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Updated: April 10th, 2012 10:32pm
Wessel: Wolves' skid feels familiar, but at least now there's hope

Wessel: Wolves' skid feels familiar, but at least now there's hope

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1500ESPN.com

Monday's 114-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns seemed oddly reminiscent for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The team came out flat in the first quarter, making just two of their first 11 shots from the field and playing with the type effort defensively NBA critics have long cited for the reason they can't stand the product.

After the sixth straight loss went final, the head coach had no answer for his team's flat performance, called out players for their lack of leadership and said the onus is on them in how they want their season to end.

The players in the locker room had even fewer answers than Rick Adelman, saying it is up to them to bring the effort defensively and making promises to not let the season end like this.

The previous three paragraphs would essentially work as a template for every Wolves game the past two seasons in March and April.

In 2009-10, the Wolves ended their season losers of 24 of their last 25 games.

In 2010-11, they were losers of their final 15 contests.

The Wolves are beginning to toil in similar mediocrity in what once looked like the season that would turn the franchises unlikely fortunes around. They have lost six in a row and are just 4-14 in March 9, the night Ricky Rubio tore his ACL.

But Wolves fans should remove their mouths from the paper bags they are hyperventilating into, because this isn't the hopeless case it was the previous two seasons for one big reason: Adelman is calling the shots, not Kurt Rambis.

Rambis -- he of 32 wins and 132 losses in two seasons -- was in over his head with a young roster that didn't respect him, a superstar with whom he clashed and an offensive system that didn't fit his players.

Adelman had righted the ship Rambis did his best to sink. He overhauled the culture of losing that had overtaken the franchise and instilled a sense of confidence in largely the same group of players that had been beaten down.

That is, of course, until a swarm of injuries occurred that would be capable of derailing any team.

As Adelman pointed out, injuries happen to everyone, every season. The hope is that it is just one or two players and you can bridge the gap until they return. However, it is damn near impossible to keep winning when you lose four of your top six leading scorers in such quick succession as the Wolves did.

And unlike under Rambis, there seems to be a clear plan in place even during this recent setback. Whereas Rambis appeared to be making it up as he went along, often having different answers on different days to the same questions, Adelman has been here before and can even find a benefit of a losing streak.

"We are evaluating all the time," he said. "We are always evaluating these guys."

Adelman knows how his players act when things are going well. Every athlete can be a team player when things are going well. It's how they respond to this current helping of adversity that will determine if they will be a part of the future.

Adelman has already made up his mind on one player and his perpetual laziness. Put it this way: there is a better shot of the team signing assistant coach Jack Sikma to a 10-day contract than there is of Darko Milicic seeing the floor again.

It can't be pleasant for fans to watch this trainwreck unfold in front of your eyes for what must feel like the 200th straight season. But this isn't like seasons past.

There is tangible proof of hope rather than countless empty promises. Adelman knows what he is doing. Bodies will heal, ACLs will mend and dead weight will be dropped.

Whatever happens during these final eight games of this season doesn't change the fact that this franchise is finally heading in the right direction. It isn't an ideal way to end what once was a potential playoff team, but at least there's real optimism heading into next season.

And that's more than anyone has been able to say in a long time.

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