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Updated: March 8th, 2012 10:02pm
Wessel: Beating Lakers would prove Wolves can play with anyone in West

Wessel: Beating Lakers would prove Wolves can play with anyone in West

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by
1500ESPN.com

It certainly has been a while since the Minnesota Timberwolves have beaten the Los Angeles Lakers.

How long?

Well, Derrick Williams was a sophomore at La Mirada High School in California and wasn't old enough to have a driver's license.

Kevin Love was a senior at Lake Oswego High School and putting the finishing touches on a prep career that would make him the all-time leading scorer in Oregon history.

Luke Ridnour played on some team I've never heard of called the Seattle SuperSonics.

Ricky Rubio looked even more like a teenager than he does now, playing professional ball in Spain at the age of 16.

And Rick Adelman was in between jobs after his contract wasn't renewed by the Sacramento Kings and he was still a few months away from replacing Jeff Van Gundy in Houston.

It was a different era on March 6, 2007 -- nearly five years to the day of Friday's game against the Lakers -- when the Wolves outlasted the franchise that used to call Minneapolis home by a score of 117-107 in two overtimes.

Not only was it a different era, it was the end of one, too. Kevin Garnett only played 12 more games in a Wolves uniform. The Wolves then shipped him off to Boston for a collection of spare parts that signified the beginning of a seemingly perpetual rebuilding process that only now appears to be paying dividends.

The Wolves sit at 21-19 and as of Thursday afternoon would make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. They are riding a five-game home winning streak and welcome a Lakers team that has won the past 17 games in the series.

The streak shouldn't come as any shock. The Lakers have won two titles and made the playoffs every year since then. Meanwhile, the Wolves have been the laughingstock of the NBA, the constant butt of cheap shots while being handed a near-comedic amount of misfortune that would even draw sympathy from Charlie Brown.

But the proverbial tides have shifted for the Wolves. They are playing with an absurd amount of confidence given their young age and lack of experience, and I mean that in a good way. They go into every game believing they can win no matter who their opponent is. And when they lose, they believe they beat themselves, not vice versa.

The Lakers come to town reeling, losers of two straight in Detroit and Washington -- two of the Eastern Conference bottom-feeders. Anxious Laker fans are wondering where Phil Jackson is to right the ship and when Kobe Bryant can take off his protective mask and stop looking like Batman.

The Wolves are well aware of their losing streak to the Lakers. In fact, you can tell it clearly bothers them. Love is the longest-tenured Wolf and he has never beaten the Lakers. Some admit the "Laker mystique" is intimidating.

The term "must-win" is thrown around far too often in the Twitter era, so don't worry, I am not going there. But the importance of Friday's game at Target Center really can't be understated.

The Wolves are 2-0 on a four-game homestand that is crucial for the team's confidence. After Saturday's game against the New Orleans Hornets, the Wolves head out on a 12-day, seven-game nutcracker of a road trip that even the typically subdued Adelman has admitted will go a long way towards defining their season.

They have already vanquished plenty of basketball demons from diseased seasons past. After beating Portland on Wednesday, they are now 9-2 against the Trailblazers, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

Before this season? They were 2-57 against those teams combined.

Beating the Lakers would do a lot for the Wolves. It would give them another name to cross off the list of ugly losing streaks snapped this year, put them a season-high three games above the .500 mark and ensure a winning stay at Target Center this week.

But most important, a win would prove what the Wolves already believe -- they can play with anybody in the Western Conference.

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