Wessel: Four-game stretch should help define Timberwolves' season
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Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman joked during his team's recent four-game losing streak that the world may be coming to an end after all the positivity the team built up during its run to reaching .500 for the first time in five seasons.
The Wolves may have temporarily staved off the apocalypse with Wednesday's 102-90 victory over a 3-26 Charlotte Bobcats team that by seasons end could be the NBA equivalent of "Weekend at Bernie's II" -- a team so pitiful that everybody who watched them play will use them as the benchmark for describing future bad teams.
The Bobcats' ineptitude could cause one to question exactly what Wednesday's victory meant for the Wolves. Did it signify that the team's struggles are over, for now, or did the Wolves just beat up on a bad team?
We should soon find out.
The Wolves (14-16) have a difficult four-game stretch before the All-Star break next weekend that could define where this young team goes in the second-half of the lockout shortened 66-game season.
The Wolves open a stretch of four games in seven days on Friday, starting at Houston (17-13) and followed by meetings with Philadelphia (20-10), Denver (17-13) and Utah (14-14). The games against the 76ers and Jazz will be at Target Center.
"We have tough games. From this stretch on we are going to find out who we are," said Adelman, whose Wolves are entering a stretch of 11 games in which they will face 10 teams with records above or at .500.
Every NBA team has their highs and lows. They are the product of an 82 -- or in this case 66 -- game season. Even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 lost two games in a row right before the All-Star break.
But young teams are especially susceptible to funks while they adjust to a new schedule, new league and, in some cases, not being the best player on their team for the first time in their lives.
The Wolves went through a lot of those growing pains last season under Kurt Rambis. A first-quarter lead often turned into a fourth-quarter loss, one loss quickly turned into five and a bad shooting night lingered for weeks.
The Wolves have made huge strides under Adelman, but still occasionally fall back into their old ways. Their inability to close out the New York Knicks last Saturday, their total no-show Monday at Orlando and their slow-start against the Bobcats, were enough to give hardcore fans nightmare-flashbacks of recent seasons.
So as Adelman said, it is time to figure out exactly who this Wolves team is.
Taking three of four heading into the break would give the Wolves their coveted .500 record back.
It also would send them into the second-half of the season with the confidence necessary, for a team as young and inexperienced as they are, to make a serious push at the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Dropping more games and reverting back to the quality of play that caused Adelman to joke about the world coming to an end will send the Wolves into their weekend off with doubt in their minds about where things will be headed.
Making the next week even more critical is how difficult the schedule plays out the next month-and-a-half. The Wolves come out of the break with a four-game West Coast trip that will have them facing both the Lakers and Clippers, as well as Phoenix and Portland.
Then in March they play 15 of 24 games on the road, including a seven-game trip.
One of the go-to clichés that athletes like to lean on is the old "one game a time" mantra and about not getting ahead of themselves. But Love is keenly aware of where the team sits and the challenges that await.
"(Getting back to .500) would mean a lot for us," he said. "We let the previous four get by us. So to get back to .500 by the All-Star break would mean a lot, allow us to rest our legs and get ready for a tough schedule in March because we are gone 17 or 18 days of the month."
The break comes in seven days. The players are likely already looking forward to kicking their feet up. But the next four games could very easily dictate whether this transition season turns into a push for the playoffs or a learning experience for next year.