HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — If the Los Angeles Lakers were the unlikeliest team to start the season 1-4, then the Minnesota Timberwolves had to be voted most unlikely to start 4-1.
Not with double-double machine Kevin Love, and their fancy-pants playmaker Ricky Rubio nursing injuries for who knows still how long. Yet here are those frisky T’Wolves, victorious in four of their first five games, winning dramatically, slapping high-fives and hugs all around beneath by a roaring — yes, roaring — Target Center crowd.
“We’re a really resilient team, we’re a deep team,” Wolves newcomer Chase Budinger said after Friday’s latest triumph, secured when he somehow slipped the Indiana Pacers’ defense and received a brilliant pass from Andrei Kirilenko for the game-winning layup with less than a second to spare. “What you are seeing right now is guys are stepping up as guys are getting hurt and going down. Each and every game it seems like there is a new guy stepping up for this team. That’s why we are getting wins.”
The 96-94 win over the Pacers is a prime example. Backup point guard J.J. Barea was out with a foot sprain, leaving coach Rick Adelman to turn to Malcolm Lee behind Luke Ridnour. Two guard Brandon Roy stayed in the locker room after halftime because of a sore right knee, a risk the Wolves accepted when they signed the 28-year-old out of early retirement, a predicament they will carefully monitor.
Budinger led the Wolves with 18 points, becoming the fifth player in five games to finish with the honor. Entering the game, six players were averaging between Barea’s 9.3 points and center Nikola Pekovic’s 13.8.
Five of the 10 players Adelman used Friday night scored in double figures, the Wolves shot 50 percent from the floor and trekked to the free throw line 28 times, making 24. And somehow Adelman didn’t use anyone as many as 37 minutes.
No, Minnesota’s early schedule hasn’t been a murderer’s row. But, Budinger’s right, they’ve been resilient, coming back from 22 to knock off the Nets in Brooklyn, shaking off injuries and winning three of four by no fewer than 11 points.
“I like to win,” Kirilenko said. “I think everyone here did such a great job in the preseason and did such a great job to get together as a team, and I guess this is the payoff. It’s just the start of the season and our two best players are out. We have to do something and get those wins no matter what.”
Think it can’t continue? Check out the schedule for the rest of November. At worst, it’s manageable. Of the 10 games left this month, four are against playoff teams, starting at the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. They play at transitioning Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki on Monday, and Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers are sprinkled in among a slew of lottery teams.
If this scrappy group brimming with confidence can keep it up until their two studs return, the T’Wolves won’t yet be hailed as the team to beat in the West, but you’ll certainly want to set your DVRs.