the team feels a lot better about things, but you can't stop here."

Red-hot Memphis -- winner of eight of its last nine games -- looms next for the Wolves on Friday. Countering the Grizzlies duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will be an arduous task without Pekovic, but regardless, it's imperative the Wolves begin going blow for blow with teams they will be battling with for spot in the playoffs in next couple of months.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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