With one dubious streak broken, Timberwolves now must snap another
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Here they are again.
An impressive 3-1 road trip has revived the Minnesota Timberwolves, injected at least for the moment with coveted signs of consistency. As they return to the friendly confines of the Target Center back at .500 (22-22), the all too familiar chance to push their record in a winning direction is once again at hand.
Last Friday saw the end of the Wolves' 0-11 run in close games (four points or less) with arguably their biggest win of the year, an 121-120 takedown of Golden State.
Now, if the Wolves, winners of four of their last five games, want to keep fuel in their midseason push, they must put another dubious streak to rest.
Minnesota has faltered in 10 straight opportunities to rise above the .500 mark, having last owned a winning record back on Nov. 25 prior to a loss to Indiana.
Wednesday's night match-up with the New Orleans Pelicans, a squad the Wolves beat up on when they last visited on New Year's Day, is their latest chance to take a significant step forward.
Over and over again this season the Wolves have put their obvious potential on display, only to stumble backwards. But if their latest surge is any indication, the Wolves have looked like a team finally starting to put the pieces together.
Is this just another brief flirtation? Or are the Wolves in the early stages of putting up a worthy fight for a playoff spot in the crowded Western Conference?
"I hope so," All-Star forward Kevin Love said of the latter option. "We really - I keep saying it - we really communicated on the defensive end (in the last four games). Obviously that back-to-back was really tough, heading into Portland. But going 3-1 on a road trip like that is always big. And now it's always tough coming back from a long trip and playing at home. But we're hoping we'll have energy tonight. If we do that, communicate, we have a good chance to win."
For at least the next week, the Wolves are tasked with moving forward without big man Nikola Pekovic. After starting in Minnesota's first 44 games, Pekovic is sidelined for a minimum of 7-10 days with bursitis in his right ankle.
Pekovic's absence, even if it's only for a week or two, undoubtedly alters the makeup of the Wolves' lineup. Pekovic was providing career-high averages of 18 points, 9.1 rebounds and 32.5 minutes. The Wolves have to find a way to supplement that loss in order to avoid falling back into the cycle of inconsistency that has largely defined their season.
Cue Ronny Turiaf and Gorgui Dieng.
The two reserve centers will be key figures in filling the void with Pekovic watching from the bench. When Pekovic exited early in the Wolves' victory at Chicago, Turiaf put up 14 and seven rebounds - his highest scoring total since Jan. 11, 2011 (19 points, 10 rebounds).
It was a clutch performance by the veteran center, who can be relied on to be an almost constant source of energy. A continuation of that type of production out of Turiaf would be a major plus for the Wolves in the next couple of weeks.
Turiaf is likely to move temporarily into the starting lineup. He has excelled in role as a vital player off the bench. Now, a bump in playing time is headed his way, an opportunity he relishes.
"It's fun to just go out there and play for longer stretches and having fun with your teammates and having, I guess, just more of an impact over longer stretches of time," Turiaf said. "It's one of those things that, it might sound cliché or whatever, but whatever Coach asks me to do, I try to do. That's why I've lasted so long. That's why I've played on so many playoff teams in the past and over my life."
Starting Wednesday, Minnesota faces a stretch of five games, three at home, against opponents with losing records or teams also floating around the .500 range. It's an opportunity to tact on wins that is ripe for the taking. The way the Wolves react Wednesday against the Pelicans after a day off and the return home, as well how they adapt without Pekovic, will be a telling sign of whether or not they are indeed headed in the right direction.