Wessel: Wolves continue to overcome adversity in win over Hawks
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves - or what remains of them - showed again Tuesday that they aren't going to let the borderline ridiculous amount of adversity they have faced this season derail them.
Already dealing with numerous injury issues, the Wolves were thrown a new curveball in a 108-103 victory over Atlanta at Target Center by having assistant coach Terry Porter at the helm after it was announced Rick Adelman would miss the game for personal reasons.
Missing your head coach for a night is nothing when you have already lost Kevin Love to a broken hand twice and set what must be the NBA record for knee injuries in a season with Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard all sidelined.
A lesser team may have thrown in the towel by now and let themselves be victims of circumstance.
A team, like, say, last season's Wolves who used a knee injury to Ricky Rubio as an excuse to coast to summer vacation. But the culprits from last season are gone. In their place are a group of professionals who don't use misfortune as a crutch to justify losing. Instead, these Wolves ignore their personal stat lines in favor of concerning themselves with earning a victory.
"This is a resilient bunch of guys, that's all I can tell you," Porter said. "From day one there is a togetherness, they really play hard together and they like playing together."
This was a victory the Wolves needed. Badly.
They were coming off a flat performance and now enter a meaty portion of their schedule that includes a four-game Western Conference stretch before coming home to face the Los Angeles Clippers, who happen to be the best team in the West.
To say it was a team effort against the Hawks would be an understatement. Everybody contributed in their own way. And that is the way it is going to have to be if the Wolves are going to get over the latest injury to Love and keep their goal of making the postseason alive.
"That's why you like to play on this team right now," Andrei Kirilenko said. "Because when somebody goes down, somebody steps up with the same kind of intensity."
Nikola Pekovic scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, filling the big numbers void left by Love, and he did it while returning from a groin injury.
Also returning from injury was Rubio, who looked more like the Rubio of old than he did before being sidelined for four games because of back spasms. Rubio had seven assists in the first half and created the ball movement that enabled the Wolves to bust out of a terrible three-point shooting slump.
Then there was Derrick Williams, who picked up right where he left off from last Saturday's 18-point fourth quarter. The second-year player scored another 17 points on seven of 13 shooting, including three of five from behind the arc. Williams now has 35 points in his past 37 minutes and is showing far more poise than he did the first time Love was out.
Last but not least was Dante Cunningham.
Cunningham made a three-pointer with 15.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Wolves a 106-103 lead. He followed that with a steal on the other end to clinch the victory.
The Wolves somehow sit above .500 at 16-15 with the midway point of the season within sight.
Making the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference was going to be a challenge even when the Wolves had a roster that was far healthier than this back in November. It is going to be even more difficult now with the team finding out a timetable for Love's potential return when he sees a specialist Wednesday in New York.
But even if the Wolves end up on the outside of the playoff picture looking in this spring, it won't be because of lack of effort or because they feel sorry for themselves.
"We are going to keep fighting," Pekovic said.